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Our favorite books, TV shows, podcasts, music, video games, and newsletters of 2023.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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December 16, 2023


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Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers

We at Flagship received huge numbers of submissions of the best culture of 2023, and pulled a selection of them together. Thank you so much for reading, and for writing in!


Best Books of 2023


The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the Twenty-First Century’s Greatest Dilemma, by Mustafa Suleyman. “The AI-driven future seen through the eyes of a DeepMind co-founder,” said Semafor’s Tech Editor Reed Albergotti. “A Rorschach test for AI, this book will either terrify you or excite you, or maybe both.”

Material World: A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future, by Ed Conway. Flagship reader Tom Whitehouse called this “The best history of, and potential future of, industrialisation and decarbonisation.”

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride. Flagship reader Cassie Holm described it as “all-encompassing in its story-telling and characters. If you want to see how people loving and supporting each other, even at the most difficult times, should work, read this book. I’m an avid reader, this is in my top five (maybe top one).”

The Autobiography of William Allen White. Flagship reader Melissa Dodds wrote of this memoir of an early-20th-century Kansas newspaperman: “Anyone writing about the politics of any time in this country needs to read this.”

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson. Flagship reader Steven Law writes: “Beautifully written, deeply researched, immensely moving account of the struggles and suffering of both the ‘rebels’ and the British regulars. It paints an inspiring portrait of the courage and patriotism of America’s first citizen-soldiers. But it is also unsparing in revealing the casual cruelty of slavery, which existed alongside a noble crusade for human freedom.”

Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty, by Andrew Meier. Semafor’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith called this a “singular, rich and deep lens on four generations of American power and American Jewish identity.”

Romney: A Reckoning, by McKay Coppins. An “extremely compelling, well-paced, and unfiltered look at Mitt Romney’s singular career at the exact right time for a reevaluation,” according to Semafor’s Washington Bureau Chief Benjy Sarlin.


Best Podcasts of 2023

Goalhanger Podcasts

Empire. Featuring two historians who start out by digging into the details of the British empire in India, before training their gaze on empires the world over, the podcast is deep but accessible, Senior Editor Prashant Rao says. (The Rest is History, from the same production company, is also very popular with Semafor’s forty-something male demographic.)

Plain English with Derek Thompson. The Atlantic writer “delivers informative deep-dives into a variety of topics, with an educated guest, and always armed with well researched questions and his own thoughts on the subject,” said Flagship reader Jim Henderson. “It’s not ‘dummy’d down’ per se, but accessible and a well-paced listen.”

Strong Songs. “I read about this podcast a few years back and am a religious listener,” says Flagship reader David Neal. “It is WONDERFUL. The incredibly insightful and pleasant Kirk Hamilton digs deep into one song (generally) and pulls back the curtain on the song’s construction and so much more.”

Love, Janessa. Semafor’s Deputy News Editor Louise Matsakis loved this BBC podcast, “about romance scams that spans several continents. Focuses on a single woman whose photos have become the go-to for scammers to lure men across the globe. They track her down and even record a conversation between the real Janessa and an Italian man who was talking to a scammer pretending to be her.”

Normal Gossip. “This is a long-running podcast that has taken hold of my friend group in 2023,” said Flagship reader Laura Dyer. “I know it likely won’t get votes because it’s not some prestige limited-run investigative journalism thing but….iykyk.” It also took hold of Flagship Breaking News Reporter Jenna Moon’s entire friendship group and the rest of the Breaking team.

Pivot. As Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith puts it, “Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway established themselves as the U.S. elites’ elite podcasters.” No fewer than five Flagship readers recommended this one, as well.

Desert Island Discs. British readers might find it a little jarring to hear this 81-year-old BBC radio program, recommended by several Flagship readers and writers, called a “podcast,” but there we go. A host — currently Lauren Laverne — asks celebrities, business moguls, and politicians what music they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island, leading to surprisingly revealing interviews.

  • Flagship Lead Writer Tom Chivers, along with the science writer Stuart Ritchie, started a podcast this year, The Studies Show, looking at science in the news — stories about ultra-processed foods, vaping, the microbiome, and much more — and assessing the strength of the evidence behind them.

Best Newsletters of 2023

Garbage Day

Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick: A brilliant, esoteric, and somewhat bleak look at how the internet works now, recommended by multiple Semafor editors.

Flagship Senior Editor Prashant Rao recommended Sinocism, The Wire China, ChinaTalk, and WSJ China for all your in-depth China-watching needs.

Blackbird Spyplane is “a playfully voice-y biweekly newsletter of ‘unbeatable recon’,” said Semafor Media Reporter Max Tani, “helping the tasteful creative professional know not just what the best clothes, accessories, and home goods are, but why any of this stuff may be worth buying in the first place.”

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson. Two Flagship readers, Leslie Layton and Suzie Castello, recommended this, the most successful Substack in terms of subscribers, and a Joe Biden favorite: A regular look at U.S. politics from a historical, and mainstream liberal, perspective.

And when it comes to updates about Russia and its war in Ukraine, we as an organization love Meduza’s daily newsletter and The Beet.


Best TV of 2023


Tour de France: Unchained, Netflix. This show “gave the F1 Drive to Survive treatment to cycling and it got me into a sport I never imagined I’d watch,” said Semafor’s Josh Billinson. “I ended up watching a few stages of the 2023 Tour because of it. Divisive with cycling fans for the same reasons Drive to Survive was for F1, but a novel way to grow the sport.”

Blue Eye Samurai, Netflix. “Captured my heart in a way no show has done in a long time,” said Flagship reader Patrick Leahy. “The animation is gorgeous — on rewatch I can’t help pausing every few seconds to take a screenshot — and the story, about a mixed-race girl in Japan’s Edo period on a violent quest for revenge, is gripping, moving, and intricately plotted, touching on themes of race, gender, artistry, and agency. It doesn’t seem to have gotten much of a marketing push or too much attention in mainstream outlets, but the reviews it has gotten are glowing (100% on RottenTomatoes, 8.9 on IMDb) and I’m hopeful it can find its way onto more year-end lists (and be renewed for a second season!).”

The Bear: Season 2, Disney+. Several Flagship readers recommended this critically acclaimed show about a chef running a sandwich shop in Chicago.

Reservation Dogs, Disney+. “The creativity, the story-telling, the acting, the opening my eyes to a different world and getting me to care deeply about people I wish I could meet,” said Flagship reader Cassie Holmes. “One of the best TV shows. Ever.”

Drops of God, Apple TV+. This live-action adaptation of a manga about wine-tasting was recommended by both Flagship reader Chrissy Heyworth and Semafor’s Head of Global Communications Meera Pattni. “Drops of God is great,” said Meera, succinctly.


Best Music of 2023

Os Garotin/Instagram

Os Garotin: Flagship reader Suzie Castello recommends this Brazilian group, especially the song Zero a Cem.

Super Shy by NewJeans. “NewJeans hasn’t released a full album yet,” said Semafor’s Breaking News Reporter J.D. Capelouto, “but they’re on track to becoming the next global K-pop girl group. This track draws from a range of influences to feel equal parts fresh and nostalgic.”

Passage by Johnathan Blake: Flagship reader Gerald Clarke called the Philadelphia drummer’s latest album a “gorgeous follow up to last year’s Homeward Bound.”

Semafor Africa Editor Yinka Adegoke recommends Water by the South African artist, Tyla, and the new Idris Elba-curated Fela Kuti box set.

Now and Then by The Beatles: “The surviving members used AI to restore a previously unusable John Lennon vocal track,” wrote Benjy Sarlin, “but ignore the tech gimmick part, the whole thing sounds great. It’s the Beatles.”

A Night to Remember by Laufey and beabadoobee: “This is a sultry and sophisticated jazzy love song from a pair of rising Gen-Z artists,” said Semafor’s Domestic Policy and Politics Reporter Joseph Zeballos-Roig. “It wouldn’t sound out of place in the next Bond movie. Laufey also recently released her sophomore album Bewitched, a fresh and elegant collection of songs that’s reviving jazz for a new generation. Her voice is just dazzling.”

Taylor Swift: Flagship Lead Writer Tom Chivers, with his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, flagged this little-known artist. “I think she’s one to keep an eye on,” he said.


Best Indy Video Games of 2023


Cocoon. Flagship reader Joshua Isom hailed this “brilliant indie puzzler from the lead gameplay designer of Limbo and Inside.”

Slay the Spire. Flagship Lead Writer Tom Chivers has lost many hours of his life to the iOS version of this recently. “I’m obsessed. Deck-building like Magic the Gathering, but a roguelike format where you go through a series of combats. Easy to grasp but hard to master, incredible amounts of depth.” It’s not a 2023 game but this is Tom’s email so he can recommend what he likes.

Hot on Semafor

The most read stories across each Semafor section this year.



Kenyan tea pickers destroyed machines brought in to replace them, highlighting the challenge faced by workers as companies increasingly rely on automation to cut costs.


Reuters/Carlos Barria

Nobody wants U.S. Treasury bonds. The most tradable security in the world is badly out of favor, with serious consequences for taxpayers and financial markets.

Net Zero

Mike Blake/Reuters

Arizona, one of the sunniest states in the U.S., is threatening to pull the plug on solar power, an indication of how states with high rates of rooftop solar are struggling to integrate solar power with the legacy electric grid.



Shortly after Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, MSNBC quietly took three of its Muslim broadcasters off-air in response to a wave of sympathy for the Israeli victims.


Reuters/Jonathan Raa

OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, hired an army of contractors around the world to make basic coding obsolete.


REUTERS/Reba Saldanha

Former U.S. President Donald Trump denied he had shown classified documents to guests at his home in Mar-a-Lago. “It was bravado,” Trump told Semafor reporters aboard his plane.