My Books of 2016

Money: The Unauthorized Biography, by Felix Martin

This is a great, albeit a bit wonky book.  His final argument, is that money is not a fixed amount, like an ounce of gold of a gram of silver, but a means of measuring and transferring a concept of value from one person to another. 

Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively

What a great book. It left me breathless at times. The literary technique of flashbacks was excellent. I'd recommend this masterpiece to anyone.

A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter

The book is a classic, a love affair with France, with writing that in most parts of the book sparkles with true literary fiction. Salter creates a classic work in 180 pages of erotic literature that truly tugs at your heart.

Dusk and Other Stories, by James Salter

Usually, I just like the book, occasionally don't like it, and sometimes like it a lot. I LOVED Salter. In fact, he blew me away.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Although the detail was a bit suffocating at times, overall it was nearly completely gripping and interesting. I felt like I could understand the man, even though he must have been extremely complex.  This book is a story of a lifetime.

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The story is fantastic, almost too fantastic. At some point, I just wanted it to be over one way or another. Every time you think, "ah, he's got it," then immediately some other thing pops up.  Although it was unimaginable that the hero would not make it, author Weir takes us to the very brink in the wild ending.

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers, by Simon Winchester

Another worthwhile Simon Winchester book. I'm amazed with the peripatetic research he did, and the extent to which he goes to prepare. Some of the eleven chapters were more interesting to me than others, but that's usual.

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

This is the stuff they ought to teach in history class, not the mind-numbing dates, names, and places. Hamilton's life is so interesting that you can't make this stuff up! Maybe that's the play has caught on so vividly. A long, long book, but fascinating from start to finish.

The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy

You almost have to sit down and outline this book to keep up with the changing times and characters, as what seem to be completely disconnected events in the world link people together in a spell-binding story of human kindness and innate goodness. Overall, well done.

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell

Another fantastic Malcolm Gladwell book. This is a compilation of his stories for The New Yorker, and of course the quality of each is excellent.  It's no wonder that Gladwell is such a master at his game of making the news come alive.

Crow Fair: Stories, by Thomas McGuane

I'm not usually a huge fan of short story collections as a book, but recent works by Rick Bass and now Thomas McGuane are changing my mind. This one by McGuane has a few "meh moments," but most are strong, not formulaic, and sometimes just flat-out stunning. An example of this last is the title work, "Crow Fair." I read it the first time rather late at night, and didn't feel like I got all there was to get. So I re-read if the next morning when fresh and along with a cuppa java. Wow. I was knocked out on many levels. I read it a third time, aloud to my wife, the next afternoon, and teared up emotionally at several points. These sort of stories are meaningful on multiple levels: our parent's own lives, of which we often know little; our own lives, sometimes secret; and the wonder (and fear) of aging. These play out for many of us in more ways than we recognize, or want to do so.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O'Connor

My first book by Flannery O'Connor. Super short stories, and amazing in the sense they all had a lot in common, but were pretty well completely different. Much of the writing is "non-PC" by today's standards. The distinction between social classes in O'Connor's south are painfully etched. The endings just sneak up on you as the reader and hit you between the eyes. Good stuff.

The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange, by Jan Jarboe Russell

The writing is basic and informative. Russell uses the time-tested approach of selecting a handful of individuals and their families from both the German and the Japanese backgrounds for the story, which needs to be read in the context of an all-out war during which this country was "all-in" in every respect.

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, by Steve Olson

Very informative book, with tons of info about the unfortunate folks killed or nearly so by the eruption. Lots of background, with perhaps too much on the Weyerhaeuser family and company. Totally gripping as it approaches the eruption itself.

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibson

I didn't realize that it was published in 1933. To be honest, from the title and the way the description of the farm was laid out, I felt a bit uneasy and almost expected a horror story of sorts, even though the initial portion was so breezy and delightful. Suffice it to say, it was not only not a horror story, but a lively and funny tale of how much one person can change things, and for the better. I'm told it's a parody of the times.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan

I learned a great deal from this book, although I would not say it was a page turner or a pleasant read. The Irish scenes under English domination and terrible, cruel perdition were hard to read, as were the American Civil War scenes. Clearly, to have been born into such wealth, education, and family privilege, yet become so committed to "cause," was a story of uncommon commitment, to say the least. The writing is, from start to end, first class. Yet the suffocating misery of twists and turns in Meagher's life story left me exhausted.

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich

A good primer on the basic five tenets of capitalism: property ownership rights, degree of market monopoly permitted, contracts for sales and purchases, bankruptcy proceedings, and enforcement to prevent cheating. There is no "free market," since no rules whatsoever would result in a "might makes right" system. Reich makes the points that in his opinion, our current capitalism has changed to protect the moneyed and thus those with power. The solution, however, is harder to believe, since much of his prescription for changes is radical.

1960's Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime that Rocked the Capital, by Jesse Sublett

I'd give this a "2 of 5" rating based on writing quality, organization, and coherency. One wonders just how such a low-life group could continue to continue, with serial bank robberies, etc.

Tom Mix and Pancho Villa, by Clifford Irving
This is a rather long, but interesting, and convoluted, and smart, and brutal, and at times sexy read. Mr. Irving is a good story teller, that's for sure. And perhaps I learned something about Villa's revolutionary actions and Mexico. If one is a "hopeless reader, who is fast," this might be, repeat might be worth his/her time. For me, it was a slog, albeit a juicy one that I could not put down until I made it to the end.

Yasme: The Danny Weil and Colvin Radio Expeditions, by James D Cain

This book is a treasure trove of facts and inside stories from an unusual era of the amateur radio hobby. Three primary protagonists are featured: Danny Weil, an Englishman who taught himself to sail in very small crafts; as well as Lloyd Colvin, an American military man and his wife, Iris. Between these two parties,  author James D. Cain documents in almost mind-numbing thoroughness the facts and details. It's a niche subject, done in amazing detail, but a gift to a worldwide hobby and those who wish to understand those who were driven by the human spirit.

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