These are in the order I read them, more or less, not in terms of preference. And I would say this year had more good entries than ever before. Here goes, noting that most of the links go to my earlier reviews of them:
First, here are the economics books:
Mastering ‘Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect, by Joshua D. Angrist and Jörn Steffen-Pischke, technically late 2014 but it was too late to make that list.
Dani Rodrik, Economics Rules.
Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Self-recommending.
Garett Jones, The Hive Mind. Why national IQ matters.
Scott Sumner, The Midas Paradox. Boo to the gold standard during the Great Depression.
And the rest, more or less the non-economics books:
Robert Tombs, The English and Their History.
R. Taggart Murphy, Japan and the Shackles of the Past. The last section is brilliant on current Japanese politics.
Michael Meyer, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. Adam Minter has a very good and useful review of a good book.
Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey. Will improve your listening.
The Mahabarata, by Carole Satyamurti. Rewritten and edited to be easier to digest, intelligible and rewarding. As “an achievement,” this book does have some claim to be number one.
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers. You can never read enough commentary on the Torah.
Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, North Korea Confidential, how things really work there (speculative), rain boots for instance are a fashion item and black markets are rife.
Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, a good general history of the country.
Guantánamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He’s a very smart guy.
Sebastian Strangio, Hun Sen’s Cambodia. Goes deep into a place most people are ignoring.
Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People. The Nordics, that is.
Timothy Snyder, Black Earth. He succeeded in writing an original book about the Holocaust, which is hard to do.
Emmanuel Todd, Who is Charlie? Background on France being screwed up.
Niall Ferguson, Henry Kissinger, vol. I. Background on America being screwed up.
Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane. How to talk, think, and write about the British countryside.
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. The best of the various recent books on Humboldt.
Frank McLynn, Genghis Khan. Background on a whole bunch of other places being screwed up.
Daniel P. Todes, Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science. I didn’t have time to read all of this book, but it seemed very good in the fifth or so I was able to read. By the way, the whole salivating dog at the bell story is a fiction.
Pierre Razoux, The Iran-Iraq War, readable and useful.
Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: At her Zenith: In London, Washington, and Moscow, vol.2 of the biography, 1984-1987. This one I haven’t finished yet. I ordered my copy advance from UK Amazon, it doesn’t come out in the U.S. until early January. There is some chance this is the very best book of the year.
I don’t quite see a clear first prize. If I had to pick, I would opt for a joint prize to the biographies of Musk, Kissinger, Thatcher, and Genghis Khan. This was the year of the biography.
Sorry if I forgot yours, this list is imperfect in various ways! And the year isn’t over yet, so I’ll post an update on the very good books I read between now and the end of the year, probably on December 31.