The 50 best books of 2023 – ranked

Looking for a Christmas present? From history to crime, and politics to poetry, our critics count down the literary offerings of the year

Our regular book reviewers – as well as writing specialist guides to 2023’s best history, fiction and other genres – have each put forward their own ranked list of suggestions for the best books of the year. Compiled by the Telegraph’s Books desk from those suggestions, here is our definitive ranking of this year’s essential reading. 

Which book would you put at number one? Are there any brilliant books from 2023 that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Best books of 2023

50. King Charles by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Written for young readers, this charming account of Charles’s journey from “little Prince to grown-up King” will out-romance any modern fairy tale. EB 
Buy the book.

49. Reach for the Stars by Michael Cragg

An amusing and lighthearted, yet surprisingly poignant, oral history of post-Britpop bubblegum pop – from the Spice Girls to S Club 7. NMC
Buy the book.

48. Love Me Fierce in Danger by Steven Powell

A journey into the inner hell of James Ellroy, the author of L A Confidential and self-proclaimed “demon dog of American crime fiction”. JK
Read our full review. Buy the book.

47. Henry III by David Carpenter

The second volume of Carpenter’s biography paints a vivid portrait of medieval England, outlining crucial events on the country’s march from despotism to democracy. SH 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

The coronation of Henry III, depicted in a 13th-century manuscript Credit: Fine Art/Heritage/Getty

46. The End of Us by Olivia Kiernan

Tom Ripley would see the narrator of this deliciously Highsmithian chiller as a soulmate: he’s a debt-ridden GP who plots to fake his wife’s death for the insurance. JK
Buy the book.

45. A Woman’s Game by Suzanne Wrack

Looking beyond the Lionesses, Wrack offers a thorough and engaging study of how women’s football has moved out of the shadows and into the mainstream. DR
Buy the book.

44. Strangers at the Port by Lauren Aimee Curtis

Via three beautiful, conflicting narratives, Curtis’s novel tells of how, at the turn of the 20th century, a lush Mediterranean island had to be evacuated. CRC
Read our full review. Buy the book.

43. The Scarlet Papers by Matthew Richardson

This superb spy yarn explores 70 years of secret missions through one nonagenarian agent’s eyes, amid a tussle over her ­explosive memoirs. JK
Buy the book.

42. Hyena! by Fran Lock

Lock imagines herself as a four-legged predator prowling London’s dingy streets in scabrous, thrillingly OTT poems – and offers elegies for the late poet Roddy Lumsden. TFS
Buy the book.

41. Three Little Monkeys and the Grand Hotel by Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark

The monkeys go wild in a sumptuous hotel, in the latest escapade of this delightful ­collaborative series. EB
Read our full review. Buy the book.

Emma Chichester Clark's illustrations of her new book with Quentin Blake Credit: Emma Chichester Clark

40. Four Ways of Thinking by David Sumpter

All events have a mathematical element. Sumpter shows that happiness begins with a simple calculation, and explores how our brains spot patterns. SI
Buy the book.

39. The New Leviathans by John Gray

Post-Scruton, John Gray is Britain’s best philosopher – and he knocks it out of the park with a book that details the unravelling of the Western order. TS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

38. Concussed by Sam Peters

This in-depth ­investigation into the physical toll suffered by rugby players through head trauma, and its long-term impact, is crucial to the future of the sport. DR
Buy the book.

37. Revolutionary Spring by Christopher Clark

A magisterial account of violent unrest from France to Austria-­Hungary in 1848-49, one of the most troubled and pivotal periods in European history. SH
Read our full review. Buy the book.

36. To 2040 by Jorie Graham

Writing in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, a giant of American literature looks ahead to her own extinction – and the Earth’s – in shiver-inducing, Beckettian poetry. TFS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

35. We Are Electric by Sally Adee

This year’s light-bulb moment: Adee’s study of the “electrome” – voltage in our bones, skin, nerves and muscle – shows biology only makes sense in the light of electricity. SI
Buy the book.

34. Politics on the Edge by Rory Stewart

He might be ­insufferably smug, but Stewart writes like P G Wodehouse, skewering our mad Parliament and the oversexed nutters who populate it. TS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

Rory Stewart's Politics on the Edge asked where the UK is going wrong Credit: Andrew Crowley

33. The Russo-Ukrainian War by Serhii Plokhy

Perhaps the most definitive account of the history leading up to today’s war in Ukraine, from the author of Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy. AW
Read our full review. Buy the book.

32. Energy Follows Thought by Willie Nelson

The country singer proves incredibly good company in this book of lyrics, offering sharp, humorous and ­philosophical ­observations on his art. NMC
Buy the book.

31. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Both a hymn to modern Delhi and an exposure of its corruption, Kapoor’s epic novel tells the tale of a criminal dynasty that makes the Corleones look like the ­Larkins. JK 
Buy the book.

30. The Right to Rule by Ben Riley-Smith

How have the Tories stayed in power so long? Future historians will refer to this study in cynicism and clever reinvention, by The Telegraph’s political editor. TS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

29. The Race to Be Myself by Caster Semenya

A timely, impassioned memoir by an Olympic medallist whose differences in sexual development put her at the centre of athetics’ gender controversies. DR
Read our full review. Buy the book.

Olympic medallist Caster Semenya tells her story in The Race to Be Myself Credit: Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters

28. Out of the Darkness by Frank Trentmann

A meticulous and well-judged account of Germany from 1942 to today shows how it transformed itself from pariah nation to leader of a continent. SH 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

27. The Many Hundreds of the Scent by Shane McCrae

The American poet’s most mature book yet moves between philosophy, fantasy and his own childhood kidnapping by white supremacists. TFS
Buy the book.

26. Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

A decade on from her Booker win, Catton has returned with a breakneck thriller and millennial satire in one, featuring tech moguls and eco-warriors in rural New Zealand. CRC
Read our full review. Buy the book.

25. Sleeping Beauties by Andreas Wagner

Biologist Wagner’s thought-provoking study of “dormant innovations” explains why the good ideas gathering dust vastly outnumber the good ideas whose time has come. SI
Buy the book.

24. Erotic Vagrancy by Roger Lewis

Is it a rant, an elegy or a biographical hand grenade? Whatever the answer, this study of Taylor and Burton’s marriage is a viciously fun celebration of vulgar Hollywood. FW
Read our full review. Buy the book.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra Credit: Corbis via Getty Images

23. 1923 by Ned Boulting

Welcome both to the Tour de France 100 years ago, and the inside of an obsessive mind today: this book frames a lost sporting world through one man’s love of cycling. DR
Read our full review. Buy the book.

22. Monet by Jackie Wullschläger

Bereavement, volatility, ardour: the many currents of a passionate life flow through this superbly accomplished biography of the painter who gave the world Impressionism. FW
Buy the book.

21. A Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War, ed John Freedman

An unflinchingly direct collection of 20 short works by Ukrainian playwrights, all written in the opening months of the war. AW Buy the book.

20. Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck (tr Michael Hofmann)

In this rigorously beautiful novel, set amid the fall of East Germany, two lovers – a younger woman, an older man – watch their own affair disintegrate. CRC
Read our full review. Buy the book.

19. The Wolf-Girl, The Greeks and the Gods by Tom Holland

The popular historian offers children a bewitching account of the Greco-Persian Wars told through the eyes of a Spartan princess. EB 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

An illustration by Jason Cockroft from Tom Holland's new book Credit: Jason Cockroft

18. The Fall by Michael Wolff 

If it’s true that Succession is based on the Murdoch family civil war, this astonishing exposé of life in King Rupert’s court proves that truth remains stranger than fiction. TS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

17. From Our Own Fire by William Letford

A hard-as-nails Scottish family flee the AI apocalypse, in an funny, poignant and often chilling novel that’s told half in verse, half in prose. TFS 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

16. Wifedom by Anna Funder

This study of George Orwell’s first wife, Eileen – whom his books never name – is fresh, original and immersive, thanks to the award-winning author of Stasiland. FW 
Buy the book.

15. The Secret Hours by Mick Herron

A public inquiry threatens to unearth the secrets of some Slough House regulars, in this powerful standalone spy thriller from a true contemporary master. JK
Read our full review. Buy the book.

14. Eve by Cat Bohannon

The female of the species gets – and, it turns out, genuinely needs – an evolutionary history of her own, and in a fascinating study that covers more than 200 million years. SI 
Buy the book.

Eileen (1905-1045), the first wife of George Orwell Credit: Alamy

13. On Days Like These by Tim Rich

In this “lost memoir”, Rich uses cassette tapes to reconstruct the voice of the late Manchester United goalkeeper Les Sealey. It’s an emotional window into the world of 1990s English football. DR 
Buy the book.

12. Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

A mother searching for her missing daughter in fractious 1970s Boston may be the most memorable character yet from the veteran novelist. JK
Buy the book.

11. The Lost Book of Barkynge by Ruth Wiggins

“Here begins 900 winters”: an epic poetic history, from the age of Cædmon to that of Henry VIII, told via the lives of Barking’s abbesses and nuns. TFS
Read our full review. Buy the book.

10. A Small, Stubborn Town by Andrew Harding

A dramatic retelling of the battle for Voznesensk, in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s forces tried to take it – but didn’t reckon with the plucky locals’ defence. AW 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

9. Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell

The young doyenne of children’s fiction kicks off a new fantasy series with this gripping novel, replete with unicorns, griffins and a murderer on the loose. EB
Read the full review. Buy the book.

Katherine Rundell began a new series with Impossible Creatures Credit: Jeff Gilbert

8. The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

With quietly vengeful fury, the pop star recounts how she was exploited by not just her industry but her own family. The most riveting music book of the year by far. NMC 
Read our full review. Buy the book.

7. Cinderella Boys by Leo McKinstry

An impeccably researched, highly ­original and superbly told story about the “Cinderella” arm of the RAF that saved Britain from starvation in the Second World War. SH
Buy the book.

6. A Shining by Jon Fosse

An unusually short but typically magnetic book by this year’s Nobel Prize winner, in which a man gets lost in a forest and encounters glowing figures. It’s utterly, oddly beautiful. CRC
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

5. White Holes by Carlo Rovelli

Enter a black hole and you’re not forgotten; you’re not even gone. In this fascinating little book, Rovelli, one of physics’ most elegant writers, finds hope at the end of all things. SI
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

Julian Jackson's study of Pétain’s trial was the history book of the year Credit: Getty

4. The Marriage Question by Clare Carlisle

A luminously warm and intelligent reading of the courageous life, writing and philosophy of George Eliot, the 19th century’s wisest novelist. FW
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

3. Israelophobia by Jake Wallis Simons

This powerful analysis of how obsessive hatred of Israel can be a cover for hatred of the Jews was always intelligent and nuanced. After the October 7 attacks, it’s necessary reading. TS
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

2. Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

A woman moves to a distant country, but the locals treat her as a threat. Discomfiting and eerie, it’s the year’s best novel, and ought to win the Booker Prize. CRC
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

1. France on Trial by Julian Jackson

This account of Philippe Pétain’s 1945 trial for high treason is a superb achievement, both reconstructing France’s Vichy shame and thoughtfully analysing its aftermath. SH
Read our full reviewBuy the book.

Contributors: Cal Revely-Calder, Simon Heffer, Frances Wilson, Tim Stanley, Ada Wordsworth, Neil McCormick, Jake Kerridge, Declan Ryan, Simon Ings, Emily Bearn, Tristram Fane Saunders