1. David Linden, The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God. My standards for popular science books have tightened in the last ten years but this still exceeds them. A good rule of thumb is to read anything that comes from Belknap Press at Harvard, unless of course it is Michael Sandel’s question-begging critique of transhumanism and genetic engineering.
2. God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, by Walter Russell Mead. Yes there is a uniquely Anglo-American way of looking at the world, here’s how it came about, and also why the rest of the world resents it. And why Tony Blair fought the Iraq War. Consistently interesting and readable, recommended. In passing it is also one of the best books for understanding the rise of the West.
3. Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, by Jonathan Gould. I loved this book, and yes I was already sick of books about the Beatles. Not only is the musical analysis first-rate (it pinpoints what is wrong with the arrangement of "Got to Get You Into My Life"), but it is close to an economic history of the Beatles. Of course they started Apple, their record label, to shift labor income into capital gains, yet they were not up to running a music company. Who needs the Laffer Curve? You can (in part) blame high marginal tax rates for the breakup of the Beatles.
4. Michael Dirda, Classics for Pleasure. As with popular science books, I am long since jaded with the genre of "let’s read my short essays about the classics so you don’t have to go bother reading those long, nasty books yourself." But this one delivers a true odyssey of discovery; I dog-eared a dozen or so pages to follow up on the recommendations. Will tracking down John Aubrey’s Brief Lives pay off? Who knows, but don’t we live on hope as it is?