Saturday, December 31, 2005

Team of Rivals by Gail Kearns Goodwin

Absolutely fantastic book about Lincoln and the 3 men he ran against for the Republican nomination in 1860. He was an extremely unlikely candidate and was disdained and looked down upon by all 3 who were strong, nationally known figures. Yet he won the nomination and convinced all 3 of them to join his cabinet, and over time, earned their respect and admiration. Lincoln’s leadership and political genius were astounding. I had a week of extremely abbreviated sleep as I couldn’t put this book down.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson

A personal account of neurobiology that’s very engaging and extremely easy to read. Johnson tries several of the latest techniques in neurobiological testing, and discusses the geography and chemistry of the brain – and the implications for our behavior and emotions. Fascinating read.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I picked up the 50th anniversary edition of this book, which I hadn’t read since high school, and I loved it. Great story, insightful and foresightful (is that a word?) And his coda in this edition – telling the politically correct types to keep their hands off his writing – is passionately written, very funny and absolutely right on target.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

This is an amazing book. The first part of the book is about the 3 years Frankl spent in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. The second part of the book describes “logotherapy”, his psychological theory based on man’s “will to meaning”.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Brothers K by David James Duncan

About a family in the 1950’s and 60’s. The youngest son, who narrates, describes it as “the story of an eight-way tangle of human beings.” The very different characters go in very different directions, but at the core, they’re tangled together as a family. It’s well written and Duncan’s phraseology is often very creative (eg, describing a family road trip as “pre posthumous purgatory”.) I also really enjoyed his first book, The River Why, and his more recent collection of short fiction and nonfiction, River Teeth.

Monday, December 26, 2005

April 1865 by Jay Winik

This month included the fall of Richmond, Lee’s distinguished surrender to Grant, handled (amazingly) graciously by Grant, Lincoln’s assasination and more. Like the founding era, this book illustrates again that the US is astoundingly lucky to have men of such remarkable character in key positions at critical times. Winik’s writing is overly dramatic, but the content is well worth ignoring his irritating writing style.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber

Subtitled “An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality”, Wilber integrates … well, everything. His vision includes “matter, body, mind, soul and spirit as they appear in self, culture and nature… [and] embraces science, art and morals.” Much of the book is a fascinating overview of developmental psychology applied to individuals and cultures/societies, and then he describes some applications of his theory (which are illustrative, though somewhat superficial.) Interesting stuff.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Prompted by the impending release of the movie, I re-read this recently and again enjoyed Austen’s sharp wit and social commentary. (And the recent movie captures that very well, BTW.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

An interesting account of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the man who, while institutionalized in an insane asylum, submitted over 10,000 of the quotations used as examples. Very easy reading; it reads like a novel.

Nabokov’s Butterfly by Rick Gekoski

A rare book dealer, Gekoski tells the stories of 20 major books that he’s handled in his career. Very fun reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Honeymoon with my Brother by Franz Wisner

After being dumped by his fiance right before the wedding and being demoted at work, the author takes his brother on his already paid-for honeymoon to Costa Rica, where the brothers are inspired to go home, sell their assets, and travel around the world for a couple of years. Entertaining read.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

About the year that the author spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica – and then hilariously trying to figure out how to use his new-found knowledge. Quirky, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and (obviously) packed with information about random (though alphabetically organized) stuff you never knew you knew nothing about.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

This is the first book I’ve ready by Berry and it made me a fan of his writing. About a small town and the people who make up the community, described through stories, anecdotes, observations and memoirs of Jayber Crow, the town barber (and grave digger and church janitor on the side). Insightful and beautifully written.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sixpence House by Paul Collins

Collins moves from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, Wales, a village known for having a population of 1,500 and 40 bookstores. Very amusing.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Another quick, entertaining read from Gladwell (also see The Tipping Point). This one’s about the “power of thinking without thinking” ie, instantaneous decision-making. Unfortunately, much sizzle but little steak… Lots of interesting examples, but weak on real explanations.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Adams by David McCullough

You’ve heard the rave reviews of this recent McCullough tome, so suffice it to say that this is an excellent book about a fascinating man. And no matter how busy and productive you think you are, John Adams will make you feel like a slacker.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

The first time I started this book, I couldn’t get into it. Second time, I got into it and had a hard time putting it down. The book bounces between 2 timelines – 1950’s and the early study of DNA, and 1980s when a couple is trying to figure out why a very promising young geneticist dropped off the map (in the ‘50’s) and ended up (in the ‘80’s) doing grunt work at a data processing facility. This book is pretty dense and includes (sometimes very detailed) references to everything from music to genetics to art. (The title refers to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Poe’s short story, The Gold Bug.) Not a lot actually happens in the book, but it’s incredibly clever and well-written. I’ve bought several of his other books to see if I like them as much.
7/06 update: Just read Plowing the Dark – and it’s not nearly as good as Gold Bug. Two different stories going on again but they don’t tie together well, and the writing seemed pretentious.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

A well-written and witty collection of 18 essays about books and language. The first essay is about how, after 5 years of marriage and a child, she and her husband decide they’re “ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation.” Then came the issue of how the co-mingled books should be organized. Other essays are about shopping at a secondhand bookstore (from which she buys 19lbs of books), her family and the word games they play (eg, competing to find typos on menus), and the pleasure of reading a book in the location that it describes. A fun and entertaining read.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Daniel Silva novels

I read several of these and enjoyed them. Main character is a Mossad agent who’s also an art restorer. Very entertaining.