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Monday, December 31, 2012

Books of 2012

Books - bookcase top shelf
Photo credit: Phil Moore

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

Allow me to repeat the groundrules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I reviewed a number of books for a committee that will award $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order."  However, none of those books are listed here except for the winning entry. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.

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).

Non-fiction

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan.

Slouching Towards Fargo by Neal Karlen

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Our Enemies and US by Ido Oren

It Ain't over 'til It's over The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book by Baseball Prospectus writers.

Additionally, I read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2012, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by King Kaufman and Cecilia M. Tan.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Chenoweth and Stephan book quite deservingly won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. I blogged about it at the Duck of  Minerva. Slouching Towards Fargo is an excellent book about minor league baseball, with a good deal of commentary about celebrity culture since Daryl Strawberry and Bill Murray play prominent roles in the tale.


The Big Short is a pretty good book by Michael Lewis on the 2008 financial collapse. He found some financial analysts who saw it coming -- and profited from it by "shorting" the investments that others were buying. 

Ido Oren's book should be read by every Political Science doctoral student as it provides an excellent history of the discipline's early political influences.

I was disappointed by t he relatively dry BP Pennant Race Book. A few chapters were excellent, but too many featured dull writing.

Fiction

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by  Mohammed Hanif

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

White Butterfly by Walter Mosley

Yesterday's Spy by Len Deighton

Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell 

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

God Save the Child by Robert B. Parker

Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard

Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke

The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Next by Stieg Larsson

Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

The Dark Tunnel by Ross MacDonald

Killing Castro by Lawrence Block

Last Call for Blackford Oakes by William F. Buckley

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk.

In most years, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction. The least entertaining are then listed last in each section. I abandoned this approach for 2012 for obvious reasons. First, though Palahniuk's Pygmy is not genre fiction, I really disliked it and needed to list it last.

In contrast, Lethem's Gun with Occasional Music seems like genre fiction, but it encompasses two significant genres: science fiction (think Philip K. Dick) meets detective story (think Raymond Chandler). In any case, I enjoyed the book very much and already recommended it to others.

The Hunger Games  has proven to have mass appeal, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment by Suzanne Collins. It is an engaging story. Hanif's work was marketed as literature, but it is a topical story about Pakistan's military.

The mass market books by Card, Mosley, Deighton, Fleming, and Highsmith were some of the most entertaining books I read this year. Card's Ender is a great character and is much more credible in this book than he was in Ender's Game. White Butterfly is an excellent crime book, I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the genre. Deighton was a master at the spy story and Yesterday's Spy is a strong work. I'm reading the Bond books in order and I believe Diamonds are Forever is the best one so far. 

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse group of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story writers. These authors typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Mosley's Ezekial Rawlins, Buckley's Blackford Oakes, and Brown's Robert Langdon. Most of them were worth reading, though Buckley was clearly out of steam and Brown was strictly beach-worthy. I also read some Sherlock Holmes short stories and read the initial Lehane book featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Those were good too, though Lehane's book featured enough violence for three or four books. 

The novels by Orwell, Greene, and Dick are not among their very best works, though some reader's really like Ubik. I found it the best of these books. Watchmen was interesting, but I certainly wouldn't rank it in the top 100 novels of all-time. 


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