Here are my favorite book from this year.

The Dervish House (2010) by Ian McDonald (audiobook read by Jonathan Davis). Star Trek talks about exploring “strange new worlds,” and this book does just that as it takes place in a near future Turkey. McDonald really seems to know the culture, or cultures, of Turkey. A good book will always teach me something, and this book did a lot of that. I was continually going to the net to verify the fantastical things presented in this book such as the mellified man. I can’t wait to read more by McDonald. On my shelf right now is his River of Gods which takes place in India.

The Minotaur Takes Cigarette Break (2000) by Steven Sherril (audiobook read by Holter Graham). This book must get an award for the most literal title. The Minotaur of legend now works in a steakhouse and falls in love. I really felt for the Minotaur. There is no other book that I could compare this to.

The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett (audiobook read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpen, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell). I chose this book after one of my students reviewed it in my reading class. If you haven’t heard anything about this book or the movie made from it regarding the lives of African American women in the 1960s, I’ll give you a few minutes to climb out from under the rock you have been living under and look it up. Done. Good. Having four different actors read the different viewpoint characters really enhanced the listening experience. This book easily passes the Bechdel Test. You can look that up too.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) by Steven Pinker (audiobook read by Arthur Morey). This is my best book of the year. Pinker looks to see if and why violence has declined in the world, especially the first world. He covers a great number of disciplines. If you read this book, let me know. I’m dying to find someone to talk to about this. If you want to read a contrasting opinion to this thesis, read Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (2012) by Christopher Ryan and Jetha Cacilda. It is also very interesting but did not make it into the best books list because it seemed to cherry pick its data and use tenuous logic. However, it is very much worth reading if just to get a contrasting viewpoint to Pinker’s.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (audiobook read by Grover Gardner). This starts off with an anthropological look at economics and posits that barter systems don’t come into being until after money. Before money, there is debt and credit. I really enjoyed this book and it was a real eye opener for me. It’s on my list to be reread in the future.

Washington: A Life (2010) by Ron Chernow (audiobook read by Scott Brick). I didn’t think it was possible, but Chernow takes the lifeless pristine marble statue that is George Washington and turns him into a real living person. This is the magic of a great biography. I would also recommend Chernow’s  Alexander Hamilton. These are chunky books that are well worth the effort.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution (2007) by Robert Middlekauff (audiobook read by Robert Fass). This book is part of the Oxford History of the United States Series. This is just a great series. This is the third that I’ve read and enjoyed. Check out the whole series. If you read Washington a Life by Chernow, this book will fill in a lot of the missing pieces. For example, Benedict Arnold is missing from the Chernow book.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (2011) by Candace Millard (audiobook read by . You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll say “what the…?” This is the story of the assassination of President James Garfield by Charles Guiteau and the medical incompetence that killed him. This story has many interesting turns. And what is Alexander Graham Bell doing in this story? Well, read it and find out.

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000) by H.W. Brands (audiobook read by Nelson Runger). This is my favorite biography of the year. Not only is Benjamin Franklin a terribly interesting person to begin with, but Brands does an excellent job of both writing and selecting quotes from Franklin that bring him to life. After reading this, I picked up an anthology of Franklin’s writings from the library and started reading through them. What a joy!

John Adams (2008) by David McCullough (audiobook read by Nelson Runger). After seeing the miniseries John Adams, I just had to read this book. It started out just being a CD book to listen to in my truck, but I got so wrapped up in it, I started carrying around a portable CD player. This is the book that really showed me the various perspectives you can get on the same historical events through different biographies on the people surrounding those events.

Perdido Street Station (2000) by China Mieville. I took my time reading this book. I started it in April and finally finished in December. But this is the kind of book I like to read slowly. I wanted to take in each carefully described scene of this thoroughly disgusting and dirty cityscape with its odd denizens and hidden histories. Mieville does a remarkable job of world building here. He gives the most beautiful descriptions of foetid streets, rank rivers, industrial pollution and vile characters. This is a book that you can open up to the beginning of just about any chapter and enjoy the horribleness of the establishing description. However, be prepared with a computer and a good search engine. Mieville’s work is chock full of British English and obscure mythological references.

And almost making the list…

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin (audiobook read by Suzanne Toren). I was just a few hours shy of finishing this 41 hour audiobook in 2012.  However, it will be my first book of 2013, and I’m sure it will make next year’s list.

 

 

 

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