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  • Writer's pictureKatie Breen

My Top 14 Books of 2018

If you're a book-lover, you may have been following my reading series this year, where I broke down what I read in Q1, Q2, and Q3.

I'll give you the full list for the year below, including Q4, but I know you've just been dying to read another "BEST OF THE YEAR" list, so I'll do that for ya first. Oh, and you'll notice that Obama and I loved a lot of the same books. Great minds. ;) 

Here are my TOP FOURTEEN BOOKS for 2018. I couldn't pick ten. Sorry.


  1. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (fun fact: in 2019, 5 months after I wrote this post, I actually worked for Atul Gawande at his organization, Ariadne Labs! Weird how the world works out.)

  2. ‍Bad Blood by John Carreyou‍

  3. ‍Educated by Tara Westover‍

  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama

  5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


  1. Forever by Pete Hamill

  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

  3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

  4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

  6. Red Tea by Meg Mesezske‍

  7. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

And here's the full list of 52 books for the year (no, I did not plan that and no, I did not read one each week, precisely), including Q4, all in one place! More detailed descriptions are in the full blog posts for each quarter, linked above.

Fiction (I read mostly historical fiction, as you'll see):


1. People of the Book, Geraldine Rogers (Jewish history spanning centuries and continents. Very cool.)

2. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (learned a ton about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how terribly the Japanese treated and discriminated against Koreans)

3. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (early 20th century American South)

4. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd (1830s Charleston, South Carolina)

5. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (modern take on what it might look like if the Civil War ended differently)

6. Forever, Pete Hamill (NYC, spanning from 1600s to today; a must-read if you live in or love NYC)

7. The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant (early 20th century Boston)

8. Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (state-sponsored kidnapping of poor white kids in the early 20th century American South for adoption by wealthy white families)

9. Rules of Civility, Amor Towles (1920s New York City)

10. Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (early 20th century China and U.S.)

11. Dreams of Joy, Lisa See (early Communist China!)

12. Last Train to Instanbul, Ayse Kulin (I thought I knew a TON about WWII, particularly as it concerns the Holocaust, but this book taught me about the incredible role that Turkey played in getting its Jewish citizens out of Nazi-occupied Europe.)

13. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly (WWII historical fiction, examines the lives of female Holocaust victims and Nazis)


14. Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks (1660s Martha's Vineyard) 

15. Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan (1930s-40s New York City gangsters)

16. The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah (set in 1970s Alaska)


17. Red Tea, Meg Mezeske (debut novel of my friend; a page-turning murder-mystery set in Japan)

18. The Alice Network, Kate Quinn (a gripping man-hunt, about spies in both World Wars)

19. The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (feminist historical fiction set in 17th century London, rich with Jewish history and philosophy, spanning centuries and locations)

20. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (set against 20th century Afghan political events) 21. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See (If you like Lisa See's novels, you'll like it. Great at Chinese historical fiction,  so-so on everything else.)

22. The Atomic City Girls, Janet Beard (Classic WWII historical fiction set in Tennessee)

23. The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott (Irish-Catholic, early 20th century Brooklyn)

24. The Paris Wife, Paul McClain (depressing; about Ernest Hemingway's relationship with his first wife. TLDR: Hemingway was an immature, self-absorbed asshole, and their whole relationship teetered on (or went right over) the edges of emotional abuse)

25. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a classic, but I only got through maybe half because I kept falling asleep.)

26. A Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (starts out in 1940s New Orleans, goes to present day New Orleans) 27. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (recommended by Lindsey Pollaczek of the Fistula Foundation  during my interview with her about obstetric fistula. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it tells the story of twin boys growing up at a Catholic hospital)

Q4 (Disclaimer: Q4 was my first semester of grad school, so my reading was...sporadic.)

28. The Fourteenth of September, Rita Dragonette (women in the Vietnam anti-war movement - you can also skip the book and just listen to my podcast interview with the author!

29. Warlight, Michael Ondaatje (beautiful, beautiful writing; post-WWII London and English countryside)

30. Munich, Robert Harris (WWII in Europe. If you've read a lot of WWII books like me, you can probably skip this one and the next)

31. We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter (Holocaust historical fiction, France and Eastern Europe) 

32. The Romanov Prophecy, Steve Berry (if you like Dan Brown books, you'll like this thriller set in Russia)

33. The Overstory, Richard Powers (beautiful, powerful writing)

34. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (weaves stories together from 17th century Africa, to 19th century slave-holding America, through Jim Crow, all the way up to today. Beautiful.)




2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond (must-read)

4. Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead-My Life Story, Cecile Richards (by the outgoing, long-time president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of Texas Democratic governor Ann Richards)

5. About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America, Carol Sanger (reads like an academic text, but is great)

6. Epidemiology: An Introduction, The Open University (this one and the next books are great, free, quick primers for anyone wondering wtf "public health" is!)

7. Introducing Public Health, The Open University


8. The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine N. Aron (helped me understand how your nervous system plays a huge role in your personality, and mine is definitely more ratcheted up at all times than a normal person's)

9. Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (Definitely read it if you like military planes and WWII aviation history in the Pacific theater)

10. The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson (Chicago World's Fair, and the famous murderer H.H. Holmes)

11. A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Barbara Oakley (the study and time management tips are useful to everyone. Even if you're just someone with a lot of work on your plate.) 

12. Epidemiology and the People's Health: Theory and Context, Nancy Krieger (this is a TEXTBOOK that I basically read for fun, so bear that in mind, but it's interesting. The history of epidemiology, how the medical field has studied and conceptualized disease, and where the field is going now.) 13. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (TLDR; your grandparents were a lot less innocent than you think)

14. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyou (tells the story of Theranos, the startup you probably remember hearing about and then may remember seeing that its CEO is going to prison. Because the whole company was built on an ever-escalating pyramid of flat-out lies and a mix of internal manipulation/intimiation that will make your worst boss seem like a true leader.)

Q4 (Since this was my first semester of grad school, I read a TON of non-fiction textbooks, academic papers, reports, etc. but I will spare you those.)

15. Becoming, Michelle Obama (loved getting to know MoBama a bit better; if you read this book, you definitely won't listen to the rumors about her running in 2020!)

16. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, Soraya Chemaly (if you're a woman who has ever been angry, or a man who has ever interacted with a woman, read this)

17. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (what happens when a neurosurgeon is diagnosed with terminal cancer)

18. Educated , Tara Westover (girl grows up in a sheltered, devoutly Christian, homeschooled household where she barely learns to read. Ends up in the Ivy League.) 

What were your favorite books of 2018? What are you dying to read in 2019? Let me know!


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