Best Books You Read All Year, Last Year

Since a couple of good looking film recommendations that I wouldn’t otherwise have put on my rental list came out of the movie thread, I thought I’d see what books you gentlemen enjoyed last year. Dragonlance novels and comic books don’t count.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

A Collection of Essays of George Orwell. Worth reading if only for the pleasure witnessing Orwell - fondly and tenderly, passage by passage -untwine the bowels of Dickens and hang them up as a oogy mess on the corner of his crypt in Westminster Abbey. Probably the most fascinating, loving obliteration I’ve ever read in literary criticism. The rest is great too.

Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence

The Ambidextrous Universe by Martin Campbell

Boswell’s Life of Johnson. In parts. I was a sucker and bought the 1500 page unabridged edition, which labors in parts like an elephant hydrocephalic of its own head-swelling sycophantia. The conversations are amazingly witty, and I read it through anyway, but I’d recommend anyone to grab the abridged version.

Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. I reread this at least once a year, and it is my vote for novel of the century that no one has ever read or really heard of. If you want to read it, Beerbohm (a noted cariacturist) illustrated a version of it which is so much better than the unillustrated version that, two years ago, I paid 125 dollars for a copy. But it is now finally available in paperback for 10 bucks!

The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack. Hey, thanks guys. I don’t read a lot of current affairs, mostly because I’m a prematurely cynical anachronism who believes that common sense died earlier this century. But this book was the one where I realized exactly how much discredit that idea has done to my understanding of the world in which I live. I’m not sure it is better than many of the other current affairs books I’ve read, but certainly the one I read with the greatest sense of timing, and that allowed me to understand everything that the news blurbs hint at, but don’t report.

Louis Armstrong’s Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans. The loving details he goes into about the joys of a fine bowel movement and habitual marijuana use is enough to make you want to roll a blizz out of your own crap. Take that recommendation as you may.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. I don’t agree with a good deal of it, and like most of Chesterton’s work, it suffers from its own over-reliance on counterintuitively twisting contradictions by their emotional spine into proofs. Still, Chesterton was described as someone who could never pass a lamp post without wondering at the ethereal loveliness of it all, and in his hands, Christianity becomes the sort of playground of joyful ideas in which even the most hardened intellectual can feel like a child again.

The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber. Seems to be out of print now, but I’m sure you could dig it up in a fantasy bookstore, and it is widely available in Ireland for like 2 euros a copy.

The Best of Myles by Flann O’Brien and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. The funniest essayist and most perplexing novelist I read this year.

There were probably some more that impressed me, earlier in the year, but I’m vague enough wondering if I read them this year or last year that I’ll leave them off.

I don’t do as much reading as a used to, and only two books really stand out for me last year.

  1. Richard Gruen’s much underappreciated The Last Generation of the Roman Republic in which he argues that the Roman Republic was not in decline or unable to deal with Imperial pressures, and the First Truimvirate was not a threat to Roman Constitutionalism. The final break in 50 BC was an unfortunate result of politics as usual making a miscalculation. I don’t buy his whole argument, but he’s got some dynamite stuff.

  2. Bill James’ New Historical Baseball Abstract - I really miss this guy on an annual basis. The new HBA is a phenomenal work that includes a lot of repeated material, but more new stuff. And nobody in sports does a better mea culpa.


Light in August by William Faulkner

Ken Pollack, “The Gathering Storm.” I also caught this as a recommendation here on Qt3. Excellent book, highly recommended to anyone who has any interest in current affairs or Iraq in general.

Neil Gaiman, “American Gods.” I think it was last year…not totally sure. Anyway, a bit of a stumble in my opinion, but still very good. Not as good as his first two novels, but better than the short-story collection he came out with last. Anyone who likes modern fantasy would probably enjoy it, especially if they’re well-versed in world mythology. A great book for all the wacky Swedes and Norweigans on this board, because it features lots of stuff from Norse/Scandanavian mythos.

Neil Gaiman, “Coraline.” A short book that is, I guess, aimed at children, although I personally would never give it to a child. It’s a kid’s book the way “Alice in Wonderland” is a kid’s book. But very well done–Gaiman getting back on top of his game.

J.M. Roberts, “The History of the World.” Great book for understanding the sweep of history, but too short (around 1200 pages) to go into much detail about anything. Still, a great way to understand how one thing has led to another throughout history, and to understand the changes and influence of longstanding institutions like the Catholic church. The best summary of world history I’ve read since H.G. Wells’ “Outline of History,” which was published in like 1960.

Ray Kurzweil, “The Age of Spiritual Machines.” Kurzweil is an inventor and futurist who made a lot of accurate predictions in his prior book, “Age of Intelligent Machines” (and I don’t mean stuff like “The Soviet Union will somehow fall someday,” I mean stuff like accurate predictions of smart weapons, artificial human eyes, the Internet, etc.). His new book is basically just an update, looking at how things have developed, what he was right about, what he was wrong about, and making a new set of predictions for the future of technology. I have no idea whether his predictions are accurate this time around, but he supports them with well-reasoned arguments and they’re interesting to think about. Good stuff.

George Orwell’s 1984. I reread it every year or so because I need to be reminded. It’s just as horrifying every time.

You may want to check out Daniel J. Boorstin’s trifecta: The Discoverers, The Creators, and The Seekers. They are explorations of scientific, artistic, and philosophic advances, respectively. Discoverers was excellent; Creators is good so far, trading the specificity of Discoverers for a much greater breadth, but as you mention for Roberts’ book, it does seem as though some detail is missing; I haven’t read Seekers yet, but am looking forward to it.

Pretty much anything I can find by Tom Holt, except Valhalla which pised me off so badly I’ll never read it again (the ending was just unfair)
Also If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell may not be one of your fancy la-dee-da books, but it’s very honest and entertaining.

Black Hawk Down
We Were Soldiers Once…And Young
two excellent novels about American military conflict. i am not a read of this genre at all, yet i enjoyed each tremendously. (and yes, i read each prior to the movies…although i thought each movie had merits.)

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
despite the swirl of ‘plagiarism’ that enveloped this book after its HBO premier, i still loved it. this book taught me more about what life was like for our WWII veterans than all of my high school and college history courses combined. it is a shame if this book isn’t used in some classroom setting due to Ambrose’s indiscretions with attributing sources.

i came by an uncorrected proof of this back in feb of 2002. i enjoyed it, but nowhere near as much as Fight Club. although i think Palahniuk is a talented writer, his 15 minutes are up, i think.

All Families Are Psychotic
similar to Palahniuk’s latest, i found this book an ok read, but nothing close to Generation X or Mircoserfs. Coupland is stuck in an era that has gone by and his writing and themes are still there too.

Halo: The Fall of Reach
i don’t read much sci-fi anymore…guess i just grew out of it. i did enjoy this book a lot, both as a standalone and a companion to the game. how this book didn’t get bundled with the game out of the starting blocks, i’ll never know.

The Lord of the Rings
as good as the movies have been, they don’t hold a candle to the original. as wonderful in my 30s as they were in my pre-teens.

Great Time Coming: The Life of Jackie Robinson, from Baseball to Birmingham
Ball Four
Baseball: A Literary Anthology
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
i read all of these during spring training last season…i will probably do the same this season unless i find some better baseball books to put in their place in the list. although there are some great new baseball writers (and some great old ones too) i found that these books made me the most excited for the beginning of the season. each of them wonderful in their own right and well worth owning for baseball fans.

Management Challenges for the 21st Century
It’s Not Luck
i usually quence my thirst for business reading by perusing the Wall Street Journal…but i found each of these in a 75% Off store and had to buy them. each is a great read (Drucker is the father of modern managment theory and Goldratt’s other book, “The Goal”, is pretty standard in business school curriculum) even though they both are somewhat dated. should be able to find them cheap though!

The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror
the entire printing was ordered destroyed by a federal magistrate for some of the libelous parts printed in this book. it is an interesting read and does present a few plausible ideas for what really happened in OK City, but there is also some out-and-out wacky stuff in here that is just too far towards the looney bin for me to consider. still, interesting stuff. i think i found this book b/c Gore Vidal was all up in arms about its destruction.

i read some other assorted crap this year, but nothing that is really worth mentioning. now that i look back, this list is not that impressive. i guess at least i read LotR again, right? :?

I am not going to get all fancy with links -

Abarat - Clive Barker
The Dirt - Motley Crue
Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind & The White Road - John Connolly
Tell No One - Harlen Coben
If Chins Could Kill - Bruce Campbell
Everything’s Eventual - Stephen King
The Lost Son - Bernard B Kerik
Purple Cane Road - James Lee Burke

Those stood out the most, even though I read many more…

David Haberstams’ War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals. If you want a good understanding of how we got to where we are today, with GWB at the head, this is a must read, IMHO. Written in 2001 by a man who has won Pulitzers and who knows the subject and personalities well. The latest edition has an additional chapter on 9/11.

Dean Ing’s Systemic Shock series (Systemic Shock, Single Combat and Wild Country). These three sci-fi books were wriiten back in the 1980s about a war America fought with India, China and some 3rd World countries, and the subsequent Balkanization of the country. Some of the parallels between the books and our current situation are rather scary. And they are just good reads. Out of print, but you should be able to find them in a used book store.

First Contract by Greg Costikyan.

Seconded on Pollack & Haberstam.

My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a fantastic bit of war reporting. It’s kind of difficult to read it and not hate hate hate the Serbs & Russians.

David Brock’s book is a perfect portrait of the conservative movement.

Aaaaaaaaand Ellsberg’s Secrets drives home once again how much the government lied to us about Vietnam for 20 years. Oh, and how Nixon was completely out of his fucking mind.

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy…how I would love to make these into a strategy game. Of course, a game where armored bears and witches in zeppelins try to kill God and his angels would make the “Games Are Evil” contingent explode with malefic glee.

The most intellectually interesting book I read this year was The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker. He looks at the perennial nurture/nature debate in some heavy depth and makes some really strong arguments, taking on both PC and anti-PC views. A very interesting read. If you can get through the dense stuff, theres a ton of interesting ideas in here:

(pardon me I dont know how to make the nice links)

For fiction, I still think Scott Turow is the best legal fiction writer around. His latest Reversible Errors is a very thought provoking book about the death penalty and criminal trials. His scene of the confession and the way the main detective thought and acted throughout the book struck me as incredibly insightful: its a good example of how good intentions could lead to error:

In science fiction, I am 2/3 of the way through Collapsium by Wil McCarthy - its quite good “hard” scifi - an interesting mixture of old school scifi and very cutting edge (maybe over the edge) physics.

The most bizarre and yet entertaining books i read this year were the works of China Mieville, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. Both are quite good fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/gothic mixtures, in a truly incredibly world that he brings to vivid and fantastic life. Highly recommended:



did anyone read Dean Takahashi’s Opening The Xbox?

i bought a used (signed?!) copy on ebay and just started it. so far it is a good 5000ft view of what was happening in the gaming world. i can only assume that Dean’s facts and figures are true and correct.

heh - i couldn’t figure this out either for several months. finally i hovered over the URL button before pressing it and it revealed the secret:

[Here is my text](

i guess had i been more familar with phpBB i would have known how to do that…it didn’t seem very intuitive to me (since that is not how it is done in Snitz powered forums.) makes me feel better i was not the only lost soul. :wink:

The best books I read last year included:
Chickenhawk: Back in the World: Life After Vietnam
Four Hours in My Lai
Thunderbolt: The P-47
Zero[/ul]As you can see, I’ve been on a military history kick of late. ;)

If you want to read one of the key texts that Ambrose plaigerized, try Charles MacDonald’s “Company Commander”. It is an awesome account of a Company in WWII. There are nuances, dialogue, and events that Ambrose lifted directly from this book for Band Of Brothers. I read the book at the same time that I watched the series, and the sense of Deja Vu was overwhelming.

My favorite book that I read last year was Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem. It’s great hardboiled detective novel set in modern NYC, with a protagonist that has tourrettes syndrome. Like all hardboiled novels, the dialogue is tough and clever, but it’s given a goofy twist at times because of the lead character’s condition. His accounts of what it’s like to have tourrettes and to try to deal with it is hilarious. The title refers to the fact that he, and some of the other main characters, were grew up in an orphanage. Check it out.

It’s much better than Lethem’s previous novel, Gun with Occasional Music. He enjoys playing with language in both books, but it seems to be simply for the sake of cleverness in Gun, while it’s actually integrated into Motherless.


I like Lethem, but I enjoyed most the earlier short stories in his collection The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye. (Lethem has the best titles. He ought to get work writing titles for other authors the way Saul Bass works directing title sequences for movies.)

Lethem’s gotten more surreal in his more recent writings, which I find a little distancing. I think the earlier stuff better mixed the strange and the ordinary in a way that let you feel close to the characters.