2012 book list

Dec 26 2012 Published by under Blog Carnivals, Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

For the past...oh my, for the past FIVE YEARS, I've been recording, every year, the books I manage to read. Five (gulp) years ago, this was because I was trying the then popular idea to read 100 books in a year. Then I started a blog. 100 books did not happen (though I did get past 60!). Since then, I've set more modest goals, trying for 30 books each year. This year I BARELY made it. Usually they are somewhat punishing and self-improving, but I have some fun ones in there too. And then every year I post them, and ask for you, my friends and readers (some of whom may well not be my friends and I just don't know it) to give me book recommendations.

And this year I ask again! Are there any books you particularly recommend? Great works? Fantasy? I do like fantasy. Science? As you know I LOVE me some science! Leave them in the comments, and if I haven't read them, I'd be glad to give them a try!

2008 List
2009 List
2010 List
2011 List

And now, This year's book list!!! *fanfare*

1. The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. Loved it! Really neat to learn about someone discovering something that now seems to us so self-evident.
2. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Excellent, accessible, but can be extremely depressing.
3. The Panic Virus: A true story of medicine, science, and fear by Seth Mnookin. Enjoyable!
4. The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg. I enjoyed the tone immensely, and it was very accessible, but it was one of those neuro-wow books, and I have some bones to pick with the science (though he did cover the Schultz paper!).
5. The Republican Brain: the science of why they deny science - and reality by Chris Mooney.
6. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean. Very fun and highly recommended!
7. The Stem Cell Hope: How Stem Cell Medicine Can Change Our Lives by Alice Park.
8. Angel Killer: A True Story of Cannibalism, Crime Fighting, and Insanity in New York City by Deborah Blum. Wonderful. Horrid. It's both of those things. She's brilliant as always.
9. This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens and Other WTF Research by Marc Abrahams. Review here.

(Does anyone notice how many science books have colons in the title?! It's almost as bad as scientific articles!)

10. Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland. I probably shouldn't have waited to read this til I've read...all the other Roman History I've read. Having read so much the ideas didn't sound as new as they would be to someone new to Roman history. Still good.
11. Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era by Carolina Moorehead.
12. Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Allison Weir. I was trying VERY hard to find a decent biography of John of Gaunt, who clearly did such amazing stuff...but this is what I got instead. It was all right.
13. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy by Adirenne Mayor. OMG this guy was SO BADASS.

Theology (or lack thereof)
14. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens


15. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Having been a philosophy major and taken my share of existentialism courses (and read my share of Kirkegaard) this was like being whacked on the head with a mallet of existential thought. I GET IT ALREADY.
16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Really good! I really liked it. I hate the main character and her lover though. Everyone else was better.
17. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The whole thing. Unabridged. And it was REALLY good. I could have done without the many page comparison between Moscow and a beehive and the long treatise on morality at the end and the many long treatises on the pointlessness of war. But other than that it was GREAT.
18. Katherine by Anya Seton. Again, trying to find something on John of Gaunt. It was cute.

19. The Child Queen: The Tale of Guinevere and King Arthur by Nancy McKenzie.
20. Going Postal by Terry Prachett. My first one of his. HILARIOUS.
21. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke. Beginning was very slow. Ok, the first HALF was slow. But after it got started it was really brilliant.
22. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. Wonderful.
23. The Duchess of the Shallows by Daniel Ravipinto and Neil McGarry. Love this. New authors and hopefully the start of a new series.
24. Among Others by Jo Walton. Wonderful. Reminded me a little of Stephanie Zvan's writing.
25. Ill Met by Moonlight by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis.
26. And Less Than Kind by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis. Sigh, these two books. I was prepared to like the concept, but...no.
27. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. In which everybody makes terrible decisions.
28. Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley. Cute.
29. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Loved this trilogy. Great concept. A friend called it "magic by goldschlager" and I LOLd.
30. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.
31. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson.

*Note: a bunch of these, in fact, 13 of them (including, and perhaps especially, War and Peace) were audiobooks, which I go through rather extensively while at the bench and while long-distance running. One could argue that I did not, then, "read" them. But I certainly remembered them, learned from them, and was absorbed. And for some of them (especially Russian novels!) it really helps to have someone do the voices so you can tell the difference between Denisov and Dolokhov and the FIVE Kuragins. So I figure it counts.

10 responses so far

  • Harmen says:

    Thanks for the list! You just made my library heavier 🙂

  • ecologist says:

    Wow, that's quite a list. Me, I don't hardly ever seem to "read books" anymore, although I read a lot. The long-term connection with a work that was expected by the author of something like War and Peace (holy crap!) doesn't seem to happen for me. But during the last year there were some books that I can toss out for the list.


    The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, by James Gleick. I read this, then promptly re-read it, then told everyone I knew that it was fantastic and that they should read it. It's fantastic and you should read it.

    Philosophical Theories of Probability, by Donald Gillies. The best account I know of, although (imho) he still stumbles a bit on the distinction between what is and our estimates of what is.

    Not science:

    Among Others, by Jo Walton. I concur with your description of "wonderful".

    Welcome to Bordertown, by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner (eds.) A fantastic shared world urban fantasy thing, with some brilliant writing. (Ellen Kushner gets a free pass from me for anything she ever writes, because of having written Thomas the Rhymer, so I was predisposed to like this.)

    Best Amercian Poetry 2011, by David Lehman and Kevin Young. An annual treat, different every year.

    Earth House Hold, by Gary Snyder. Published in the late 1960s; not hard to find used, which is how I got it. An early collection of mostly prose and some poetry, brilliant brilliant brilliant writing and fascinating journal accounts of some of what are now called "the beats". I loved it.

  • DJMH says:

    In summer reading, Swamplandia! stood out. In winter reading, I enjoyed The Signal and th Noise, which was much better than I expected...usually blogger books just feel like compendia of blog posts, but this was very good. Also enjoying Billy lynn's long halftime walk but not finished yet.

  • Grad Student says:

    I've been doing this for the past couple of years, and it's been very fun to keep track of my reading patterns. (If you don't already, Sci, I recommend including page counts in your list, as well as approximate dates you began and finished a book, there's all sorts of geeky data analysis you can do with that information). I managed to get to about 120 books my first year, but have dropped down to about 90 this year.

    A few recommendations:

    1. For excellent history of medicine writing, I can't recommend Michael Bliss's biographies of William Osler and Harvey Cushing too highly. They're very well written books that manage to convey a lot about the times that the two men lived in as well as about their work.

    2. You might have read this already, but if you liked Going Postal, you must read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's collaboration - Good Omens.

    3. Jo Walton's written a wonderful alternative history trilogy that I just finished, that examines a history in which Britain signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany. The first book is called 'Farthing', it's great.

    4. As far as Roman history goes, Colleen McCullough's Master of Rome series is excellent historical fiction, very detailed, and very long. (Lindsey Davis's Falco books, on the other hand are light, quick mystery novels set around the time of Vespasian - great fun).

    5. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is some of the best scientifically sound science fiction I have ever read. (Red Mars, the first book, is particularly good).

    6. Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel have been receiving tons of deserved praise. They made me completely reconsider what I knew about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

    7. In Fantasy, if you haven't read anything by China Mieville, he's very worth reading. Perdido Street Station is a standard place to start, but I think Embassytown and The City and the City, both of which came out recently, are better introductions to his style.

    8. On the subject of Sanderson, he recently released a sequel to the Mistborn trilogy, Alloy of Law, which is pretty good. Also, he's starting on a brand new series with The Way of Kings, which is massive, but worth starting.

    9. On the subject of huge books, I recommend Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy everywhere I go. >1000 pages set in post-independence India, all of it excellent. (His San Francisco novel in verse, The Golden Gate is a slimmer introduction to his writing, and is possibly the most stylistically interesting novel I've ever read).

    10. Finally, a book that I read this year that I think I'll be recommending for years to come is The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt. Nothing to do with the movie, though it's sadly overshadowed by it, quite possibly the best novel about the joy of learning that I've ever read.

    My list so far is here (warning, gooogle docs spreadsheet link): https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B7PFjfHCZ-qCcEZRM0lvOU5ISjA

    • scicurious says:

      I'm a HUGE Good Omens fan. So much so that I own hardback editions of both cover designs. 🙂 Also just looked at Alloy of Law. I'm not sure if I'll read it soon, once you've read one Mistborn battle you've kind of read them all, but Mr. said it was still ok (and he's also a little burned out on Mistborn battles). Would definitely try his new series though.

  • Cool list! I love the Mistborn trilogy and the disappearing spoon was great too. Now I want to write a list of the books I read this year.

  • Goodwill says:

    Thanks for the list. Here is a strong recommendation. "Executive Functions " by Russell Barkley..Perhaps you might review it?


    An excellent interview with Barkley on this subject as it relates to ADHD is available at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/attentiontalkradio/2012/03/22/executive-functioning-in-adults-with-adhd-a-new-construct

  • Mikaykay says:

    Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. I just started reading this book after my parents gave it to me for my birthday. So far, it's been really good. Sacks incorporates excellent story telling while explaining the science and history behind hallucinations. It's been a fun read while still remaining thought provoking and educational.

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