The 5 Best Books I’ve Read According to Goodreads

A closeup of the edges of a stack of books. They fill the left half of the image, with the right half being a gray blur. The covers are colorful, with only edges visible.
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Finding the Best Books

I read a lot of books. Like, 100-150 books a year. (My best year was 159 books in 2020. I wonder why? cough COVID cough). And I’ve been a fairly active reader my entire life, meaning my total recorded book count is in the 700s. So the other day I wondered, what does Goodreads consider to be the best books I’ve ever read?

Of course I know which are my personal favorites, but part of the fun of reading is that people react differently to the same books. What I wanted to know was which books were rated well by a lot of people. It was easy to figure out, and can be done in the app. I went to my “Read” shelf, and sorted by average rating.

Filtering the Best Books

But I was a little disappointed with the results. The problem is, my top 5 using this method are all fantasy series and reference books. This wasn’t what I wanted, not because they’re not amazing (because they all are), but they’re niche and time-intensive, so you should only read them if you’re really interested.

So I only counted non-series, non-reference books towards the top 5. But I still listed the others to satisfy your curiosity. Which means that the full list is actually 18 books long. Lucky you— 18 books for the price of 5!

If you’re not interested in the extras, you can just scroll through to find the cover images. The titles are also larger and numbered. These are not my favorite books ever (stay tuned for that list), but they are all quite good. Make sure to get to the end— books 3 and 5 are among my true favorites!

So without further ado, my top 5 (18) books I’ve read according to Goodreads:

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson

I’m not surprised this was number 1. I think there are a few reasons for that because of the way Goodreads works. This is exactly the kind of book that rates well, because the average person will never have heard of it and won’t even try to read it because of its length and detail. Those who won’t like it self-select out easily. Those who do get through it love it, because it is a good book. And it’s a sequel, which seem to always rate better than the first ones, probably because the people who read them only got to it because they read and loved the first one.

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Anddd here’s the original. Books 3 and 4 would be on here too but I haven’t read them yet. I blew through 1 and 2 and needed a break 😂

Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb

This is a great identification book. And also just a beautiful thing to browse through. If you live in the Pacific Northwest near the coast or are visiting, you should buy this book. It is full of beautiful photos of marine life, and great tips on identification. Everything from algae to invertebrates to fish to sharks: it’s all in here. This was essential for me as a student in marine science on the Oregon coast.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (HP #7) by JK Rowling

Yes– a Harry Potter book! Of course it’s the last one, because as I said before, sequels tend to rank better. I am of the milennial generation who is still completely obsessed with Harry Potter, despite she-who-must-not-be-named revealing herself to be a hateful person. So even though we don’t talk about Jo, I re-read the HP series almost every year.

Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum

I picked up this book because I would like to write a book someday, and this one was highly recommended to me. It is excellent. It’s a manual for anyone looking to write a book, as it helps you navigate pitches, agents, publishers, media, and more. And it’s funny. I’ll be reading it again when I’m thinking more seriously about writing a book.

The Craft of Science Writing edited by Siri Carpenter

Another amazing book about writing. It’s a collection of blog posts curated and combined to help any budding or blooming science writer. I wrote a book note about this one.

Book cover for the Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. There is a rain-spattered window in the foreground with a small floral design with nightingale at the bottom. In the background the top of the Eiffel Tower is visible.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember this book. Historical fiction is not one of my favorite genres. But I read this one and gave it 5 stars, so it must be good.

Because of them, I know now what matters, and it is not what I have lost. It is my memories. Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain.

Wait But Why Year One by Tim Urban

I debated whether to include this as a top 5 or not. It’s not exactly a reference, but it’s not exactly a normal book. As it was a collection of blog posts similar to the Craft of Writing, I decided it didn’t count. But it’s a funny read, great for anyone who has the curiosity drive to dive into deep rabbit holes about random topics. Tim Urban’s TED talk is hilarious as well, probably the best material I’ve seen on procrastination.

Book cover of Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. There is an artistic representation of a crowd of people in an approximate line from the lower right fading back into perspective in the upper left. There is a lot of color.

2. Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

This book was powerful. Every American should read this. Most schoolchildren get the white colonial perspective on history in their formal education. This book tells the other side of the story: the people who were swept aside, or used and disrespected, in their own words. This is true history, and it will turn your world upside down.

“The most marvelous, unbelievable thing about Black people in America is that they exist. Every imaginable monstrosity that evil can conjure has been inflicted on this population, yet they have not been extinguished.

Michael Harriot, Four Hundred Souls
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (HP #3) by JK Rowling

Finally, another Harry Potter! This one was my favorite growing up.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (HP #6) by JK Rowling

And…. another.

3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I am so happy that this book made it on this list. It really is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I don’t even know what I would call the genre: it’s a mix of nature, science, and culture. Robin Wall Kimmerer is doing the important work of bringing indigenous American culture into the mainstream.

How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?

R for Data Science by Hadley Wickham and Garrett Grolemund

Another great reference book, whose materials are all available online. (I love open access.) If you’re a data scientist who wants to get better at R, this book covers a lot of useful topics.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (HP #4) by JK Rowling


4. Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Another powerful book. It is full of pain, both emotional pain for the reader and physical and emotional pain for its subjects. The world needs to know about what the Sacklers did to millions of Americans. Patrick O’Keefe tells their stories with care and restrained anger.

In fact, more Americans had lost their lives from opioid overdoses than had died in all of the wars the country had fought since World War II.

The Return of the King (The Lord Of The Rings #3) by JRR Tolkien

I’m also really glad a LOTR book made it on here. Again, the last in the series! Amazing fantasy.

Foundations of Flavor by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber

This book is SO. COOL. If you like getting a little nerdy about food, you should check this out. Endless kitchen experiments to try.

5. Spaceman by Mike Massimino

This is definitely one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Mike Massimino, an astronaut, takes an amazing life envied by many and makes it sound even better than you imagined. Astronauts have a unique perspective on the world (literally), and Massimino did a great job of sharing his.

Because being the right person isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being able to handle whatever life throws at you.


There you go: the best 5 (18) books I’ve read, according to Goodreads. You would do well to read any or all of them. Stay tuned for my true top 5 favorites!

See the top 5 together on my Bookshop list.

The quotes above were gathered using Readwise. It’s a truly amazing app to help you remember what you read. If you want to try it out, use my link and we both get a free month 🙂

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and purchase the item, I may receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you and it allows me to spend more time writing content like this.

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