In 2023, as we do each year, we published thousands of reviews of thousands of new books. Of all the reviews we published, these are the 10 you read the most.

10. Yellowface

R.F. Kuang. Morrow, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-325083-3
A struggling novelist passes off a manuscript left by her dead college friend in this excellent satire from Kuang (Babel, or the Necessity of Violence). Athena Liu, who is Chinese American, dies accidentally by choking at her Washington, D.C., apartment while celebrating a movie deal for one of her novels. At the celebration is June Hayward, who met Athena when they were at Yale together, and whose own career has stalled after her publisher folded. Since then, while watching Athena’s meteoric rise, she came to find her old friend “unbearable.” In the commotion after Athena’s death, June, who is white, pilfers a manuscript from her desk. Titled The Last Front, it’s a historical novel about the role of Chinese laborers in WWI. After June gets a six-figure deal for it, she excises slurs used against Chinese laborers and adds a love story between a white woman and a Chinese soldier. Against objections from Candice Lee, a Korean American editorial assistant, the book goes to market, where it climbs up the bestseller list and attracts a vociferous backlash from the AAPI community, plus a scathing review from a prominent critic, who calls it a “white redemption” narrative. June grows increasingly anxious as she’s accused online by @AthenaLiusGhost of stealing Athena’s work, then starts thinking she’s seeing Athena at readings and around town. Kuang provides a sharp analysis of publishing’s blind spots and guides the plot toward a thrilling face-off between June and Athena’s “ghost.” This is not to be missed. Agent: Hannah Bowman, Liz Dawson Assoc. (May)

9. Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity

Peter Attia, with Bill Gifford. Harmony, $32 (496p) ISBN 978-0-593-23659-8
This rigorous debut by physician Attia dispenses guidance on living longer while staying healthier. “The odds are overwhelming that you will die as a result of... heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, or type 2 diabetes,” he writes, outlining strategies to stave off these four “chronic diseases of aging.” The author’s medical philosophy emphasizes prevention over treatment, recognizes that what works for one person might not work for the next, evaluates “risk versus reward versus cost” on a case-by-case basis, and prioritizes maintaining one’s “healthspan.” He strikes the delicate balance between providing scientific background and keeping his explanations accessible, as when he relates that long-distance running and biking help fend off neurodegenerative disease because they cause the body to generate a molecule that bolsters the health of brain structures implicated in storing memories. Attia’s acknowledgement that diets aren’t one-size-fits-all is a welcome departure from the overgeneralizations of similar volumes, and he provides recommendations on modulating protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake depending on one’s age, sex, and activity levels. The familiar suggestions to reduce stress, eat healthier, and exercise are elevated by the depth of detail and lucid prose that Attia brings to the table. This stands a notch above other fare aimed at boosting health and longevity. (Mar.)

8. Tom Lake

Ann Patchett. Harper, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-332752-8
Patchett (The Dutch House) unspools a masterly family drama set in the early months of Covid-19. Lara and her husband live on a cherry orchard in northern Michigan, where they welcome their three adult daughters home to shelter in place. Emily, the oldest, is a young farmer who will inherit the family farm; Maisie is a veterinarian; and Nell, the youngest at 22, dreams of becoming an actress. They pass the hours picking fruit and listening to Lara tell the tale of her long-ago romance with “Duke,” a young actor who went on to become a major celebrity. Lara and Duke met during a summer stock production of Our Town, where she played Emily and he played her father, Editor Webb. Patchett alternates between present-day scenes of the cherry orchard and Lara’s younger years, including her brief foray as an actor in Hollywood, before an accident put a sudden end to her career. “There’s a lot you don’t know,” Lara tells Emily, Maisie, and Nell at the novel’s opening, and as Patchett’s slow-burn narrative gathers dramatic steam, she blends past and present with dexterity and aplomb, as the daughters come to learn more of the truth about Lara’s Duke stories, causing them to reshape their understanding of their mother. Patchett is at the top of her game. (Aug.)

7. Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral

Ben Smith. Penguin Press, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-29975-3
Smith, former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News and New York Times media columnist, debuts with a riveting insider’s look at the history of online news media. He chronicles the rise in the early 2000s of online outlets that measured success by the amount of traffic individual articles generated, starting with Gawker’s decision in 2003 to start selling advertising space. The incentive to publish salacious content to attract clicks eventually led to the site’s shuttering in 2016, however, when wrestler Hulk Hogan won a lawsuit against Gawker for publishing his sex tape. Positing that there was always a darker side to the quest for clicks, Smith details how Andrew Breitbart applied what he learned as a junior partner at the Huffington Post to his extremist right-wing news outlet, Breitbart. Smith is critical of online media’s obsession with breaking news first, and he offers a candid reflection on his decision while at BuzzFeed News to publish the Steele dossier, conceding he should have anticipated it would be republished without the caveats BuzzFeed included. Smith’s rigorous journalism and proximity to his subject imbue this with abounding insight, and the author’s sharp eye for character gives it the feel of a novel. Sobering and captivating, this is an essential take on the 21st-century media landscape. (May)

6. Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation

Jon Ward. Brazos, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-58743-577-5
In this enlightening memoir, Ward (Camelot’s End), senior political correspondent for Yahoo! News, recounts a life caught between Christian and secular worlds. Ward grew up in the 1980s and ’90s as an evangelical pastor’s son, going to protests outside abortion clinics and embarking on mission trips. But when the Sovereign Grace Church took a sharp turn toward New Calvinism, its notions of man’s total depravity left Ward further disenchanted with the sin-obsessed, “hermetically sealed” church world he’d already started to question. Ward pursued journalism and landed his first reporting job at the Washington Times, though for years he dealt with an “existentialist despair” after realizing his upbringing hadn’t prepared him for “the world in which [he] now moved.” West fully broke with the church after the evangelical community embraced Donald Trump in 2016, causing rifts with his family. Nonetheless, Ward advocates for a Christian presence in public political discourse, in which he contends believers should serve as “agents of nuance rather than of reductionism.” While this sometimes seems more like an ongoing personal inquiry than a finished product (as when he touches on the current status of his faith in the final chapters), Ward is consistently clear-sighted and perceptive as he charts a genuinely fascinating personal and spiritual evolution. This will resonate especially with Christians wondering about faith’s place in modern American society. (Apr.)

5. The Ferryman

Justin Cronin. Ballantine, $30 (560p) ISBN 978-0-525-61947-5
Bestseller Cronin’s first novel since his Passage trilogy is a fantastic extravaganza all its own, with a plot that hinges on unpredictable twists that run far ahead of reader expectations. Proctor Bennett, an elite resident of the socially regimented archipelago world of Prospera, works as a “ferryman,” assisting aging fellow Prosperans to transition peacefully to their next “iteration,” the reconstitution of their personalities in younger bodies. Proctor discharges his duties with great professionalism—until the ferrying of his own father goes dramatically awry, exposing cracks in Prospera’s edenic veneer. Now a dangerous fugitive on the run from his own forced iteration, Proctor enters an unlikely alliance with rebellious subversives inhabiting the Annex, the island that is home to Prospera’s disgruntled working class. Having established the foundations for what appears to be a classic dystopian tale, Cronin then pulls the rug out from under his story, audaciously expanding its scope far beyond the hermetic parameters that have shaped Proctor’s account up to that point and pushing it into the realm of provocative conceptual science fiction. Cronin’s firm command of the plot’s sinuous dynamics, and his creation of believable characters shaped by well-wrought strengths and flaws, make this bold gesture work. The result is a sensational speculative tale that is sure to get people talking. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media. (May)

4. Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America

Michael Harriot. Dey Street, $32.50 (432p) ISBN 978-0-358-43916-5
Harriot (The Situation in South Carolina), a columnist at TheGrio, offers a razor-sharp reassessment of American history. In a textbook format (including end-of-chapter quizzes and sidebars) meant to counter the “whitewashed” version of U.S. history often taught in schools, Harriot examines well-known events—including the founding of Jamestown and the growth of the Atlantic slave trade—with a focus on the experiences and contributions of Indigenous and Black people, such as enslaved West Africans’ introduction of rice (“America’s first edible cash crop”) to South Carolina. He also resurfaces lesser-known figures, including Mustafa Azemmouri, who “explore[d] more of the North American continent than Lewis or Clark.” An enslaved African, Azemmouri survived the arduous Narváez expedition of 1527, which included a trek on foot from Florida to Mexico, and was subsequently commissioned by the king of Spain to lead his own expedition into what is now the American Southwest. Also profiled are Jemmy, the West African leader of the 1739 Stono Rebellion in Charleston, S.C., and Rosetta Tharpe, the pioneering musician and “godmother” of rock and roll. Both entertainingly colloquial and impressively erudite, this meticulous survey of the American past is an invaluable resource. Educators should take note. (Sept.)

3. The Covenant of Water

Abraham Verghese. Grove, $32 (736p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6217-5
Verghese’s breathtaking latest (after Cutting for Stone) follows several generations of a South Indian family as they search for the roots of a curse. The watery setting of Travancore (later Kerala) is described in dreamlike terms, with “rivulets and canals, a latticework of lakes and lagoons, a maze of backwaters and bottle-green lotus ponds.” There, a member of the Parambil family has drowned in each of the last three generations. The story begins in 1900 when a 12-year-old girl, who becomes known as Big Ammachi, marries a 40-year-old widower with a two-year-old son, JoJo. Big Ammachi sees the curse firsthand after discovering JoJo drowned at 10 in an irrigation ditch. At 16, she gives birth to Baby Mol, a daughter gifted with prophecy, and then to a son, Philipose, who becomes a newspaper columnist and marries Elsie, a beautiful and talented artist. They live in Big Ammachi’s loving home with their son, Ninan, until an accident sends the couple reeling. Philipose becomes an opium addict and Elsie returns to her family, but they reunite briefly and have a daughter, Mariamma, until another tragedy leaves newborn Mariamma motherless. A parallel narrative involves Scottish surgeon Digby Kilgour, who runs a leprosarium, and by the end, Verghese perfectly connects the wandering threads. Along the way, Mariamma becomes a neurosurgeon and seeks the cause of the drownings, and the author handily depicts Mariamma’s intricate brain surgeries and Kilgour’s skin graft treatments, along with political turmoil when the Maoist Naxalite movement hits close to home. Verghese outdoes himself with this grand and stunning tribute to 20th-century India. Agent: Mary Evans, Mary Evans Inc. (May)

2. Among the Bros: A Fraternity Crime Story

Max Marshall. Harper, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-309953-1
In this sobering debut, journalist Marshall digs into the deadly hubris underpinning an organized crime ring at the College of Charleston. In 2016, a task force busted five Charleston Kappa Alpha fraternity members and three of their friends for running a $400,000 narcotics network. After the news broke, Marshall—fresh out of college himself—flew to Charleston, S.C., to interview key players in the story, including family and friends of the arrested, and the group’s ringleader, Mikey Schmidt, who’s currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Schmidt, who knew he wanted to pledge Kappa Alpha before he knew what he wanted to study, fit the Southern frat boy stereotype to a tee, but unlike his peers, he didn’t stop at selling weed to procure party money: fueled by a sense of entrepreneurial greatness, he built a major operation that supplied Xanax, cocaine, and other drugs to a chain of colleges across the South. As Marshall spent more time with Schmidt and his accomplices, he pieced together a lurid tale of adolescent ego (Schmidt cops to much of his criminal activity, but bristles when Marshall suggests that a rival frat had more clout than Kappa Alpha) and unchecked privilege that culminated in the murder of one of the ring’s distributors. Through chilling, candid conversations with his sources, Marshall convincingly illustrates how these young men allowed greed to wreck their lives. The result is a fast-paced and frightening campus crime saga. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Nov.)

1. Fourth Wing

Rebecca Yarros. Red Tower, $29.99 (512p) ISBN 978-1-64937-404-2
Romance author Yarros (The Things We Leave Unfinished) blends the epic tale of a reluctant dragon rider’s coming-of-age with a sexy dark academia aesthetic in her astounding debut fantasy. Fearsome General Sorrengail demands that her children follow in her footsteps as dragon riders—even her youngest, Violet, who has trained her whole life to be a scribe like her late father. Forced to join a deadly war academy, Violet is unprepared to perform the fatal tasks all cadets must complete to become dragon riders. The odds are stacked against her due both to her delicate stature and to her mother’s reputation: it was Sorrengail who gave the order to execute all separatists in the last rebellion. The rebels’ orphaned children have all been conscripted to the academy, putting a target on Violet’s back. Worse, her own brooding but handsome wing leader, third-year student Xaden Riorson, is the son of the separatists’ leader. Meanwhile, the wards that protect the city are failing, but as danger draws nearer, clever Violet grows stronger, discovering that riding dragons may be her destiny after all. Yarros’s worldbuilding is intricate without being overbearing, setting the stage for Violet’s satisfying growth into a force to be reckoned with. Readers will be spellbound and eager for more. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (May)