Posts Tagged ‘author’

Recently Read Books: 2014

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

burmas3Books I’ve read in 2014 (in rough chronological order)

1. Beyond Band of Brothers, by Major Richard Winters

Dick Winters is the archetype of the American Airborne infantryman in World War II’s European Theatre. This is his memoir, wherein he gets to give some personal explanation and embellishment of his story told so famously by Stephen Ambrose.

2. No Less than Victory, by Jeff Shaara

A workmanlike telling of the story of the Battle of the Bulge.

3. The Frugal Woodturner: Make and Modify all the Tools and Equipment You Need, by Ernie Conover

Self-taught son of a self-taught wood turner describes ingenious ways of doing things differently from everyone else.

4. Box Making, by Doug Stowe

I make far too few wooden boxes. This book will help me to make more of them.

5. The Verse by the Side of the Road, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.

A history of the Burma Shave sign. Author Rowsome tells the complete story of the innovative roadside advertising campaign along with the text of all 600 of the rhymes.

 Back in the first half of the 20th Century, as America was falling hopelessly in love with the motorcar, a Midwestern shaving-soap company initiated a successful and ground-breaking advertising campaign using small roadside signs. The signs often masqueraded as public safety messages warning drivers not to drink or get distracted behind the wheel, but just as often were simple product pitches. What distinguished the Burma Shave signs was that they were always in a series of small red signs posted in a row along the roadside in such a manner that they could be read in a sequence, with the last one giving the company’s name.

Some amusing rhymes include:

HIS FACE WAS SMOOTH
AND COOL AS ICE
AND OH LOUISE!
HE SMELLED
SO NICE
BURMA-SHAVE

WITHIN THIS VALE
OF TOIL
AND SIN
YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD
BUT NOT YOUR CHIN—USE
BURMA-SHAVE

WHEN YOU DRIVE
IF CAUTION CEASES
YOU ARE APT
TO REST
IN PIECES
BURMA-SHAVE

6. Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build and Hate to Finish Paperback, by Teri Masaschi 

Meh.

7. USS Preble, by William Kaufman

A friend of mine—a fellow model railroad enthusiast—wrote and self-published this book, which is how I came to learn of its existence. It’s an interesting, fact-based novel about a naval officer and a warship in World War II. The book has issues, but is still fascinating.

8. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the The Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

The OED was the original crowd-sourced project. Contributions were solicited from across Great Britain and one of the greatest contributors turned out to be a man imprisonedand rightly sofor murder. Winchester tells the fascinating story of the relationship between the embattled editor of the OED and the learned inmate. 

9. Hybrid Woodworking: Blending Power & Hand Tools for Quick, Quality Furniture, by Marc Spagnolo, The Wood Whisperer

Industrialization killed the craft of the wood worker in the Western world. Machines such as electric powered planers, jointers, drill presses, shapers, and table saws made the manual skills of the furniture maker obsolete. Over the years, the prices of these power tools dropped sufficiently to be affordable to the hobbyist, and the weekend woodworker was born. But then an interesting thing happened: not a few of these hobbyists began to discover the joy of working wood with those old hand tools that grandpa had used. A few more hobbyists began to make replicas of those old hand tools using modern manufacturing techniques, and the craft of hand wood working was reborn.

There are purists, who make fine furniture using only the hand tools that were in use a couple of hundred years ago. A larger group has emerged (and I’m one of them) who favor a hybrid approach: using power tools for the things they are best at, but using hand tools for the rest, simply because—outside of a production environment—they give better results just as fast and are far more pleasant and satisfying to use.

Marc Spagnolo is a talented young wood worker who embraced the hybrid solution simultaneously with embracing the Internet as a medium. He runs what he calls a guild on his Website. It is for members only (I’m one) and he publishes excellent quality videos on how to make things in your shop using the best of both hand and power tools. This book is a compilation of his techniques.

10. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, by Wendell Berry

This is a remarkable book by a remarkable author. It is a manifesto for improving our lives by improving the way we cultivate our food. As Berry tells it, we once were a nation of farmers, and that our agriculture was the source of our strength.

Remember how we learned about the great American expansion of the 1800s? When settlers headed West, fulfilling our Manifest Destiny, and brought agriculture, civilization, and prosperity to the American Heartland? Well, argues Berry, we’ve spent the second half of the 20th Century unraveling that effort. Those thousands of little farming towns are empty and bankrupt, those millions of farm houses standing like sentinels in quarter sections of verdant loam are now abandoned and unwanted. Those hundreds of American cities built on domestic agriculture are now broken and hollow specters of ruin.

Berry makes the indisputable point that culture is created by agriculture, and as a nation, we have destroyed agriculture, thus we have mortally wounded our own culture. I find his arguments clear and compelling. As America spirals into the abyss, where do you begin to set things right again? In the dirt. 

Yes, Berry’s arguments have some issues, as accepting them wholesale would force us to return to a patriarchal society, but he’s as correct as any other social critic I’ve read. When you consider that this was written in the 1960s, it seems to achieve prescience. 

11. Moonshine!: Recipes, Tall Tales, Drinking Songs, Historical Stuff, Knee-Slappers, How to Make It, How to Drink It, Pleasin’ the Law, Recoverin’ the Next Day, by Matthew Rowley

I’d love to make moonshine. The equipment is fairly simple and the process is thousands of years old. Basically, you can take any organic matter, like potatoes, corn, or wheat, crush it and boil it, then just let it ferment naturally. After a day or two you boil it and condense the resulting vapors into drinkable alcohol. Unfortunately, in the USA, it remains illegal, if only desultorily enforced. I have other hobbies that won’t get me into trouble.

12. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

I really like Stephenson. He is a creative original. However, he needs an editor. This book was too long. In this novel he constructs a world slightly different from our own, one where the religion is based on science, and the secular world has crazy beliefs about bearded men in the sky. Once you slog your way to the end, you find out that this notion of a parallel universe isn’t just an intriguing backdrop for a quest, but is an integral part of the story.

13. Sight Unseen, by Robert Goddard

I like Goddard’s books and I’ve read many of them over the years. He spins fascinating mysteries that are…unusual. They are meticulously plotted stories that often involve untangling events that occurred decades ago. While their structure tends to be similar from book to book, each one is interesting in its own right. This one dealt with a kidnapping that goes bad, and a witness is killed by the getaway car. Many years later, seemingly after all the evidence is washed away, a few interested parties emerge and solve the puzzle.

14. Measure Twice, Cut Once: Lessons from a Master Carpenter, by Norm Abram

Norm is a carpenter who makes furniture, and has a lot to offer in techniques, tools, and values. His television show, The New Yankee Workshop, is an excellent demonstration of his skills and approach. This book is less useful than watching him make things.

15. The Political Mind, by George Lakoff

Lakoff is a brilliant scientist who has done ground-breaking work in understanding linguistics and human cognition. In this fine book he turns the bright light of his intellect upon the puzzle of politics and particularly how conservatives seem to be able to frame their issues in a compelling way, and how progressives struggle to do so. This book will give you a greater understanding of how humans think, and why our political world is shaped the way it is.  

16. The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident, by Dick Couch

Dick Couch is a former Navy SEAL, so he knows what he’s talking about. This book is a follow-up to his earlier work on the the Navy SEAL program, “The Warrior Elite.” In this book, he focuses on the training the SEALs receive. It will leave you in awe of the skill, dedication, intelligence, strength, stamina, experience, and courage of these men.

17. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

An excellent novel about a gynecologist in Ethiopia, son of a Carmelite nun from India, and an enigmatic English surgeon. This is a masterful work by a skilled novelist. Highly recommended.

18. Blanket Chests: Outstanding Designs from 30 of the World’s Finest Furniture Makers, by Peter Turner and Word Works

So many things to build, so little time.

19. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

I first read this remarkable book in 1968 shortly after an acquaintance and his pal, upon learning that I had not read it, recited the dialog from Clevinger’s court-martial from memory. Throughout the remainder of the 60s and 70s, I read the book several times and it’s disturbing story strongly influenced this youthful reader.

Reading the book again after 30 years was still as enjoyable as before. Author Heller, wanting to show the irrationality of war, writes Catch22irrationally of war. His characters have become archetypes of state-approved, inexplicable, and terribly self-destructive behavior.

I find that I still don’t like or understand the ending. It still feels tacked on, inconclusive, and incongruous. I get the strong feeling that Heller never did understand what the bottom line of his novel really was, and so the ending was contrived. This doesn’t detract from the value of the book, though. 

20. Helen of Troy, by Margaret George

This was too boring for me to make much headway with. Abandoned.

21. Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst

Another excellent dark and moody spy novel from the master. I always enjoy Furst’s novels for their characters, situations, and moody environment even when they seem a little repetitive, as this one does.

22. Another River, Another Town: A Teenage Tank Gunner Comes of Age in Combat—1945, by John P. Irwin

A well-but-simply told, familiar story of a very young man growing up in the rigors of war. 

23. Sutton, by E. R. Mohringer

Hard to believe but this is Mohringer’s first work of fiction, he does such an excellent job. In order to tell the story of enigmatic bank robber, Willy Sutton, Mohringer invents an unusual literary device and, through his abundant skill, makes it work. This is a great and readable story, and whether or not you believe it all hinges on a single comment made by Sutton’s lover  late in the book. Very well done. 

24. Winter of the World, by Ken Follett

The second book of Follett’s great trilogy of the 20th Century. Over the years, Follett’s writing has become a caricature of Follett’s writing. I still like it, but literature it ain’t.

25. Why We Make Things, and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, by Peter Korn

Korn is the founder of a woodworking school in New England. This is his memoir of his life and how he came to create his school and its undergirding philosophy.

26. The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set, by Jim Tolpin

Many woodworking hobbyists are discovering the joy of working with hand tools and eschewing power tools completely. They get more intimate and appreciative of their tools and their materials, the shop is a quieter and more pleasant place to work, and there is no dangerous sawdust to avoid (hand tools produce chips; machine tools produce dust).

What’s more, when not burdened with the need to produce furniture in production quantities and free to build just one piece at a time, it turns out that using only hand tools isn’t appreciably slower. Power tools don’t make you better—arguably they make you worse—they just make you faster.

Tolpin is one of those converts to the new traditionalism and his book is a series of progressively more difficult exercises in woodworking that teach you the basics of using hand tools correctly, effectively, and satisfactorily.

27. Redshirts, by John Scalzi

Never having been a fan of the 60s TV show Star Trek, I worried that this book would be lost on me. Still, I didn’t quite live in a cave back then, so even I know that the cheesy TV show regularly killed off unimportant characters to convey danger or drama, and that those doomed actors—coincidentally or not—always seemed to be wearing red shirts in their fatal episode.

To his everlasting credit, author John Scalzi decided to write a serious science fiction novel about this amusing phenomenon, and succeeded in making it a) interesting, b) believable, and c) compelling to this non-Trekkie. 

28. The Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun

Berkun spent about a year and a half working for a company, Automattic, for the specific purpose of writing this book about his experience. The company is unique in many ways, and Berkun’s motivation for the book was to describe the different approach the company has to many conventional corporate challenges.

Notably, Automattic, the company that created and maintains WordPress blogging software, is totally distributed with employees located all around the world. And not just a few employees, but all of its staff is widespread. There is no real “home office.”

While Berkun’s descriptions of how day to day work, hallway conversations, and formal meetings are conducted across thousands of miles and dozens of time zones is fascinating, he seems to be downplaying the reason why this particular company can do it successfully, and makes the implicit challenge for others to try it disingenuous. Automattic is an open source company. From the very beginning, its founder and all of its employees did they work voluntarily. Employees were selected from the ranks of people who had already demonstrated their commitment, skill, and dedication by contributing source code purely for the love of doing so. 

Still, it’s an important look at one way organizations of the future can be constructed, and well worth reading.

29. On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story, by Richard Jadick

Fascinating story of a Doctor who decides—correctly—that bringing the medical aid station closer to the front line will save grievously wounded soldier’s lives. Of course, bringing the aid station closer to combat endangers the doctor, too. Jadick puts his theories into practice in Iraq, and this makes for a gripping memoir.

30. The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by Gregory A. Freeman

Now that just about everyone involved in World War II is dead, there is an enormous amount of really interesting stuff coming out of the shadows. This fascinating book is about a heroic mission that was never made public and almost didn’t happen because of some despicable political alliances made by people far from the battlefield.  

31. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, by Alisa Smith and J.B.Mackinnon

A two-handed memoir of a young Canadian couple eating only locally grown food. This artful small book is the outcome of a blog about the year-long project.

32. Double Cross, by Ben McIntyre

Last year I read McIntyre’s superb book on the subterfuge surrounding the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II. This book is McIntyre’s telling of the even larger effort at deceiving the Nazis about the D-Day invasion of Normandy. 

The book is a spellbinding and comprehensive look into the behavior of real spies, who are simultaneously more quotidian than those of Le Carré and more flamboyant than those of Ian Fleming. The truth is far stranger than any fiction.

33. Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst

Alan Furst is back in the saddle with another impossible-to-put-down spy novel. I save my Furst books for long voyages or bouts with illness, when I know that I will have many consecutive hours to enjoy soaking in the moody ambiance of this great series of novels.

34. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is very well researched and contains no speculation, just documented facts, yet it reads like a novel.

In the late 1920s, tremendously successful entrepreneurial automobile maker Henry Ford was consolidating his empire on two fronts. Firstly, he pioneered vertical integration, whereby he owned his entire supply chain. He owned iron and coal mines, railroads, smelters, and steel factories to supply his automotive plants. He owned forests and lumber mills to supply wooden parts for his cars. His second area of innovation was social engineering, and while he had some notable successes, his overall record was pretty dismal. fordlandia

This fascinating book tells the story of his efforts at both vertical integration and social engineering through the lens of Ford’s attempt in 1927 to build a rubber plantation in the Amazon jungle of Brazil. The plantation included a model city, called Fordlandia.

The parallels to current efforts at social engineering by today’s captains of digital enterprise are abundant. The perspective of a century make it clear that the attempts by Bill Gates, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other Henry Fords of today are just as doomed and ridiculous as those of a previous generation.

35. Going with the Grain: Making Chairs in the 21st Century, by Mike Abbott

Mike is an English “chair-bodger” who makes simple but incredibly stout chairs out of green wood, primarily ash. Inspiring.

36. Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner

I first read this ground-breaking dystopian science fiction novel shortly after it was first published in 1968. The innovative literary devices and the overall believability made a big impression on me. Re-reading it after 45 years is fascinating as forgotten characters and scenes come alive again. Remarkably, much of Brunner’s speculation about an overpopulated future has come true today.

37. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway

The bible of permaculture for the masses by a genuinely brilliant teacher.

38. Make a Windsor Chair, by Mike Dunbar

Exhaustive discussion of making the essential Anglo-American human-holding device.

39. Chairmaking and Design, by Jeff Miller

Interesting descriptions of various chair making processes.

Recently Read Books: 2013

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

(roughly in the order I read them)

 

 

1. Fall of Giants, Ken Follett

I’ve always been a fan of Ken Follett. His recent plots are predictable and his characters stereotypical, but he still tells a gripping story. This is the first volume of his saga of the 20th Century. I enjoyed every word of it and look forward to the next two volumes in the series.

2. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, by Christopher Schwarz

Schwarz is my favorite writer in the world of woodworkers. His writing is clear, his projects are interesting, and his curiosity is infectious. In this book he builds a tool chest in the same way that such chests were built 200 years ago, using mostly the same tools. There’s a lot of value in doing things the old way, and Schwarz makes this both understandable and accessible better than any other.

3. Pegasus Bridge June 6, 1944, by Stephen E. Ambrose

A great story of military heroism at the very dawn of D-Day in Normandy.

4. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

Scalzi is a great storyteller. His genre is science fiction. His work reminds me of Heinlein. In a very good way.

5. A Tale of Two Subs: An Untold Story of World War II, Two Sister Ships, and Extraordinary Heroism, by Jonathan J. McCullough

There is much insight to be gained by putting a microscope to an otherwise enormous endeavor. The author focuses tightly on the fates of two American submarines in the Pacific Theatre and reveals much about how that conflict played out. Well worth the read.

6. Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain, by Chris Stewart

The author abandons city life to buy a run-down farm in the wilds of Andalusia, and here he tells about it. He’s like a Francis Mayes for Spain. I’ve already purchased the sequel.

7. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

A very competent biography. Many of the nuances of the geek world pass by Isaacson unnoticed, but that’s normal. There’s lots of goodness here.

8. Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, by Temple Grandin

Grandin is the famously autistic scientist, author, and advocate for humane treatment of animals, particularly those destined to be eaten by humans. This book appears to be a compendium of psychological animal care wisdom for the pet owner and rancher.

9. Three Stations, by Martin Cruz Smith

The latest in the series of Arkady Renko novels, this one is unremarkable. It could be that Renko is ready for retirement by Smith.

10. Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson

Bryson, an American, after living in England for 20 years, moves back to the New World. As a parting gift, he circumnavigates England to take one last look at his foreign home, trying to wrap his head around what makes him love it so. Bryson’s writing is always very personal and very easy. What he calls out about England, both good and bad, will amuse you, as he intended.

11. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

I read this book to fill a long-empty gap in my science fiction education. Originally published in 1974, when Vietnam was a still vibrant memory, this book is clearly making a statement about that conflict by describing an endless war between the stars far off in the future. The book is dated by too many tropes of the 60s and 70s and ultimately I would have to vote it off the island.

12. A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II, by Richard Snow

This is an excellent, big picture look at the struggle for supremacy on the high seas. It’s all here, the U-boats, the baby flattops, and the code breaking. An excellent read.

13. Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

This is an excellent book, but I’m not sure that I was able to appreciate it sufficiently. I think I’m too white and too suburban to really picture Chabon’s well-sculpted characters to a proper level of realism. It’s about the daily struggle between black and white, urban and suburban, rich and poor, digital and industrial, set in Oakland, California. This is one of those very few books that I wish some sensitive auteur would make into a movie. I would really like to look into the eyes of Archy and Nat.

14. A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trial, by Bill Bryson

This is the chronicle of the author’s attempt to hike one of the longest wilderness trails in the world. It’s amusing, interesting, and educational by turns, but never scary or boring. As usual for Bryson, it’s a very personal look at the world. I first read it a few years ago, and reread it this time almost by accident, but it’s hard to put down even on a second read.

15. The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II, By Denis Avey with Rob Broomby

This is a genuinely remarkable tale told with gusto by a larger than life character. Denis Avey joined up to fight as a very young man and found himself driving a Bren Carrier in North Africa. The story of his eventual wounding, capture, escape, shipwreck, recapture, and emprisonment is high drama that is too crazy not to be true. He becomes a prisoner of war at a Stalag adjacent to Auschwitz where he sees Jews being treated worse even than he is. Eventually, he risks instant death to swap places with a Jewish inmate to spend time inside the death camp. Avey’s tale of how his and the inmate’s lives are changed and interwoven is epic.

16. Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, by Joseph Bruchac

Several books have been written about the Navajos code talkers. This one was written for young adults, so it is not surprising that it pays plenty of attention to how the young protagonist was treated as a boy on an Indian Reservation. Notably, his white instructors worked diligently to eradicate any last trace of his Native American heritage and culture, primarily his knowledge of the Navajo language. Speaking Navajo was grounds for severe discipline, and the young boys and girls were told that becoming assimilated and forgetting their native language was the only path to success in the world. Until, of course, war came along and the American Army needed some way to communicate via radio without letting the Japanese know what was being discussed.

17. The Accidental Taxonomist, by Heather Hedden

This one  went over my head, but if you are a taxonomist, knock yourself out.

18. UX for Lean Startups; Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design, by Laura Klein

Startups are great because you can do anything you want, including the impossible. Klein offers some good advice for how to insinuate the needs of users into the mix. Recommended.

19. Lean UX; Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, by Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden

Lean is like art, in that it resides in the beholder’s eye. If you imagine lean as a tool for cutting expenses, you are a dinosaur. If you imagine lean as something that can be performed in a large company, you are a dreamer. If you imagine lean as a good blueprint for a tiny startup, then this book will benefit your thinking.

20. Microinteractions: Designing with Details, by Dan Saffer

Saffer is a journeyman designer with much of value to say about the craft. In this book he focuses on the tiny little details that make the difference between a product we love and one we despise. There’s a lot to learn here.

21. The Chairs are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City, by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti

This is one freaking strange book by an equally strange author. It’s a series of essays about, about, about stuff that’s…interesting. Your mileage may vary.

22. Evil By Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us Into Temptation, by Chris Nodder

I really like this book. Nodder looks at a very familiar subject, interaction design, from the point of view of how one would go about manipulating people to one’s advantage. Pretty much sounds like real life to me. Nodder spent years working with Donald Norman and has a lot of very interesting things to say about designing web experiences. Amusing, interesting, intriguing…what’s not to like?

23. The Feynmann Lectures on Physics, Volume 2, by Richard Feynmann

Now I know why I am not a physicist: the math is too difficult.

24. The Dock Manual; Designing, Building, Maintaining, by Max Burns

A paperback book about making small docks for pleasure boats or swimming.

25. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie

This is an excellent novel by a world-class novelist. There’s lots of goodness in this book: big, round characters, sparkling word-play, fascinating plot twists, all wound up in allegory and innuendo. The protagonists, Vina Apsara and Ormus Cama, are Indian pop stars, and this is the story of their mythical and grand lives around the world.

Rushdie gives a full measure of world-girdling narrative, rich characterization, laced with subtle and not-too-subtle humor. His language is rich, literate allusions many, and reading for the sheer pleasure is here.

26. Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, by Frederick Kaufman

There is something about the way this fellow writes that annoys me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Time after time in this book he tells a story to set up a bold point, then neglects to make the point. Maybe he assumes that I’m so smart I will have already understood what he is trying to say, but I am not.

On the other hand, the points he almost makes are really good ones, and relevant to how we can fix our broken food chain.

27. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

This is probably the most important book I’ve read all year. Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize, is one of the most significant scientists working today, particularly if you are in the digital business. All of the cool books on how we perceive, think, and construct mental models that we have enjoyed for the last 15 years (How the Mind Works, Predictably Irrational, Freakonomics, etc) is heavily based on the work of Kahneman and his late partner Tversky. This is an easy read and I highly recommend it.

28. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein

It’s been so many years since I first read this as a youngster that I had forgotten the story. At its heart, the message is one found frequently in scifi: that a harsh environment trains people to be bold, desperate, and competent. I used to believe that.

29. Are You There Vodka, It’s me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

A funny trifle of a book by a TV comedian. I didn’t read this for a long time because I thought it was a story of an alcoholic reforming.

30. The Big Book of Farmall Tractors, by Robert N. Pripps and Andrew Morland

The elegance and beauty of mid-century industrial modern.

31. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbary

I did not finish this book. I am not a 14-year-old girl.

32. Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith

The first Arkady Renko story is still the very best novel by Smith. It’s a gripping murder mystery set in Moscow during the Cold War. Don’t let this gem pass you by.

33. The March Up, Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division, by Bing West and Ray L. Smith

A first person account of the Marines March on Baghdad by a couple of former Marines who know what they are talking about.

34. Ship Breaker, by Paulo Bacigalupi

Today, there are people who tear apart by hand giant ocean-going freighters and tankers for recycling on the shore of Southern India. Bacigalupi hypothesizes what it might be like after we’ve depleted our fossil fuels sufficiently for this to be occurring on the southern shore of the USA with American kids. As I’ve come to expect from this author, an excellent, engaging, thought-provoking book that is fun to read.

35. First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Foods, by Belinda Martineau

The author of this book was a senior geneticist at Calgene, the company that created the first genetically modified food for direct sale to consumers. Calgene inverted the gene within the Flavr Savr tomato that would normally cause it to soften and rot. That made the tomato stay firmer longer, allowing it more time to travel and to sit on store shelves longer.

Ultimately, the book makes you realize just how deeply ignorant we are about genetically modified foods, and also how silly our cultural priorities are.

36. Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre

I would say this is my favorite book of the year.

When I was in my teens I read Ewen Montague’s fascinating first-person account of “The Man Who Never Was,” the story of one of the most successful spy exploits of World War II, masterminded by the author. After Montague’s recent death, accomplished spy author, Ben Macintyre, began to probe around looking to see if there was more to the tale. Montague’s son, amused, produced a footlocker filled with classified documents that had lain untouched for 60 years in the master spy’s possession, and these formed the core source material for a newly-informed telling of the saga.

Not only does this very well-written story reveal the remarkable secret that Montague believed he took to his grave, but Macintrye tells the entire story with a veracity that can be achieved only after all the participants are dead.

There is so much good to say about this book, but above all else are the incredible pocket biographies of each of the real-life characters who plays a role in this fabulous story. Most of them are spies, and Macintyre tells their stories in turn, and each one is more astounding and fascinating than the previous. These men, and a few women, lead lives that could only be true, because you would not believe it if it were fiction. Wild adventurers, awkward geniuses, novel-writing raconteurs, bold warriors, fortune-hunters, heroes, liars, cheats, scoundrels, and syphilitic troglodytes are all here for your entertainment.

37. Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

This is the first Jeeves story I’ve ever read, and evidently it was the first novel-length Jeeves tale that Wodehouse wrote. Bertie Wooster, the narrator, is a foolish foil for butler Jeeves’ calm resourcefulness. A little bit long in the tooth, but it had its moments.