December brings to end another year of book reading. Below is a short review of the books I read over the past year. Some of these books were not published in 2006 so it isn’t a review of the best books of 2006 but what I took the time to read.
At Canaan’s Edge – Taylor Branch. The 3rd in Branch’s trilogy of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. I had read the first two: Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire and was absolutely enthralled. So I re-read these two books before I started Canaan’s Edge. It was a three book, ten week, 2,500 page commitment that I was happy to make as these books go through the life and times of MLK and the Civil Rights movement. As someone who was alive during many of the events described in these books -- but too young to remember them -- it is amazing what people went through to get what we now consider basic civil rights. And to think it happened in my lifetime! Strongly suggest checking these out.
Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis. I read all seven books in the order Lewis intended. As everyone knows these books can be read as an allegory for Christianity, but they are much richer than that. Paradise, as described in the last book, rivals that of Tolkien’s description of the Grey Havens in LOTR.
Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone – Mark Zwonitzer. Biography of the Carter Family from their early roots in the Virginny mountain back-country to their reign as the "First Family of Country Music" at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Fascinating book even if you're not into country music.
Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – John Weatherford. No it's not Representative Phyllis Kahn's autobiography. This engaging book is about how Ghengis Khan and his offspring conquered Asia, the Middle East, and Central Europe. I spent a couple of weeks in Warsaw in 1987 and wondered why a small but noticable portion of the population had faint Asian features. Now I know.
Walk-On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 - Steve Stockman. Biography of U2 and how their (now) overlooked Christianity influences this great band.
Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 - Simon Reynolds. History of the (mostly) British punk bands that came after the punk explosion of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Good for its history and to (re)introduce you to this cool, cool music. I ended up buying a lot of CD's after reading this book.
Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City - Richard Lloyd. A very scholarly book about how the down-in-the-dumps industrial neighborhood of Wicker Park in Chicago was turned into a very hip and cool place by artists and punks looking for a cheap place to live. As with most scholarly tomes, it drives home its thesis over and over again. Only for the urban studies major.
Candy Girl - Diablo Cody. Story about a woman living in Minneapolis who became a stripper for a year. Since I'm not a "strib club guy" this story was an eye opener. Although the book takes a breezy tone, there are no happy lights shone on the stripping industry. Stripping sounds like the degrading, soul-crushing job you think it would be. A fun and disturbing read (if that is possible).
Ladies and Gentlement, The Bronx is Burning - Jonathan Mahler. A great story of NYC and 1977 – a vital year that saw the emergence of Reggie Jackson as a Yankee, the serial crimes of Son of Sam, a hotly contested mayoral race, and a devastating blackout. This was the NYC of yore – falling apart, gritty, crime-ridden. Great story, I would read it for the description of the 1977 blackout alone.
The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson. A look at the English language and how it developed into the language we read, speak, and write today. Very engaging if you are at all interested in the English language.
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 – Lawrence Wright. The story of the rise of al Qaeda and Radical Islam. Quite fascinating and a little scary. Really points out how easily the government could have stopped the 9/11 attacks with just a little bit of imagination.
Smartest Guys in the Room – Bethany McLean. The story about the rise and fall of Enron. Amazing story of how Enron’s stock was manipulated and how it all crashed in just a few short months. If you have a finance or accounting degree you will probably enjoy this book as there are detailed descriptions of the financial games Enron played. But even if you have a passing knowledge of business you will be outraged at Enron's shenanigans while scratching your head wondering how did Enron ever think they could get away with all they did.
The Day the Universe Changed - James Burke. A history of science and how discoveries propelled the human race. Not the best book in the world and somewhat rambling. I would suggest A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson if interested in this subject.
What did you read this year?