1. Derek Sayer, Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History. There needs to be a single word for “excellent if read in conjunction with other books on the same topic, though a quality but wasted effort if read alone.” This book is that.
2. Tom Miller, China’s Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History. Excellent on land use but also one of the very best books on the Chinese economy, as seen through the lens of land. Interesting on almost every page.
3. Kate Christensen, Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites. More a memoir than a food memoir (which is how it is being marketed), the subtitle is thus better than the title. This is an excellent example of the “read smart books by people who are totally unlike you” principle. I finished it in one sitting, and it takes a place with The Great Man as one of my two favorite Christensen books.
4. John C. Williams (not the composer), “A Defense of Moderation in Monetary Policy” (pdf). A beautiful title and full of truth.
5. Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight. Brings the author and his milieu to life to a remarkable degree and shows Kafka was a comic author after all.