Bill Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque, Mark Waid, and others
For decades, superhero comic books told standalone stories, lasting 22 pages and returning to the status quo at the end. A lot were even half-issues, 11 pages. Like The Simpsons, this let them play with a huge imagination within the constraints of a formula, but it didn't allow certain types of storytelling - namely, change, or real stakes. This eventually changed thanks to Marvel's soap-opera like continuity, but even today, huge events like deaths and breakups and births and dismemberments inevitably return to the status quo within a year at most. It's the limitation of having to publish the same characters continuously for a century.
This is what makes this Flash series so exceptional. In 1986 DC killed Barry Allen, The Flash, and he stayed dead. He was the first major superhero to die for real and stay dead for decades. Upon his death, his sidekick, Wally West, graduated from Kid Flash and vowed to honor Barry's memory by becoming the new Flash. The series than proceeded to tell a single character arc over these 79 issues (arguably longer). It was the story of a grief-striken 20-year-old changing from a resentful, immature, self-doubting, selfish boy into one of the world's greatest, most noble heroes. This may be one of the longest single stories in history (save Cerebus), when you realize that 7 years of monthly comics means 1738 pages. This accomplishment, combined with the fact that the stories are great, combined with the stunning art of Greg LaRocque, combined with the impressionable age I was when I first read this, makes it my favorite story by far - even though it's never been collected into a real "book".
Robert A. Caro
This is the most important AND the most well-written book I've ever read. Its genius is impossible to describe succinctly.
As a character study, the only thing I've seen that compares is Breaking Bad, in that you can watch a protagonist change over the course of years from admirable to despicable, and can even be both in every decision they make. But this is much better than Breaking Bad, because it is true.
But more importantly, this is the hidden history of New York City, and by extension, a template to understand the hidden history of everywhere else. There's a moment in Lev Grossman's The Magician King where the characters peel back the surface of the world and see giant gods moving through a hidden layer, editing the universe. Reading this book is like getting to see that for yourself.
This biography of van Gogh is one of the best examples of the graphic novel medium taking advantage of its unique strengths. The "simple" illustrations both tell the story clearly and evoke van Gogh's own art. They also allow the writer to give visual clues to van Gogh's constantly shifting mental state. I've read several van Gogh books, and this is the first time I felt like I got in the painter's head and saw his point of view. To top it off, the color palette of each scene was based on a different one of van Gogh's most famous works. This is a masterpiece.
This book singlehandedly set my research hobby for two years - debunking pseudoscience and encouraging critical thinking. And then that line of thinking eventually led to me writing my own book. This is my favorite non-fiction book and one that I have re-read several times.
Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
I've read this so many times ... it's so gripping and impossible to put down. Miller reimagines the Batman mythos perfectly. This book was the main inspiration for Batman Begins.
Mark Z. Danielewski
Freaky, creepy, totally unnerving. A haunted house that is its own dark universe. Stunningly original, creative, frustrating, and impressive. As my friend Ji famously said, it's scary because it takes place in a house, and we live in houses.
Am I weaseling out of choosing a specific Calvin & Hobbes book by picking this entire collected edition? Yes, but I actually have this collected box set and it's impressive. Something Under the Bed is Drooling was my first book, and they are all stupendous. Like Stupendous Man himself! Read them all in order to watch the cartoons evolve from gags to creative art experiments to esoteric musings on life.
L. M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley is probably the most inspiring character out of the hundreds in this whole list of books. I recommend both the audiobook narrated by Rachel McAdams, and the Netflix series Anne with an E.
It would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine.
Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
This book is one of the most gripping and well-plotted stories I've ever read. For a complex sci-fi/horror story, it has no plot holes or loopholes, which is almost unheard-of. Plus beautiful architectural art. The Netflix show is also good, but not as tight or surprising as the book.
I had spent decades reading about feminism before getting to this book but this expanded my thinking in completely new ways. It focuses on the ways patriarchy harms men. I believe all men should read it.
This isn't one book, but rather a series of hundreds, each covering a topic such as "Art Theory", "The Cold War", "Buddhism", or "Nietzche". Together, these books have increased my knowledge exponentionally. They're short, fun to read, have ample charts and illustrations, and the best ones are organized brilliantly. The books on Gandhi and Architecture are among my favorites.
I had heard that this trilogy - The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass - was a better fantasy series than Harry Potter, but that was hard to believe ... until I read it.
Books 1-6, Bryan Lee O'Malley
Meet Scott Pilgrim. Rating: awesome ... ?
Scott lives in Toronto. He plays in a band (but they're not that good.) He's dating a 17-year-old (like in Trainspotting, but totally not like that.) He shares his dreamspace with an Amazon delivery girl (who has seven evil ex-boyfriends.) He sleeps with a man (but only because they can't afford two beds.) Best of all, he's the hero, and he's much cooler than you.
There are many better-written books than this on this list, but to me this remains the most fun and the most re-readable.
This incredible book was even better in audio format, with the brilliant narrator evoking each Beatle's voice as well as countless others. This wasn't just a history of the Beatles but of their society, and only by examining the world at that time is it possible to see just how radical the group was.
J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter books start fluffy and get progressively longer and more sophisticated. The fourth book has an unbelievable 4,000+ reviews on Amazon, with a perfect average. The third one was good also, especially at the end, and the third movie is my favorite. The other books are of course also good, but these two take the cake for me.
Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Arguably the best graphic novel written, certainly one of the most complex and sophisticated. Moore weaves together dozens of subplots dancing around the effects of superheroes in a real Cold War world, ending with the best expression in literature for the classic dilemma: Do the ends justify the means? Can humanity only be saved by a lie?
I've never laughed out loud as much as when I read this book (multiple times). It's a play-by-play breakdown of the insane novelization of Back to the Future.
I listened to these on audiobook and they were excellent, with an incredible narrator. The books have some truly existentially horrifying scenes, like when a beast from another dimension appears in a classroom and freezes all the students, and when we look beneath the floor of the world to see the giant Gods that built the world closing down magic.
This is an indescrible series ... literally, indescrible. A girl goes to a weird boarding school, except it's a sort of machine kingdom at war with a forest, and she's a forest spirit or something, and there turns out to be a big mystery from the past involving all of the kids' parents, and a dragon attacks the school and then becomes her pet stuffed animal and also a wolf, and there's an insane coyote god. It's amazing and profound. And ongoing.
I read this first in fifth grade (in the car on a trip from NJ to Disney World) and several times since. It never gets old, and easier each time. So relieved the movies were so wonderfully executed.
I could have put any Dahl book on this list; I read each of them dozens of times as a kid, especially James & the Giant Peach and the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory books. But I wanted to give this one a little more attention, which I read when I was a little older. It's a series of short stories for adults. Some of my favorite short stories of all time are in here. I've now read Dahl's other short stories but this remains my favorite collection.
This is great on audiobook, as Trevor Noah speaks all the different languages and all the different accents of the characters from his childhood in South Africa. Not to mention his amazing humor. The story is unbelievable; truly, truth is stranger than fiction. And what an ending!
George R. R. Martin
Well, we'll see how this turns out - I think it's the only item on this list currently unfinished - but so far it's marvelous. And I actually enjoy the TV show even better than the books. His worldbuilding and characters are incredible, but Martin could have used a better editor.
One of the more recent additions to this list, this book was a complete surprise. I picked it up because I liked the art, and had no idea of its incredible premise: the author published a page a day and asked her online audience for their votes on what to do next after each page. What an incredible way to place the audience even more firmly in the mind of this disoriented cat. What's most impressive is it all ties together into a coherent and profound story.
This one wins a lot of points just for the sheer joy of reading it. Chabon's language is wonderful, his characters completely engaging, and his portrayal of the Golden Age of comic books and World War II is like stepping back in time.
One of the most recent books on this list, Steven Pinker's book was surprisingly revelatory considering I myself wrote a very similar book that came out two years earlier. It's amazing how nonviolent humanity has become. Did you know that cases of rape have declined 80% just in my lifetime? Or that the murder rate in the Middle Ages was 30 times higher than today's? Pinker does a wonderful job of vividly describing just how horrible the past was. His book also wins for the most pages I marked of any book I've read.
A classic for a reason. Just an incredible novel from start to finish. Can't read it too many times. The quality of Scout's narration is the best child's voice in literature.
Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Part Western, part Romance, part vampire Horror, part gross-out, part religious tract, part Great American Novel ... and that ending! Plus, the lead is named Jesse.
This gripping classic reinvented narrative nonfiction and true crime. It's hard to believe it's all true, and that Capote was able to find this amount of detail.
This took me six months of reading on the kindle app on my phone (yes, I read War & Peace on my phone: it was approximately 100 million page flips), but it was worth it. An excellent story, although it could have benefited from fewer philosophical essays, especially at the very end. The characters are the main draw, as well as the mystery. I don't know if he intended it to be a mystery, but it ended up that way, since we are far enough removed from the events (the Napoleonic Wars in 1812) that I didn't know the details. The mystery is: we know Napolean loses - but how, when he appears to be succeeding all along?
Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck
This book expertly explains how the suburbs destroyed America. The bulk of today's problems - rising inequality, air pollution, global warming, racism, increased partisanship, and more - are all the result of or excerbated by a deliberate 20th-century plan to favor cars over humans in America.
J. D. Salinger
When we read this book in high school, I was the only one in my class who didn't like it. Holden was everything I hated about teenagers, just whiny and unaware of how good he has it. I felt that the book was painting us all with a broad brush. Of course, re-reading it several times as an adult, I get it now. It helps to have moved to NYC and be able to appreciate all the locations.
William Pene du Bois
This book is weirdly colonialist and slightly racist, but those were lost on me the many hundreds of times I read this as a kid. An incredible adventure with evocative illustrations by the author.
The entire Bone series is great, but it changed dramatically right in the middle, from light-hearted adventure to straightforward and serious action. The collection of the first 6 issues was so good that I passed around to almost everyone I know - my friends, my grandmother, my teachers, my girlfriends, my parents. It's beautfully drawn and terrifically written.
This French classic is now available in English for the first time. Hundreds of pages of the subtle movements of light and waves as we follow the contemplations of a single prisoner of a lighthouse on an island. Gripping and profound.
Kurt Busiek & Stuart Immomen
Probably my favorite Superman story, this isn't actually about Superman. It's about a guy in our world named Clark Kent who mysteriously gets superpowers. It's a beautiful story with incredibly realistic art by Stuart Immomen.
Harvard Business Review
I discovered this series recently and was blown away once I realized there were like 25 of them. Each tiny book encapsulates the best short articles from HBR on a given topic, like Happiness, Empathy, Influence, Self-awareness, and Focus. "Power & Impact" was one of the best.
Christia Spears Brown
I've gifted this one (usually along with some cute baby books to make the medicine sweeter) to nearly everyone I know who has become a new parent. Essential for opening our eyes to the ways gender infiltrates every aspect of our children's lives.
This book is almost good enough to seem like the prose version of Sandman. Gaiman uses all of his standard mythologies, while throwing in some new ideas of what types of Gods we're worshipping today. His heroes are always understated and relatable, and he paints a wonderfully comprehensive picture of America in classic road trip format.
Like The Diary of Anne Frank, this is essential reading to understand the depths of human depravity from the victims' points of view. But unlike Anne's Diary, this crisp journalistic style hits closer to home by examining not one but dozens of personal stories. This book reminds us that this horrible genocide happened only two decades ago, and that humanity has not yet fully learned the terrible lessons of the twentieth century.
It shows Sagan's versatility that he gets both a fiction and non-fiction book on this list. It's even more amazing that this great novel is the only fiction he ever wrote. This is one of the most realistic-seeming science fiction novels I've ever read, about scientists receiving a radio signal that contains alien instructions for building ... something.
This amazing book was part of the inspiration for my own. Wright proves anthropologically that history is getting better all the time.
Can you imagine anything better than lazing beside a river in summer and listening to this audiobook? (My preference is for the one narrated by Michael Hordern.) Or you could read the book itself - particularly the beautiful version lavishly illustrated by David Petersen.
Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard
I read this comic starting with the first issue, all the way through sixteen years of story. Until one day, it ended. Complete surprise, but what an excellent ending. The comic works well once you realize that it's picking apart different theories of how best to form a society.
War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength in this idealistic tale of rainbows and puppy dogs. Such an uncanny portrayal of a world in which information is not allowed to compound - humans are not allowed to advance. The opposite of The Secret Peace.
I expected this to be one of the greatest novels of all time, and to perfectly express romantic relationships, social issues, and wonderful characters - and it does. But down-to-earth landowner Levin takes a surprise twist and ends up also making it one of the most profound expressions of spiritual insight I've ever read. It took me six months to get through, but it was worth it.
This is Grisham's first novel, and though The Firm was the first one I read (thanks, Craig!), this one was my favorite for a long time. (The film is great, too.) It's definitely got a strong To Kill a Mockingbird echo, but that's a good thing here. (Runaway Jury was also great.)
John M. Roberts
If by short you mean still 500 pages ... nonetheless, this reads incredibly fast and does an excellent job of jumping from culture to culture and not excluding anybody. Focuses on the major themes of history, the big-picture stuff that really matters.
as told to Alex Haley
The last chapters of this book are absolutely stirring. I wish everyone with recent negative views of Islam could see the inclusiveness of the faith for the first time through Malcolm's eyes.
This book manages to combine my favorite interests - history and art. In telling the story of Guernica, the book conveys the power of art to change society. It also goes through the history of Spain in the twentieth-century in a riveting way. Highly recommended.
Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos
Bendis & Gaydos created a fabulously realistic and hilarious character in Jessica Jones, a former B-level superhero who becomes a private investigator as a way to cope with her own demons. Gaydos's art evokes the best of crime noir and modern New York grittiness. It's just like the best PI stories, but with capes.
This is probably the most romantic work I've ever read. It's one of the best in a wide field of autobiographical comics. Thompson tells the story of first love, and growing up, and weaves through them fascinating aspects of art, religion, friendship and loss.
Janet & Isaac Asimov
This was one of my favorite books as a kid. Keeping it on this list is a guilty pleasure. I just re-read it and it certainly doesn't stand up as a book for adults. Worse, there were like 20 sequels that got increasingly absurd. Still, it brought back great memories and I had spent countless hours fantasizing about what it would be like to have a robot in the 21st century that could travel through time and space. You let me down, future!
This book is not for the faint of heart and should not be the first you turn to to be introduced to atheism. But if you're leaning that way, this will tp you over and fan the flames of extreme anger and disgust over the thousands of years of horror inflicted upon the world by religion.
Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera
An excellent comic series that is akin to "The Sopranos on an Indian Reservation". Each issue is a character study of some tortured soul in the huge cast of people who have made bad decisions.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I've read this book many times since middle school, and I got to really appreciate it when we read it for class in high school. We also had a Gatsby party at the home of our teacher, with all the students dressed as flappers and characters from the book. I went as Dr. T. J. Eckleberg, who's a poster of eyes. That's right, don't ask.
Reminiscent of In Cold Blood (even down to the killers' personalities), this is a gripping in-depth story into the murders in Columbine in 1999. The basic point of the book is to slowly and deliberately point out that everything the media told us turned out to be wrong upon closer examination.
Like many books over 200 years old, this one has parts that are slow and wordy and hard to get through. But the middle third, narrated by the Creature himself, is glorious.
John Alison, Max Sarin and Lissa Treiman
Like Scott Pilgrim, this comic won't change your life with anything too profound, but it sure is fun and Britishly hilarious. And it's a great character study of its 3 star women, and later, their supporting cast. They become like old friends to the reader.
Stirringly poetic and right on target with several predictions 50 years later. (Giant wall TVs, anyone?) Fascinating but scary.
This is a great small book that poses many difficult questions for the future of America and the whole world. It looks at the horrible history of the twentieth century as well as our recent incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq and wonders where we're going.
Jeff Sachs is a hero economist - not a term tossed around too much. This book is sobering and inspiring at the same time. I quote it a lot in the economic chapter of my own book (The Secret Peace). It's got cool maps, too.
This is probably a terrible book, just a fluff piece of genre science fiction in a disposable paperback. but I love it because I read it as a kid, and whenever I reread it as an adult it's still a blast. There is infinitely more that could still be done with the story, too.
When we were on our honeymoon, these books were all over Europe but hadn't been released in the U.S. yet. The weird cover here is what we saw in all the bookstores (we went to a lot of bookstores). The first book was so good they made it into a good movie twice.
An enjoyable romantic comedy about a man who inherits a graveyard and all of the monsters in it. Excellent character humor that you get when well-written personalities mix.
Sometimes adorable and sometimes profound, this ongoing web comic turned graphic novel is enjoyable and gorgeous. And about a space girl.
One of the only "work" books on this list, this is one of the most realistic and down-to-earth nitty-gritty business books I've ever read. It tells it like it is. I only wish I had read it earlier in my career as a Product Manager.
This is not only a good, relatable story with fun characters and lots of great music references, but has some of the best insights into relationships and memory (from a specific point of view). And a happy ending, against all odds.