15 Books You Should Have Read in 2010

Best books of 2010, from Stephen King to Patti Smith.

Image by Jane Mount, 20x200

Yes, we read Freedom this year and yes, it was good. As Esquire put it, it “was one great slab of a book, at a time when most books have given up on greatness.” But there were other books in 2010, books that had to compete for our ever more challenged attention spans and won. So we asked a few members of the GOOD team & some of our good colleagues which book made their best list this past year. (And since discovering something you might have missed is one of the great pleasures of reading, no selections were disqualified for having been published prior to 2010).

1. Under the Dome

Author: Stephen King

Recommended by: Ben Jervey, Environment Editor

Why read? Unfortunately, the best book that I read in 2010 (Under the Dome, by Stephen King, which should really be held up atop his canon and which I'd argue may well be the best environmental book of the decade) came out in November 2009.

2. Song of Ice and Fire series

Author: George R.R. Martin

Recommended by: Morgan Clendaniel, Deputy Editor, GOOD

Why read? This might be embarrassing, but the best books I read all year were the Song of Ice and Fire series. They're going to be made into what is looking like an epic show on HBO this spring. It's counter-intuitive, but good fantasy like this (and it’s truly excellent) can explore the human condition in ways that the real world sometimes cannot. In these books, you learn a lot about power, and the right and wrong ways to use it, more so than you do reading the latest Bob Woodward tome.

3. Cities for People

Author: Jan Gehl

Recommended by: Alissa Walker, Contributing Editor, GOOD

Why read? I met the amazing Jan Gehl at a conference this year and instantly developed a design crush. Gehl is a Danish architect who is best known for helping to transform the city of Copenhagen from a city for cars to, as he calls it, a city for people. Where so many urbanism books read like a prescriptive list of cold, hardscape improvements to public space, Gehl asks architects to focus not on the infrastructure itself, but on the people who will ultimately use it. Using language like asking architects to be "sweet" to pedestrians, and telling designers to "invite" bikers to ride on the streets, Gehl manages to deliver a witty, human, and altogether enjoyable take on urban design. The book is filled with photos of people using cities around the world, and in that sense it's not just for designers—it will entertain, delight, and educate anyone with an interest in the future of where we choose to live.

4. The Imperfectionists

Author: Tom Rachman

Recommended by: Zach Frechette, Editor in Chief, GOOD

Why read? The Imperfectionists for me. [And apparently for Brad Pitt, too, who acquired the film rights to the book in July].

5. The Ox-Bow Incident

Author: Walter Van Tillburg Clark

Recommended by: Cord Jefferson, Culture Editor, GOOD

Why Read? It was published in 1940, but the main themes--anger, fear of the unknown, the recklessness of groupthink--are as germane today as they ever were.

6. Let The Great World Spin

Author: Colum McCann

Recommended by: Nicola Twilley, Food Editor, GOOD

Why read? Breath-holdingly good.

7. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Author: Diane Ravitch

Recommended by: Liz Dwyer, Education Editor, GOOD

Why read? Ravitch's education reform knowledge is encyclopedic and she's not afraid to skewer popular approaches like increasing standardized testing, in order to get to what's really best for kids.

8. Shop Class as Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Author: Matthew B. Crawford

Recommended by: Allan Chochinov, Editor in chief, Core77

Why read? Shop Class as Soulcraft surfaces fond memories of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but its resonance is far more urgent. Bemoaning the cutting of shop classes in high schools, riffing on the cultural divide between manual labor and "knowledge work" and reflecting on everything from making, the pleasures of craft and the ways in which manual labor informs problem-solving, this book is a must read for anyone who is interested in enterprise, self-esteem, design, and personal gratification. The author is both a philosophy professor and a motorcycle mechanic, so the prose is at turns erudite, sobering, inspiring, and ultimately aspirational. Buy two and give one to a friend.

9. The Power Broker

Author: Robert Caro

Recommended by: Alex Marshall, Senior Fellow, The Regional Plan Association

Why read? I reread The Power Broker. Actually, I really read it complete for the first time, from cover to cover. Amazing book, as everyone will tell you. Not only a history lesson about Robert Moses but a history lesson about New York state in the 20th century, from Al Smith to Nelson Rockefeller.

10. What Technology Wants

Author: Kevin Kelly

Recommended by: Alex Steffen, writer, public speaker, former Executive Editor and Founder, Worldchanging

Why read? Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants is the most original, provocative exploration of the meaning of humanity's relationship with technology I've read in years.”

11. Invisible Cities

Author: Italo Calvino

Recommended by: Alison Bing, art, food & travel writer, and author of Lonely Planet Guides to Italy, Morocco, San Francisco, Venice, and others.

Why read? In audiences with the great Kublai Khan, explorer Marco Polo describes the cities he's seen on his travels - at once distant memories of Polo's native Venice and canny critiques of Khan's Xanadu. Not one is the ideal city on a hill: even invisible cities are too crooked or inflexible, too escapist or too sensible. But for all their flaws, each city has its fascination, the uncomfortable intimacy and extraordinary coexistence of so many people of so many different minds. I read this book in Venice in the rainy season, over long lunches at nearly empty restaurants. But I was never alone. A waiter who spotted me reading the book steered me away from the tourist menu and insisted I try the moeche, tiny soft-shelled crabs fried and crunched whole. The chef emerged from the kitchen, two Dutch schoolteachers opened a bottle of prosecco, and we all sat and talked about the cities we'd seen until happy hour.

12. The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900

Author: David Edgerton

Recommended by: Phil Patton, author of many books including Bug: the Strange Mutations of the World’s Most Famous Automobile, writes about automobile design for the New York Times

Why Read? The best book about social change and innovation was not new except to me—Edward Tenner recommended it. It is called The Shock of the Old, by the historian David Edgerton. The message is vital: how change comes not necessarily from cutting edge technology but from the right technology. Old tech persists: bicycle production fell as auto production rose but then came a bike boom in India and China and a year when 110 million bikes are built versus 40 million cars.

The other was Keith Richards’ Life, with James Fox, which is full of shrewd observations on culture and technology—how 1930’s Robert Johnson records from rural Mississippi and tape cassette recording changed his life and art. It will give you a new appreciation of the power of the humble, obsolete tape cassette, on which Keith and the Stones wrote songs and recorded key tracks amid the tumult of the tour—and drugs.

13. The Unnamed

Author: Joshua Ferris

Recommended by: Allison Arieff, Editor at Large, GOOD

Why Read? Every reviewer seemed to fault Ferris for not writing another funny book (like his debut novel, Then We Came to the End) but I found his second book, The Unnamed to be far better. The harrowing tale traces the evolution and inevitable tragic end of the protagonist’s compulsion, at any random moment of the day or night, to set out walking for hours at a time until he collapses in exhaustion. An amazingly apt metaphor for modern life and our collective obsessions productivity and business, I found this book to be totally compelling and absolutely devastating. Other similarly dark but gripping novels I couldn’t put down included Paul Auster’s Invisible, and the astounding tragic/comic masterpiece that is City of Thieves by David Benioff. Published in 2008 but to far little fanfare, it’s an incredible work.

14. What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

Authors: Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

Recommended by: Neal Gorenflo, Publisher,

Why read? The perfect book for a vision of how we're shifting from hyperconsumption to a more fulfilling, sustainable peer economy. Also, All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else that Belongs to All of Us. A book that shows us how to save the foundation of our health and wealth - the many commons on which human civilization depends.

PLUS: Just Kids, Patti Smith’s ode to the true love of her life, Robert Mappelthorpe and to New York’s bygone era where one could eke out a messy, crazy, brilliant, artistic life by being curious, hungry, and willing to bathe with intermittent frequency. And don’t miss the book that make the cosmetics industry reveal itself without makeup, former GOOD features editor Siobhan O’Connor’s No More Dirty Looks (with co-author Alexandra Spunt). And speaking of revealing, Phil Patton also recommends The Politician by Andrew Young about the John Edwards scandal, "an absolutely convincing tale of the banality of hubris and about what I would call "duty creep" on a job---you go from making coffee to watering plants to taking in the mistress."

What book topped your list in 2010?

via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

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