I’ve already covered best economics books, best fiction, and the very best books. General non-fiction remains missing. It’s been a very good year, and these are the other non-fiction books which I really liked, a stronger list than the year before:
Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country.
Daniel Treisman, The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev.
Javier Cercas, The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination. In the waning of Franco’s time, how did Spain turn away from military rule and toward democracy? Can a mediocre man make a difference in history simply by retreating at the right moment? Can a political life boil down to a single response, under gunfire at that? Half of this book is brilliant writing, the other half is brilliant writing combined with obscure, hard-to-follow 1970s Spanish politics (does Adrian Bulli understand the life of John Connally? I don’t think so). Cercas is a novelist, intellect, and historian all rolled into one, and he is sadly underrated in the United States. There’s nothing quite like this book. On top of everything else, if you can wade through the thicket, it is an excellent public choice account of autocracy.
Hamid Dabashi, Shi’ism: Religion of Protest.
Jonathan Steinberg, Bismarck: A Life. This vivid biography brings its subject to life through the extensive use of correspondence and quotation. The reader gets an excellent feeling of how Bismarck’s government actually worked, his intensity and also his mediocrities, and also the importance of Bismarck in building up Germany as a European power. The story is as gripping as a good novel. Sadly, almost no attention is paid to the origins of the welfare state. Still, this has received rave reviews and rightly so.
Daniel Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts.
Jacques Pepin, The Origin of Aids.
Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.
Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Funny thing is, I read this on Kindle, didn’t have a physical copy to put in “my pile,” had no visual cue as to the continuing existence of the book, and thus I forget to cover it on MR. I enjoyed it very much.
John Gimlette, Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge. This book covers Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. A revelation, I loved it. Could Gimlette be my favorite current travel writer?
Robert F. Moss, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution.
Anna Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II.
John Sutherland, Lives of the Novelists, A History of Fiction in 294 Lives. I’ll blog about this remarkable book soon.
What is striking is how many “big books” make this list, and that is exactly what you would expect in an age of Twitter, namely that a lot of shorter books are being outcompeted — aesthetically though not always economically — by on-line reading.
Here is the best “best books” list I’ve seen so far, apart from my lists of course.