Friday, January 12, 2007

2006 - A Year in Books - Part 2

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

I re-read The Tipping Point because the very best books deserve multiple examinations. New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell is probably my favorite contemporary author, because he is clearly very smart and a splendid writer. The Tipping Point talks about the nature of trends, how they get started, and the people who are central to spreading them. It has deserved its standing at the top of the NYT Best-Seller list for many years now. Definitely read it if you haven’t yet.

The Long Tail – Chris Anderson

This book, by the editor of Wired magazine, also tackles pop culture and trends, but shows that the biggest trend in the Internet age is the explosion of niches, and the money to be made in targeting them. An important business book that had me wanting to start a “long-tail” business by the end of Chapter 2.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

Ah, the biggie. Without a doubt the most complex and thought-provoking novel I’ve read in a long time. Ayn Rand was an unabashed capitalist, and Atlas Shrugged is clearly a charged and layered look at the perils of central planning (or socialism) as a means of governing society. The characterizations are complex even if the mystery aspect of the novel is a little predictable. A cautionary tale indeed, but readers should be cautioned not to read this book while operating machinery. A couple of the speeches run on for dozens of pages and reiterate many of the same ideas presented earlier in the novel. Despite the heavy hand, the themes in the novel ring true today.

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

This book is a modern day Dracula tale who's primary strength is its rich descriptions of European locales including Istanbul, Budapest, and the Pyrenees of southern France. Not a vampire tale in the Anne Rice vein by any stretch, The Historian has many merits though I wouldn't recommend it for a wide audience.

The Temeraire Series - Naomi Novik

Three books have been released in this genre-fusing series. The main conceit, introduced in the first book His Majesty's Dragon, is that dragons are real creatures who have lived and served alongside mankind for centuries. In Napoleonic Europe, they comprise the "Air Force" of the English and French armies. It combines dragon fantasy - of which I'm not normally a fan, I swear - and seafaring adventure - ditto. The combo works. I was introduced to the series through the news; Peter Jackson, of The Lord of the Rings fame, has optioned the first novel to be made into a movie. Throne of Jade and Black Powder War continue the nascent trilogy.

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony - Eoin Colfer

The Artemis Fowl series has the reputation, in my head, of being something akin to Harry Potter-lite. The stories skew younger than HP, but are no less imaginative or colorful. They feel more like vignettes, and an above-average reader should have any book of the five within three or four hours. Highly recommended.

The Blind Side - Michael Lewis

Lewis is another of my favorite author's, and I'm pretty certain I've read all his stuff. His last book, Moneyball, looked at the intricacies of building a baseball team. In The Blind Side, he explains the evolution of the left tackle position in football through the story of a preternaturally talented young man from Memphis who overcomes unspeakable hardship to become a top college recruit and future NFL star. Lewis has a style that will make you laugh as you learn - I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

State of Fear - Michael Crichton

What Atlas Shrugged is to socialism, State of Fear is to global warming. Only a novel in the traditional sense, every page has footnotes to direct readers to global climate studies that both confirm and contradict the global warming position. Crichton's arguments are compelling, and the reader comes away a healthy skeptic, because there's a lot of data out there.

The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson

Last we heard from Johnson, Everything Bad [was] Good for You. The subtitle of The Ghost Map might as well be Cholera is Bad for You. This book is about the work of two men in Victorian London who combined on a landmark study that proved how cholera was transmitted. The story is told well, and while Johnson may not have Gladwell or Lewis's touch for spinning a tale, the pages went by quickly.

Well, that was it for 2006. Unfortunately, I'm starting off 2007 with a dud, a book called Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen. The premise is fabulous - young JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams are charged with the safekeeping of a book mapping all imaginary lands. Problem is, Owen is a really bad writer. The plot skips along but there's no characterization whatsoever - each chapter contains one or two blatant winks to ideas that pop up in LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia, but there are no substance to them. It's annoying.

Regardless, my Amazon wish list is growing so I'm looking at good stuff to read going forward. I hope you enjoyed the rundown. Let me hear your opinion in the Comments.


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