Author Emeritus Professor Archaeologist Historian of science Passionate about the 19th century Opera lover
The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,686 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

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My favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of H.M.S. Surprise

Tim Murray Why did I love this book?

This is the 3rd book in the Aubrey Maturin series written now some 50 years ago. It has not aged at all.

Primarily set in Asia, it relates some of the most compelling stories of naval action I have ever read, while telling us so much about people and place. I read the whole cycle of the 20 completed novels every year. I do this for many reasons – not least of which is the sheer quality of the writing, and the fantastic sense O’Brien gives of life in the British Navy (the wooden world) at a crucial period in its history.

This was the Navy of Britain’s dominance of the globe through sea power – a dominance that affected so many aspects of our lives since then. It's always fun to rediscover the origins of so many English sayings such as To Toe the Line, and By and Large. Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin are real people – foolish and brave, generous and conceited.

I deeply mourned O’Brien’s passing – the more so because the fragment of his last work The Final, unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey promised so much. Vale Lucky Jack!

By Patrick O'Brian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked H.M.S. Surprise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Third in the series of Aubrey-Maturin adventures, this book is set among the strange sights and smells of the Indian subcontinent, and in the distant waters ploughed by the ships of the East India Company. Aubrey is on the defensive, pitting wits and seamanship against an enemy enjoying overwhelming local superiority. But somewhere in the Indian Ocean lies the prize that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams: the ships sent by Napoleon to attack the China Fleet.

My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile

Tim Murray Why did I love this book?

River of Gods covers so many of my interests in the history of archaeology – especially the great 19th-century fascination with the history of Egypt.

Best of all it revisits one of the more memorable conflicts of the period, specifically that between Richard Burton and John Speke, over the discovery of the source of the Nile. I am a great admirer of Burton – a person of prodigious intellect with an extraordinary facility with languages – he spoke 29!

He and Speke were entirely different people, but both characteristic of quite different Victorian values. It is no wonder that they fell out so badly.

What is particularly interesting about this retelling of a quite familiar tale of conflict and mendacity is Millard’s discussion of the role of their guide Sidi Mubarak Bombay. What a character he is! Millard has done us all a great service in finding his place in the great sweep of Victorian exploration.

By Candice Millard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked River of the Gods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'This complex, compelling tale is told with simplicity and grace' - The Times

A story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.

For millennia the location of the Nile River's headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the mid-19th century, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for Britain. Burton spoke twenty-nine languages, and was a decorated soldier. He was also mercurial, subtle, and an iconoclastic atheist. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark,…

My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Act of Oblivion

Tim Murray Why did I love this book?

I have long been a fan of Robert Harris, beginning with his first work of fiction Fatherland where he introduced us to a world where Germany had won the Second World War. Since then he has moved far and wide across some of the more traditional territory of historical fiction – especially in his books on ancient Rome, and lately in Medieval England.

In Act of Oblivion Harris deploys his considerable narrative skill (matched by meticulous historical research) to tell a fascinating story about one consequence of the death of Charles I (and of the Restoration under Charles II). Harris’ focus is on the story of what happened to two people intimately involved in the execution of the King.

The story moves from England to the British colonies in North America in the late 17th century as the regicides are hunted down. I won’t give away the ending, but Harris’ account is rich and complex. It’s a fascinating and very satisfying work. 

By Robert Harris,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Act of Oblivion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A belter of a thriller' THE TIMES
'A master storyteller . . . an important book for our particular historical moment' OBSERVER
'His best since Fatherland' SUNDAY TIMES

'From what is it they flee?'
He took a while to reply. By the time he spoke the men had gone inside. He said quietly, 'They killed the King.'

1660. Colonel Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, cross the Atlantic. Having been found guilty of high treason for the murder of Charles the I, they are wanted and on the run. A reward hangs over their heads - for their…

Plus, check out my book…

From Antiquarian to Archaeologist: The History and Philosophy of Archaeology

By Tim Murray,

Book cover of From Antiquarian to Archaeologist: The History and Philosophy of Archaeology

What is my book about?

This volume forms a collection of papers tracking the emergence of the history of archaeology from a subject of marginal status in the 1980s to the mainstream subject which it is today. Emeritus Professor Timothy Murray's essays have been widely cited and track over 30 years in the development of the subject. The papers are accompanied by a new introduction which surveys the development of the subject over the last 25 years as well as a reflection of what this means for the philosophy of archaeology and theoretical archaeology.