Here is a recollection of the books I have read during the past 12 months, in order of chronology. The previous year reviews are here.
The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez- The novel is an interesting mix of detective noir with retro science fiction. The main character Mack is like a robot version of Marv from Sin City.
Griftopia by Matt Taibbi- This book chronicles the author’s quest to uncover the causes of the world’s most recent economic collapse, a.k.a the biggest fraud in all of History. As he puts it “the very dullness and complexity of that journey is part of what made this cannibalistic scam so confoundingly dependable.” But Mr. Taibbi explains it in a humorous way that I could digest.
After reading this book I was left with a deep-seeded dislike for financial institutions and human greed, specifically of the unsustainable Anglo variant from the last two- three decades. This book will piss you off and instill distrust in everything monetary, which is probably a beneficial thing.
A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb- This book is a sort of memoir mixed up with some fascinating Brazilian history. If you ever want to visit Brazil read this book first. It’ll also make you want to visit Brazil. I never would have known there were once Dutch colonies there and then later, renegade colonies of runaway slaves and natives formed on the frontier in the Amazon. These free states were all destroyed by the Brazilian government once they became too successful or threatening… probably not unlike the Rio slums of today.
The book gives you a portrait of life in this country, and implies that the political corruption and status quo there hasn’t changed much over time, despite it’s BRIC status and modernization.
The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson- Instantly one of my favorite books. I guess I could relate to it since the main character is an expat around thirty years old trying to figure his life and career out, and enjoying his travel adventures.
Byzantium by Judith Herrin- I’m very intrigued with the history of the Eastern Roman Empire and what became of it, perhaps because so much was lost. This book is the best one I have read about the subject. I can’t wait to visit Istanbul and hopefully parts of Anatolia someday, and see some of the ancient places mentioned. The story of Byzantium really became a slow-death tragedy, but the book points out that, if not for the buffer it provided, the rest of Europe, and hence Western Civilization, would probably have been overrun by the powerful Ottomans.
Another tidbit I recollect is, if not for an earthquake that destroyed ancient fortifications along the coasts of Thessalonika, the Turks would not have been able to land and conquer that area, and surround the city-state, as soon as it did. It’ll resolve a lot of mystery but leave a ton of “what-ifs” going through your head.
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin- Recommended to me and now highly recommended by me if you’re looking for a great self-improvement type of book.
Berserk Vol. 1 by Kentaro Miura- I don’t read much manga but every once in a while an art style jumps out at me. I first saw this at the science fiction book store in Gamla Stan, in Stockholm. It was in Swedish but eventually I ordered the English version off Amazon. I’m going to have to get all of the series. The author/ artist has devoted his life to it, and its truly inspiring.
The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto- A book about the history of the Dutch colony of New Nederland, or what is today Manhattan and other areas of New York. It was cool to read this with the perspective I have after living in Amsterdam for five years. I have a new appreciation for the Dutch culture and how it affected America, especially the philosophy that derived from Grotius and the independent spirit that no doubt developed during the Dutch Provinces’ rebellion against Spain.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin– the audiobook version is available on youtube. This is a great source for motivation and inspiration to be an industrious, self-reliant, inquisitive Renaissance Man.
Trilobite! by Richard Fortey- If you want to learn more than you ever thought you could about trilobites, this book is written by an expert archeologist/ trilobitologist who has devoted his life to them and put it all down into this book. Did you know that trilobites developed crystal eyes made out of calcite?
Trilobites appeared during the Cambrian explosion and were one of the most successful animals in history in terms of survival, as they managed to exist on Earth for 380 million years. Do you imagine humans will survive for that long?
Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker- This book offers a new perspective on World War 2. It makes a strong case for pacifism using newspaper articles, diaries, public proclamations, and other research spanning 1914- 1941.
” More significant than any action of America in defense of her national interests was her instant reaction of retaliation, revenge, punishment and death upon the foe. From such evil can come no good thing, but only disaster and doom immeasurable.” – John Hayes Holmes
There is so much compelling evidence presented in this book that points to an agenda that is not taught to us in the history books, which is:
Roosevelt wanted war with Japan and knew the attack on the fleet in Pearl Harbor was only a matter of time. He had the U.S.armed forces take steps to aggravate Japan and make that empire feel threatened. Churchill didn’t want Nazi Germany to have a Eurasian empire. He was willing to bomb, blockade and starve most of Europe rather than pursue a peaceful settlement with Hitler All of these geopolitical agendas indisputably caused more people to die and suffer than otherwise would have if peace had been the real goal, the book implies.
It would have been nice to have more research from the Soviet and Chinese side, but I suspect most of that is not as easy to find as an old NYT article.
“By her territorial vastness, amazing energy, unrivaled financial status and owing to the composite character of her people she is the one country which could have saved the world from the unthinkable butchery that is going on. It is a strange phenomenon that the human wish is paralyzed by the creeping effect of the war fever.” -Mohandas Gandhi, on the U.S.A.’s entry into the war.