It’s now time for my books of the year. Book lists are always personal: what I like isn’t what you’ll like or even what you would be willing to read. And what I enjoy doesn’t always make the list: I love mindless trash as much as the next person, but I would never inflict it on anyone. So no guilty pleasures here.
I also don’t always get to books in a timely fashion. I’m an oncologist, not a professional book reviewer, and not every book races to my local library’s bookshelves. So I can’t guarantee these all came along in 2011.
I’m light on fiction this year, for some reason: while I read a great many novels, none really knocked my socks off. So, in no particular order, my books of the year:
The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch. A wide-ranging view of modern science, creativity, and society, written by a physicist-philosopher. Deutsch is a fan of Karl Popper’s basic insight, that the beginning of wisdom is “falsification,” the progressive testing of our biases.
Molotov’s Magic Lantern, by Rachel Polonsky. A mixture of Russian political and literary history, beginning in the Moscow apartment of Stalin’s henchman and spreading out from there through time and space. Quite fascinating.
Moral Combat:Good and Evil in World War II, by Michael Burleigh. Most histories of the greatest war in history focus on battles and leaders. Burleigh concentrates on the ethical issues faced by leaders, soldiers, and civilians in the face of almost inestimable evil.
Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon. The fascinating story of the poet Emily Dickinson and her raucously dysfunctional family.
When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing With Me? By Saul Frampton. I am a huge fan of Michel de Montaigne, the inventor of the essay as a literary form. This wonderful book describes Montaigne’s life and thoughts. A charming introduction to one of history’s wisest men.
The Information, by James Gleick. A history of the information age and how it has come to dominate our lives. An absolutely brilliant treatise, written by one of our best science writers.
In the Plex, by Steve Levy, is a fine complement to Gleick’s more comprehensive history, focusing on Google, the company that best defined the information age’s past decade. Something of a hagiography, in that Levy can’t help falling in love with the company and its founders, but fascinating nevertheless.
Quantum Man, by Lawrence Krauss. Subtitled Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, this scientific biography focuses on the great physicist’s many contributions to our understanding of nature.
The Innovator’s Prescription, by Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwang. Christenson, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, tackles health care. You will not agree with all of the authors’ “prescriptions,” but they will fascinate you.
Boomerang, by Michael Lewis. We are in a world of hurt economically, and we caused it through short-term thinking, greed, and political cowardice. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Michael Lewis visits the epicenters of financial disaster: Greece, Iceland, Ireland, and California. Even Germany. By our foremost popular writer on economics.
A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle fiction award, and the only novel book to make my list.
What were your favorite books this year? Please share them with me.