The 10 Best Books of 2023
The staff of The New York Times Book Review choose the year’s standout fiction and nonfiction.
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By The New York Times Books Staff
- Nov. 28, 2023
Every year, starting in the spring, we spend months debating the most exceptional books that pass across our desks: the families we grow to love, the narrative nonfiction that carries us away, the fictional universes we can’t forget. It’s all toward one goal — deciding the best books of the year.
Things can get heated. We spar, we persuade and (above all) we agonize until the very end, when we vote and arrive at 10 books — five fiction and five nonfiction.
We dive more into the list in a special edition of our podcast . And in case you’d like even more variety, don’t miss our list of 100 Notable Books of 2023 , or take a spin through this handy list , which features all the books we’ve christened the best throughout the years.
Here they are, the 10 Best Books of 2023.
The Bee Sting , by Paul Murray
Murray makes his triumphant return with “The Bee Sting,” a tragicomic tale about an Irish family grappling with crises. The Barneses — Dickie, Imelda, Cass and PJ — are a wealthy Irish clan whose fortunes begin to plummet after the 2008 financial crash. But in addition to this shared hardship, all four are dealing with demons of their own: the re-emergence of a long-kept secret, blackmail, the death of a past love, a vexing frenemy, a worrisome internet pen pal and more. The novel threads together the stories of the increasingly isolated Barneses, but the overall tapestry Murray weaves is not one of desolation but of hope. This is a book that showcases one family’s incredible love and resilience even as their world crumbles around them. Read our review .
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Chain-Gang All-Stars , by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
A dystopian satire in which death-row inmates duel on TV for a chance at freedom, Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel — following his 2018 story collection, “ Friday Black ” — pulls the reader into the eager audience, making us complicit with the bloodthirsty fans sitting ringside. “As much as this book made me laugh at these parts of the world I recognized as being mocked, it also made me wish I recognized less of it,” Giri Nathan wrote in his review. “The United States of ‘Chain-Gang All-Stars’ is like ours, if sharpened to absurd points.” Amid a wrenching love story between two top competitors who are forced to choose between each other and freedom, the fight scenes are so well written they demonstrate how easy it might be to accept a world this sick. Read our review .
Eastbound , by Maylis de Kerangal
De Kerangal’s brief, lyrical novel, first published in France in 2012 and newly translated by Jessica Moore, follows a young Russian conscript named Aliocha on a trans-Siberian train packed with other soldiers. The mood is grim. Aliocha, unnerved by his surroundings after a brawl, decides to desert — and in so doing, creates an uneasy alliance with a civilian passenger, a Frenchwoman. Their desolate environment — de Kerangal describes the Siberian landscape as “a world turned inside out like a glove, raw, wild, empty” — only heightens the stakes. “The insecurity of existence across this vastness and on board the train emphasizes the significance of human connection,” our reviewer, Ken Kalfus, wrote. “In a time of war, this connection may bring liberation and salvation.” Read our review .
The Fraud , by Zadie Smith
Based on a celebrated 19th-century criminal trial in which the defendant was accused of impersonating a nobleman, Smith’s novel offers a vast, acute panoply of London and the English countryside, and successfully locates the social controversies of an era in a handful of characters. Chief among them are a widowed Scottish housekeeper who avidly follows the trial and a formerly enslaved Jamaican servant who testifies on behalf of the claimant. Smith is a talented critic as well as a novelist, and — by way of the housekeeper’s employer, a once popular writer and friendly rival of Dickens — she finds ample opportunity to send up the literary culture of the time while reflecting on whose stories are told and whose are overlooked. “As always, it is a pleasure to be in Zadie Smith’s mind, which, as time goes on, is becoming contiguous with London itself,” Karan Mahajan wrote in his review. “Dickens may be dead, but Smith, thankfully, is alive.” Read our review .
North Woods , by Daniel Mason
Mason’s ambitious, kaleidoscopic novel ushers readers over the threshold of a house in the wilds of western Massachusetts and leaves us there for 300 years and almost 400 pages. One after another, in sections interspersed with letters, poems, song lyrics, diary entries, medical case notes, real estate listings, vintage botanical illustrations and assorted ephemera not normally bound into the pages of a novel, we get to know the inhabitants of the place from colonial times to present day. There’s an apple farmer, an abolitionist and a wealthy manufacturer. A pair of beetles. A landscape painter. A ghost. Their lives (and deaths) briefly intersect, but mostly layer over each other in dazzling decoupage. All the while, the natural world looks on — a long-suffering, occasionally destructive presence. Mason is the consummate genial host, inviting you to stay as long as you like and to make of the place what you will. Read our review .
The Best Minds , by Jonathan Rosen
An inch-by-inch, pin-you-to-the-sofa reconstruction of the author’s long friendship with Michael Laudor, who made headlines first as a Yale Law School graduate destigmatizing schizophrenia ; then for stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death with a kitchen knife, after which he was sent to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Drawing from clips, court and police records, legal and medical studies, interviews, diaries and Laudor’s feverish writings (including a book proposal of his own), Rosen examines the porous line between brilliance and insanity, the complicated policy questions posed by deinstitutionalization and the ethical obligations of a community. “The Best Minds” is a thoughtfully constructed, deeply sourced indictment of a society that prioritizes profit, quick fixes and happy endings over the long slog of care. Read our review .
Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs , by Kerry Howley
Howley’s account of the national security state and the people entangled in it includes fabulists, truth tellers, combatants, whistle-blowers. At the center is Reality Winner (“her real name, let’s move past it now”), the National Security Agency contractor who was convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information to The Intercept and sentenced to 63 months in prison. Howley’s exploration of privacy and digital surveillance eventually lands her in the badlands of conspiracy theorists and QAnon. It’s an arc that feels both startling and inevitable; of course a journey through the deep state would send her down the rabbit hole. The result is a book that is riveting and darkly funny and, in all senses of the word, unclassifiable. Read our review .
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Fire Weather , by John Vaillant
In 2016, raging wildfires consumed Fort McMurray in the Canadian province of Alberta. In the all-too-timely “Fire Weather,” Vaillant details how the blaze started, how it grew, the damage it wrought — and the perfect storm of factors that led to the catastrophe. We are introduced to firefighters, oil workers, meteorologists and insurance assessors. But the real protagonist here is the fire itself: an unruly and terrifying force with insatiable appetites. This book is both a real-life thriller and a moment-by-moment account of what happened — and why, as the climate changes and humans don’t, it will continue to happen again and again. Read our review .
Master Slave Husband Wife , by Ilyon Woo
In 1848, Ellen and William Craft, an enslaved couple in Georgia, made a daring escape north disguised as a sickly young white planter and his male slave — Ellen as the wealthy scion in a stovepipe hat, dark green glasses and a sling over her right arm to conceal her illiteracy. Improbably, despite close calls and determined slave catchers, the Crafts succeeded in their flight, going on to tour the abolitionist speaker circuit in England and to write a popular account of their journey. Their story, which a leading American abolitionist called “one of the most thrilling in the nation’s annals,” is remarkable enough. But Woo’s immersive rendering, which conjures the Crafts’ escape in novelistic detail, is equally a feat — of research, storytelling, sympathy and insight. Read our review .
Some People Need Killing , by Patricia Evangelista
This powerful book mostly covers the years between 2016 and 2022, when Rodrigo Duterte was president of the Philippines and pursued a murderous campaign of extrajudicial killings — EJKs for short. Such killings became so frequent that journalists like Evangelista, then a reporter for the independent news site Rappler, kept folders on their computers that were organized not by date but by hour of death. Offering the intimate disclosures of memoir and the larger context of Philippine history, Evangelista also pays close attention to language, and not only because she is a writer. Language can be used to communicate, to deny, to threaten, to cajole. It can propagate lies, but it also allows one to speak the truth. Read our review .
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The Best Books of 2023, According to NYPL
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Every year, librarians from the New York Public Library system pick their favorite books of 2023, including Adult, Teen, and Children’s books. These aren’t necessarily the most popular books in this library system, but they’re the ones librarians most recommend. At a time where every publication is putting out its own best books of the year list, this one has good claim to being one you should pay attention to. Who better to know the best books of the year than the librarians at the biggest library system in the country?
NYPL has selected 70 adult books, 50 teen books, and 114 books for kids as their highlights of 2023. You can filter those results not just by genre, but also categories like AAPI Experiences (including Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America by Julia Lee), Cozy ( Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto), Creepy ( Bad Kids by Zijin Chen), LGBTQ+ ( An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera), NYC Stories ( The New Guy by Sarina Bowen), and many more.
If you’ve got some kids on your end of year shopping list, the Best Books for Kids list is a great way to discover some new picture books and middle grade books that you might have missed!
You can see the full lists at the NYPL website .
Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books .
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Apple unveils the top books of 2023 and a new Year in Review experience
Discover Year in Review
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Explore the Best and Top Books and Audiobooks of 2023
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- Year in Review is available for free for Apple Books users in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
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November 28, 2023
Apple unveils the top books :br(l)::br(xl):of 2023 and a new Year in Review experience
Users can browse the top books and audiobooks of 2023 and explore personalized insights about the books they enjoyed this year
Apple Books is the single destination for all the books and audiobooks readers love, featuring the ability to set Reading Goals, organize books into collections, share purchases using Family Sharing, and browse personalized recommendations for new titles.
Today, Apple Books unveiled the top books and audiobooks of 2023 and launched Year in Review, a new in-app experience that helps readers to celebrate the titles, authors, and genres that defined their year. With Year in Review, users can view personalized reading highlights about the books and audiobooks they enjoyed in 2023, including their total time spent reading, the longest book or audiobook they read, the series they completed, their most-read author and genre, and their highest-rated book — all presented in a simple and engaging experience with visuals that are easy to share.
Here’s how to access Year in Review on Apple Books:
Year in Review is available on iPhone and iPad within the Read Now tab under Top Picks to users with at least three titles marked as finished.
To add books or audiobooks, readers can tap and hold on any book in the app and choose Mark as Finished. To change the finished date shown, users can hold down on the book and select Edit Finished Date. For titles read elsewhere, such as in hardcover or paperback, users can search for them in Apple Books and select Mark as Finished to add them to their Year in Review.
Year in Review uses anonymized reader insights to determine a personal reading type. There are six reader types to discover, including The Contemporary for readers of trendy titles; The Completist for readers of multiple books in a series; The Seeker for nonfiction readers; The Wanderer for multigenre readers; The Deep Diver for single-genre readers; or The Free Spirit for readers with wide-ranging interests across the book world.
At the end of a user’s Year in Review, they can see an overview of their year in Books, featuring the total books read and total minutes spent reading, with an accompanying grid of book covers they’ve finished.
To close the chapter on a remarkable year, Apple Books published the Best of 2023, an editorially curated collection of standout books and audiobooks across a variety of genres, and the most popular titles of the year. Topping the charts in many countries were two prominent celebrity memoirs that bookended 2023: Prince Harry’s Spare in January and Britney Spears’s The Woman in Me , narrated by actor Michelle Williams, in October. Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was also a must-read for fans of romance and fantasy during the spring and summer. Check out the most popular books and audiobooks of 2023 and browse the top charts for all titles on Apple Books.
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