5 Best Books I Read in 2023

Productivity, philosophy, finance, spirituality, health, and some great fictions.

Irtiza Hafiz
8 min readJan 7, 2024
Photo by Annelies Geneyn on Unsplash

Even though 2023 was a mediocre reading year, I found a few gems that are worth talking about.

The variety of topics the different books I read spanned was quite astonishing. It will be even more evident when you see my “top 5 list” because each of the book covers a different genre.

Here’s how I plan on structuring this blog post:

  1. Interesting reading stats
  2. All books read + rated
  3. Honorable mentions
  4. 5th best book
  5. 1st best book

Without wasting too much time, let’s get started.

Reading Stats

  • 14 books read
  • 4,046 pages read
  • Shortest Book: Elena Knows (143 pages)
  • Longest Book: Five Survive (391 pages)
  • Average Book: 289 Pages
  • Average Rating I Gave: 3.8/5
  • Gave 3 books a 5-star

At the start of the year, my goal was to read one book every 2 weeks, totaling around 26 books by the end of 2023.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit that target, but I am still pleased with the grand total of 14.

An average rating of 3.8 is very impressive. I personally hate average ratings that are on either extremes — close to 1 or 5. Usually that shows that the rating is more emotional rather than thoughtful.

My take on an average rating of 3.8 is that I read more good books than bad, but not disproportionately. The hypothesis holds when you see that I gave only 3 books a 5-star rating.

Overall, not a bad reading year.

Next, let’s take a comprehensive look at all books I read this year and how I rated them.

All Books Read + Rated

In the interest of not wasting time, I will list out all the books with their ratings, avoiding any reviews or summaries.

If you want to learn about any of these books, feel free to look them up on Goodreads.

  1. The First 90 Days — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  2. Verity — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  3. Make Time — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  4. Bewilderment — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  5. When Breath Becomes Air — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  6. The Midnight Library — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  7. Elena Knows — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  8. Five Survive — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  9. The Psychology of Money — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  10. Muhammad by Karen Armstrong — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  11. Letters from a Stoic — ⭐ ⭐
  12. Incognito — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  13. Secrets of Divine Love — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  14. The Millionaire Fastlane — ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

You will see that there is no clear pattern when it comes to the genres of book I read over the course of the year.

It’s a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. The genres range from finance and philosophy to business and spirituality.

If I were to summarize the rating distribution:

  • ⭐ — 0 Books
  • ⭐ ⭐ — 1 Book
  • ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ — 4 Books
  • ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ — 6 Books
  • ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ — 3 Books

Honorable Mentions

Now that you have a good understanding of the kind of books I read over the year, if you are still interested, next I will talk about the most impactful books.

Both my honorable mentions and top-5 won’t be a simple sorting of the ratings you saw above.

I wanted to pull out the top-5 based on “impact”. In other words, which books I learned the most from.

These books either had a considerable immediate impact or a lasting impact where it encouraged me to dive deeper into the topic.

That said, I will start with the honorable mentions at first, and then move on to my top-5.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

How does this book belong to this list if I rated it only 3-stars? Simple: It had a profound impact on me.

I did not enjoy the writing style. The idea, however, I absolutely loved!

Without spoiling too much, I will say that the book about making choices and having regrets. It was somewhere between a fiction and non-fiction.

One big takeaway I had from this book — as human beings we put an outsized value on regrets. When there are two choices — say A and B — and we pick one only to find out that it wasn’t the right choice, we think that the other choice would have been all roses and sunshine. Spoiler Alert: Maybe not. You don’t know until you live that choice.

It taught me how to make my peace with the decisions I take with the information I have, instead of regretting how the alternative could have been better.

Muhammad by Karen Armstrong

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Spiritually, “Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet” was one of the most impactful book of the year.

I grew up a Muslim in Bangladesh. However, most of my Islamic education was limited to reading the Quran in Arabic (without understanding the meaning) and being told by my parents to pray fives times a day.

Whether it was my rebellious nature whenever someone told me to do something, or a lack of proactiveness on my end to learn more, I never deeply understood my religion.

Fast-forward several years, as I started reading self-help and philosophy books, I gained a new appreciation of deeper meaning in life. From there developed an interest to re-learn Islam from an unbiased perspective and an open-mind.

The more I read, the more I could draw parallel between the teachings of Islam and so many of the modern self-help books that talk about personal and spiritual growth, living for others, being honest and truthful, and leading a simple life in service to others.

“Muhammad” was one of the first books to set me on that path at the beginning of 2023.

5 — The Millionaire Fastlane by M.J. DeMarco

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The title of the book screams “clickbait” and “get-rich-quick-scheme”.

I can assure you, it’s anything but that.

It provides a fascinating alternative to getting rich “the slow way” which is by investing 10% of your paycheck on low-cost index funds.

Even though that’s a great way to sustainably increase your net worth, you will be looking at a timescale of 30–40 years. For many people, that’s too long. If you are 25 years old right now, in 40 years, you will be 65 years old.

You might have all the money in the world then (assuming inflation does not skyrocket), but how much can you really do with that money then?

In this book, DeMarco tells the readers to focus on creating wealth in other ways, such as creating businesses with cash flows.

I will be the first one to admit, it’s not for everyone.

The solutions provided are quintessential examples of today’s hustle culture and the tone throughout the book is quite condescending, if I am being honest.

However, it did open a new perspective, and that’s one of the main reasons to read books, no? You take in different perspectives, think critically, and then apply what makes the most sense for you.

4 — When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The book was written by a 36-years-old young neurosurgeon fighting a cancer diagnosis and contemplating the question — “What makes a life worth living?”

It’s quite an interesting perspective because almost overnight Paul goes from treating unwell people to being treated as the unwell.

He walks the reader through his life struggles, all the hard work he put in over 10 years to become a neurosurgeon, how he dreamed up a life once he because a neurosurgeon, and how one diagnosis changed it all for him.

The life he imagined for himself and his family evaporated overnight.

Paul passed away while writing this book. His wife finished it by writing the final chapter.

One of my biggest takeaway from this book was the fragility of life. We think that there’s always “a tomorrow” and how we will do all these grand things next year. However, we are scarily unaware that life can change overnight, whether from some accident or, in Paul’s case, a life-changing diagnosis.

This was one of the most profoundly moving book I have read. I would highly recommend this for anyone, at any stage of life.

3 — The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

One of my first 5-star reads of the year, Morgan brings a “fresh” and “more-humane” perspective on personal finance.

Enough has been written about this book already. It has spread through social media like wildfire.

The premise of the book is crucial:

Real world people don’t make financial decisions on a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a meeting room, where personal history, your unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together.

In other words, you can read all the best book on investments and crypto, but when push comes to shove, most of human behavior when it comes to money is based on ego and emotions.

2 — Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

If I were to recommend one productivity book to someone, this would be it.

The book is focused on practical ideas explained in as few words as possible. No fluff.

It proposes numerous strategies you can use to optimize your time, energy, and focus. I picked up 5–6 of these strategies and have never looked back.

Unlike other productivity books, “Make Time” does not claim to have found the “magic pill” or a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Instead it’s a recipe book or a buffet full of productivity techniques. Pick what works for you.

1 — Secrets of Divine Love by A. Helwa

Rating Given: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Hands down, one of the best books on spirituality that I have read. You don’t have to be a Muslim to appreciate the teachings in this book.

Above all, it’s beautifully written. You will fall in love with the writing. I did.

According to Goodreads:

The book draws upon spiritual secrets of the Quran, ancient mystical poetry, and stories from the world’s greatest Prophets and spiritual masters.

The book uses a rational, yet heart-based approach towards the Quran that not only enlightens the mind, but inspires the soul towards deeper intimacy with God.

More than how to be a good Muslim, this book inspires you to be a great human being. It teaches you to live a life in service to others.

It teaches you to be humble, selfless, and how to love everyone around you.

I have read many philosophical books that are trending nowadays — Kaizen, Ikigai, Dopamine Nation, etc. This book beats them all.

Sure, it talks about life from an Islamic perspective, but the lessons and suggestions are universal.

If applied successfully, you will elevate yourself and everyone around you.

Closing Thoughts

If you made it this far, thank you for reading!

I hope you found it valuable.

Please consider giving some claps, following me here on Medium or subscribing to my website.

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Irtiza Hafiz

https://irtizahafiz.com Engineering manager who writes about software development and productivity.