Allow me to repeat the groundrules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I served until July as chair of a committee that will award $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees submitted books and I read my share of the nominations. But those books are not listed here.
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).
Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner
Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics by John J. Mearsheimer.
Nuclear First Strike: Consequences of a Broken Taboo by George H. Quester
Washington Rules: How America's Quest for Dominance Has Undermined National Security by Andrew Bacevich.
The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable by John C. Hulsman & A. Wess Mitchell
Small Stakes Hold 'em: Winning Big With Expert Play by Ed Miller, David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.
Cowboys Full; The Story of Poker by James McManus.
The Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley
The Bill James Gold Mine 2009 by Bill James.
The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom M. Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin.
Stone Me: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards by Mark Blake
I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2011, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.
Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. I read several of the relatively short international relations books to see if any of them would be appropriate for my various classes. In the right circumstances, I would not hesitate to use the Drezner book. Additionally, the passport-sized Hulsman and Mitchell volume might be useful for my film class.
I enjoyed the Quester and Mearsheimer books, but these are not the best works by these prolific authors. Both are readable and full of interesting examples, but they are not must-read works. Likewise, I found this Bacevich work (assigned in a spring class) a bit more polemical than his prior books. Plus, the historical sections and analysis were not up too his typical standard.
Yardley's Education of a Poker Player is considered a gambling classic, but I did not find it indispensable. By contrast, if you play small-stakes poker, the Miller, Sklansky and Malmuth volume is first-rate. The 500-page McManus tome is certainly very informative, but it is an odd book and not as compelling as Positively Fifth Street. The work covers poker history, includes many anecdotes about famous poker games and players, and surveys the rise of the World Series of Poker. The author has interesting personal experiences in the WSOP, but those are covered extensively in the older work.
Bill James is a seminal sabermetric-minded baseball writer. However, the Gold Mine books are not exactly packed with riveting information. Still, the book was worth my time if only for a few key short essays included in the volume. The Book is a somewhat difficult-to-read baseball book, but it is densely packed with tactically (and sometimes strategically) useful baseball information. Too bad The Book's authors didn't work with James on one magnificent book.
Keith Richards can be hilarious, but this book of quips is too short.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Rabbit is Rich by John Updike
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
The Wrong Case by James Crumley
B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton.
Blaze by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman).
The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake
The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block
The Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser, Bk 1) by Robert B. Parker
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.
The Hunter: A Parker Novel by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Dress Her in Indigo by John D. Macdonald
April Evil by John D. MacDonald
The Barbarous Coast by Ross Macdonald
Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski
Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
Perchance to Dream by Robert B. Parker
Grift Sense by James Swain
A Case of Lone Star by Kinky Friedman
The Greatest Slump of All-Time by David Carkeet.
The King's Game by John Nemo.
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 in each section.
The novels by Roth, Updike, Hornby and O'Neill are all excellent. Roth and O'Neill were overtly influenced by 9/11, though Roth's book is actually a counterfactual history about events prior to World War II. What if Charles Lindbergh (sympathetic to Hitler) had been elected President over FDR? As I've written previously, Hornby is one of my favorite authors and this is an entertaining read about personal relationships and popular music. Yes, those were also the themes of the terrific High Fidelity.
I pick up Evelyn Waugh and Cormac McCarthy novels with the understanding that I may already have read their best books. Their other work reflects their great talent, but there's bound to be some disappointment. Gary Shteyngart is likewise a skilled writer, but I hope Absurdistan is not his masterpiece.
Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. Eric Ambler was recommended highly by someone on Journolist. I'm grateful to that person, though I cannot recall his or her identity.
I much-enjoyed Michael Connelly's first Harry Bosch book and will continue with the series. Likewise, James Crumley's Milo Milodragovitch is an interesting character and I look forward to reading additional stories about him. Robert Parker's Spencer books are entertaining, so I decided to start at the beginning of his series as well -- though I've previously read at least one of the later books. The second volume in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is not as good as the first book, but I still intend to read the third one in the near future.
Cornell Woolrich was very talented at generating creepy atmosphere and I've already acquired a couple of his other works. That is traditionally Stephen King's domain, but Blaze is a strange crime novel published as his Richard Bachman alias. I think the book's smart writing suffers by featuring a mentally-challenged lead character.
Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block have written dozens of crime-themed novels over the decades. I enjoyed Westlake's more humorous burglary story about a stolen diamond than the first book in his brutal Parker series. I'll read the next volume in each line, however. Likewise, I'll be reading more cases featuring Block's dedicated, thoughtful, and drunken detective Matt Scudder.
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. April Evil is a stand-alone noir fiction -- and it has a harder edge. Grafton says Ross Macdonald is an influence and I enjoyed her second alphabet mystery story. I read her A is for Alibi back in the mid-1990s, but won't wait very long to start C is for Corpse.
I cannot recommend the Swain book about a casino detective and I have tired of Kinky Friedman's redundant prose. Christopher Buckley has written some entertaining books, but The Supreme Courtship is far down his list of accomplishments.
If you are looking for baseball fiction, I enjoyed Carkeet's psychological approach to the game's players, but was less taken with the religious-themed novel by Nemo.
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