Best book I read this year:
Totally fascinating. It is hardly believable that something like this really happened. The story of the search for Cythnia Ann Parker is by itself astonishing enough, as obviously it was for the makers of The Searchers. But that her son would also rise to such distinction boggles the mind. Gwynne does not flinch away from the brutality and barbarism of both sides of the Indian wars in Texas, and is not carried away (except perhaps in one passage) by the alleged romanticism of it all. Yet he captures the grandeur of the Comanche empire, about which many people, including myself, are (or were) entirely ignorant. An outstanding book that combines tough scholarly research with high western adventure. First-rate stuff.
I wrote a small review of this for Cato a few weeks ago.
I've been reading a lot about Indians lately. Of the books that I've read on the subject of today's Indian communities, this is the best one. Treuer is of Chippewa descent, and he describes life on the Red Lake Reservation, in ways that allow him to diverge and discuss a lot of the historical and cultural factors involved. The book is honest and candid in ways that others are not, and it's written by an insider who knows what he's talking about in ways that outsider journalists don't. For those looking to learn more about contemporary Native American life, I'd definitely add this one to the top of the pile. It is the one I keep coming back to.
Best new discovery:
I loved, loved, loved this book. I loved it so much that, having taken it with me on a business trip to Washington, D.C., I searched every bookstore in D.C. to get the second book of the trilogy because I could not stand to wait long enough to get home and get it from Amazon. Superbly written. Brisk, believable, suspenseful; it raises interesting philosophical issues without beating you over the head with them and disrupting the storytelling flow. An outstanding achievement.
A very solid ending to the trilogy. No cop-outs. No dishonesty. Effective. Superb.
Meh. It was cute, which is what it was supposed to be.
Very good. The premise isn't quite exploited as well as I think it might have been, because the story folds back on itself more than I think was really necessary. I think it actually could have stood being a little longer and slower paced. But it's still a very good book.
Best audio book this year
This is the book everyone was saying I had to read. It was quite good. I really liked Vance's combination of memoir and sociology. And there's so much in common between his family and mine that this book struck a real chord with me. My family's of Texan, rather than Tennessee, origin, but a lot of his story is mine. The difference is my parents, who refused to let this path be theirs. Thank god for them.
I really liked The Round House. Flock of Doves was not quite as good, but still worked well. This book, though, wavered between implausible and interminable. The only thing I could really find in it was a rather lame effort at commentary on the Iraq War toward the end. The rest just seemed like dough that didn't rise.
Really not very good. Kinda just goes on and on.
Interesting. It's depressing to me to see the idealism of Natan Sharansky giving way to so-called realism. But Hamid is definitely right that liberalism and civic institutions have to be built before democracy can be anything other than a recipe for disaster. That much was obvious, I thought, from the beginning.
One searches this book in vain for some discussion of what other nations would do in response to a more aggressive American foreign policy. That is an utterly essential factor to consider. Yet it is simply never addressed.
Great. A lot of really good insights on Wilbur's work and on his view of the work of others. I particularly liked his discussion of two of his best poems, "Lying" and "Cottage Street, 1953."
This was a short, but very well written study of a fascinating historical figure, the Hawaiian queen who overthrew the evil kapu religion of the Hawaiian islands in the fall of 1819. Of course she wrote nothing, and her motives for the 'ai noa were probably mixed, but that doesn't detract from the great courage it must have taken her. Ka'ahumanu, in my opinion, deserves to be honored along with other great heroines of feminism.
Not quite as good as Catbird's Song, partly because the many typographical errors that litter the book. Still, it contains a lot of great stuff. I found his studies of Poe particularly good.
Very good stuff. I can't say I understood the significance of all the references and symbolism--particularly the Star Trek references--but it's still quite a good novel. Think The Outsiders meets To Kill A Mockingbird on an Indian reservation.
Fantastic. A brave little book that deserves a much wider readership. Highly recommended for young teenagers, especially.
There were some parts of this I thought were a little much. The Aristotle/Plato dichotomy really doesn't work quite as well as a model for understanding intellectual history as one would hope, at least in periods like the Renaissance. But if you look at the Aristotle/Plato thing as just an organizing device for all the material, I think it's quite good. Certainly a good introduction-level book for people interested in learning about the history of philosophy.
Despite my having some disagreements with Prof. Duthu on some things, this book is quite well written and totally indispensable for this topic.
This one's pretty good for fleshing out some of the characters in Erdrich's other books, although it can get a little confusing at times. Not really sure I got what the bees thing was about.
This seemed much more pretentious and much less effective than Alexie's other stuff. In fact, it's much better in the form of Smoke Signals.
A good book that draws on Goldwater's own writings to tell his story. No real revelations here, but I was struck by how much Goldwater just could not figure Nixon out. What he didn't know was that there was nothing to figure out. Just as it is with Nixon II.
I really didn't like this. Think Camus in Indian form.
I was surprised how much I didn't like this. The mystery is solved basically by a deus ex machina kind of ending. Most of the action is taken up in a story that really could have been set anywhere with anyone. Maybe this series gets better later on.
Good stuff, for the most part. This book is an effort to reconstruct a series of lectures Auden gave on Shakespeare. It reads just that way, too. There are some great insights scattered throughout, but it's done in short assertions, rather than in the developed essay form one might expect.
I reviewed this here.
It's kind of unfair for me to judge this one, because I got interrupted so much while reading it. But it did give a lot of good background on Sioux history and on the plains wars.
I was surprised by how long this one was, and how ambiguous some parts of it. It's still superb, but it was not the Atlas Shrugged in a cowboy hat that I half expected. It's based on a true incident, of course, which is why.
The movie is better.
The series is better.
I read this one hoping it would contain more information about explorers other than Captain Cook. It didn't. It had one concluding chapter about them, but the rest was on Cook's voyages, and contained little I didn't already know from my extensive reading about Cook in the past couple years.
Brilliant! I think every law student should be required to read this. I enjoyed the movie years ago, and it is quite true to the book. But the book is still worth reading. Quite excellent.
This is a good and thorough introduction to western Indian policy (aka wars) in the nineteenth century. Sometimes hard to follow, because there are so many massacres and so many betrayals and so much confusion. But it, too, is necessary reading on the subject.
Meh. Didn't really do it for me.
Love it. Again. This is my third time through it, and it was almost as magical this time around as before.
This is a fictional version of a "lost" diary of the third voyage. But it's so faithful to the real things that it really doesn't add anything. The true stuff is better told in the original sources, and the fictional stuff is so sparse that it's hardly worth reading. I'm sure the Graeme Lay novels are better. Assuming I get around to them.
I've never been a big fan of Stephen Ambrose, so although his book on Lewis and Clark is fine enough, I'd hoped Lavender's book would be a little bit more substantial. It's quite good, although the maps are very poor, which makes it hard for a reader to follow along. Still, this makes a good follow-up to Ambrose. Unfortunately, it looks like it's hard to find good books on Lewis and Clark other than the journals themselves.
Some books I gave up on: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (awful, awful, awful! I quit after the guy shot the puppy for no reason at all); The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (this actually is what superficial people accuse Ayn Rand of being: just characters sitting around talking about the gold standard all day--boring as all hell--utterly unbearable); The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (wow; Twain was right; simply unreadable).
*-denotes unabridged audio book.