Posted by: Matt Compton | December 7, 2009

Best Books of 2009

So far in 2009, I’ve read 65 books. I hope to read at least 10 more before the end of December, so there is a real possibility that this list will see a few additions over the course of this month.

But as of now, these are my favorite books from the year 2009. As always, I’d love to hear your reactions and suggestions for other things I should read.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize this year. It’s a portrait of Thomas Cromwell, who for a time was Henry VIII’s closest advisor. History remembers him as a villain who helped to execute Thomas More, but Mantel treats him as a very modern character — a self-made man, who was an accomplished soldier, merchant, and diplomat, as well as a secret supporter of the Reformation. At its heart, this is a book about politics — both on the personal and the national level — and Mantel turns all of that turmoil into fascinating story.

The Gamble and The Good Soldiers are two different books about the surge in Iraq. The Gamble, written by Thomas Ricks, takes the broad perspective, focusing on the formation of the strategy, the work that Petreaus and his deputies did to advocate and push for the counter insurgency plan. The Good Soldiers, by David Finkle, focuses on one battalion charged with securing part of Baghdad. Both of them are powerful and hard to forget.

A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias is a portrait of a relationship from the beginning through the course of 30 years. It’s full of emotional impact and loss.

Fordlandia by Greg Grandin is a history of the rubber plantation that Henry Ford tried to carve out of the Amazon. His ambition was to create a model of Americana in the middle of the jungle, but it was a project almost doomed from the start.

Columbine by Dave Cullen is a fascinating history of the Columbine school shooting, which offers up new details and perspectives and cuts down many of the myths that took root in the immediate accounts of the tragedy.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a strong short story collection from Wells Tower, none better than the title piece about a crew of Vikings who set out to raid a frequently-targeted island.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers is an incredibly powerful book about Katrina and what it means to be both an immigrant and an American. I started it one Sunday morning and did not put it down until I’d read the last page. This is arguably Eggers’ best piece of writing.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann is a fascinating story about an explorer who set off into Amazon in search of a lost civilization, but disappears completely.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a self-reflective novel about the difficulties of growing up, which draws heavily from Rowling, Lewis, and Tolkien.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is an account of a tribe of legendary runners in Mexico, a profile of the best ultramarathoners in the world, and an argument for running as an evolutionary imperative. Other books I read this year might be arguably better, but none was more interesting or fun.

The City & The City by China Mieville is a tense story set in a fictional country in Eastern Europe, which is fundamentally detective novel, but draws heavily from science fiction and fantasy.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is a memoir about a childhood in Africa and the imagination that inspires a boy to teach himself to build a windmill to power his home using castoff parts.



  1. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for choosing my book for your list (Columbine).

    That made me happy.


  2. Dave — Thanks for writing the book. It deserves every bit of praise it has received.

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