A Year-End Review of The Books That Fueled My Thinking in 2023

2023 was a challenging year for me with many moving pieces (and people). People have shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity, and literature has played a significant role in keeping our spirits alive. So, in the spirit of year-end reviews, let me take you through a few books that broadened my horizons. From historical memoirs to psychological analyses, here are the books that I allowed to find their place on my 2023 bookshelf.

I have tracked my literary consumption for the entirety of my adult life and have averaged 19 books and ~6,200 pages per year since 2012, never dipping below a book a month. 

As of December 31st, I read 32 titles at 11,081 pages, which so far is my biggest year ever by quantity.

I order these first by my own rating system (which has evolved over time, here is the current rubric) and then roughly chronologically. Bear in mind that the rating I assign must be considered to be placed within both my personal experiences and the cultural zeitgeist of this year. I say this with no apology for my opinion, only to note that, with the benefit of time and greater experience, I have been known to reach back with a revisionist’s eraser. 


Description (may fit one or all of these descriptors)


Life changing, highly recommend, broad utility


Greatly enjoyed, materially improved my life


Memorable, fine as an everyday kind of read, may require a specific audience


Not a waste of time but pretty much forgettable, may require a highly specific audience


Waste of time, stay away / deliberate DNF

5 Stars – Life changing, highly recommend, broad utility

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

Fantastic read on the history of psychedelic research and its applications treating a panel of mental health disorders. Broadened my horizons in looking past stigma to see credible medicinal viability. Best book I read this year.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Through his thorough research and personal experiences, Pollan delves into the science behind these substances and their potential to heal mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s a thought-provoking and insightful read that challenges societal perceptions of psychedelics. 

The book focuses on the science and history of psychedelic drugs, their effects, and how we can use them for personal growth. Pollan looks at the history of psychedelics from ancient times to present day and discusses the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in treating mental health issues such as depression, addiction, PTSD, anxiety, and more. He also explains how these substances can help us gain insight into our lives. 

Pollan does an excellent job delving into the depths of psychedelics, with both scientific evidence and anecdotes from his own experiences. He explains how various doses of psychedelics can be used to induce different mental states such as ego dissolution or “ego death” which can open people up to new perspectives on life. Throughout the book he offers sage advice on setting up a safe environment for psychedelic use, creating set intentions for each session, and finding a good guide or therapist when necessary. 

Overall I found this book incredibly insightful and thought provoking. Even if you have no intention of ever trying psychedelics yourself, it provides a valuable look into the power of these substances for personal exploration. It is well written and easy to understand while still providing a wealth of information about the subject matter – definitely worth reading!

“Pollan’s deeply researched chronicle will enlighten those who think of psychedelics chiefly as a kind of punchline to a joke about the Woodstock generation and hearten the growing number who view them as a potential antidote to our often stubbornly narrow minds . . . engaging and informative.” —Boston Globe

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk is an incredibly important work for anyone interested in trauma and its effects on our physical health, mental wellbeing, and day-to-day functioning. Van der Kolk explores the science behind how trauma affects us, both psychologically and physically, and how this can manifest itself in different ways. He examines different forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and mindfulness meditation to help individuals cope with their experiences. Overall, this book provides a thorough overview of trauma’s impact on the body, mind, and brain while also providing practical tools to help individuals heal from trauma.

This book delves into the impact of trauma on both our minds and bodies, providing a comprehensive look at the ways in which it can manifest and cause long-lasting effects. As someone passionate about mental health, this book deepened my understanding of trauma and its implications. It also offers hope for healing and recovery through various therapeutic methods. 

This book is essential reading for anyone dealing with trauma or seeking to understand its effects. It is well-written and easy to follow; van der Kolk has a lively narrative voice, and breaks down difficult topics into digestible portions. His passion for his work shines through on every page. Additionally, he provides inspiring stories from patients he has treated that are both heartbreaking yet encouraging. Highly recommend.

4 Stars – Greatly enjoyed, materially improved my life

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

One of the most high quality novels I’ve ever read. Explores the grief of impossible choices, desires unexplored & the sorrow of identity realized vs idealized. Beautifully haunting. Chef’s kiss. Cried throughout. Mahfouz was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Palace Walk is the first novel in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, which also includes Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. The novel is set in Cairo in the early 20th century and tells the story of the patriarch of a wealthy family, Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, and his three sons. Through his intricate storytelling, Mahfouz explores the life of a family living under patriarchal rule in a rapidly modernizing Egyptian society. The story is a poignant reminder that human relationships are the same, irrespective of the cultural environment.

The novel is a rich and complex portrait of Egyptian society at a time of great change. Mahfouz explores themes of tradition, modernity, religion, and social class. He also writes about the role of women in society and the changing expectations of marriage and family. Mahfouz’s insights into human nature are timeless, and his writing is both beautiful and profound. The novel is a must-read for anyone interested in Egyptian history, literature, or the human condition.

The novel also explores the challenges of modernization and the clash between tradition and modernity – all issues relevant today, both in Egypt and around the world.

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

This book gave me a severely disturbing look inside the brutal Japanese occupation of China. Chang delves deep into the horrors committed by Japanese soldiers, giving an unvarnished account of the rape, murder, and torture experienced by Chinese citizens. The Rape of Nanking is an unmissable read for anyone curious about World War II history.

Unfortunately, the horrific events of the Japanese Occupation of China and the Rape of Nanking are not taught in Western education. In fact, these atrocities rival or even eclipse the magnitude of the horrors we learn about in World War II Europe. Why does learning about them require an intentional effort to seek out knowledge?

Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin?: The Arc of Love by Esther Perel

Thought-provoking collection of interviews circling the nature of love and relationships. Perel, a renowned psychotherapist and relationship expert, draws on her extensive experience working with couples to offer insights into the challenges and joys of long-term love.

Perel shares intimate sessions with couples seeking guidance on repairing their relationships. Through her empathetic and insightful approach, Perel highlights the complexity of love, healing, and communication.

One of the key themes of the book is the idea that love is a process, not a destination. 

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The story is told in nine parts, each of which follows a different interconnected character over the course of several decades. Through interconnected stories spanning generations, the novel explores love, loss, and family ties in a country plagued by war and turmoil. The book is a beautiful tribute to the power of human connection amidst adversity. The novel begins in Afghanistan in the early 20th century and ends in the United States in the present day.

The novel explores themes of love, loss, family, and the power of stories. Hosseini’s writing is lyrical and evocative, and he brings his characters to life with great skill. The novel is a moving and powerful story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. So many tears shed throughout.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

Tender but emotionally difficult read. Author’s memoir of supporting his wife through her struggle with bipolar disorder and the dissociative episodes she would endure. Discusses the toll exacted from each of them. Ruminations on the meaning of life. Heavy, but ultimately uplifting.

In his memoir, Mark Lukach recounts the shock and confusion he felt when she was first diagnosed, and the challenges they faced as they tried to cope with her illness. Lukach also writes about the importance of love, support, and understanding in dealing with mental illness. Lukach’s memoir is a powerful reminder that mental illness is a real and serious condition, and that it can affect anyone. It is also a reminder that love and support can make a world of difference in the lives of those who are struggling.

Too often, the experiences and perspectives of those supporting partners, family members, and close friends are overlooked or forgotten in conversations about mental health. In detailing his own journey as a supportive partner, Lukach gives a unique perspective that would otherwise be left unacknowledged. His story serves as an important reminder that while it is important to focus on getting proper care for those living with mental illness, it is equally important to remember the strength and resilience of those who love them and give them support.

Whole Again by Jackson MacKenzie

Focusing on recovery from trauma and toxic relationships, MacKenzie’s book offers practical tools and insights for healing and self-discovery. As someone who has experienced both trauma and toxic relationships, this book provided me with a much-needed roadmap towards healing and finding inner peace. I highly recommend it to anyone on a journey of self-discovery or seeking to break free from unhealthy relationships.

I read this book twice this year, and am counting it as such.

Endure by Alex Hutchinson

Partial to this one because I’m a runner, but inspiring and informational no matter who you are. Hutchinson delves into the science behind endurance and explores the limits of human performance. With fascinating research and personal anecdotes, this book will challenge your perceptions of what is possible and inspire you to push yourself further in all aspects of life. Added perspective to the physical toll required by some of the great exploratory conquests of the common era (think Shackleton to the South Pole).

The Will to Change by bell hooks

In this powerful read, Bell Hooks discusses the ways in which patriarchy and sexism have shaped our society and impacted relationships. Through her insightful analysis and personal anecdotes, Hooks challenges readers to confront their own beliefs and behaviors, offering a call to action for dismantling oppressive systems. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand and challenge gender roles in modern society.

Important read.

The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga

Most controversial claim: “Trauma does not exist”.

A thought-provoking read that offers a unique perspective on human nature and an individual’s responsibility in both transcending their past hurts and defining their present and future happiness. Valuable read for anyone who is interested in exploring the nature of happiness and human existence.

I would add that the book would also appeal to people who are interested in Eastern philosophy, as it draws on concepts from Buddhism and Taoism. It would also appeal to people who are interested in the work of Alfred Adler, as it is based on his theory of individual psychology.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the book:

  • We are all born with the potential to be anything we want to be.
  • We are not our thoughts or feelings.
  • We are responsible for our own lives.
  • We can choose to be happy, regardless of our circumstances.
  • We can choose to accept ourselves, flaws and all.

How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo

Bruhhhh *groan* this book was THE best book on relationships I’ve read in SO LONG. A heart-, mind-, and soul- tickling mixture of challenge toward the ideal alongside validation of behaviors and evidence-based practice. The gauntlet has been thrown. What does psychological and interpersonal health all come down to? 

Integrity (self-knowledge at it’s zenith). Honesty first with your internal self (acknowledgment & acceptance), then with your external self (alignment & self-esteem), and then with others (confidence & empathy). If the self can be aligned in all instances, then psychological congruence is achieved and dissociative tendencies are minimized. From this platform, truly healthy relationships can be accomplished. (which is why any framework/social structure that encourages or leads to dissociation MUST be discarded for the good of HUMANITY) 

I have a hypothesis that the only real barrier to intimacy in any relationship across the spectrum of proximity (acquaintance to life partner) is shame.

Unaddressed, unprocessed, unintegrated shame prevents self-acceptance, which cascades to auxiliary relationships. 

This supports the phenomenon whereby demonstration of vulnerability powerfully engenders connection. “Shame dies when exposed to light.”

3 Stars – Memorable, fine as an everyday kind of read, may require a specific audience

The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink

Premise: Turn past regrets into fodder for your goals. This would be better as an essay, as his main point is easily digestible. Don’t wallow in despair, if you don’t like something about your life, then change it, etc. This book offers us an opportunity to learn about the transformational power of regret. While often seen as a negative emotion, he argues that regret can be a powerful force for good, helping us to learn from our mistakes and make better choices in the future. Pink draws on a wide range of research to support his claims, and he provides helpful advice on how to use regret to our advantage. Through his research and personal stories, Pink helps readers understand how to make long-term improvements rather than just looking back on past mistakes with despair.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Have meant to get to this one for a while. Audience for which this book will resonate is narrow. Fine as a primer for whites open to considering the idea of racial privilege/inequality and dipping a toe into the subject. Leaves much to be desired for anyone outside of that category in either direction. I want to carefully support this as a springboard but emphatically say that if this book is the highwater mark on anyone’s journey of racial understanding, then the book may have done more harm than good. Elevate non-white voices (e.g. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, Ibram X. Kendi, bell hooks)

This book, written by a white woman addressing white audiences, examines how racial inequality has been reinforced, and how white fragility has made it extremely difficult to dismantle. It takes a critical look at how whiteness shapes lives and an understanding of the world. DiAngelo’s book contributes to an essential and ongoing conversation about equity.

While “White Fragility” provides valuable insights, one criticism lies in the limited number of perspectives represented in the book. Despite discussing race and racism broadly, the author primarily focuses on white individuals’ experiences, sometimes overlooking the nuanced experiences of racially marginalized groups. Amplifying the voices of those directly affected by racism would enhance the book’s overall impact and credibility.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison

I’m constantly fascinated by the human brain. Look Me in the Eye is a memoir by John Elder Robison, an adult with autism. The book chronicles Robison’s life from childhood to adulthood, and explores the challenges and triumphs he has faced as a result of his autism. Robison writes with honesty and humor, and his story is both moving and inspiring.

One of the things that makes Look Me in the Eye so powerful is Robison’s willingness to be vulnerable. He shares his struggles with social interaction, communication, and sensory overload in a way that is both raw and honest. Robison also writes about the joy he has found in life, despite his challenges. He describes his love of music, his relationships with his family and friends, and his work as a musician and writer.

Through his candid and often humorous writing, Robison challenges societal perceptions and sheds light on the inner workings of an autistic mind.

Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star & Iron Gold (4 separate titles) by Pierce Brown

A lighthearted topical departure to give me a break, this was a science fiction series (maybe considered YA, idk) recommended to me. A dystopian society divided by color-coded classes. The first three were fun and I zipped through them. The fourth (Iron Gold) was trash and I abandoned the series. To be clear, Iron Gold gets a 1 star, but I’m lumping it in here.

Anywho, I Love You by Samantha King Holmes, r.h. Sin, Graham Holmes

Collection of poetry from an interracial couple who deal with the nuances of love, healing, personal complexity, and an appreciation for the vibrancy of life. Beautifully intertwined with the narrative of my own life. With beautiful prose and relatable themes, this book served as a comforting reminder that we are never alone in our emotions. For anyone searching for solace and understanding in matters of the heart.

This Is Not the End: Conversations on Borderline Personality Disorder by Tabetha Martin

This book offers valuable insight and understanding into the condition. Through interviews with individuals who live with BPD, Martin sheds light on the stigma surrounding mental illness and promotes empathy and understanding towards those living with it. A must-read for anyone seeking to learn more about BPD.

Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger

I followed Pfitz’s 18/55 plan to prep for the Philly marathon (got interrupted, yes) and was pleased with the structure and cadence. Good training and nutritional advice.

With training programs, nutritional advice, and testimonials from world-class runners, Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning helped me take control of my running performance this year. The book provides a science-based training approach that helped me transcend previous limits, and I believe it’s an essential read for anyone looking to improve their marathon times.

I have the PDF of this one if you want it.

Splitting by Bill Eddy

Written by a renowned expert on personality disorders, Bill Eddy’s Splitting offers valuable insights into managing ending a marriage with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and/or narcissism. This book provides practical tools for setting boundaries and protecting mental health. Highly specific, but worthwhile if this is you.

$100M Offers by Alex Hormozi

I’m a big Mozi fan. His MO is to give away massive value for free at the top of his marketing funnel, and he always delivers. Quick read. In his book, Alex Hormozi shares his journey of building a successful business and offers valuable insights and strategies for scaling any venture. This book is a goldmine of practical advice that can benefit anyone looking to grow their business or achieve success in any field.

Attached by Amir Levine, Rachel Heller

Went into this thinking I already had the gist, came away with a much deeper understanding. This book offers a fascinating look into the science of attachment styles and how they influence our relationships. This book provided me with valuable insights into my own attachment style and how it affects my interactions with others. Good for anyone looking to understand and improve their relational dynamics.

Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliot

Based on Jung’s concept of the Shadow. Elliot’s premise is advocating the radical acceptance of self by embracing the behaviors/thoughts/ideas about which you have internalized shame. Offers an intriguing look at the intersection of spirituality and sexuality. Drawing from personal stories and philosophical theory, she investigates the power dynamics of shame, the potential for healing, and the possibilities for exploring new levels of spiritual and sexual expression.

2 Stars – Not a waste of time but pretty much forgettable, may require a highly specific audience

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Paul Stamets

One thing to know about me – I loooove mushrooms. Delicious. I cultivated my first crop of oyster mushrooms (fun fact: can use as a bacon substitute) in December 2019 at the advent of the pandemic and have dabbled in growing a couple different strains. Mycelial systems are FASCINATING. And if you listen to Stamets very long you start to see how fungi have the potential to heal the world – from global ecology to personal trauma therapy.

That being said, it’s only a slice of people who will appreciate this one.

(Still considering launching a grow house to supply local high-end restaurants…)

This comprehensive guide to mushrooms offers a wealth of information on their history, cultivation, and medicinal uses. As someone interested in the potential therapeutic benefits of mushrooms, this book provided me with a better understanding of the science behind these fascinating fungi.

Metropolis by Ben Wilson

Metropolis is a well-written and informative book about the history of the modern city. Wilson does an excellent job of weaving together a variety of sources, from historical documents to contemporary accounts, to create a rich and detailed portrait of urban life. Wilson argues that cities have always been centers of innovation and change, and that they continue to play this role today.

The book is valuable for anyone interested in the history of urban development, but its delivery is dry and long-winded. Additionally, Wilson’s predominant focus on the history of Western cities means that the book does not offer a comprehensive overview of urban history.

The Boys: Omnibus Vol 3 by Garth Ennis

I’m pretty new to graphic novels. In fact this series is the first I’ve ever tried. This volume of The Boys series was a fun changeup for me, but ultimately too gratuitous for my taste. Ennis’ dark and twisted take on the superhero genre is refreshing in the same way anti-humor is surprising. Complex characters, gritty storytelling, and social commentary.

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

Central premise is that the persisting presence of an American “frontier” (Lousiana Purchase -> Mex/Amer war -> manifest destiny -> global imperialism) has allowed America to grow in wealth/power but without concurrent growth in ability for discourse, since space has never been a limiting constraint as in Europe. He contends that this unbalanced societal dynamic has driven the sharp increase in populist demagogues we’ve seen over the past 50 years. Deeply appreciated his lens.

Greg Grandin’s exploration of the American borderlands offers a timely and relevant perspective on issues of immigration, race, and nationalism in the United States. Through historical context and personal anecdotes, Grandin examines how the myth of the American frontier has shaped our current political landscape, particularly around the complexities of immigration policies and their impact on society.

No Bad Parts by Richard C. Schwartz

Describes the theory of Internal Family Systems (IFS), a psychotherapy approach that views the mind as a system of parts, each with its own unique role and function. Schwartz argues that all parts of the system are valid and have something important to contribute, and that the goal of IFS therapy is to help clients learn to communicate with and integrate their parts in a healthy way. Provides a good overview of the theory and therapeutic process. Repetitive at times, which can make it feel tedious.

Gets an “eh” from me on usefulness.


The Complete Guide To Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood

After a conversation with a trusted confidante at the beginning of this year, I became suspicious that I may have Aspergers, or more accurately, high-functioning autism (HFA). After conversations with my psychologist, elements of HFA were present in my childhood, less so in adulthood, and HFA is a useful heuristic for understanding myself. I identify with several of the diagnostic criteria and happen to find many of the coping strategies that Attwood describes to be useful, so at the very least I walk away with a few more tools in my toolbox. In any case, this book was incredibly insightful and helpful to me as it provided an understanding of AS and how it affects people’s lives. I got about halfway through it before one of life’s curveballs prompted me to set it down.



From mental health, training, and politics to historical tragedies, every book on my list helped me grow and widen my lens. Some were affirmations of what I already knew, while others challenged and heightened my understanding of the world and of myself. I hope this list helps you identify the books that will inspire you to learn and grow in the coming year. Remember, reading gives us the power to travel to places both near and far, to learn from others’ experiences, and to create our own possibilities. 

Happy reading 🙂

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