Watson’s Top 20 Favorite Books of All-Time

I have covered my favorite movies, songs, and TV shows.  Next up?

Favorite books!

Remember…favorite. Not Greatest of All-Time, Phil and Misty! 

My list is heavy with fantasy/science fiction (I previously wrote an article on 10 great sci-fi/fantasy books from which this article borrows heavily), business type nonfiction, and biographies.

I realize that I am not terribly literate, even though I have long been an avid reader, so judge accordingly. In other words, you can go to Hell in advance.

 Let’s go!

20.  And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)

One of the best selling books of all time, this is my favorite pure murder mystery ever.  Agatha Christie spins one heck of a yarn set on an island in a bay; cut off from the mainland by a storm. During this isolation, someone begins to settle a score and starts murdering the other guests one by one. A lot of modern mysteries are the spiritual descendants of this classic.

And Then There Were None by [Christie, Agatha]

19. The Martian (Andy Weir)

I have to make sure to not let my love of the film blur or impact my appreciation of Andy Weir’s book.  The Matt Damon classic is an all time favorite, but the book stands alone as a great piece of fiction.  Interestingly, though they follow the same basic story of an astronaut left on Mars after his fellow crew thinks he died in a sand storm, but the book is still fairly different from movie.

While Mark Watley is forced to live in isolation and survive with what little was left behind in both, the movie predictably tilts more towards the action and humor while the book explains (in an approachable manner) the science behind Watley’s methods.

Whether you read the book first and then watch the movie…or vice versa…there is something new and exciting.

18.  Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Michael Lewis)

I read this in business school and the counter-intuitive thinking of Billy Beane still resonates with me today.  By going against the grain, Beane made the low budget Oakland A’s into playoff contenders. Today, even the teams with big budget use the approach Beane borrowed from quant guru Bill James.

This story, like all of Michael Lewis’ works, is one part business book…one part human drama. Lewis is a favorite, so there are more entries from him on the list.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by [Lewis, Michael]

17.  Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

I really love all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, but honestly they all run together in my head, so use this as a stand-in for his complete bibliography.   Outliers examines how some people succeed and others fail; less as a result of their efforts, and more by circumstance.  Sure, doing something 10,000 hours may make you great…but so could having been born in the right month.

Outliers is pop culture psycho-babble at its finest. Especially since it explains why The Beatles are greater than Queen.

Outliers: The Story of Success by [Gladwell, Malcolm]

16.  Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis)

The second of three Michael Lewis books.  This list probably could have had more even, as he is one of my favorite authors, but I had to include his first…which was the first I ever read.

This book, really serving as his autobiography, tells of his brief time as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers.  It is amazing because though it was written years before the housing crisis, it predicted the scam of mortgage based, collateralized debt obligations that would bring down the global economy.

15. Red Rising (Pierce Brown)

Just to be clear, though I liked the second and third installments well enough, this placement is strictly based on the greatness of the first volume.  Pierce Brown’s Red Rising tells the story of a tiered class system (each class has a color assigned) that emerges during the colonization of Mars.

A member of the lowest class “Red” society is surgically engineered to appear to be one of the highest class “Golds” and compete in an  elite competition to determine society’s leadership.

The contest, in an isolated stadium type environment, borrows from the Hunger Games but the plotting, characterization, and military strategy in Red Rising delivers a sophistication not present in The Hunger Games.  This work is good that Ryan has to stay 250 feet away from the author by order of the court.

14.  Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner)

This is my kind of book.  Brilliant material, analyzed from the objective view of an economist, and broken into several chapters covering different topics. My intellectual curiosity and A.D.D. personality are both served.

Controversial at times, the authors are at their best when they disagree with the Malcolm Gladwell/Rudy Guiliani theory that the NYC crime rates going down in the 90s were a result of the “broken window” policing policy; instead positing that it was because that was 15 years after Roe v Wade, which meant that a generation of unwanted children were not roaming the streets. There was no value judgement on the propriety of abortion. Just a brutal economists outlook.

13.  The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (Michael Lewis)

The movie wasn’t bad, but despite being an Oscar winning vehicle for Sandra Bullock, the book is less a Lifetime Channel movie of the week and more a story about the economics and evolution of football. In the book, the focus is way more on how Lawrence Taylor’s dominance led future NFL player Michael Oher to be a blindside o-lineman and not just because his surrogate mother Leigh Anne Tuohy was sassy.

It was amazing and I almost don’t want to admit how much I like the book because most people assume it was essentially a printed version of the sappy movie.

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by [Lewis, Michael]

12.  Open (Andre Agassi)

Andre Agassi’s autobiography is so honest and brutal, you’d think at times it was a hatchet job written by someone else.  He is so frank and open (eh?…eh?…?) about his life that it really gives the reader a behind the scenes look at a kid thrown into a trying world and becoming an all-time great.

Let me tell you…this guy does NOT like the show Friends!

Open by [Agassi, Andre]

11.  Ghost Wars The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Steve Coll)

This was the first book I ever read and thought, “this should win the Pulitzer Prize”…. then it did.  If you want to understand why the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history, read this book.  It has the whole story of this war torn region from when the Russian tanks rolled in, through the day before Bin Laden made it the epicenter of the geo-political universe.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invas ion to September 10, 2001 by [Coll, Steve]

10.  Born Standing Up (Steve Martin)

This is the only book that keeps Agassi’s from standing atop my list of favorite biographies.  Steve Martin uses this book, not to tell of his life in film and media, but rather his rise to fame as the best selling stand up comic of all time.  Martin starts in his early childhood and stops his tale as he retires from stand up in the 1970s to become a movie star.

Martin is a brilliant writer, having written several novellas and short stories over the years, and that serves him well as he takes an introspective view of his life.  Martin is very generous with the truth and, like Aggasi, doesn’t pull any punches when pointing his gaze inward. This is one where I think the audiobook is better, because of Martin’s narration.

Image result for born standing up

9. Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Safon)

What kind of book is this?

I’ve read it.  It is one of my favorite books ever.  And I still cannot answer the question of whether the story is metaphysical or just deeply literary and mysterious.

And I don’t care.  This is the best “mood’ book I’ve ever read.

Set in Franco era Spain, Shadow of the Wind tells the story of a secret library where each member is responsible for selecting one book and ensuring its memory is never lost from the world.

It is a story of resistance, intrigue, vengeance, and the power of books themselves. Great read.

8. World War Z (Max Brooks)

This was one of those books that you start reading and don’t sleep again until it is done.  Told in the style of Studs Terkel’s oral history of WW2, World War Z employs a series of short stories to piece together a history of the rise of the zombie apocalypse and how humanity dealt with it.

Every chapter is a different narrator telling the story.  Scientists.  Generals.  The guy on the street.  Thinly veiled versions of world leaders and celebrities.  World War Z has it all.

The movie does not do the book justice, so stick with Max Brooks’ novel!  It’s a page turner.

7.  Dark Beyond the Stars (Frank M Robinson)

This book is pure SciFi noir.  Dark Beyond the Stars is the story of a generation ship that is headed to explore the universe in search of extraterrestrial life… but something is amiss.  I can’t tell you much more because that’s what the book is all about.  The narrative explores a mystery that the main character, Sparrow, is trying to solve after an offship accident leaves him with memory loss.

I love the idea of the social norms that develop in a civilization so isolated and removed from Earth.  Couple that with a very interesting and compelling plot, and you have the making of a great book.

6. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

A short and sweet fairy tale by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist teaches us that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  This leads a young shepherd in Spain to chase a fanciful dream that he believes to be a prophecy.

As he pursues his dreams, and is told to give up, he delivers one of the most poignant lines in literature, “Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives, but none about his or her own.”

That’s a literary way of saying, “mind your own damn business!”

5. Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)

Man this book was amazing.  This is a perfect take on modern, urban horror/sci-fi.  Dark Matter by Blake Crouch delves into the implications of a scientist who discovers the ability to travel through the endless possibilities of the multi-verse.

The science and theories behind it are geeky but approachable.  It even passed the Watson’s Mother Test:  I recommended it to my mom who is not a big fan of geeky stuff and she loved it.

The clincher for the book, and I won’t spoil it because it is relatively new and I recommend it highly, is ONE SINGLE SCENE.

When the main character starts chatting online, you’ll know what I am talking about…

4.  A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseni)

I actually think this should be read back to back with the #11 book on my list, Ghost Wars.  Both tell the sordid history of Afghanistan and how things deteriorated with the rise of the Taliban. Yet, the Khaled Hosseni book club classic really humanizes the story by telling it through the lens of two generations of women who would fall prey to the evils of intolerant men. How a book can be so heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time is what makes it so special.

Image result for 1000 splendid suns

3. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

I feel I need to apologize for this being my favorite sci-fi/fantasy book.  After I had read everything the man had written, and he is very prolific, Orson Scott Card got heavily involved in publicly opposing gay rights.

Despite my hatred for the author’s gross politics, I cannot take this book off my list.

Ender’s Game is the story of a futuristic school for children created to train the leaders of the army needed to defeat the return of an alien force.  It is horrible, inspiring, and compelling.  A great ending caps things off.

Card continues to explore the Enderverse with several books; most notably Speaker For the Dead, a book set hundreds of years after the war is over.

Speaker is very different, but also recommended.  You can skip the rest.  No sense in putting more money than you have to into the hands of a bigot.

This entry was brought to you by Chik-Fil-A…

2.  To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

I am from Alabama, so all things Alabama related get a little bump.  Well, not George Wallace and Civil Rights opposition, but Lynard Skynard, Crimson Tide Football, and To Kill a Mockingbird do.

This amazing story, semi-autobiographical, tells of a Scout Finch and her family in a small town in pre-WW2 era Alabama.  During her childhood, Scout’s father, the noble Atticus Finch, defends a black man accused of assaulting a white woman.  So much beauty and majesty, as a family tries to do the right thing in a place that wasn’t always just (and still isn’t).

Interesting personal note, Harper Lee based the story on her small hometown of Monroeville, Alabama…which is where my paternal grandfather was raised before moving to Mobile.  I can only assume the real world basis for the character Boo Radley is one of my peeps…

Image result for to kill a mockingbird

1.  Superfudge (Judy Blume)

Judge me if you will, but this is the finest piece of creative intellectual property ever crafted in human history.  Screw Shakespeare.  Piss on Hamilton.  Roll over, Beethoven.  Judy Blume owns the world.  The sequel to the equally solid, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, this masterpiece covers the Hatcher family as they move from bustling NYC to sleepy Princeton, NJ. During one big life change, Fudge also goes from the baby of the family to the dreaded middle child.

As he finds his way, his myna bird Uncle Feather and his annoying best friend Alex Santo help Fudge grate on the nerves of his brother, Peter.  Who can forget such legendary moments as when Fudge overcomes his fear of the toilet and is brave enough to “do the flush”?

 Not I, sir…not I!

Image result for superfudge cover


The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester)

I didn’t really LOVE this book, but it was the first thing fellow podcaster Ryan ever recommended to me so it is memorable in Gabbing Geek history.

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy (Timothy Zahn)

Oh, man! I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a new Luke/Leia/Han story on the shelves as I popped into the Walden Books in 1991. You see, children… back then we didn’t always know what was coming out until it hit a shelf.

With nearly a decade passed after Jedi, Star Wars fans were excited. I can’t stress the vast wasteland the early 90s were for geeky stuff. Hell, MY kids were pissed when there were TWO years between Episode 7 and Episode 8. “I guess we’ll have to make do with Rogue One…”

Dragonlance (Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman)

After reading the first Thrawn book in high school, I was jonezing for new genre books.  I found Dragonlance, which is fairly classical fantasy, and spawned a hundred plus books.  Stick to the original trilogy and the immediate sequel trilogy about the Twins.  Skip the rest.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

One of the few Pulitzer prizes winner on my list, The Road, is a great story of father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

Ready Player One (Ernie Cline)

A Gabbing Geek favorite.  Ready Player One has an excellent high concept and uses pop culture references as well as any character. RP1 loses a few points because of weak writing style of Ernie Cline, the paper thin characterization, and because I still hate Cline a little for his dreadful follow up novel, Armada.

Game of Thrones (George RR Martin)

I probably don’t need to tell you what this series of books is about.  You might have vaguely heard of it.  While the shows have surpassed the books in the narrative and the ownership of the conclusion, it still can’t capture the detail and richness of George RR Martin’s extensive prose.  This series suffers because we all KNOW it will never get finished, but what a ride it has been.

No Coins, Please (Gordon Korman)

Another children’s book that stuck with me, but this one is more obscure.  It covers a group of kids in a summer camp that travels across the country.  One boy, Artie, keeps disappearing from the group because he is a genius business man who earns big bucks scamming people all across the USA.  This should SO be adapted into a film!

No Coins, Please: Gordon Korman

Watchmen/ Sandman (Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, respectively)

I was only putting novels on this list or Watchmen would be first and Sandman would be on the list somewhere, but let’s at least use the Honorable Mentions section to acknowledge how literary and captivating the comic books of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are!

Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

I chose Red Rising over Hunger Games but still enjoyed the adventures of Katniss.  Like the Red series, HG loses steam with every subsequent volume but the first book is really strong.

Rook (Daniel O’Malley)

The Rook tells the story of a member of secret society of magical and powered spies in London who is trying to solve her own attempted murder despite having complete amnesia.  Got that?  Really solid page turner that was followed by a sequel so weak I am not sure anyone in Gabbing Geek was able to finish it.

Maybe Tom…

Lightning (Dean Koontz)

In high school, I would occasionally grab one of my mom’s Dean Koontz thrillers when she was done and this one was my favorite.  Lightning is a time travel thriller that preceded Terminator 2 but shared a lot of the same mood and concepts.  This one had a really interesting twist that I have never seen in a time travel story, and that made it memorable enough to make the list.

The YA Mysteries Christopher Pike/ RL Stine’s Fear Street

I’d say these young adult mystery/thrillers were what got me into reading.  They were creepy and easy to read.  Pike’s work actually had sex and violence, while Stine’s tilted toward a more youth friendly macabre.  Maybe that is why Stine went on to create the vastly more popular Goosebumps series.

Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests (James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales)

The story of the long running comedy classic told in first person quotes from the stars, writers, and executives who lived it.  Only Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy declined to participate of all the cast members who were alive at the time of publication. Shots fly!

Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests by [Miller, James Andrew, Shales, Tom]

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century (George Friedman)

A really smart book.  Futurist George Friedman predicts global political trends and developments over the next century.  Get ready for the rise of Poland!

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by [Friedman, George]

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Paco Underhill)

An amazing view of the retail business and the psychology of good merchandising.

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping by [Underhill, Paco]

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (David Grann)

Skip the movie, but the book was amazing.  Unlike the Charlie Hunam adaptation, the book jumps back and forth between the Victorian era explorer and the modern journalist still trying to find the lost world.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by [Grann, David]

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (Muhammad Yunus)

I am amazed with Micro Lending and very honored to have had Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr Muhammad Yunus hand me a copy he signed.  What a great man!

Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by [Yunus, Muhammad]

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (Charles Wheelan)

Pop economics at its finest.  This book will measure and debate anything.  The less sophisticated cousin of Freakonomics.

Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV (Warren Littlefield)

I love media insider books, and this is the story of my favorite network from back when such an idea meant something by the former President of NBC who oversaw the rise of Friends and Seinfeld.

Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by [Littlefield, Warren]

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography (Neil Patrick Harris)

Ok, so the book was decent, but I always take the opportunity to tell the story of what happened the night I bought this book at a book signing.

Also know as the Book People Incident… where I butterfly effected the 2015 Oscar monologue?  Cuz I am now going to talk about the Book People Incident and how I butterfly effected the 2015 Oscar monologue.

After bragging of the film’s quotability on an early Podcast,and then failing to get a large number of folks to deliver one single quote, Ryan issued a critical double dog dare.

I was at the Austin institution Book People with my kids lined up for an autograph session for Neil Patrick Harris’ new autobiography.  Ryan was waiting across the street with his youngest son while his wife Sara and their oldest son waited in line with me and the boys (thankfully, because that is the only reason Ryan believes what happened next).

The whole time we are in line, Ryan is taunting me about Clue and daring me to ask NPH if he can name a quote.

The Garcias and my boys get their books autographed.  NPH could not have been more of a gentleman; giving Besher tips on Broadway performances and giving How I Met Your Mother superfan Clayton a HIGH FIVE and noticing that he “suited up”.

When my turn came, I took a deep breath and, before I lost my nerve, blurted out , “Ok, Harris! Settle a bet for me!  Can you name one quote from the movie Clue?”

Harris went cold. I am sure he feared a brutal rape was in his near future due to my brashness.  But then…SUDDENLY…a look of steely resolve overcame him and you could tell he was thinking “I can do this!”

He then drew his breath, and belted out… IN ACCENTED ENGLISH, “Good shot, Green!  VERY GOOD!”

The Garcia and Watson clans went crazy.  Sara grabbed a photo of me thrusting my fists in the air, triumphant.  In the background, NPH has a look of smug satisfaction that screamed “NAILED IT!”

Once informed, Ryan was clearly devastated, as he is a huge fan of Harris’s Tony winning performance in Hedgewig and the Angry Inch.

Later it was announced that NPH would host the Oscars, and during an ask me anything chat on Twitter, he noted that his favorite movie that could never win an Oscar was…Clue.

We started teasing Ryan mercilessly.  Jimmy even said “Ryan, if Harris mentions Clue in his monologue, you are done for!” We all laughed.

Then, on Oscar night we were all gathered at my house for the telecast.  With fellow Gabbing Geek host Jenny and many other friends crowding the living room, Ryan and I sat on the floor.

Harris, a classic song and dance man, broke into his homage of classic cinema.  I figure you can guess what happens next…or you read the billboard I paid for outside Ebbing, Missouri explaining the story… That’s right.  Neil Patrick Harris included the movie Clue in his montage. Everyone in the room went crazy!

Everyone except for a single person.  To his eternal shame, Ryan knew it was over for him.  He would live.  But he would not live well…

On his death bed, as Sara and the boys begin to say farewell to their beloved husband and father, I am going to push them out of the way, look that son of a bitch in his cold, dying eyes and say… IN ACCENTED ENGLISH, “Good shot, Green!  VERY GOOD!”

Checkmate, Ryan…

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by [Harris, Neil Patrick]

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

Jobs didn’t try to cover up history, but rather told everyone to cooperate with respected journalist Walter Isaacson (and sat for days of interviews himself) so a fair and honest accounting of his life could be captured before his death.  It was wart and all, so it made for a fascinating read.

Steve Jobs by [Isaacson, Walter]

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (Matt Taibbi)

The injustices accounted in the book that made me jump off the “moderate” bandwagon and become a flat out liberal. I mean…still… a mainstream liberal.   I do drive a BMW…

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by [Taibbi, Matt]

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (Greg Mortenson)

What a fall, but worthy of inclusion based on how the book made me feel before Steve Croft and 60 Minutes revealed Greg Mortenson as a fraud.  I made a donation to this guy’s charity which purported to build schools for girls in Muslim countries.  I am sure he built some

schools, but the amount of lies and exaggerations stain the amazing story.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by [Mortenson, Greg, Relin, David Oliver]


City of Stairs (Author Unknown)

Never read it…

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