Author Historian Professor Novelist Byzantinist Londoner
The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,651 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

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My favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Profligate Son: Or, a True Story of Family Conflict, Fashionable Vice, and Financial Ruin in Regency England

Jonathan Harris Why did I love this book?

This is the story of someone you will almost certainly never have heard of: William Jackson (1791-1828). His only claim to fame was his extraordinary capacity for getting into debt.

The son of an East India Company Tax Collector who had retired to Bath, England, William manifested his unenviable talent at a remarkably tender age, while still at school in fact, and passed most of his short life on the move, constantly pursued both by his creditors and by his stern and disapproving father.

I loved this book because it reads like a novel yet everything it describes really happened and is meticulously documented in the footnotes. It paints an unforgettable picture of regency England and the strange laws that dictated the fate of those who did not pay their bills. 

By Nicola Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Profligate Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Regency England a profligate son was regarded as every parent's worst nightmare: he symbolized the dangerous temptations of a new consumer society and the failure of parents to instil moral, sexual, and financial self-control in their sons. This book tells the dramatic and moving story of one of those 'profligate sons': William Jackson, a charming teenage boy, whose embattled relationship with his father and frustrated attempts to keep up with his wealthy friends, resulted in personal and family tragedy.

From popular public school boy to the pursuit of prostitutes, from duelling to debtors' prison and finally, from fraudster to…


My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Cloud Cuckoo Land

Jonathan Harris Why did I love this book?

I was recommended this novel by a friend because it is partly about the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 which is something that I am particularly interested in.

It turned out, in fact, to have three interwoven plotlines: Constantinople 1453, Idaho in the 21st century and a spacecraft somewhere in the future, all linked by one long-lost ancient Greek text. Strangely enough, while I enjoyed the sections about Constantinople, I liked the dysfunctional teenager in Idaho and the inquisitive child in outer space even more. Perhaps because they took me into areas that were completely new: I have been to Istanbul several times but never to Idaho (nor to outer space for that matter).

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Cloud Cuckoo Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the New York Times bestseller list for over 20 weeks * A New York Times Notable Book * A National Book Award Finalist * Named a Best Book of the Year by Fresh Air, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Associated Press, and many more

“If you’re looking for a superb novel, look no further.” —The Washington Post

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, comes the instant New York Times bestseller that is a “wildly inventive, a humane and uplifting book for adults that’s infused with the magic of childhood reading experiences” (The New York Times…


My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Edwin

Jonathan Harris Why did I love this book?

I did not expect to like this novel. It looks like yet another saga of lots of sweaty guys whacking each other with swords. And yes, the heavily perspiring males are there with the long pointy metal things to boot.

But in his tale of the rise and fall of King Edwin of Northumbria (reigned 616-633 CE), the author deftly brings out the mindset of a society based on constant competition between rival warbands. He probes the motives behind Edwin’s ultimate adoption of Christianity with its promise of a way out of the endless treadmill of war and violence.

It is never going to be my thing but if you are going to do swords and sandals, this is the way. 

By Edoardo Albert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Edwin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin's usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure - the missionary Paulinus - who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point. Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to great power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith.…


Plus, check out my book…

Theosis

By Jonathan Harris,

Book cover of Theosis

What is my book about?

Constantinople 1024: few people can remember a time before Basil II. The emperor has ruled for nearly fifty years, has never married, and has no children. He scorns the opulent vestments that go with his rank and delegates his ceremonial duties to his indolent brother. He is more feared than loved and is merciless and vindictive to his enemies. No one dares to challenge his power, for he leads his armies to war in person rather than leaving it to his generals. He has no counsellors, takes no advice, and knows everything that goes on in his empire. That, at least, is what they say in the streets. But this is a world where nothing is ever quite as it seems.

This book is marketed outside North America as The Penguin History of Economics.