This is a comprehensive book recommendation guide for both fiction and non-fiction books, curated from over 500 books that I’ve read. It’s organized into categories, including fantasy, science fiction, thriller, mystery, novella, history, economics, and sports. Feel free to go through the whole list or dive straight into your favorite genre.
Whether it’s to Hogwarts, Westeros, Middle-Earth, the best fantasy books can take you on journeys to faraway lands. Considering the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, I’ve refrained from recommending those series. But needless to say, both are really amazing, and you should consider checking them out if you haven’t already. LOTR, in particular, is widely regarded as one of the greatest works in fantasy literature. But if you are looking for a new fantasy saga, here are some suggestions:
Brandon Sanderson is the biggest name in fantasy right now and this isn’t the first you will hear his name in this page. Even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was conceived, he had established a shared universe called Cosmere where most of his books take place. Across the many novels and worlds, there is a secret story playing out behind the scenes and characters from one book make small cameos in others. However, you do not need to be aware of this behind-the-scenes story in order to enjoy the novels.
What sets Sanderson from the competition, apart from his manic writing speed (he has written 5 novels and 8 short stories since A Dance with Dragons was released in 2011) are his unique world-building and magic systems. Allomancy, the magic system in the Mistborn trilogy, is perhaps his best yet. It brought the same sense of fascination that I’d felt while learning about magic in Harry Potter. The series follows a ragtag group of rebels trying to overthrow an immortal ruler and is packed with massive twists, turns, and action sequences. If you’re a fan of fantasy and haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy yet, you have no excuses. Even if you’re not a fan of fantasy, or only swing by for the occasional Harry Potter book, I still think this is a trilogy you shouldn’t miss. If you like this series (and you will!), you can check these helpful guides from Tor on his other books and understanding the Cosmere better.
This series is heavily recommended for fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and people who generally enjoy satirical comedy. Set in a disc-like world that is borne through space on the back of four giant elephants that stand on the back of a huge turtle, the series is as ludicrous as it sounds, and I honestly do not remember the last occasion I laughed out loud this often while reading a book. It is also inventively mad and wonderful, as only Terry Pratchett’s books could be. With a total of 41 books in the series, with several sub-series, I’d recommend you start with Guards! Guards!, which is the first book in the best sub-series.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the series, when a character (Mort) was interning with Death (you heard me right!).
Death was standing behind a lectern, poring over a map. He looked at Mort as if he wasn’t entirely there.
YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF THE BAY OF MANTE, HAVE YOU? He said.
“No, sir,” said Mort.
FAMOUS SHIPWRECK THERE.
THERE WILL BE, said Death, IF I CAN FIND THE DAMN PLACE.
- The Broken Earth
This multi-award-winning fantasy trilogy has an intricate and imaginative magic system with the potential to rival even that of Brandon Sanderson. The series takes place in a bleak, ash-covered dystopian world that is constantly rocked by earthquakes. I always appreciate a book when it ‘shows and not tells’. The author N. K. Jemisin never once shoves information down our throats and lets us piece together her immersive world by ourselves. Some people might find this book ‘slow’, but with the plot gradually unfolding in ways you never see coming, it makes for an extremely gratifying experience. Click here for my review.
- The Silmarillion
If you are already a LOTR fan and are looking to further your Tolkien-lore, look no further than The Silmarillion, a delightful history book about Middle-Earth, from the founding of the world to the rise and fall of the Great Enemy, Morgoth. That should prep you up nicely for Amazon’s series, which it greenlit after fighting off fierce competition to buy the rights to the books that cost a colossal $250 million.
- Fire & Blood
Similarly, if you want more Game of Thrones, Fire & Blood is another book in history book format, about the turbulent past of Dany’s ancestors, from the days of Aegon the Conqueror, all the way to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart. HBO has also greenlit a spinoff series titled House of the Dragon.
With aliens, robots and superheroes dominating Hollywood in recent years, not enough credit is given to the inspiration behind those stories, which are invariably books. In this list, we steer clear of the likes of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Michael Crichton, whose works have spawned numerous blockbuster movies, and focus on the next generation of sci-fi writers.
- Ready Player One
While Steven Spielberg’s 2017 blockbuster adaptation brought Ready Player One into mainstream attention, the book has had a cult following since its release. Set in the near future year where reality is dreary, humans find solace in an online multiplayer game called OASIS. They attend school there, they work there, they play there, they buy stuff there, they practically LIVE there except for myriad things like eating and sleeping. When the multi-billionaire co-founder of OASIS passes away, he leaves behind a quest, a series of puzzles on 80’s pop culture, for the ultimate prize – total control of the OASIS. Considering its tremendous appeal for gamers and fans of sci-fi movies/shows/books, Ready Player One is easily one of the top 5 most enjoyable books I’ve ever read.
- Red Rising
The Red Rising saga is one of my most favorite trilogies of all time. While the series has an action-packed storyline, it is the depth of characterization that makes the trilogy so special. This is heavily recommended for fans of Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars.
In Vicuous, a research by two friends on near-death experiences and supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary superhero-like abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong and the friends become archnemeses. This gripping read is recommended for fans of Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, with which it shares a lot of parallels.
Wikipedia defines a daemon (/ˈdeɪmən/ or /ˈdiːmən/) as a computer program that runs as a background process. That is exactly what ‘billionaire, game developer and computer genius’ Mathew Sobol has written.
The following is more or less the ‘algorithm’ of the whole book. As Sobol’s daemon wreaks havoc on the world, it’s up to an unlikely alliance to decipher the computer code and save the world from the grasp of a nameless, faceless enemy. Being one of the world’s first (and finest) cyberthrillers, this is highly recommended for fans of Michael Crichton.
* Read the News.
* If Mathew Sobol = Dead
* Call Daemon()
* End If
* Void Daemon()
* CAUSE (Havoc)
With a relentless narrative and increasingly high stakes, Recursion is such a gripping read that I devoured the entire book in less than 24 hours. I can’t remember the last time a book was this ‘unputdownable’. While time-travel can be a murky subject, Blake Crouch’s explanation of the underlying science and mechanics is so good that we are never left in doubt about the capabilities, limitations, and implications of time-travel. With so much cinematic spectacle in scope and twists that keep coming, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a live-action adaption of the book was greenlit by Netflix even before the book’s release. But, I don’t think any amount of visual spectacle can rival the amount of intrigue, emotion, and action that Blake Crouch packs in 336 pages. If you enjoy time-travel stories, I cannot recommend the book highly enough. Click here for my review.
When I was growing up in India, I had gobbled up several thrillers from authors such as Jefferey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and Ken Follet, whose books are more popular in India than in the west. In fact, Jefferey Archer has been holding his book launches in India for the last decade. While these authors are great story-tellers in their own right, India has never really embraced any of the next generation of writers. So, this list has an equal share of ‘new’ and familiar names.
- The Black Book
James Patterson is the highest-paid author in the world and his recent book, The Black Book remains his best book ever, even by his own admission. This thriller is my go-to recommendation for nonbook readers who want a fast-paced thriller.
- I am Pilgrim
However, if ‘commercial’ thrillers are not your style and you are looking for something classier that is more literature, Terry Hayes’ ground-breaking novel I am Pilgrim is an electrifying and engrossing read. At 700+ pages, it is longer than most thrillers, but it allows Hayes to establish a solid, credible hero (a US intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim) and a worthy adversary in the Saracen, a jihadist doctor, as they engage in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse chase.
- Sigma Force
This comes heavily recommended for fans of Dan Brown. James Rollins’ Sigma Force series combines cutting-edge science, historical mystery, mythology, and pulse-pounding action the same way Dan Brown does, although it’s a bit too heavy on the action part for my tastes.
- The Odessa File
While the Day of the Jackal is the better known of Frederick Forsyth’s books, I enjoyed The Odessa File more. When a young German journalist comes across a diary written by a deceased elderly Jewish man, he is overwhelmed by the war crimes against Jews by the Nazis during WWII. He determines to track down ‘the butcher of Riga’ – a notorious Nazi responsible for thousands of deaths. His quest leads him to a sinister organization named Odessa. Taut, well written and suspenseful, this book is impossibly hard to put down.
If Nazi hunting is your thing, consider checking out Irving Wallace’s The Seventh Secret as well, a story still etched fresh in my head ever since my dad narrated it to me during a train journey when I was very little.
- Eye of the Needle
Another WWII thriller from a popular author, Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle is as good a page-turner as any.
- A Prisoner of Birth
A modern-day adaptation of the world’s greatest revenge story, The Count of Monte Cristo, by a master story-teller such as Jefferey Archer is a great recipe for a thriller, and it doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve always been a fan of whodunnits and detective mysteries. In my childhood, I was introduced to the genre through Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton’s Mystery series. As I grew older, I started reading Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. I continue that tradition by reading 4-5 mystery books every year, typically authored by David Baldacci or Joy Ellis.
- Death Note – Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases
While the Death Note anime and manga are massively celebrated globally, this spinoff prequel novel is a hidden gem and the best whodunnit I’ve ever read. As anyone who has watched Death Note would attest, L is one of the world’s greatest fictitious detectives. In this episode (which is also name-dropped in the anime), L and FBI Agent Naomi Misora try to stop a serial killer from performing the perfect crime.
- And Then There Were None
This needs no introduction. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, published in 1939, is the best-selling and surely the best-known detective novel ever written. While this has spawned several movies, TV, stage and radio adaptations, the original is still the gold standard in whodunnit thrillers.
- Millennium Trilogy
Another trilogy which attained mainstream popularity thanks to movie remakes in both Swedish and English (directed by David Fincher), the Millennium trilogy was amazing, but also left me mentally scarred.
- Beware the Past
The book’s lofty blurb, claiming it to be ‘a gripping crime thriller with a huge twist’ is completely justified, as Joy Ellis’ Beware the Past takes us on a thrilling hunt for a serial killer across England’s Fenlands. This book is heavily recommended for fans of police procedurals and Scandinavian thrillers. As a bonus, all her books happen in a shared universe, with characters from one series popping up in another, as she so kindly confirmed to my question on Goodreads.
- Amos Decker
David Baldacci is one of the biggest names in thriller/murder circles and his Amos Decker series (6 books so released so far) is just consistently very good. Amos Decker is an unusual detective, who suffers from hyperthymesia and synesthesia. This means that he has total recall. He can remember anything he has ever seen or read, at any point in his life. With his analytic powers far exceeding those of most mortals, it makes him a bit of a superhero detective.
- Cormoran Strike
If you were looking for a more familiar author, look no further than Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). The eponymous Cormoran Strike can be considered a Muggle equivalent of Mad-Eye Moody, with a limp to match, who runs a detective agency. His new partner, Robin is a charming and memorable character, whose enthusiasm for detective work is highly infectious. With 4 books released so far (and 3 books already adapted to a BBC series), the pair solve increasingly gruesome murders. Rowling’s skills translate well into the mystery genre as she delivers highly inventive storytelling, with several twists, turns, false leads and red herrings.
This is one genre that I usually steer clear of. But if ever there was one book which everyone in the world should read, that is A Man Called Ove. Ove is an extremely judgemental, grumpy old man, who cannot stand bureaucrats and people who drive Japanese cars. When a chatty young couple moves in next door with their two young daughters, it leads to a heartwarming tale of unexpected friendship and togetherness.
If you had already lost patience by the time you reached this section, these short novellas will be the best thing for you. These are typically longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, and generally have less than 100 pages.
- The Murderbot Diaries
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be accompanied by security androids. All Systems Red, a first-person narrative from one such robot, is sci-fi at its finest. One paragraph into the book and I knew this was going to be a very special read.
‘I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.’
- Summer Frost
Another sci-fi short story, it’s heavily recommended for avid gamers who like RPGs. A video game developer becomes obsessed with a minor non-player character (NPC) in the game, who starts exploring the game map, without adhering to her code/instructions.
- The Emperor’s Soul
I promised more Brandon Sanderson, didn’t I? In just 105 pages, Sanderson makes a very persuasive pitch for why you should check out his bigger books. In one of the best standalone fantasy books, Sanderson crafts a fantastic story with a typically brilliant magic system.
Genesis is a philosophical, ingenious, nerve-wracking dystopian fiction with a mind-blowing twist you will never see coming.
- Animal Farm
If sci-fi/fantasy is not your cup of tea, you can check out Animal Farm, arguably the most well-known novella of all time. George Orwell’s allegorical work is a scathing satire on the Russian Revolution, Stalin, and Communism. The book is relevant even today as a cautionary satire on totalitarian regimes.
- American Kingpin
If you find non-fiction boring, this is the book to dispel those notions. An engrossing and painstakingly well-researched book that reads like a Hollywood thriller, American Kingpin is the unbelievably true story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, a billion-dollar online drug empire.
- The Dark Web
Available for free on Audible, The Dark Web is a great primer on the shady corner of the internet, the Darknet. It provides a great timeline of events that led to the proliferation of Darknet: from the US Navy’s development of Tor (the anonymous browser) to why it was made open-source in 2004, before the infamous Silk Road trial opened a can of worms and made the Darknet, Tor and Bitcoin public knowledge. Click here for my review.
Sandworm by Wired’s investigative journalist Andy Greenberg is another book that doesn’t read like non-fiction. Laden with enough twists and turns that you would normally associate with a detective story, he ties several cyberattacks into a narrative that links the events to the GRU, the intelligence arm of the Russian military. Click here for my review.
- The Perfect Weapon
Similar to Sandworm, The Perfect Weapon lays bare the potential of cyberwarfare and provides chilling details on how cyberwarfare has already influenced elections, is threatening national security, and is bringing us to the brink of global war.
History / Geography
- The History Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)
With beautiful illustrations, infographics, and timelines, The History Book is a fascinating journey from the dawn of civilization to the lightning-paced culture of today. This is a part of DK’s Big Ideas Simply Explained series, which also includes books on Economics, Literature, Movies, Science, Business, Religion, Mythology, etc. Being a huge fan of the publication house, all the books come heavily recommended. They also make for great coffee-table books.
While the much-hyped Sapiens, which against all odds, just didn’t work for me, I think you should take the word of the 239,781 people who have rated it 5-stars on Goodreads and give it a try.
- The Silk Roads
From ancient world laws laid down by King Hammurabi to the rise of Alexander, two World Wars and modern politics today, The Silk Roads moves through time and history sewing together the threads from different empires into a concise history of our planet. Peter Frankopan makes a fine case for the ancient (and modern) Silk Roads as the heart of the world, arguing that globalisation did not begin in 1492 when Columbus and his contemporaries set sail, but that it had already been happening across the Silk Roads for two millennia. Click here for my review.
- Conqueror (Genghis Khan)
Conn Iggulden’s masterful series charts the rise of Genghis Khan and the mighty Mongol dynasty. While Iggulden’s books are heavily fictionalized (a big reason why I gave up on his Julius Caesar series after just one book), he truly brings to life the Mongolian plains and the way of life of the Mongols.
- Prisoners of Geography
If you had enjoyed poring over maps in your childhood, this is a must-read. This is the probably the book that kickstarted my non-fiction reading habit. Another enlightening read, Prisoners of Geography uses ten maps of crucial regions, including the USA, Russia, China, the Middle East, India and Korea, to explain the geo-political strategies of the world powers.
- The Mixer
If you have even the most fleeting of interests in the English Premier League or football, The Mixer – an analytical history of the world’s most popular sporting league – by Michael Cox is a must-read.
- Cricket 2.0
Recently declared as the Wisden Book of the Year in the 2020 edition of Wisden Almanack, Cricket 2.0 is a fascinating insight into how cricket’s newest format has evolved over the last decade or so. Recommended for both T20 enthusiasts and purists alike, it brims with quality analysis and lovely anecdotes.
- Football Hackers
Football Hackers brilliantly charts the journey of football from being perceived as a ‘simple, emotionally-charged game’ to how increasingly complex it has become. The book is heavily recommended for modern fans of the beautiful game, who want to understand football’s data revolution and how the arrival of advanced metrics and detailed analysis is already reshaping football. Click here for my summary.
Economics / Politics:
- Why Nations Fail
A huge eye-opener, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty is an illuminating read on why some countries are rich, while others remain rooted in poverty. Its brilliance lies in the simplicity of its core concept.
- Good Economics for Hard Times
Covering some of the most pressing global issues, including the impact of immigration, the rise of nationalism, and universal basic income, the Nobel Prize-winning wife-husband duo, Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee, show us how economics, when done right, can help us solve the thorniest social and political problems of our day. Click here for my book analysis.
- India After Gandhi
This heavy tome (1200+ pages) by India’s foremost historian, Ramachandra Guha, is the holy bible of Indian politics. Massively researched and elegantly written, India After Gandhi is a remarkable chronicle of India’s rebirth.
This book comes heavily recommended by big names such as Bill Gates and Barack Obama, with Gates, in particular, calling it one of the most important books and most educational books he has ever read. As the sub-title ‘Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think’ suggests, Factfulness is a much-needed message of hope for our troubled times.
Watch this space for more books, movies, and TV recommendations!