Favourite books of 2023

Ultramarathons and audiobooks go together like sushi and soy sauce. In a big running year, I’ve largely eschewed podcasts for audiobooks. Here’s some of the books I’d recommend. Most are new, but some are merely new to me. Within each category, I’ve mostly put my favourites at the top.


  • Claudia Goldin, Career and Family – the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics writes masterfully about how the world has changed for women across the past century, blending together work and family, and drawing lightly on data and stories to tell the tale.
  • Angus Deaton, Economics in America – in the tradition of Alistair Cooke, Angus Deaton has been writing a regular letter for UK economists. This book draws together much of that material, casting light on poverty in the US, the culture of the economics profession, and containing a beautiful tribute to the late Tony Atkinson.
  • Matthew Desmond, Poverty, by America – the author of Evicted blends statistics and stories to dive deep into the failure of the world’s richest nation to address the problem of poverty.
  • Bradford DeLong, Slouching Towards Utopia – the twentieth century has seen an explosion in material wealth… and inequality. A data-rich account of how the world has changed, and how we might do better still.
  • Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington, The Big Con – consulting has its place, but the authors powerfully argue that it’s outgrown it. A book that preceded – and in some sense anticipated – the PwC scandal.
  • Bradley Hope & Tom Wright, Billion Dollar Whale – the gobsmacking tale of Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal
  • David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs – as an economist, I don’t buy the whole argument, but it’s well worth reading
  • Judea Pearl, The Book of Why – this thoughtful discussion of causal inference contains insights for any social scientist involved in analysing data. A little too long, a little too dogmatic in parts – but brilliant nonetheless.


  • Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox, Gradual – this compelling argument for gradual reform draws on examples of big reforms that started gradually (US social security). Big bang reforms, the authors argue, rarely work. Besides that, they aren’t what most voters seek.
  • Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny – twenty lessons from the twentieth century about how to spot a burgeoning authoritarian, and what citizens can do to prevent the rise of tyranny.
  • Paul Kenny, Why Populism? – one of the world’s academic experts in populism explores its troubling rise
  • Philip McKibbin, Love Notes: For a Politics of Love – if there’s an antidote to angry populism, it’s the idea of a politics of love. Drawing on examples from Nelson Mandela to Māori culture, New Zealander Philip McKibbin sketches out what a politics of love might look like today.


  • Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon – a wonderfully witty tale about writing and childrearing in the city of light
  • Ari Shapiro – The Best Strangers in the World – so it turns out that Ari isn’t just a storytelling journalist, he’s also a singer for a major band (Pink Martini). Yes, I’m jealous. Yes, the book is fabulous.

Literature and Pop Culture

  • Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses – part-biographical story, part essay, this beautiful book makes the case for why progressives should be concerned not just with bread, but with roses too.
  • Claire Dederer, Monsters – a deep, and deeply disturbing, look at the awful men who have made great art and created terrible misery. How should we regard the artistic works of those who hurt the people around them?
  • Catherine Lumby, Frank Moorhouse: A Life – this biography of one of Australia’s greatest writers manages to be both loving and incisive. Check out our conversation at the ANU/Canberra Times meet the author series on my Good Life podcast.
  • Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite – a biography of poet John Donne, with his perfect poems and imperfect life.
  • Sarah Hart, Once Upon a Prime – a delightful journey about the presence of maths in literature, from James Joyce to Jurassic Park.
  • Haruki Murakami, Novelist as a Vocation – it turns out that one the world’s great writers got his start as a jazz club owner, writing in his spare time.
  • Dennis Duncan, Index, a History of the – in the tradition of histories of things you never wondered about (salt, the codpiece, witches, colour). This one kept me engaged from A to Z.
  • Aisha Harris, Wannabe – pop culture galore, from the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Not quite as good as Shapiro, but entertaining all the same.


  • Michael Lewis, Going Infinite – a rollicking tale of the rise and fall of cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried (here’s my review in the SMH/Age)
  • Jennifer Pahlka, Recoding America – the founder of Code for America (and President Obama’s deputy chief technology officer) delves into how technology can make government work better… or worse. Here’s my review for Inside Story.
  • Sean Ennis, Internet Empire – one of the best books I’ve read on the question of how technology is affecting competition. Ennis’s background at the OECD gives him a wide perspective on how these issues are being tackled across the advanced world. You’ll never look at a hotel booking site like Expedia or booking.com the same way again.
  • Tracey Spicer, Man Made – how the technologies of the future risk embedding the biases of the past. For a taster, check out Tracey’s contribution to the AI panel that I convened at the SXSW Sydney conference, available here.
  • Amy Webb, The Big Nine – an analysis of nine dominant tech companies in the US and China
  • Chris Miller, Chip War – a deep dive into the world of chip production, which explains why so few companies can make the most sought-after chips

Foreign Policy

  • Sam Roggeveen, The Echidna Strategy – a carefully argued case for how to defend Australia, from one of the Lowy Institute’s most cogent thinkers.
  • Andrew Charlton, Australia’s Pivot to India – an economic history of Australia and India, replete with quirky stories (Campa-Cola, anyone?). Andrew represents Parramatta, where one in five of his constituents are of Indian heritage.


  • Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage – fans of Nick Cave, and subscribers to his ‘Red Hand Files’ emails, will know what a wise soul Nick is. These interviews draw together the strands that helped build one of the most complex musicians Australia has ever known.
  • Peter Attia and Bill Gifford, Outlive – a strongly science-based guide to healthy living, which includes the best takedown of nutritional epidemiology I’ve ever read. For longer lives, do more randomised trials. But I digress…
  • Annie Duke, Quit - an elite poker player makes the case that if you want to achieve more, you need to strategically quit more. A bevy of insights, of which my personal favourite is Astro Teller's metaphor of pedestals versus fire-juggling monkeys.
  • Martin Seligman, The Hope Circuit – a happiness researcher discusses his research, in an autobiographical kind of way. Australian readers will enjoy the Geelong references.
  • Linda McIver, Raising Heretics – a valuable antidote to snowplough parenting, which encourages us to foster quirkiness and a questioning nature in our children.
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene – one of the best books I’ve read on the unfolding mysteries of genetics took me on a Mukherjee readathon, including The Emperor of All Maladies, his splendid book about cancer.
  • Laura Vanderkam, Tranquillity by Tuesday – feeling stressed? There’s something in this wise little book for everyone.


  • Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow – the central characters design computer games. If you’re not into them, you will be by the time you finish this sensational novel.
  • David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives – this remarkable little volume was given to me by Joe Walker, who hosts one of the world’s best in-conversation podcasts. Each story is like a unique jewel, and they’re short enough that I’ve been reading them to my eleven year-old as bedtime stories.
  • Elif Batuman, Either/Or – a coming-of-age novel set in Boston, driven by characters who see the world through the lens of great books
  • Shehan Karunatilaka, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida – the ghost of a gay photographer in Sri Lanka looks back over his life, delving into the tragedy of the civil war, and finding unexpected moments of love and tenderness.
  • Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Before the Coffee Gets Cold – a series of stories in a Japanese café are a poignant reminder that life is finite, and our loved ones are there to be loved.
  • Curtis Sittenfeld, Romantic Comedy – a comedy writer seeks love. Funny, yet insightful.
  • Alexander McCall Smith, The Man With the Silver Saab – feelgood crime fiction, featuring the wonderfully-named Swedish ‘Department of Sensitive Crimes’
  • Chris Hammer, The Seven – the latest thriller from journalist-turned-author Chris Hammer – check out our ANU ‘in conversation’ event on my Good Life podcast. This one took me back to Hammer’s other great books, including Scrublands and Silver.
  • Richard Powers, The Overstory – nine characters, nine stories, joined by trees. A worthy winner of the 2022 Pulitzer.
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale – I’m very late to this one, but wow – what a story. Not only does Atwood create a remarkable dystopia, she unfolds it piece-by-piece, giving the reader the feeling of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
  • Jenny Jackson, Pineapple Street – if there’s a book that’s the opposite of the Handmaid’s Tale, it’s this gossipy story of upper-class Manhattan socialites. So fluffy it’ll float away if you don’t hold it down.
  • Philip Dick, A Scanner Darkly – curious to learn more about the author of Bladerunner (originally titled ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’), I divided into the back catalogue of this sci-fi author. Deeply, darkly, delightfully weird.
  • Salman Rushdie, Victory City – the language is remarkable, but the story didn’t hold me like other Rushdie books have done

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  • Andrew Leigh
    published this page in What's New 2023-12-02 21:42:52 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.