Friday, November 15, 2002
2002 and prior
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder - True story about the search for a ship that sank somewhere off the East Coast in 1857 with 21 tons(!) of gold on board. It's about an entrepreneur/scientist who puts together the venture for this search (including inventing all sorts of new technology, private funding, building his team, etc.) and how they found the ship in 1989. Fascinating story, well written. I couldn't put it down.
The Making of Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes - Excellent pulitzer prize-winning book. Heavy stuff (figuratively and literally; it’s 800 pages!), but an amazing story about extraordinary people. Well-written, and remarkably easy to read.
Personal History - Katherine Graham's Pulitzer prize winning autobiography - First third is pretty boring - socialite girl, growing up and getting married. Then her husband commits suicide and she takes over running the Washington Post. Great story.
Genome by Matt Ridley - Fascinating, easy-to-read story about the human genome and the impact of mutations.
Cleopatra's Nose by Daniel Boorstin - Boorstin is a historian and was librarian of congress for years. He has written prolifically and I've enjoyed everything of his I've read (also see The Discoverers). This is a series of essays subtitled Essays on the Unexpected, in which he “uncovers the elements of accident, improvisation and contradiction at the core of American institutions and beliefs.”
The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin - I re-read this recently, and - like the first time I read it - it was great. Essentially a history of science, but in classic Boorstin fashion, it's not a boring time-line of what happened when. He takes the time to go into detail about people and discoveries that he thinks are particularly interesting or important. And he asks (and answers) interesting questions - particularly the questions about why things didn't happen a different way.
From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman – Friedman was pulitzer-prize winning NYT correspondent in Beirut and then Jerusalem beween 1979 & 1989. Excellent book on the dynamics of that part of the world.
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis (pulitzer prize winner) - excellent, very well written book that confirms how incredibly precarious the US was at the time it was founded. In the intro, Ellis describes the founding as "an improvisational affair in which sheer chance, pure luck - both good and bad - and specific decisions made in the crucible of specific military and political crises determined the outcome." And how the framework for our political institutions that was "built in a sudden spasm of enforced inspiration and makeshift construction."
Setting the World Ablaze by John Ferling. A comparative biography of three key players in the American Revolution – Washington, Adams and Jefferson.
Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford. Great story of Amundsen and Scott’s race to the South Pole. The contrast between the very practical Amundsen (who was won the race and survived the trip) and the arrogant Scott (who did neither) is amazing.
With Malice Toward None by Stephen Oates. Good, easy to read biography of Lincoln. Oates also wrote a really good, easy to read biography of Martin Luther King (Let the Trumpet Sound) that I read several years ago.
America Afire by Bernard Weisberger. About the contested (and nasty)election of 1800 between Jefferson & Adams. Was particularly interesting in light of the election of 2000.
All too Human by George Stephanopolous - interesting insider's view of the Clinton White House. Well-written and it came across as pretty honest.
Failure is Not an Option by Gene Kranz. About the space program by one of the earliest mission control flight directors (Gene Kranz was played by Ed Harris in the Apollo 13 movie... He was the guy who wore a white vest in mission control.) Not very well written, nor particularly insightful, and I would've liked more detail in several places (but I'm a space junkie, so I'm not representative of the broader audience this was obviously written for.) Nonetheless, interesting reading about very young, very smart guys, who carried enormous responsibilities while constantly working on the bleeding edge of technology...and obviously performed amazing feats. Imagine NASA as a start-up.
Eyewitness to Power by David Gergen. Gergen has been a Washington insider for decades, during which he’s worked closely with 4 presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton). In this book, he offers his assessment and insights on the leadership qualities of these 4 men.
An American Life by Ronald Reagan. A folksy, engaging autobiography – that also demonstrated there was more below the surface than most people gave him credit for.
Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks – Insightful, easy to read, and often funny commentary on today’s cultural elite (the bourgeois bohemians) which is based on brainpower and personal accomplishment rather than family lines.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Applies epidemiology to social change. Very easy read and fascinating. Also, check out Gladwell’s web site for the random, interesting articles he’s written for the New Yorker. (A few of these articles were the foundation for Tipping Point.)
Cadillac Desert - great book about water policy in the western US, which I read while backpacking in the desert of SE Utah. Fascinating read.
Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam - Excellent book about Michael Jordon and the NBA.
How the Mind Works by Stephen Pinker - explains the complexity of the mind and why it's so incredibly hard to make a computer do what your mind does.
Great Books by David Denby. Denby is a 40-something movie critic who returns to Columbia Univ. to take the Humanities Literature and Western Civ classes that all students are required to take. The book is about his thoughts on the books, the class discussions, the profs and the students as he takes these classes again 25 yrs after he took them as a freshman - and obviously with a perspective including 25 more years of "life experience".
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Krakauer is an experienced climber and writer for Outside Magazine who joined a 1996 Mt Everest expedition to write about the commercialization of the mountain. This is his first-hand account of the disasterous expedition on which 8 people died. Krakauer’s Into the Wild was also ok in a bizarre, 'rubbernecking at a car-wreck' type of way.
Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. My favorite writer. Great stories, beautifully written.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - one of my all-time favorites. I first read Atlas when I was 12 or 13 and then reread it every few years into my twenties. In a 1991 Library of Congress survey, a majority of Americans named it second only to the Bible as the book that had most influenced their lives. I also enjoyed the The Fountainhead.
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman - Short stories about Einstein day-dreaming about different concepts of time. Incredibly creative book. Also read a book of his essays Dance for Two, which I enjoyed, and his second novel, Good Benito, which I didn’t like much.
Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway - great collection of short stories.
Shogunby James Clavell - fantastic book. A "must read." (I took a class at college on feudal Japan because of this book.)The rest of that series are also good, but not as good.
Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy - my favorite of Conroy's – about a kid at military school. I also really enjoyed Prince of Tides. The Water is Wide is another great Conroy story – about a year he spent teaching on an impoverished island off the coast of S. Carolina. It’s scary that there are parts of the country seemingly living in a different time - but it’s a good story and well-written. I didn’t like Beach Music much.
Dream West by David Nevin - historical novel about Charles Fremont (explorer and first (? or at least very early) governor of California. Also read Eagle's Cry, Nevin's novel about the Louisiana Purchase but didn't like it as much. Maybe because of personal interest rather than the content of the book, though.
The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Clever, well-written mystery. Great vacation reading. It's a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Godel, Escher, Bach. And if you know anything about art/art history (which I don't), you'll probably like it even more, since the art world is the backdrop. I’ve subsequently read the rest of his books – all of which were disappointing.
Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille – entertaining airplane/beach book. I read all the rest of DeMille’s prior books and enjoyed them. His more recent books have been lackluster.
Absolute Power by David Baldacci - I think this is the best of his novels. Though the others are also good airplane reading.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - laugh-out-loud-funny book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. His book about Australia (In a Sunburned Country) is also good, but not as good.
Fourth Procedureby Stanley Pottinger - medical thriller with a great plot twist. excellent beach reading. This was his first book. The second one - titled something like "Slow Burning" wasn't nearly as good.
The Eight by Katherine Neville - smart, entertaining book about 2 women in different centuries; story revolves around a chess set. Entertaining novel. Very clever. Her second and third novels, A Calculated Risk and The Magic Circle, were bad and worse.
Sphere by Michael Crighton - very engaging novel about a spherical space ship lying on the floor of the ocean. Great beach reading.