What a year for reading! As usual, a breakdown of major categories from ChartGo.com.
Earlier in the year I started a course of reading in American literature, arranged chronologically, and made it to the mid-19th century before I lost steam. Some classics were a chore, others a genuine pleasure; The Scarlet Letter and Uncle Tom’s Cabin surprised me. I intend on picking back up where I left off, either with Little Women or Moby Dick.
In science fiction, Andy Weir’s The Martian exceeds by leaps and bounds, comic but intelligent. I also read the classic Starship Troopers, and the whole of Greg Cox’s Rise and Fall of Khan series, of which the finale (To Reign in Hell, Khan’s exile between “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan) was the best.
My science reading started off strong and then fell away as the year progressed; The Red Queen, on sexual selection and human behavior, was the standout. Also notable: Frans de Waal’s books on primate behavior and moral evolution, particularly The Bonobo and the Atheist.
Historical fiction, another staple, had a decent year; I finished off Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, with Waterloo, but discovered new authors like John Stack and Simon Scarrow. I read Stack’s Roman naval trilogy through in full, beginning with Captain of Rome (set during the first Punic War), and have just started Scarrow’s lengthy series on the Roman invasion of Britain, with Under the Eagle.
My religious reading picked up in the tail end of the year as I dove into one of my favorite subjects, the history of late-temple Judaism and early Christianity; Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist was exceptional, as was Joseph Pearce’s Race with the Devil, his story of how literature lead him to the Catholic church and helped him escape vicious racism.
A predominant theme for me in recent years has been that of ‘humane living’, the search for what it means to live an authentic, fulfilling life. This isn’t a self-help quest, because more often than not, I’m trying to figure out what it means for a human community to be healthy. This theme encompasses both fiction and many genres of nonfiction. (Last year I referred to this category as ‘Civics, Society, and Living Humanely‘.) Some of the best titles in this broad category were:
- The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry; and Wild Birds, Wendell Berry
- Human Scale, Kirkpatrick Sale
- Look Homeward, America, Bill Kauffman
History, as usual, took the lion’s share of my attention, constituting almost a full third of this year’s reading all by itself. (Last year it only claimed 16%.) A Great War reading theme constituted some of that, and while I’ve given it its own recap, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front and Gallipoli merit second mentions. I did a great deal of reading in southern history, as well, including classics like I’ll Take my Stand and more modern works like Away Down South and Confederates in the Attic. A few history titles worth noting:
- A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, William Bernstein
- American Sphinx: the Character of Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Ellis
- Fighting Traffic: the Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter Norton
- Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, Ian Gately
- A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich