Non-Academic Books I read in 2012 (scroll down for 2011, 2010):
Stephen King, 11/22/63 (2011) – A good time travel novel. And a good Stephen King novel. I thought the focus on the Kennedy assassination actually detracted from story. But very good.
Stephen King, Under the Dome (2009) – I like Stephen King books. And I like fictional political power struggles. So this hit my sweet spot.
Albert Brooks, Twenty Thirty (2011) – Pretty much forgettable. I picked it up because I have a serious soft spot for apocalyptic thrillers, but I could barely finish it. Too much politics for good fiction; too much fiction to be good politics.
Kevin Kosar, Whiskey: A Global History (2010). Good quick read. Certainly brought me up to speed.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (2011). Definitely lives up to its billing. Will change your thinking about a whole range of things.
Non-Academic Books I read in 2011:
Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn (2011) – Good World War I novel. About Snipers. A quick and thought-provoking read.
Daniel Wilson, Robopocalypse (2011) – Awesome. Not *quite* as good as the similarly structured (and uber-amazing) World War Z, but definitely more plausible. The best robots-rise-up-against-us story ever. A must sci-fi read.
Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol (2009) – Awesome because it took places in rooms all over the Capitol and Library that I know very well. Annoying because it’s like every other Dan Brown book — the last 100 pages are inevitably disappointing. Not as good as Angels and Demons or Da Vinci Code; better than Digital Fortress or Deception Point.
Jesse May, Shut Up and Deal (1998) – I’ve read this book a dozen times. It’s still the greatest poker memoir ever written.
Nick Hornsby, How to be Good (2002) – Typical Nick Hornsby. Quick. Ok. Unmemorable.
Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences behind how sports are played and games are won (2011) – Disappointing. Now, I love these sorts of books. But this one was at times, well, boring. And that’s surprising, because the data they have and the topics they take up are fascinating.
Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, Those Guys Have All the Fun (2011) – Oral history of ESPN. I thought it was awesome. But I’m a sucker for both sports histories and business histories. And at 700 pages, maybe it was a little long. But the oral history format was perfect for the topic, and I couldn’t put it down.
Keith Richards, Life (2010) – The stories were at time amazing. I particularly like reading about the Stones’ first trip to the U.S., but overall the book couldn’t hold my attention. I kept putting it down, and when I picked it up, I found myself flipping through it rather than reading it straight.
Richard Rhode, The Twilight of the Bombs (2010) – I read the first book in this trilogy (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) my first semester in college, and the second one (Arsenals of Folly) a few years ago. Those books were amazing; this one is good, but not quite as good. Maybe contemporary disarmament and UN weapons inspection just aren’t as interesting as the Manhattan project and the Cuban missile crisis.
Ben Mezrich, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History (2011) – Who knew that three college kids stole moon rocks from NASA central compound back in the 90’s. Well executed story. Entertaining. And — depending on how much of it is fictionalized and how much is real — a pretty darn positive view of NASA.
Sammy Hagar, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock (2010) – I liked it. But I find Van Halen to be one of the most intriguing and interesting bands of all time, so I might be biased.
Rob Sheffield, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran (2010) – Nice autobiographical account of growing up saturated by 80’s music. Not nearly as good as Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. But better than Sheffield’s previous (and quite good) book, Love is a Mix Tape.
Sebastian Mallbay, More Money Than God (2011) – Awesome. A great history of hedge funds. Part economics textbook, part political economy analysis, part biography, and part gripping novel. Best finance story I’ve ever read.
Alex Bellos, Here’s Looking at Euclid (2010) – This is a great book. Just all about math. Maybe you have to be the right kind of dork, but both my wife and I loved it, and we’re two very different kinds of dorks.
James Bamford, The Shadow Factory (2008) – Inside the NSA since 9/11. Less compelling than it sounds. I actually got bored at points, which shouldn’t happen in this topic/genre.
Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, Live From New York (2002) – Oral History of Saturday Night Live. I had mixed feelings about it. I thought it was fantastic in parts where I knew the cast well (the original late 70’s show, the early 90’s era, Will Farrell, etc.), but I don’t think it did well in the parts I was less familiar with (the E. Murphy era, the 80’s prior to Carvey/Hartman/Nealon). That might be a function of the oral history format. So I guess I’d recommend it if you are a big fan of the show, but less if you are more unfamiliar.
David Simon and Ed Burns, The Corner (1997) – The book that eventually led to The Wire. Two journalists hang out in the Baltimore ghetto open-air drug markets. It might actually be better than The Wire. It’s that good. Incredibly book, incredibly well-written. And my god, how did they get that kind of access? A masterpiece.
Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan: the Impact of Highly Improbable Events (2007) – disappointed. It’s a great book, and there are lots of great revelations in there, but the writing was, at times, boring.
Seth Davis, When March Went Mad (2010) – The full story of Bird and Magic during the 1979 college basketball season, leading up to the still highest-rated televised basketball game of all time. What a different time — a sizeable number of people tuning into the game that night had only recently learned Bird was white! Good read, the parts about Bird are better than the parts about Magic.
Jay Dobyns, No Angel (2009) – Loved it. Undercover ATF agent infiltrates the Hells Angels motorcycle gang over a period of 2 years.
Hank Nuwer, Broken Pledges (1990) – A study of college hazing, centered around Chuck Stenzel’s death at Alfred University’s Klan Alpine fraternity in 1978, which prompted New York’s anti-hazing laws and set the wheels in motion to raise the state drinking age from 18 to 19 in 1982. I was prompted to read it after reading this memoir/study by a Cornell pledge from 2004.
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (2008) – I’m torn on Gladwell’s books, and this did not resolve the issue. They are all fun reads and interesting and thought-provoking, but his calm-as-can-be writing style sometimes feels very smug and condescending. Everything that’s great about his New Yorker writing — Get What the Dog Saw if you haven’t read it — can come off, i don’t know, arrogantly detached(?) in the books. Still, a fun read.
George Dohrmann, Play Their Hearts Out (2010) – Elite AAU youth basketball is a sleazy business. You already knew that. But did you know that the teams can pay the players’ moms’ rent? And that the shoe companies can give the teams hundreds of thousands of dollars in free stuff? And that the colleges can “donate” money to the teams? And that this is happening with 11 year olds? Incredible book. Just read it.
Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur (2010) – I’m a huge Klosterman fan — Fargo Rock City might be my favorite non-fiction book of all time. And Eating the Dinosaur is easily the most “Klosterman-ish” of all his books. But it almost goes too far that direction, and oddly seems less enjoyable. But I still loved it.
James Swanson, Bloody Crimes (2010) – I didn’t like this nearly as much as Manhunt, which was riveting. It drags at times, but that’s partly because a funeral procession can’t compare to, well, a manhunt. But it was still good.
Adam Carolla, In Fifty Years, We’ll All Be Chicks (2010) – I like Carolla’s type of comedy, and the book definitely faithfully recreates it.
Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2009) – If you’ve ever been a competitive runner, you’ll love this book. If not, you’ll probably love it too.
Morton Keller, America’s Three Regimes (2007) – Disappointing. Too much good history to be a polemical. Too much polemical to be a good history.
Morgan Spurlock, Don’t Eat This Book (2005) – The written version of Super Size Me, I picked it up while Anna and were at the town library. It’s ok, but you’re better off just getting Fast Food Nation; there’s nothing new here and he’s not a great writer.
Non-Academic Books I read in 2010:
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010) – Gripping. The whole series was amazing. I probably like this one about the same as The Girl Who Played With Fire, but it’s hard to say, since I now see the books as one long story.
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) – I liked it better than The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. A lot better. But it also made me appreciate the first book, which now feels more like The Hobbit, an extended prologue to this book (and hopefully the third).
P.D. James, The Children of Men (1992) – Great idea for a soft sci-fi book — what happens in the years after all humans simultaneously stop being able to reproduce — reasonably well executed. I would have liked a different plot focus, but I enjoyed it.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005) – One of the better sad books I’ve ever read. Do not read anything about this book beforehand, it’s almost impossible to discuss without giving away key pieces of the plot.
Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tatttoo (2008) – I’m torn. Yes, it was a page-turner that I ripped through. Yes, it’s a good story and I’ll be reading the rest of the trilogy. But it felt more like a Tom Clancy novel than some amazing book. Perhaps that’s expectations.
Charles Bukowski, Post Office (1971) – Hinges on whether you like first-person narrations about odd professions. I thought it was great.
Anita Shreve, Testimony: A Novel (2008) – Great multiple narration. Mediocre story.
Max Brooks, World War Z (2007) – Truly amazing. A must read. Instant classic.
Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife (2009) – Boring. But what did I expect from winter in Wisconsin, 1908?
Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants (2007) – Overrated. I don’t see what the hype is about. Not a bad story, but completely non-memorable.
Andrew Koppelman, A Right to Discriminate? (2009) – Fascinating historical legal primer on the issues of private discrimination, free association, and anti-discrimination law in America, centered around the Boy Scouts v. Dale case.
Neil Strauss, The Game (2005) – The cult classic. Uber-dork becomes champion Pick-Up Artist. Makes you wish this book was around when you were 19. But also makes you thankful this book wasn’t around when you were 19.
Kate Kenski, Bruce Hardy, and Kathleen Jamieson, The Obama Victory (2010) – a nice combination of journalistic and academic analysis of the 2008 presidential election. Too dense to read straight through, but a great “skim and find” book.
Louis Masur, Runaway Dream (2009) – The making of Born to Run. Not as good as I had hoped; mediocre writing and little access for fresh interviews.
Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires (2009) – Compelling account of the founding of Facebook. And I learned perhaps even more about undergrad life at the H-bomb.
Josh Axelrad, Repeat Until Rich (2010) – Memoir of a blackjack card-counter. Well written.
Dirk HayHurst, The Bullpen Gospels (2010) – Once you get over the somewhat amateur-ish writing, and the occasionally tedious discussion, it sucks you in better than most minor-league memoirs.
David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (1972) – One the most-often cited pop books that I had never read. Lives up to it’s billing, although the fixation with Vietnam feels dated.
Bill Madden, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball (2010) – He’s even crazier than you thought. No, seriously.
Chad Millman, The Odds (2001) – Overall, just ok. But some great stories here and there. Especially the descriptions of the Vegas sports books.
Bruce Weber, As They See ’em (2009) – Absolutely fascinating look at MLB umping, both the technical aspects of it and the social/personal.
Tommy Angelo, Elements of Poker (2007) – Loved it. Strategy for everything but the hands. At first it seems simplistic, then it seems genius.