Longitudes & Attitudes by Thomas Friedman – mostly a collection of Friedman’s NYT columns following Sept 11, but also includes a diary he kept during that time. Insightful, thought-provoking and well-written. (also see From Beirut to Jerusalem below)
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – This is a series of letters Rilke wrote between 1903 & 1908 to a young would-be poet. Rilke offers advice on life, love, being an artist, etc.
Boy Genius by Carl Cannon - About Karl Rove. Whatever you think of Rove or the Bush administration, Rove has had an enormous impact on Texas politics during the last 20 yrs and on Bush’s success. This book is an interesting, quick read that describes Rove’s strategies and tactics which, while successful, often demonstrate a nasty “whatever it takes to win” mentality.
Longitude by Dava Sobel – fascinating book about the problem of figuring out longitude while at sea, and the guy who successfully built clocks that would keep time on board ships to solve this problemt. Read the book to understand why clocks mattered :-)
Ethics for the New Millennium by the Dalai Lama –an approach to ethics based on universal, rather than religious principles.
Mauve by Simon Garfield – Excellent story of William Perkin, who invented mauve, which was the first synthetic color, and which took the fashion world by storm. (Until that time, dyes were made from various natural sources – roots, leaves, insects, etc. – and were often expensive to get and produced inconsistent colors.) By demonstrating a very practical (and very profitable for him) use of chemistry, Perkin essentially created the field of industrial chemistry.
Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon – This is my random gem of last year. Not sure where I stumbled into this book, but I loved it. William Least Heat Moon loses his job (as an English professor) and his wife walks out on him at about the same time, so he decides to travel around the country on the “blue highways” (those marked in blue on the maps). This book is about his 13,000 mile journey in a van he named Ghost Dancing. It’s a very well-written, insightful, often very funny travelog that’s generously sprinkled with quotes from Whitman (and others.) A great read.
Good To Great by Jim Collins – Excellent book. Collins has a very simple prescription for creating great companies. I also enjoyed his previous book, Built to Last.
Assault in Norway by Thomas Gallagher – Astounding true story of a handful of Norwegians on a mission in 1942 to sabotage the world’s largest “heavy water” plant, which was being operated by the Germans in Norway. (“Heavy water” is a key ingredient for building atomic bombs.) This book reads like a good thriller and, at times, the suspense and coincidences, etc. might seem overdone – if it wasn’t true.
Bush at War by Bob Woodward. Interesting perspective on the goings-on in the Bush Administration from Sept 11 through late 2001.
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – This is an enjoyable, funny, educational sprint through science’s “big questions” - how the universe was created, the laws of physics, how life was formed, the rise of homo sapiens, etc. Not as funny as A Walk in the Woods (see 2002 blurbs), but certainly more educational.
Made in America by Bill Bryson – a fascinating history of American English. Packed with excellent, useless trivia about etymology and, of course, Bryson’s humor.
A Cook’s Tour (Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisine) by Anthony Bourdain - This (in)famous chef (thanks to his other book, Kitchen Confidential) sets out on a far-flung journey to find the perfect meal - and ends up eating some meals that sound like episodes of Fear Factor. But it’s all very entertaining.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes – I really enjoyed this book. Very descriptive and entertaining. Great summer reading.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Fantastic story about a boy in a life raft with a tiger. (yeah, I know… sounds silly. I looked at it on those front-of-the-store best-seller racks several times, but never bought it until a friend recommended it.) And I loved it. It’s a wonderful, creative, well written story.
Secret life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – for some reason, it reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. Good story and well written. Very easy reading. Her next book, Mermaid Chair, was very disappointing.
(Hmmm… I guess I didn’t read much fiction I liked last year…)
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – Hitchhikers Guide meets the Classics. This is this author’s first novel and it’s great – very clever, well-written, lots of word play, and thoroughly entertaining. Set in an altered version of London in 1985, literature is so important, there’s a division of the “police” that handles “literary crimes” (like forging Byronic verse), time-travel is common, and (some) people can move between the “real” world and the worlds in literature. The heroine is a “Literary Detective” chasing a bad guy who’s kidnapping characters out of literature. I’ve also read his second book “Lost in a Good Book”, and his third (can’t remember the title) but they weren’t as good.
Angels & Demons & Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Very clever, reasonably well written thrillers. Despite the hype about Da Vinci Code, I thought Angels & Demons was better. Also read his earlier 2 books, Deception Point and Digital Fortress, which were ok, but not as good.
Greg Iles – I don’t remember which of his books I read first, but I liked it, and then read all his other books. Good airplane reading.
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins – I’m not a poetry connoisseur, but I really enoyed this collection. The poems are clever, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes humorous.
And my favorite CD of the past several months:
The Soul Sessions by Joss Stone. The story is that she was about to record yet another “Britney Spears wannabe CD” when she heard some of the classics of soul and she changed direction. This CD is fantastic. It’s hard to believe this is a 16-yr old British girl.