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Friday, December 31, 2010

Books of 2010

As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Let me review the rules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awarded $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations. It is probably OK to acknowledge that I read the winning book, though I didn't read it until after the international jury had promoted it to the final round of our process.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links).


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.

Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales. This book won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award.

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich.

Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player by Anthony Holden.

Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong by Jonah Keri (ed.).

Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning by Steve Goldman (ed.).

The Long Season by Jim Brosnan.

Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years by Red Smith.

Fair Game by Paul Daugherty.

Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship by Mark G. Judge.

Poker - Hold 'Em: Book One by Andy Nelson.

Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Questions by New Scientist.

The World Series' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Championship Teams, Broken Dreams, and October Oddities by John Snyder.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2010, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Bacevich book was assigned in a spring 2010 American Foreign Policy class and worked out quite well. I'm assigning his lastest book next term.

Though Freakonomics was widely read a few years ago, I had failed to pick it up until this year. And then it turned out that I was familiar with many of the chapters and examples because I read so many reviews -- or articles and blog posts that discussed them.

Nick Hornby is a terrific writer, so I always enjoy his work -- even when he's writing short pieces about his favorite music or books. The book listed above is taken from his monthly columns discussing the books he buys and reads -- or doesn't.

I would not place any of the listed baseball books in the pantheon of great baseball writing, but I enjoyed the two books put together by Johah Keri, Steve Goldman and the other analysts at Baseball Prospectus. Jim Brosnan's memoir was a nice read too.


Libra by Don DeLillo.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut.

The Ticking Tenure Clock by Blaire French.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Red Lights by Georges Simenon.

361 by Donald E. Westlake.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney.

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke.

Blue City by Ross Macdonald.

Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. Macdonald

Moonraker by Ian Fleming.

Forty Lashes Less One by Elmore Leonard.

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith

Two in the Field by Darryl Brock.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi.

Shut Up and Deal by Jesse May.

Of these, I placed the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction. The least entertaining are listed last.

The lengthy works of historical fiction by DeLillo and Johnson were good, but I left both of them feeling a bit unsatisfied. I have previously read almost every book Vonnegut has penned, and this book was worth my time, but it was far from his best work (which was published decades ago).

I probably enjoyed Ender's Game, Funeral in Berlin and A Red Death more than any books I read this year, proving that I should listen more often to recommendations from colleagues -- and other readers. In their own way, each of these books suggests nostalgia for the cold war.

The Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is faithful to the spirit of the popular book. Both are creepy and unsettling. I enjoyed the film V for Vendetta more than the original graphic novel, even though the filmmakers took substantial liberties with the text.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's books tend to have a harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy as well.

I will likely read more Dave Robicheaux stories by Burke in the future, though there is no urgency. I have now completed Elmore Leonard's old westerns and will probably never return to them. Ian Fleming's Bond plays a mean game of bridge in Moonraker.

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