It was a decade of uncertainty, which is perfect because it still doesn’t have a name.

Eleven years after its end, we still can’t decide what to call the first decade of the 21st century. Some folks call them the “aughts” (or “ought”) after the old English word meaning nothing or zero, but that term somehow feels too old for modern times and consequently hasn’t caught on. 

In Great Britain, the “noughties,” a humorous twist on ‘aught, is a name for the decade that seems to be gaining traction there, but no one anywhere else is using the term. The “2000s” doesn’t work since that’s a century rather than a decade. Names such as the “double-ohs” or “double zeroes” don’t seem to be sticking. Nothing feels quite right.

The Tragedies. . .

Notwithstanding our struggles with the name, this decade is significant and, for most of us, fresh in our minds. Events such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, and terrorist attacks in London and Mumbai shook the world to the core. 

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, and the Boston Marathon was bombed. And, as if violence and conflict weren’t enough, the decade also saw significant natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake that caused a massive tsunami and a major global economic collapse.

The Milestones. . .

But it wasn’t all bad. Equal rights took big steps forward when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to be the first African American president of the United States, and Nancy Pelosi was elected the first female speaker of the House of Representatives. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were brought to justice. 

The European Union got its own currency. “Sully” successfully landed a US jetliner on the Hudson River, and iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter appeared. Britney, Beyonce, and Boy Bands filled our iPods with the tunes of the decade, as our feet were cozy in Ugg’s, and every wrist was adorned with a yellow “Livestrong” bracelet.

The decade without a name was and, in many ways, still is a big deal. Let’s read some great books to relive what it was like to live in the new millennium’s first decade.

The Best Books from 2020. . .

The Last Jihad

Joel C. Rosenberg, 2002

Ok. If you’ve been following our reading challenge, you’ll know we’ve stuck closely to our rules – the book needs to be both written in the decade and set in the decade. With that in mind, it’s reasonable to object to this novel published in 2002 but set 10 years later. However, the date in the book was an editorial decision made after the book was finished. Why the change? The plot is the key. Briefly, the novel goes something like this:

  • Terrorists hijack a commercial plane and conduct a suicide mission to attack the US president in a major American city.
  • Evidence is uncovered that Washington and New York could be the next targets.
  • The United States is thrust overnight into war in the Middle East with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at its center.

Sound vaguely familiar? Here’s the thing: Mr. Rosenberg wrote this book before 9/11. He was hesitant even to publish the book in light of actual events. Ultimately, he decided to move the timeline forward and work the 9/11 attacks into the story’s background, allowing the book to be released in 2002. So yes, the book’s setting is technically not in the ‘aughts, but in reality, it’s all about the ‘aughts.

Best of all, if you like this book, Mr. Rosenberg has many more titles for you to enjoy, so binge away.

The Bookseller of Kabul

Åsne Seierstad, Ingrid Christopherson (Translator), 2004

Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad traveled to Afghanistan just two weeks after 9/11 and headed to Kabul, where she spent several months living with an Afghani bookseller, Sultan Khan, and his family. This is a non-fiction narrative account of her experiences with this family. Mr. Khan defies authorities regularly; he loves books and despises censorship. 

At the same time, he’s also very conservative about family matters and the role of women, as evidenced by the restricted lives of his two wives. 

The story of the Khan family is a story about a country stuck between democracy and tradition. The plight of Afghanistan is in the news again, and reading this book will give you insight into continuing struggles in one small corner of the world.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer, 2006

Anyone alive at the time of 9/11 knows the grief felt by everyone everywhere. Many authors attempted to create fiction surrounding 9/11, and this book is one stellar example. 

The main character is a young boy whose father died in the attacks and the plot of this novel revolves around his efforts to understand loss and grief. Mr. Foer nimbly connects different stories – 9/11 and WWII – into a beautiful novel that tries to make sense of trauma and tragedy. Regardless, it’s beautiful, sad, and entertaining all at once.  

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver, and Richard A. Houser (illustrator), 2007

Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to spend one-year eating food they raised or grew themselves, or it had to be from 100 miles of their home. Kingsolver brilliantly recounts their experiences in this book. 

Food and its origins were a hot topic at the turn of the new century, and this is a book that will put you squarely in the middle of that debate. Whatever your opinions are on the topic, this is honestly an enjoyable book and worth your time. 

Kingsolver is a wonderful author, and her talent with words shines through as she describes her escapades with heritage turkeys (ever hear of a turkey sperm wrangler?), crops, and general life on a farm. This creative memoir will entertain, enlighten, and perhaps persuade you to plant a garden. It might send you straight to the store to buy a package of Oreos because you can. Either way, you’ll have something to think about.


by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007 (English)

In 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a short film depicting how women are oppressed by Islamic fundamentalist law. A few days following the release of the controversial film, Mr. van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic terrorist, and Ms. Hirsi Ali received death threats.

Infidel is her story of growing up in Somalia, seeking asylum in the Netherlands, gaining an education, running for office, and striving to triumph over adversity and fight for freedom.  

The Ghost

Robert Harris, 2007

The Ghost is a page-turning thriller about a resigned British prime minister, a ghostwriter hired to write his memoir, a murder, and a political scandal. Themes of war crimes, tortuous interrogation techniques, references to Guantanamo Bay, and murky allegiances run throughout this fantastic novel. 

Is the story loosely based on Tony Blair, a real-life British prime minister who resigned amidst scandal? You’ll need to read the book and decide for yourself.

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Margaret Atwood, 2008

Margaret Atwood is a celebrated Canadian author and poet. She was asked to participate in the Massey Lectures. In this event, Canadian authors are given the opportunity to deliver five one-hour lectures in varying cities across Canada on a subject of their choice. Atwood chose debt as her topic, and this book is the written publication of her lectures. 

Each part of the book focuses on a different type of debt and its impact. This book was published at payback time, a global financial crisis brought on by families and corporations worldwide confronting the consequences of excessive debt. 

Once you digest the messages in this remarkable book, you’ll rethink the wisdom of borrowing from the future to pay for today.


Joseph O’Neill, 2008

Netherland is another post 9/11 novel. However, the focus here is on immigration and identity. The main character, Hans, is a Dutchman left behind in New York by his wife and child following 9/11. 

Hans is wealthy and successful but alone. He meets Chuck, an immigrant from Trinidad with a passion for cricket. Chuck is passionate about the American dream, while Hans is losing his faith in the idea. 

The book explores “the promise of America” told from the outside. It’s about culture, nationality, friendship, and cricket. 

You’ll discover and appreciate another side of New York and maybe, just maybe, develop a sudden urge to don a cricket cap and try your hand at being a batsman.  

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea  

Barbara Demick, 2009

It’s natural to focus on New York, the Middle East, Islam, etc. when thinking about this decade. But North Korea was placed in George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002 for a reason. While Kim Jong-il postured as a strong man determined to develop nuclear weapons for his country, his people starved and struggled. 

Nothing to Envy contains the stories of six defectors from the Chongjin province gleaned from hundreds of interviews conducted by the author. If you want a glimpse of what it’s like to live in North Korea, this book is the place to start. It’s well-written, and the stories about real people living in unimaginable circumstances are unforgettable. 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Christopher McDougall, 2009

Let’s get a bit personal. As the author of this challenge, I have a wide license to choose the books. Many of the books I’ve shared are ones I’ve read, but many of them are on my list “to read.” For the record, I have read this book, and I loved it. 

Also, for the record, I do not run and will not run. Ever. But from the moment the author asked the question, “why does my foot hurt?” I was hooked. Whether you’re an avid runner, an aspiring runner, or a running skeptic, you’ll love the wit, wisdom, science, and adventure of this book. 

You’ll be introduced to memorable characters such as super runners who can run hundreds of miles without rest and enjoy every minute. Even if you’re not ready to believe you were born to run, you will be fascinated by McDougall’s tale.

Take the 2000s – or whatever you want to call them – Reading Challenge.

This list from the 2000 decade contains wonderful books waiting to be discovered. Decide for yourself what defined this decade by diving into these stories. 

The world is an endlessly fascinating place. These talented authors have found ways to give their readers glimpses into people and ideas that have the potential to change the way we think about history, ourselves, and the world. Read to learn, read to expand your mind, or read for fun. Whatever your reason, Discover Books challenges you to read.

At Discover Books, you’ll find books that span time, including these favorites from the ’00s. You’ll find millions of gently used books starting at $3.85 at Shop now and discover something new!

To see other posts in this Book Challenge, click on the decade: 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, 1960s, 1950s, 1940s, 1930s, and 1920s.

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