Saturday, January 01, 2011

Books I read in 2010

Best book that I read in 2010:
April 1865:The Month That Saved America
Jay Winik

Best book that I read for the first time in 2010:
The Bridge on the Drina
Ivo Andric

Best book published in 2010 that I read:
Let Our Fame Be Great
Oliver Bullough

2010 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:
The Civil War of 1812 by Alan Taylor 3.0/4 (The author establishes the conceit that the War of 1812 was mostly a civil war, with switching loyalties, loose boundaries, tories and republicans on both sides of the border of the nascent U.S. and a rather fetal Canada. Taylor pulls off his premise with meticulous detail and concludes that this war actually established separate U.S. and Canadian identities. The book focuses on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence border fighting, a very confusing and mostly inept set piece of fighting. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a slow but enjoyable read.)

Let Our Fame Be Great by Oliver Bullough 3.5/4 (Ever hear of the Avars? Dargins? Circassians? If you have not been in a cave in the last 15 years you HAVE heard of Chechens. This is a sweeping tale of the last 200 years of the peoples who lived in the wilds of the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. By turns warm and brutal, the author chronicles the pain, suffering and horrors endured by these peoples, mostly thanks to the Russian “need” to control this sensitive area.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, Lovett F. Edwards (Translator) 4/4 (1961 Nobel Lit winner, a wondrously descriptive and masterful story in which a bridge is the hero, from its creation in the 16th century up into WWI. Various folk pass through the life of this bridge, be they Moslem or Christian, with a sprinkling of Jews and Gypsies – complicated by the mix of the various nationalities that make the Balkans such a confusing place for those of us who would like a more orderly distribution of peoples. The affairs of the world impact the bridge and locals, as they do their best to live their lives as they want, sheltered, mostly peaceful and resistant to change, within the strictures that the ever changing affairs of state impose. The only drawback is that it was a very slow read for me.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an America by Robin Kelley 3.5/4 (incomplete, I finished about ¾ of it) (At 500ish pages of story, it was a little bit more about TM that I needed, especially trying to read it during baseball season, when I am distracted most evenings. That said, an evocative look at a strange but not so strange musician. Monk followed his own muse and lived his life following that muse. Keeley had access to the all the family records and paints a lushly detailed account. To paraphrase one of the Amazon reviewers, you can smell the smoke in the jazz club and visualize the grand piano in Monk’s tiny bedroom. This would be for jazz fans mostly, although it might be of interest to Civil Rights Era aficionados.)

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer 3/4 (Subtitled "A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century", a clever exploration of life, death, health, economics, religion and more religion, cleanliness, fashion, indeed everything imaginable about life in England.)

The Vikings:A History by Robert Ferguson 3/4 (Somewhat tangled but always interesting and informative tale of the the raiders and conquerors from Scandanavia. These folks ruled Greenland, Iceland, varying bits of Great Britain and Normandy through the centuries and provided the original form of Russia.)

The American Civil War: A Military History by John Keegan 3.5/4 (The pre-eminent military historian turns his Anglo vision on America's great conflagration. Very probing look at the battles, politics and especially the psychology of both sides. A great book lessened slightly by poor editing. Really, Americans refer to conscription as "the drafts"?)

Keynes: The rise, fall and return of the 20th century's most influential economist by Peter Clarke 3/4 (A nice melange of the theory and practice of Keynesian economics interwoven with a sense of the man himself. Just as the Thatcher/Reagan nexus rebelled against Keynesians, post-Keynesians are rebelling in a way against ThatcherReagans. Interesting personal tidbit, did you know that Keynes was a very close friend of Virgina Wolff?)

Once More Around the Park by Roger Angell 3/4 (Another book that I picked up from the library that I had read before but didn't realize until I was part way into it. What's silly is that I already owned the book and it was sitting about 10 feet away from me on a shelf in our family room. The book is a series of ruminations by the noted author on a variety of baseball topics, such as catchers, Bob Gibson, the '79 Pirates and others. My favorite story was about Ron, hanging on in indy ball at 30 years old and Linda, who is fine with Ron hanging on to just play ball for another year or two. The only thing that I didn't like about this book is that Angell is often too writerly, his analogies and fancy words distracted me from the flow of the story. This book is about baseball, not poets or statesmen.)

Lost Highway by Peter Guralnick 3.5/4 (Late '70s set of stories about country, rockabilly and blues musicians, lovingly told without ignoring the warts. Well-written, with the story lines being propelled using both interviews and just plain hanging on tour. Sections include Honky Tonk Heroes, Hillbilly Boogie, Honky Tonk Masquerade (think 70's Outlaws) and the Blues Roll On.)

April 1865:The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik 4/4 (This was a reread for me -- a stunning book, with a strong premise meticulously realized while vividly written. See full review in main blog --

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