O.k. So it's my annual review of the books I read over the past year and like 2006, 2007, and 2008 it is dominated by non-fiction. Overall I have to say this was one of my more disappointing years in books reading as I tackled more than a couple of books in which I had a hard time getting through. With that, the 2009 list:
Mountains Beyond Mountains -- Tracy Kidder. The story of Paul
Thatcher Farmer and his efforts to eliminate TB in Haiti. Great book illustrating how someone totally committed to a cause can make a difference in a bleak country.
Ten Cent Plague - David Hadju. I reviewed this book here. All about the growth and downfall of comic books from the turn of the last century to the 1950's. Nice little history, could have used more color illustrations of some of the comic book covers the book discusses.
The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell. Quirkly history of the Puritans who settled Massachussetts Colony in the 1600s. Vowell has a nice way of making history a lot of fun. Reviewed here.
Mystery Train - Greil Marcus. The ur-text on how to do rock and roll criticism. I of course loved the chapter on Elvis but the chapter on Sly and the Family Stone is really good too.
Hitchcock's Romantic Irony - Richard Allen. A film critic's look at Hitchcock's films. A little too scholarly for my sensibilities. I was hoping for something a little more accessible. Definitely only for the film studies major.
Positively Main Street - Toby Thompson. The author goes to Hibbing to find out about Dylan's childhood and finds a whole new world called Minnesota. A must read for all Dylan fans.
In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made - Norman Cantor. This book was about the Black Plague and was wretched. Supposedly this guy is a European History professor but you'd never know it by reading this book. I could do a better job of writing this book using the Black Plague entry from Wikipedia. Stay Away!
The Cousins' Wars - Kevin Phillips. Another book that I was disappointed in. Ostensibly about English-American relations from the 1600's to World War I, seen through the lens of the English Civil War, American Revolution, and Civil War. This book was just too boring and too tedious. I am interested in the subject, I just need a better book.
Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crimewave and the Birth of the FBI - Bryan Burrough. The book which inspired the movie starring Johnny Depp. True life accounts of the gangsters who terrorized the mid-west in the early to mid-1930's. Excellent book if interested in this slice of American History.
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson. Reviewed Here. Bill Bryson is having a mid-life crises and decides to walk the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail. No word if he also had an Argentinean mistress. Great travelogue of his adventures on the trail, U.S. forest and environmental policy. A great, breezy read.
Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett. This was the only novel I read all year. Epic story of a 13th Century English town and their efforts to build a grand cathedral. Not great literature but a fun page turner nonetheless.
Wrestling with Moses - Anthony Flint. Reviewed Here. Story of the epic struggle of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses and the protection of NYC's West Village. We struggle to this day over the same urban development/protection issues these two fought over 50 some years ago although I would have to say that Jane Jacobs is winning.
The Tipping Point/Blink - Malcolm Gladwell. Tipping Point discusses the mechanics behind when something goes what we now call "viral" and what it means for advertising and cultural norms. Blink is the lesser book and discusses how we make snap judgments and first impressions, sometimes within a blink of an eye. Both are very interesting and quick reads. Tipping Point has sometimes been compared to (vastly overrated imho) Freakonomics.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Tony Judt. Another big disappointment. I had high hopes for this book as it promised a vast discussion of all of European history from 1945-2005. But it was way too boring and got into more discussion of political alliances than the history of what happened. There's got to be a better book on this subject than what Judt attempted.
I also re-read two books that I have enjoyed in the past. They included Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life by John Sellers and Like a Rolling Stone: Dylan at the Crossroads by Griel Marcus. Both are quite excellent and well worth the re-reads.
That's it I think. Seventeen books, which is about average. Not sure what 2010 has in store for me yet but I do have a $25 gift card to B&N. I'll probably also try to get Gladwell's other two books as well. Any suggestions? What did you read in the past year?