Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Book Reviews

Last year's book contest with the BG, got me to wondering if I might be able to read 100 books this year. 81 was relatively easy, so it didn't seem like a big leap up to 100. I didn't want to give up the Economist or Entertainment Weekly, but I figured that I could assess progress after the first quarter and see if I wanted to or could push on towards the target. I've forgotten the exact number, and deleted the original Q1 library, but is was ahead of the goal, and I decided to go for it.

After the First Quarter, I started copying the titles, along with my notes on each text, into blog posts, and you can find those here with links to each title for Q2, Q3 and Q4. The complete 2012 library is also available here, but for convenience I've set out the titles below. I'm proud of the notes, though, because it's been challenging (and fun) to write reviews within the limit of 300 characters set by Google Books.

It's funny, looking back, how little I recall of certain books, and I'm having a hard time identifying a unifying theme or narrative thread for the year. I definitely read more children's books this year, mainly as a result of volunteering to lead a reading group in the BG's class.

I guess the most interesting thing in 2012 were the 19th century books, a period that I know relatively little about. I loved the President Garfield book (thank you Pat Fay), enjoyed the biography of president Harrison and the history of A&P (thank you chapel hill public library) and Taft 2012 (thank you Joy). I also really liked Hunter S. Thompson's coverage of the 1972 democratic primaries for Rolling Stone, about which I knew even less.

Of the three detective novels I read this year, I much preferred Chandler over Hammett, although all strained the levels of credulity.

Of the history/economics books, I liked 1493 better than 1491, mainly because the connections formed as a result of exploration are so fascinating. I also think I've read enough about the fishing industry for a while.

I was disappointed by most of the fiction, although I did enjoy the Lacuna, for its window into early twentieth century Mexico, and the Alice Munro for the beauty of her prose. Mrs. Dalloway was frightfully dull, and Pale Fire and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I found tedious and self-indulgent, each in their own way. But I tend toward non-fiction anyway, so take that for what it's worth.

I did not move on to Book II of either the Hunger Games or Game of Thrones, although I read both faster than anything else on the list, which says it all, in my view.

Nassim Taleb's new book was not as good as I'd hoped, although I do find myself quoting it often, and I do enjoy Matt Yglesias writing on zoning and other urban issues. Of the other economics books, I enjoyed their pervasive optimism for growth, although I didn't find any worthy of singling out here.

The final book I'll recommend is Stephen King's On Writing, which I found to be extremely insightful, as well as a poignant look at addiction and recovery.

For 2013, I envision more of the same, although I may watch a little more television and try to get to the movies more often. You can track what I've read for the year at this link. The first three things I'll be putting up there are Everything that Rises Must Converge (Thanks Worldwide), A Time of Gifts (Thanks Pat) and Wild Things (Thanks, Reading Group.)

Happy New Year!

Imagine: How Creativity Works
Jonah Lehrer
The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
Evelyn Waugh
The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action
Ned Tillman
Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Charles C. Mann
Lie Down in Darkness
William Styron
The Rent Is Too Damn High: What To Do About It, And Why It Matters More Than You Think
Matthew Yglesias
Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World
Sam Sommers
Louis Sachar
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Charles Duhigg
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
Abhijit Banerjee,  Esther Duflo
The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town
Mark Kurlansky
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared M. Diamond
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Candice Millard
Gulliver's Travels
Jonathan Swift
War Horse
Michael Morpurgo
How We Decide
Jonah Lehrer
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
William Styron
Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class
Katherine Porter
The Golden Compass Deluxe Edition
Philip Pullman
The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett
The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America
Marc Levinson
Cory Doctorow, Tim O'Reilly
Caribbean: A Novel
James A. Michener
The Thin Man
Dashiell Hammett
The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy
Matthew Stewart
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths
Michael Shermer
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
Richard P. Rumelt
Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy
Joan Magretta
The textile industry in North Carolina: a history
Brent D. Glass
The Fix
Damian Thompson
The Amber Spyglass Deluxe Edition
Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman
It's Not You, It's the Dishes: How to Minimize Conflict and Maximize Happiness in Your Relationship
Paula Szuchman, Jenny Anderson
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Susan Cain
Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life
Steven Landsburg
Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World
Brian Fagan
The Person and the Situation: Perspectives of Social Psychology
Lee Ross, Richard E Nisbett, 
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Carol Dweck
Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson
A History of the Middle East: 3rd edition
Peter Mansfield
Shipping News: A Novel
Annie Proulx
Fish Into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century
Peter Edward Pope, Omohundro 
Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Grace Lin
The Lacuna: A Novel
Barbara Kingsolver
Food Matters: a Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes
Mark Bittman
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini
The Daydreamer
Ian McEwan
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills
Daniel Coyle
William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President,1841
Gail Collins
The Atomic Weight of Secrets: Or the Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black
Eden Unger Bowditch
The Call of the Wild
Jack London
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Isabel Wilkerson
Some Great Thing
Lawrence Hill
Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food
Terry Burnham, Jay Phelan
The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World
Daniel Yergin
A Short History Of Progress
Ronald Wright
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
Trenton Lee Stewart
The Numerati
Stephen Baker
Coffee with Shakespeare
Stanley Wells, Joseph Fiennes
Bone: Out from Boneville
Jeff Smith
A Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin
Detroit: (a Biography)
Scott Martelle
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Jonathan Gottschall
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
Steven Johnson
The Next Convergence: The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World
Michael Spence
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
A. J. Jacobs
Can You Trust a Tomato in January?
Vince Staten
The Long Goodbye
Raymond Chandler
Rickshaw reporter
George L. Peet
Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
Steven Johnson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky
Death in Venice
Thomas Mann
Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
Ryan Holiday
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Robert M. Pirsig
Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
Tracie McMillan
Public Opinion
Walter Lippmann
Taft 2012: A Novel
Jason Heller
The Cay
Theodore Taylor
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963
Kyla Brown
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep
David K. Randall
The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963
Christopher Paul Curtis
Paper Promises: Debt, Money, and the New World Order
Philip Coggan
The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
Jacqueline Novogratz
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Daniel H. Pink
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler
The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
Matt Ridley
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson
The One: The Life and Music of James Brown
RJ Smith
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
Terry Teachout
An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies
Tyler Cowen
Earth and High Heaven
Gwethlyn Graham
Franny and Zooey
J. D. Salinger
Haircut and other stories
Ring Lardner
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Barry Schwartz


  1. I have to say, Pale Fire did not do it for me at all. But have you read King, Queen, Nave? I recommend it senor. I also highly recommend The White Guard (Bulgakov) for a brilliant novel (and short) that, for me, illuminated a piece of history I knew nothing about (the collapse of the German supported government in the Ukraine upon the abdication of the Kaiser and the total chaos that descended overnight as communist forces were suddenly free to enter Kiev. Glad you liked the Garfield. I loved 1491 on your recommendation and will move to 1493 shortly.

    1. I liked 1493 a lot more than 1491, and that is saying something. I may give Nabokov one more chance. I didn't much care for Lolita either, although at least I got through it. Remember Brennan's love of the Master and Margarita? That alone is enough to try another from Bulgakov.

    2. I have since read The Master and Margarita about 7 or 8 times and bought it for many people, so I am a big fan. The White Guard is very different - completely grounded in the real, but a truly excellent book. I am in the middle of a huge collection of Nabokov short stories which are excellent as well - far more concrete than Pale Fire. Surprised though that you didn't enjoy Lolita. It is one of the few non-Vonnegut books that made me laugh out loud. I will be mining your list for more ideas.

      BTW - almost through Antifragile. It would be hard to imagine a bigger jerk than Taleb. I can only hope he is putting it on as part of his barbell strategy. I can't imagine even he would want to put up with him. But, I find it hard to disagree with the basic premise although I think he intentionally grossly underestimates the contribution of academics to technology

    3. I have since read Master and Margarita 7 or 8 times and bought it for several people. White Guard is very different - completely grounded in the real and not at all satirical. It is brilliant though - one of my favorite 20th century novels. Surprised you didn't enjoy Lolita. It is one of the few non-Vonnegut novels that made me laugh out loud.

      BTW - finishing up Antifragile now. It is hard to imagine a bigger jerk than Taleb. Hopefully he is putting it on as part of his barbell strategy. If not I can't imagine even he wants to put up with his company. But I find it hard to argue with his basic premise and the conclusions he draws for policy and investment. I do think he intentionally grossly underestimates the contribution of academia to technology though