What I’ve been reading

1. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad.  National Book Award for fiction, and it is enjoyed by most people who pick it up,Will Wilkinson reviews it well.

2. Margaux Fragoso, Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir.  This book raises questions about the meaning of consent, but despite its quality I was unable to get all the way though it.  Too brutal for me.

3. The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht.  The author may be 25, Serbian, beautiful, and feted everywhere, but still I found it contrived and overwritten.  The substance-obsessed Laura Miller nails it.  Against my better judgment I enjoyed and finished Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination.

4. David Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy: a History of a Land, its Regions, and their Peoples.  So far released only in the UK, in this excellent book Gilmour claims that for a while, in the 19th century, Garibaldi was the most famous person in the world.

5. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Mute’s Soliloquy.  The first third is a superb humane and philosophical response to adversity, namely imprisonment on Buru Island.  Of the rest, which is never sent letters to his family, at least half is very good.

6. Vaclav Smil, Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact.  Perhaps the best book on what its subtitle indicates.


"Garibaldi was the most famous person in the world." How much competition was there? Victoria? Before their wars of nationalism, neither Bismarck nor Lincoln was in the frame.

Come to think of it, Wellington lived a long time. But don't people often forget old men?

The Chinese Emperor?

Hey Tyler, when you write that you enjoyed THE ILLUMINATION against your 'better judgement,' do you by any chance mean 'contrary to my expectations'? I just ask because I was confused as to why your judgement might tell you that you shouldn't like that particular book.

Creating the 20th Century is a great book. The follow-up companion book talks about nuclear power, gas turbines, and the internet.

I think these books should be required reading for college students. Most people don't know enough about the massive infrastructure of technology required to make the world run.

Next you should read Enriching The Earth, also by Vaclav Smil.

Let's hope that Tiger, Tiger doesn't become the A Million Little Pieces* of this decade. If it does, I'm on record here as claiming the rights to the title of a parody novel: Tiger, Tiger: Pants on Fire.
*parodied as A Million Lilttle Lies.

I second Laura Miller's comment. Are you really saying that you did not like his previous work? I'm most curious about THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD.


I am really impressed by how fast you read books. Could you please suggest a few points, if any, that would help me improve my reading speed?!

Lots of books I'm interested in are from the UK and unavailable in the US.

Why is that? It would be beneficial for all sides for books from the UK to be more available internationally.

Clarification: Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. The National Book Award for Fiction (awarded by the National Book Foundation) went to Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule.

Thanks for the sharing. I learnt a lot from it. Thanks.

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