Thursday, December 24, 2009

Books I read in 2009

Best book that I read in 2009:
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963
Taylor Branch

Narrowly beating out:
Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States 4/4
Kenneth T. Jackson

Best book published in 2009 that I read:
Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People
William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

2009 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's most Notorious Minister 3/4
Robert Hutchinson
Straightforward biography of the brutal Henry VIII's also brutal but loyal minister. Cromwell and Henry would not have had too many difficulties governing in the Stalinist Soviet Union.

Juliet, Naked 3/4
Nick Hornby
Cusp-of-40 women faces her life -- 15 year live-in arrangement with music obsessive man. Woman gets into email exchange with singer/songwriter object of obsession. All 3 face truths about themselves. Very easy and fun read in spite of somewhat depressing characters.

Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes 3.5/4
Alan Hirshfeld
Both a biography of the lightly documented Archimedes and a detective story of a first copy of some of his writings that have been uncovered only in the last 100 years. Told somewhat non-linearly, with occasional snappy phrases. And lots of cool Greek words like palimpsest and Euchologion; mini-histories of writing media such as papyrus, parchment and paper. Like Sesame Street, you'll learn in spite of the fun.

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War 3.5/4
Nicholas Thompson
Nitze's grandson writes a compelling dual biography of friends and politcal opposites. Somewhat "Bomb"-centric perhaps, but a well researched and enlightening story.

Lonesome Dove 3.5/4
Larry McMurtry
It's been sitting on our shelf for at least 15 years unread by me, after several partial viewings of the mini-series, I decided to finally dive in. Lusty (in many ways), moving, epochal and a just plain good read. As soon as I was finished, I started plotting how I would handle the characters in a sequel.

Lost to the West 3/4
Lars Brownworth
Covering a millenium in less than 400 pages necessitates leaving out some details, as the author steps through the uh, byzantine paths of the emperors, usurpers, regents, evil brothers that somehow held the Eastern Roman Empire together, preserving the Greek and Roman culture until the West was civilized enough to take over stewardship of these ancient cultures.

The Silence and the Scorpion 3.5/4
Brian A. Nelson
Well structured and even-handed look at the coup vs. Chavez in 2002. Interleaving stories as told by dozens of participants is a very effective techique for telling the story.

Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies 3/4
Richard B. McKenzie
Interesting collection of "pricing puzzles", written for Economics "civilians", as Prof. Salvucci calls us. Topics such as the title, planned "After Christmas Sales", "Free" printers and why men will always earn more than women are posited, among others.

The Corporal Was A Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie 3/4
Ira Berkow
Inspiring story of a hard-throwing lefty, who after taking near fatal damage to his left leg in WWII, convinces the doctors not to amputate and becomes an all-star.

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It 3?/4
Joshua Cooper Ramo
Kissinger Associate Managing Director takes aim at the too single minded approach of US foreign policy and then kinda/sorta encourages us to virally do something. I may need to reread this and see what I missed about the call to action.

Tear Down This Myth 3.0/4
Will Bunch
A 2009 book that explores the Far Right's Myth Making machine about the Reagan legacy. While the Fox propagandists would howl over this book, the myth of the Warrior, NoTax 40th president is exploded. The author does give Reagan credit for his negotiations with Gorbachev and for being pragmatic and letting taxes rise 13 times after he got his original tax cut in 1981. A bit too repetitive at times.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 4.0/4
Taylor Branch
922 pages of densely packed narrative about the early days of what we call the Civil Rights era. It's a compelling story of bravery, fear, anger, politcal infighting and official cowardice, including the cowardice of the sainted Kennedys. Stunning book.

The Planets 3.0/4
Dava Sobel
Short, fun, quirky look at our solar system. The chapter on Mars is narrated by a Martian rock that was found in Anarctica!

Body Copy 2.5/4
Michael Craven
Pleasant enough mystery with some good plot twists and a plausible conclusion. The PI is stereotypical, however.

A Colossal HOAX: The Giant From Cardiff that Fooled America 3/4
Scott Tribble
Slightly long but enjoyable story of the Cardiff Giant, a hoax from 1869 that is symbolic of its times -- an America that was just starting to move to modernity.

Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People 4/4
William L. Iggiagruk Hensley
Fascinating autobiography of a man helping his fellow natives navigate the changes brought on by Alaskan statehood. He also has to navigate through his own life.

Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States 4/4
Kenneth T. Jackson
Well-researched and well-written analysis of why suburbanization, while not unique to the U.S., reached its most extreme levels in the U.S. The author shows how suburbanization goes back to the early 19th century and is just not a 1950s phenomenom.

Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation 3/4
Saree Makdisi
Somewhat repetitive look at the horror that is the day to day life of Palestinians. You should be moved.

The wink of the zenith : the shaping of a writer's life 3.5/4
Floyd Skloot
Fascinating memoir based on the fragmented memories of the author, who suffered viral brain damage but managed to look at these fragmented memories and gain understanding into what made him what he is today.

Twilight Teams 2.5/4
Jeffrey SJ Stuart
Good idea, tracking last year of baseball franchises prior to their moves but not terribly well written or edited.

Scorsese 4/4
Roger Ebert
Ebert's a terrific writer and Scorsese is our great living director. Great expectations; expectations realized.

House of Morgan Incomplete/4 (Probably a 3.0/4)
Ron Chernow
I was exhausted by the time I got to Jack Morgan's death -- well written enough but 700+ pages of banking, politics and the personalities of bankers. I ran out of gas on this one and didn't read the last 100 pages or so.

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