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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books of 2007

Last year, I posted a complete list of books I read in 2006. I'm not sure the post was revisited much, but I decided to make a 2007 list too. This is becoming a tradition.

Once again, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of lots of books related to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list them 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.

Finally, I'm also excluding the books I read aloud to my youngest daughter, even though some of them are fairly substantial.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?


Taming American Power by Stephen M. Walt of Harvard.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux.

Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringeby Sam Walker.

Play By Play: Baseball, Radio, and Life in the Last Chance League by Neal Conan (of NPR fame).

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders, by ESPN's Rob Neyer.

The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship by David Halberstam

The College Administrator's Survival Guide by C.K. Gunsalus.

This week, I finished a memoir by my father-in-law, Charles "Sam" Courtney, Ignorant Armies: Tales and Morals of an Alien Empire.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2007, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman.

Of these, all were worth reading, though this was far from Halberstam's best book. Conan's book is about his mid-life adventure as a baseball broadcaster -- effectively a chronicle of his response to a mid-life crisis.

Kolbert was used in class this fall and is an excellent narrative about global warming. At the time, I did not want to finish Gunsalus, but now that I am halfway through my service as department chair, I'm glad that I did. Theroux, of the BBC, writes about a number of oddball characters in America -- mostly in the west. His subjects included a porn star, a UFO "expert," a white supremacist, and Ike Turner (RIP).


Coming Up for Air by George Orwell.

A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene.

Double Indemnity by James M . Cain.

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh.

Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Drowning Pool and The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald.

Playback by Raymond Chandler.

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy.

Florence of Arabia, Little Green Men, and Boomsday by Christopher Buckley.

The Quick Red Fox, A Deadly Shade of Gold, and Bright Orange for the Shroud by John D. Macdonald.

A Certain Justice by P.D. James.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

Up in Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard

Of these, I put the best first, then the genre fiction, and then the worst. I really like Greene and Waugh and these books were very entertaining. This is one of Orwell's forgotten novels. At one level, it is about a middle age man who takes a holiday from his family and work. On another level, it is about the ugliness of war, which casts a giant shadow over the protagonist's life. Greene's book has a somewhat similar theme, only his character escapes more permanently to Africa -- rather than temporarily to his boyhood town.

John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories are a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books have a harder edge. Both provide plenty of amateur philosophy.

These Buckley books were OK, but none of them was particularly good.

Leonard's latest back was a disappointment, though it was essentially a sequel to one of his books that I really enjoyed last year. I previously had a similar negative reaction to Be Cool, which followed the far superior Get Shorty.

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