There are millions upon millions of books in the world, which 1) makes it impossible for even the most devoted reader to even cover a sliver of what’s available; and 2) makes lists like these completely subjective, even more so than the vast majority of opinion pieces that rank everything from movies to fingernail decorations.
Neither of those points stopped me from making a list of 10 great books you have to read. Over time, I undoubtedly will remember another many books that should have made this list but didn’t, simply because I couldn’t remember them while writing this piece.
My first book, The Trojan Conspiracy, is a suspense fiction novel and is no way similar to many of the books listed here, but they have all influenced me as an author in some way. Whether they’ve helped alter my view of the world, demonstrated to me how my writing abilities only scratch the surface of what some amazing authors are able to accomplish (looking at you, Robert Penn Warren, damn you) or simply entertained the hell out of me, here are 10 great books you have to read, regardless of whether you prefer fiction, non-fiction or looking at the photos in the Sears catalog.
Actually, if you only like photos, this list probably isn’t for you.
10. Brave New World
Written by Aldous Huxley in 1931/1932, Brave New World is the only book on the list that I was “forced” to read as part of a school assignment… Philosophy 101, if I recall. About the dangers of so-called utopian societies and built upon the foundations of “Fordism” – Henry Ford’s devotion to efficiency and homogeneity via the assembly line – Brave New World is so much more than a science-fiction novel.
9. A Storm of Swords
The third book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, more commonly known as HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” A Storm of Swords is one of the most captivating, complex, gripping and shocking books I’ve ever read (the book contains the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding and a few more holy-shit-did-that-really-just-happen surprises). I am not generally a fan of fantasy, but Martin’s historical and believable approach to the material makes the entire series worth the read.
8. Casino Royale
I pulled Casino Royale out of a hat because it’s been a long while since I’ve read any Ian Fleming novels, but it only felt fitting to include one representative from the original James Bond books here. Even though the character is more popular than ever, few probably even realize the character is derived from a series of extremely interesting books—books that have very little in common with the movie franchise. While I wouldn’t say The Trojan Conspiracy is all that similar to Fleming’s works, there is no denying that their depiction of spies, conspiracies and villains have not had some impact on how I approach my stories.
7. Under the Banner of Heaven
As my friends know, I am a huge, huge, huge fan of author Jon Krakauer. While he writes non-fiction, Krakauer brings to the table an incredibly powerful blend of journalistic precision and storytelling ability, to where his narratives on real-life topics are often more gripping, entertaining and fun to read than most novels. Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven is a mind-blowing, disturbing look at the rise of fundamentalist Mormonism and a cautionary tale about any form of religious extremism.
6. Ghost Wars
A 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner, Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars looks at “the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” which really says it all. Like Krakauer, Coll has the ability to be extremely detailed with facts while painting an entertaining and engaging narrative. The book explores what can best be described as the no-win scenario that is Afghanistan and its relation to the security of the United States. If you think you have an understanding or opinion on whether the U.S. should involve itself in Afghani affairs, think again—Ghost Wars explains why things aren’t nearly as simple as they appear.
5. The Harry Potter books
I rarely ever read books twice, and I certainly never pre-order books and plan time in advance to read them on the first weekend of release, but that’s exactly what I did with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (and I re-read the entirety of The Half-Blood Prince the night before so I could remember what happened). While some people dismiss the books and movies as trivial child fare, perhaps simply to be anti-populist, Rowling’s masterpiece of a series is a fun, superbly written ride that should be commended for not only being surprisingly complex, but for maturing in tone and theme as the reader grows up.
4. The Bourne Identity
Robert Ludlum frustrates me more than any other author. If I could, I would love to write complex, twisting spy thrillers, but even then, I wouldn’t come close to the masterstrokes that Ludlum put to paper to make the original Bourne trilogy (which, by the way, are significantly different from the movies). The dude can write spy thrillers. My suspense-fiction novel The Trojan Conspiracy isn’t really a spy thriller, but I won’t deny that there aren’t a few similarities… I also won’t deny that Ludlum’s work will forever blow mine out of the water.
3. Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece is one of the most exciting, fun and intriguing science-fiction novels that I have ever read. Hell, take “science-fiction” out of that last sentence and it will still hold true. The political narratives that run throughout the book add an extra dose of complexity to what is otherwise a good old fashioned action-adventure piece. The twist ending is also incredible.
2. Into Thin Air
I told you Jon Krakauer was my favorite author! His second book on this list, Into Thin Air, is a masterpiece in storytelling, an incredibly detailed exploration of one of the most deadly incidents ever to occur on Mt. Everest. Engaging, exciting and ultimately frustrating as Krakauer, who was a firsthand witness to the tragedy, breaks down all the things that went wrong, Into Thin Air is the book that not only introduced me to the author, but also got me hooked on the mountain climbing subgenre.
1. All the King’s Men
Perhaps the best written book I’ve ever read, Robert Penn Warren’s tale of corrupt Louisiana politicians is a mesmerizing read, and a constant reminder that no matter how good of an author I may be, there is always someone who will be even better. Warren has a way with words, and I’ll leave it at that.
Of course, you should also read my own book, the suspense fiction novel The Trojan Conspiracy, in stores June 2014.