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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Books of 2017

Source: National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies
As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I read a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." The winning 2018 entry was actually a finalist last year, which means I read it in 2016 (but did not list it in my blog entry): Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa by Scott Straus. It's a terrific work, well worth your time. Straus seeks to determine if genocide can be predicted, an essential precursor step to prevention or early effective intervention.

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? (a few of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari years ago). 


The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Sex, Drugs and  Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Game Over by Dave Zirin

The 37th Parallel by Ben Mezrich

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2017, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. The 2017 book was edited by Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre. I'm already looking forward to the 2018 edition, likely due in February.

The works by Nate Silver and Malcolm Gladwell you probably know. These are interesting books worth your time, though Gladwell's book is a lot less convincing given the author's tendency to select cases on the dependent variable. Silver left me worried that the stock market is overpriced and headed for a disappointing decade, among other lessons.

Hornby periodocally releases his previously published book reviews. He's a very talented writer and fun to read in this format (though his fiction is even better).

The Dirk Hayhurst book is also entertaining. It's always interesting to gain perspective on professional baseball from a fringe major league player. Keith Law's book on contemporary baseball analysis was OK, but I didn't learn much that I didn't already know from decades of reading Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, etc.

Colin Beavan's book is based on a gimmick, but it's quite well-written and credible, especially when compared to the disappointing works by Dave Zirin (which seemed like short magazine articles pieced together haphazardly) and Ben Mezrich (a series of vignettes that do not convincingly add up to anything, ordered almost at random). Chuck Klosterman's book was not especially memorable, unfortunately. 


As I traditionally do, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Echo House by Ward Just

Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry

I didn't read a lot of literature this year, but Sinclair Lewis's classic was the cream of the crop -- if frightening in the age of Trump. Larry McMurtry's last Duane Moore book was fairly disappointing given some other excellent books he produced in the series. This Denis Johnson book is a short and very well-written crime story. It would make a good movie.

And now the much longer list of genre fiction:

Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler

Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

Agent in Place by Helen MacInnes

The Seventh by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

From Doon With Death by Ruth Wendell

A Morning for Flamingos by James Burke

The Chill by Ross Macdonald

A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré,

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

 A Savage Place by Robert Parker

 The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald

 Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

Nobody's Perfect by Donald Westlake

Motor City Blue by Loren Estleman

The Ax by Donald Westlake

Inferno by Dan Brown

House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

This proved to be a pretty good year for classic cold war (or even earlier) spy novels. The books by Charles McCarry, Eric Ambler, and Helen MacInnes were well-done and the books by John le Carré  and Ward Just were fine. All were better than the more famous 007 book I read this year. Literally, Ian Fleming devoted more pages to a rigged game of canasta and to a round of golf between James Bond and Goldfinger than he did to a complicated heist involving a nuclear bomb.

I again read a  prominent science fiction work this year that true fans of the genre probably finished years ago (long before they were my age). Actually, I saw the film for Fahrenheit 451 while in high school, but don't remember reading the book even though I know I read some other works by Bradbury.

11/22/63 was also (historical) science fiction and it was fairly entertaining, so long as one didn't think too seriously about the main plot points. King was making a point about life and love, which almost got lost in the 100s of pages devoted to thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald and his murder of JFK. And the idiosyncrasies of this particular time travel portal.

Hammett's book is a collection of short stories. Some are very good, others are not.  

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Block's Matthew Scudder, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer. All of these were good to very good. Spencer, Archer, and especially McGee are more-and-more confronting their position in life.

I was saddened to learn within the last 48 hours that Sue Grafton has died. She was one of the most famous graduates of the University of Louisville. I believe I met her once years ago in a local park while I was walking my dog. However, at that time, I had not read any of her books.

This year, I read the first books in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series and Ruth Wendell's Inspector Wexler set. I liked both stories enough to read the next book.

Several of the books near the bottom were quite disappointing -- I found fairly weak plots or mediocre writing by really talented writers Donald Westlake and King (the baseball book this time, not 11/22/63).

I read Inferno just as I finished an August vacation. It's a beach read. 

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