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The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,681 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

My favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship

Tai Stith Why did I love this book?

Imagine the classic, stereotypical 1950s rocketship. Now, imagine that rocketship is propelled by hundreds of nuclear bombs, and those nuclear bombs are dropping out the bottom and exploding, causing the rocketship to shoot skyward, sending humans to Mars—or beyond.

That was the wild premise of Project Orion, a real—and really classified—government project that began in 1957 and continued for an astounding seven years. 

For a book with loads of heavy technical concepts, Dyson’s writing is sublime. He mixes vivid environments with colorful character backstories to weave the perfect science story. I resonated with his very successful attempt to document true history, some of which is still classified. I was enormously disappointed when the book was over; I wanted to stay in the shroud of secrecy Dyson created for his reader.

By George Dyson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1957, a small group of scientists, supported by the U.S. government, launched an attempt to build a four-thousand-ton spaceship propelled by nuclear bombs. The initial plan called for missions to Mars by 1965 and Saturn by 1970. After seven years of work, political obstacles brought the effort to a halt.

The Orion team, led by the American bomb-designer Theodore B. Taylor, included the physicist Freeman Dyson, whose son George was five years old when the existence of the project was first announced. In Project Orion, George Dyson has synthesized hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of pages of…


My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Creating the New World: Stories

Tai Stith Why did I love this book?

Theodore Rockwell was a nuclear pioneer, and one of Admiral Rickover’s right-hand men during a dynamic period of America’s nuclear coming-of-age.

Although Creating the New World is largely about the early dawn of radiological science as we know it today, Rockwell’s lifetime of experiences lend to some ridiculously amazing stories. I absolutely love the humor and warmth in his writing; who knew a book about scientific history and principles could be laugh-out-loud funny?

But this book also challenged some of my long-held beliefs and understanding about radiation; while being entertaining, Creating the New World is also deeply provocative.

By Theodore Rockwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creating the New World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What They Say About The Book' Presents in vivid, human terms many of the young scientists and engineers who first harnessed this primal force, and the extraordinary times and environment in which they worked and lived...an enlightening and fascinating account. 'From the Foreword by the late Dr.GLENN T. SEABORG, Nobel Laureate, Co-discoverer of plutonium, Chairman, US Atomic Energy Commission, 1961-71' A unique contribution...I don't know of any other book that covers the same ground--which was ground zero for the evolution of this important and controversial technology... It doesn't hurt that you're an engaging storyteller and that you were present at…


My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Onyx Seed

Tai Stith Why did I love this book?

The Onyx Seed is the second novel I’ve read by independent author R.W. Harrison, and it was a delightful surprise.

My love for all things creepy and weird (think X-Files) and Harrison’s fast-paced plotline kept me turning pages. I cared about the characters and their outcomes (which were sometimes quite grisly!) It was clear that Harrison really spent some time researching World War II and mythological history to get the story’s details to ring with truth, which I truly appreciate. 

By R.W. Harrison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The peacefulness of a small, post-World War II town in New York is shattered when Larry McConnell drowns mysteriously in a local lake. When a kind boarder joins Larry’s widow, Margaret, and her young son Davey, she begins to think her house may be haunted. The sheriff believes a rogue deputy is responsible for Larry’s death while Margaret reluctantly seeks the help of a palm reader. The psychic identifies a dresser in Davey’s room as the source of the haunting and the root of the evil that is now swirling around them and threatening Margaret’s son. Deeper research reveals that…


Plus, check out my book…

Science, Submarines & Secrets: The Incredible Early Years of the Albany Research Center

By Tai Stith,

Book cover of Science, Submarines & Secrets: The Incredible Early Years of the Albany Research Center

What is my book about?

In 1943, an unbelievable series of events led to the establishment the U.S. Bureau of Mines Albany Research Center, in Albany, Oregon, where world-renown metallurgist William J. Kroll was hired after fleeing Nazi occupation. Kroll worked to develop malleable zirconium, just as a need arose for the little-known metal.

On the other side of the country, the petulant and abrasive Captain Rickover was working to develop the world's first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, under the cover of extreme secrecy. But as engineers worked night and day to create a suitable form of propulsion, one problem after another cropped up. Enter Kroll's zirconium, and its sister metal, hafnium. Science, Submarines & Secrets delves into the history of Albany’s government laboratory, and its world-changing nuclear and metallurgical advancements. 

My 7-year-old's favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

Tai Stith Why did they love this book?

Besides phenomenal illlustrations by Julia Sarda, which always border on deliciously creepy, Bailey’s retelling of Mary Shelley’s younger years and how she came to write Frankenstein is absolutely captivating, resulting in a book that we’ve read over and over.

Bonus: if you’re an adult who hasn’t read Frankenstein yet, read this kids’ book, then read the novel. You’ll thank me.

By Linda Bailey, Julia Sarda (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE KATE GREENAWAY MEDAL
It began with a girl named Mary. She liked to daydream and imagine. And she grew up to write Frankenstein.
The inspirational true story of the great writer Mary Shelley, brought to life for children in this stunning picture book by multi-award winning author Linda Bailey and with beautiful illustrations from Julia Sarda.
Mary loves stories, but the stories in her daydreams are far more thrilling than those in any book. One dark and stormy night Mary huddles around the fire with friends, telling ghost stories. But Mary knows she can write much better…


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My 11-year-old's favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Secret Subway

Tai Stith Why did they love this book?

I’ve found my youngest two (ages 7 and 11) seem much more invested in books when they learn the story is true, so The Secret Subway was a hit with my girls.

This book uncovers the little-known story of Alfred Eli Beach and his secret attempt at an underground railway, right under the feet of unsuspecting New Yorkers! What a fantastic book that deserves re-reads (and if you’re a curious adult like myself, some internet research to read more about the tale!!)

By Shana Corey, Red Nose Studio (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret Subway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From an acclaimed author and a New York Times Best Illustrated artist comes the fascinating, little-known—and true!—story of New York City’s first subway.
 
New York City in the 1860s was a mess: crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is, until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece—and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track.
 
The Secret Subway will wow readers, just…


Explore all books for 11-year-olds

My 13-year-old's favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Queen in the Cave

Tai Stith Why did they love this book?

Little demons running around with matches? Check. A funeral for a rat mob boss? Check. A pipe-smoking toad? Check. And those are just the margin illustrations in this fantastical book, both written and illustrated by Julia Sarda.

To younger kids, it’s just a weird and wild story about three sisters going on adventure, but to perceptive older kids and adults, it’s a melancholy story about growing up. This book earned a place on our bookshelf for being unusually poignant…with uncommonly original artwork.

By Julia Sarda,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Queen in the Cave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Julia Sarda spins an enthralling and evocative tale rich with layers of meaning to be unearthed.

One night, Franca has a dream about a marvellous queen. And now she feels intrigued... Eager to know more about this mystical figure, Franca shares her dream with her two younger sisters. Together, they set out on an enchanting adventure to discover the kingdom of the queen in the cave.

This is a riveting and atmospheric picture book that will surprise and enthral young readers and dreamers.


Explore all books for 13-year-olds