What are the top books of the decade? Check out all the top 50 books published between 2010-2019 that defined the last decade.
What are the top books of the decade? An interesting question that deserves some attention.
With the end of a decade upon us, it’s natural to look back and consider a decade of literature. Which books are the best books of the decade – ones that will hold their wonder for decades to come?
I’m honestly not sure. It can feel so hard to know which books will stand the test of time. Though I tried my best, I still haven’t read so many great books of the last ten years.
I could have written you a post about my favorite books of the decade. The thought of distilling down ten years of my reading into a list simply boggled my mind.
A different approach was in order. Instead of focusing simply on the best books of the decade, I’m going to show you the top books of the decade. Specifically the top 50 books of the decades.
While not every single one will be your favorite (you might even hate some of them), when you hear each title, you will feel like it helped define the last ten years.
Taking themes that have arisen in the last decade, I created my list to really show what life has been like.
Is my list perfect?
Definitely not. Some major topics didn’t have that one perfect book, at least not yet. A few examples: Legalized same-sex marriage, LGBT+ issues, school shootings, climate change, privacy laws.
All in all, I think you’ll agree that these 50 books fit the bill of the top books of the decade. If you don’t agree, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.
Best Books Published in 2010
While we are often reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust, we seem to overlook the awful events that occurred in the Pacific theater during World War 2. Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book details the life of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner who even shook hands with Hitler at the Berlin Olympics. Shot down in the Pacific Ocean in 1943, Lt. Zamperini managed to survive on a life raft for 47 days only to be found by the Japanese. Lt. Zamperini’s resilience will amaze you as he struggles to survive life as a Japanese prisoner for almost three years.
Raising questions about privacy, medical research, and ethics, Rebecca Skloot spent more than a decade researching the history of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells. Just before her death of cervical cancer, Henrietta Lack’s cells were taken without her permission and scientists figured out how to keep them alive indefinitely. The created cell line was then used for countless medical research. Interspersing the history of Henrietta’s family with the medical use of her cells, Skloot has penned a memorable work.
It’s hard to imagine a dictatorship right out of dystopian fiction could be alive and well right in our modern world. Yet, reading about North Korea, you’ll be astonished at our own modern-day totalitarian society. Through the stories of six North Koreans who eventually defected to South Korea, Barbara Demick tells the history of an Orwellian society that has had a major influence in the last decade.
Author Gretchen Rubin embarked on a year-long project to make her life happier. Every month, she examined a different aspect of her life – whether it be her marriage or her health – trying to improve herself and become happier through targeted action and research. To be frank, this book is not for everyone. If you look at this book objectively, reading her experience will make you think about how you could improve yourself to complain less and appreciate life more. If you don’t view it as one of the best books of the decade, consider all the blogger projects turned into books and the year-long self-improvement projects it inspired.
Best Books Published in 2011
Without warning, Le Cirque de Rêves arrives in town, a circus that only operates at night. Within its walls live two competing magicians, Celia and Marco, who will do anything to win. When they fall in love, a love so magical it affects the world around them, their dangerous game becomes even more precarious. Having taken the book club world by storm over the last decade, The Night Circus charmed its way into my list of the best books of the decade.
Yuval Noah Harari
Narrowing down the best science books of the decade to one choice wasn’t easy, and I might have chosen wrong. Yet there is something enduring about Harari’s look at the history of humans. How did our species survive so long and what does that mean for us today? Taking discoveries from numerous scientific fields, Harari has whittled down 100,000 years of human history into an insightful 500-page book.
The Man. The Myth. The Legend. No one held more of a mystic than Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. The iPod, iPhone, and Mac have revolutionized how we think of personal devices with innovate design and an almost cult-like following. Although revered for his innovation, Steve Jobs was a notoriously difficult person to work with. Walter Issacson holds nothing back as he looks at Jobs’s full life in this exclusive biography.
In a world of materialism and overconsumption, we could all use a bit more minimalism in our lives. The last decade has seen a stark rise in the minimalism movement, and Marie Kondo is at the heart of it all. Her how-to guide on decluttering your home is a bit silly at times, but her KonMari method does work. Warning: you will have the irresistible urge to attack the clutter in your house as you read this book.
E. L. James
One of the bestselling books of the decade, Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels brought erotica to a whole new level. When student Anastasia Steele falls for wealthy young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she is surprised to find that he wants her, too. Except, Grey has specific BDSM tastes, and Ana must decide how far she is willing to go when he insists on enforcing their sexual relationship with a non-disclosure contract. Regardless if it’s to your taste, you can’t deny that Fifty Shades of Grey was one of the most popular books of the decade.
If one phrase could sum up so much of the 2010s, I think it would be side hustle nation. Everyone seems to have a side hustle nowadays, and Eric Ries’s advice is considered one of the top business books of the last decade. In The Lean Startup, Ries shows you why so many startups fail, and how you can avoid these same pitfalls by continuously adapting to changing customers’ needs.
Best Books Published in 2012
The 2010s were full of star-crossed teen epics, the best of which was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Two kids with cancer who fall in love. That’s a recipe for tears if I’ve ever heard one. Knowing that she will die someday sooner rather than later, Hazel is afraid to let anyone get close to her. In her selfless way, she wants her death to cause as little pain as possible. Yet when she meets Augustus Waters in her Cancer Kid Support Group, her conviction begins to waver. The true beauty of this story lies in the ending lines: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” If you want an inspiring and emotional read, this book is for you.
If you had to think of the best books of the decade that made you cry, Me Before You would be near the top of your list. You’ll be in tears at the heartbroken man who felt he had nothing left to live for, not fully understanding that there is always something more. Will brings meaning into his nurse Louisa’s life and gets her to reach beyond what she thought she was capable of. In return, Louisa tries to bring meaning back into Will’s life before it’s too late. I promise this is one of those books that will make you cry.
Gone Girl took the book world by storm in 2012 with its look at a marriage gone terribly wrong. On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne mysteriously disappears. At the top of the suspect list – her seemingly perfect husband Nick. Both husband and wife aren’t who they seem to be, so expect plenty of twists and turns (and lots of language) in this hit thriller. You might not end up loving the story or the characters, but I promise you, you’ll find them memorable enough to land it among the top books of the decade.
Astronaut Mark Watney wakes up to find himself marooned on the planet Mars, left for dead by the crew of the Ares 3 mission. Now, he must use all his ingenuity to overcome insurmountable odds for the chance to return home to Earth. I love how Weir uses real science and technology in this captivating book. To be honest, I almost didn’t read this book because of the strong language at the beginning of the book turned me off. I’d have to say it’s one of the best science fiction books out there, and one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in the last decade – which is saying a lot considering how much I read.
Ove, a cantankerous old Swede, just wants to be left in peace so he can commit suicide, but his pesky neighbors keep getting in the way. A heartwarming tale that I found downright hilarious will be a book club favorite for years to come. Highlighting our need for connection in the modern world, A Man Called Ove typified how important it is to leave our digital worlds and make sure we check in on our neighbors.
Sometimes it takes doing something crazy, like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, for you to truly put your life in order. By 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life felt out of control, so she decided to make a life-changing decision to hike the PCT. Her story (and the subsequent movie) have inspired many women to search to find themselves in a similar fashion, making it one of the top books of the decade. While I don’t think everyone needs to go on a crazy hike as she did, all of us could sometimes use a reset on our lives. You’ll laugh at Strayed’s mishaps, be in awe had her stupidity and bravery, and, if you are like me, really want to go for a hike.
One of the hottest topics of the last decade has been habits – how they from and how we can use them to better ourselves. The New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg takes an in-depth look at the power habits have in our lives. Explaining the science of habits with fascinating real-life stories, Duhigg’s style is much like Malcolm Gladwell’s. One of my favorite books I read last year, I proudly proclaim The Power of Habit as one of the best books of the last decade.
R. J. Palacio
If you think about the best books of the decade for children, you have to recognize Wonder as the clear winner. This story of a boy with a severely deformed face entering public middle school for the first time will make you ponder how you react to people who look differently. This middle-grade phenomenon will be read in classrooms around America for years to come.
Forget the Rise of Skywalker, the 2010s should be labeled The Rise of Introverts. For years society idolized extroverts. Well-researched and thought-provoking, Cain not only shows the power of introverts but also addresses the struggles introverts face and how to overcome them. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, this will make you see people in a different light.
Best Books Published in 2013
Loved and hated alike, The Goldfinch is a literary epic that will long be remembered as one of the top books of the decade. Abandoned by his father after his mother’s death, 13-year-old Theo Decker must readjust to a whole new life. His one tie to his mother – a small painting of a goldfinch – will eventually lead him into the intricate underworld of art. At 771 pages, and with a slow pace, you might be tempted to watch the movie instead, but be aware, reviews aren’t promising for this one.
If you think about the major figures of the last decade, Malala Yousafazai will come to mind. Living in Pakistan as the Taliban took over her valley, Malala’s advocacy for women’s education led her to international recognition and an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Her autobiography will inspire you to stand up for your beliefs because one ordinary girl can change the world. Read extensively by teens and adults alike, I Am Malala was an obvious choice for the best books of the decade.
A must-read for any woman embarking on her career, Sheryl Sandberg’s book will inspire you to fully lean in to your profession. Lean In is one of the books that will make you think of the realities of the workplace for women versus what it should be like. Sandberg gives great advice on how to combat bias against women in the workplace and manage a career, a marriage, and a family. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I was so impressed with this book. It has fully earned its spot on any list of the top books of the decade.
Professor of genetics Don Tillman has never been on a second date. So when a colleague tells him he would make a good husband, he decides it’s time to get married. He starts the Wife Project – a methodical search for the perfect spouse. Instead, he meets Rosie, not at all an ideal candidate. Rosie has her own project – finding out who her father is. The 2010s have seen such an increase in awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder, so my list of the top books of the decade would not be complete without this charming addition.
Best Books Published in 2014
If I had to pick a winner for the best books of the decade, Anthony Doer’s masterpiece would be my first choice. I’m not at all surprised it won a Pulitzer Prize; the writing is fabulous. Anthony Doerr masterfully interweaves the stories of Marie-Laurie, a blind French girl who flees from Paris to the coastal city of Saint-Malo with her uncle, and Werner, a German radio operator charged with rooting out the French resistance. While the plot is interesting in and of itself, the character development and storytelling will keep you glued to the page.
Emily St. John Mandel
Look through the books published in the 2010s, literary dystopian fiction had a sharp increase in popularity. Though it’s set after an apocalypse, it’s not really about the apocalypse, either. This captivating book grabs your attention, not for its plot twists but its themes. It’s hard to adequately describe to you its power and beauty. So you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
A tale of secrets and lies among perfectly respectable parents, three women’s lives cross, ending in an (accidental?) death. Big Little Lies isn’t even my favorite Liane Moriarty novel published in the 2010s, but I still felt it deserved a place among the top books of the decade. It perfectly exemplifies how novels have grabbed hold of the public, become book club favorites, often selected for a celebrity book club. Next, it gets picked up as a movie, or more commonly nowadays, a tv show – streaming on Hulu or Netflix or Amazon.
As a young idealistic lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice defending the most desperate of clients. Over the years, he helped the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women with nowhere else to turn. One case, in particular, stands out: Walter McMillian, a young man on death row who insists he is innocent, and very well may be. Stevenson inspires his readers to consider how compassion is needed for true justice to be served. Talking about the injustice of the justice system has been a major topic of the last ten years, earning this book a spot in the top books of the decade.
Best Books Published in 2015
Taking the same train to work every day, Rachel is fascinated by a woman who lives along her route. Every day, Rachel gets a glimpse into this woman’s “perfect” life. Until one day, when Rachel witnesses something shocking. I think unreliable narrators like Rachel make for the best page-turners because you can never figure out what is true and what is not. Love it or hate it, The Girl on the Train is one of the most talked-about books of the last decade.
Kristin Hannah’s novel is one that would make pretty much anyone fall in love with WWII historical fiction. Set in a small village in occupied France, the story centers around two sisters. Forced to house a German officer in her home, the older sister Vianne Mauriac must decide, to protect her daughter, where exactly she should draw the line of being complicit with German demands. On the other hand, her younger sister Isabelle Rossignol feels committed to doing anything she can to resist the German occupation.
Sarah J. Maas
With the rise in popularity of young adult fantasy, Sarah J. Maas takes the genre one step further into adult fantasy. In her super popular series, Sarah J Maas introduces you to Feyre, a teenage girl turned huntress doing all she can to provide for her poor yet ungrateful family. After she kills a faerie disguised as a wolf, Feyre is taken to an enchanted land run by her captor, a powerful man who can turn into a beast. Maas starts the story as a typical Beauty and the Beast retelling but transforms it into her own original work.
In the last few years, society seems to have embraced the idea of living a creative life. Find your passion in art, music, writing or whatever pursuit has hold of your heart. Thus, Elizabeth Gilbert’s series of essays about creative living is perfectly fitting for the top books of the decade. In it, she describes her thoughts on the creative life and firmly disagrees with the idea of suffering for your art. If you hate Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love, don’t hold that against this excellent work.
N. K. Jemisin
I hated this book. So why is it on my list of the top books of the decade? Because no one else has ever won three Hugo Awards for Best Novel in three consecutive years for each book in the same trilogy. in a world rocked frequently by catastrophic earthquakes over the millennia, Jemisin tells a story of three women – a young girl just coming into her magical powers, a young woman learning of the injustice of the current system, and a grieving mother hunting for her child as the world collapses around her.
Known for bringing nonfiction to life, Michael Lewis, author of such bestsellers as The Blind Side, Moneyball, and The Big Short, tackled Wall Street in his fascinating bestseller Flash Boys. As the United States stock market switched from human traders to a computerized system, a whole complex network formed. A system that rigged the whole stock market, taking billions of dollars out of the economy and placing them into the pockets of high-frequency traders – the people technologically savvy enough to game the system. Lewis tells the story of Brad Katsuyama, a man who set out to figure out what was wrong with the market and how, if possible, it could be fixed. Lewis does an excellent job keeping the story interesting while exploring a highly technical subject in a way normal readers can understand.
Best Books Published in 2016
Have you noticed profanity-laced titles in the self-improvement section? If so, you have Mark Manson to thank, setting a trend that I think places his book among the top books of the decade. As Manson introduces his topic, he drops F-bombs left and right, almost like a blogger keyword stuffing for SEO. Luckily, the swear words tailed off considerably once I got into the meat of the book, which allowed Manson’s original idea to fully shine. He hypothesizes that the key to life is not to be happy. Instead, the key is to embrace the limitations, flaws, and suffering of life. You’ll be left with plenty to think about after reading this anti self-help book.
At only 36 years old, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Suddenly, he found himself thrust from the role of a neurosurgeon to that of a dying patient. Coming face-to-face with his mortality, Kalanithi decided to write his memoir and wrestle with the question: “What makes life worth living in the face of dying?” Easily one of the best memoirs of the decade, When Breath Becomes Air will likely make you sob uncontrollably.
J. D. Vance
First off, you need to understand that J. D. Vance’s memoir is not about life in rural Kentucky as I often see erroneously stated. Instead, it’s about his family life in Southwestern Ohio and how the Hillbilly culture and ethics his grandparents brought from rural Kentucky affected the lives and choices of his grandparents, parents and even himself. Having grown up in that same region of Ohio, I can say that many of his observations ring true. While you might not agree with all of Vance’s conclusions, he has certainly started a conversation, forcing readers to ponder how culture affects us and what heritage you will pass down to your children.
Did you know that intelligence is not a very accurate predictor of success? Psychologist Angela Duckworth puts forth an insightful new predictor for success: grit. That perseverance through obstacles and sheer determination to get ahead. With numerous studies and interesting anecdotes, Duckworth has written one of those books that make you think about where you fall on the scale. How gritty are you? And since grit isn’t fixed, you’ll find in yourself a desire not only to develop it in yourself but also to encourage it in your children. Among the best nonfiction books of the decade, Grit will inspire you to be a better person than you were when you first picked it up.
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Lately, everywhere I turn someone is talking about the Enneagram. It’s an ancient personality test that describes how you interact with the world. The Enneagram is split into nine personality types, each that can lean toward one of its neighbors and takes on different characteristics when it’s stressed or when it feels secure. Although this personality test has been around for ages, its resurgence in the last few years places this book firmly in the top books of the decade.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend a celebrity memoir in the top books of the decade because they usually have such a limited shelf life, but Trevor Noah’s life story is the exception to the rule. Telling of his formative years in South Africa during the last days of apartheid, Noah shows you a fascinating slice of history. With his ability to change accents and mimic is mother, Trevor Noah’s audio narration of the book wins it the award for the best audiobook of the decade.
Best Books Published in 2017
No list of the best books of the decade would be complete without Angie Thomas’s young adult take on a police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter works hard to find balance in her life between her poor neighborhood and the elite suburban prep school she attends. Yet, when Starr is the only witness to the fatal police shooting of her best friend, she finds herself in the middle of a national headline. With all the recent coverage of police shootings, Thomas’ novel adds a new layer to the conversation on this important topic.
The American Dream. Many hope for it, but how many truly find it? Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel details the lives of Cameroon immigrants living in New York City: Jende Jonga, who is trying to apply for legal status under a false asylum claim; his wife Neni, struggling to finish schooling in hopes of becoming a pharmacist; and their son Liomi, trying to balance his American-ness with his Cameroon side. In the days preceding the Great Recession, Jende gets lucky enough to get a job as chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive. Mbue brilliantly paints a fascinating look at immigrant life – the struggles with the immigration system, the desire for a better life, the balancing of cultural differences and the financial burden that comes with being poor in America. Through her writing, Mbue asks you to ponder: What really brings happiness? and Is the American dream all it’s cracked up to be?
Best Books Published in 2018
One of the highest-selling books of recent years, Michelle Obama’s memoir is easily one of the top books of the decade. Detailing her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her success as a working mother and her years in the White House, Michelle Obama shows how her past has shaped her into who she has become today. A poignant memoir of a woman trying to do her best for her family while balancing the greater good of having a husband in politics, Obama’s story is a remarkable tale no matter what your political affiliation.
There is no excuse to not read Tara Westover’s spectacular memoir. In our opinion, Educated was one of the best nonfiction books of the last decade. Westover grew up in the rural mountains of Idaho with no formal education. Despite her extremist survivalist parents and violent older brother, Westover managed to make her way into college, eventually earning a PhD. Her amazing determination is inspiring while the circumstances of her childhood are incredibly sad. Definitely one of those books that will stay with you for a long time.
Michelle McNamara’s hunt for a serial killer epitomized the fascination with true crime and serial killers of the 2010s. For over a decade, a violent serial rapist plagued Northern California and then went on to commit 10 sadistic murders, never to be caught. Thirty years later, journalist Michelle McNamara took on the cold case, obsessively determined to find the Golden State Killer. Posthumously published two years after her death, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is McNamara’s masterpiece of her search for the truth. Even more fascinating, only two months after this book was published, a suspect was formally charged in the murders. Honestly, this belongs to that category of books that move you to want to always sleep with the lights on.
Imagine a Silicon Valley startup that raised insane amounts of money all based on a gigantic fraud. It sounds like a fictional thriller, but it is the actual true story of the company Theranos. Investigative journalist John Carreyrou’s expose of Elizabeth Holmes’s company is an eye-opening read. Looking back, the massive power of Silicon Valley and the corruptness therein will surely be a recurrent theme of the 2010s.
One of the most popular books of 2018, Rachel Hollis’s motivational book Girl, Wash Your Face, seems to be one of the most talked-about books of that year. Honestly, Hollis’s writing seems to provoke extreme reactions – you’ll either love it or hate it. While you might not consider it one of the best books of the decade, it perfectly shows the rise of Social Media Influencers and bloggers. In case you are wondering, I loved the book. Rachel Hollis said exactly what I needed at the time I read it.
For years, Kya Clark has survived alone in the marshes of the North Carolina coast. Dubbed “The Marsh Girl” by the locals, she raises herself in nature after her family abandons her. Now, as she comes of age, she begins to yearn for something more than her loneliness – maybe even a connection with the locals. An exquisitely written tale, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best fiction books of the last decade that will stand the test of time.
Best Books Published in 2019
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Choosing 2019 releases for this top books of the decade list was extremely difficult. Which fiction books would stand the test of time? Considered one of the best books of the year, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s addictingly fun read about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s band couldn’t be left off the list. With sex, drugs, and plenty of drama, you’ll feel like you are watching a biopic on VH1 – but an extremely well-written one.
If you made a list of the best books of the 2000s, Malcolm Gladwell would easily top the list. He was rather quiet in the 2010s, focusing more on his podcast. However, he came roaring back with his controversial new book, squeaking in at the last minute into the best books of the last decade. In Talking to Strangers, Gladwell focuses on what happens when we encounter new people. Why do those encounters so often turn out poorly? With his mix of statistics, scientific research and interesting anecdotes, Gladwell is the ultimate storyteller, taking on the major stories of the last ten years – Bernie Madoff, Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, and Brock Turner.
Mary Beth Keane
Just listen to this premise. NYPD cops Francis and Brian happen to move next door to each other in the suburbs. Though their children Kate and Peter become the best of friends, Francis and his wife have learned to keep their distance from Brian’s wife due to her precarious mental health. When tragedy strikes between the two families, Brian’s family moves away in shame. But when Kate and Peter fall in love, the two families must learn to confront the tragedy that ties them together. A story of love and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes serves up the perfect blend of family drama and character study to win it all the stars. When you combine that with its telling account of mental illness, I think it deserves a spot in the best books of the decade.
What do you think are the top books of the decade?