Other essential books of 2014

A few weeks ago I listed the best non-fiction books of 2014, here are a few which I either forgot or were late coming to my attention or were published or shipped after the first list.  These are all very, very good:

1. Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of World Order, 1916-1931.  This one also starts slow but after about 13% becomes fascinating, especially about the internal politics in Germany and Russia, circa 1917-1918.

2. Michael Hofmann, Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays.  Excellent and informationally dense literary essays, I especially like the ones on the German-language poets and writers, such as Benn and Walser and Bernhard and Grass.

3. Henry Marsh, Do No Harm, a neurosurgeon does behavioral economics as applied to his craft.

4. Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford, Rendez-Vous, a discursive chat while looking at some classics of art

5. Clive James, Poetry Notebook 2006-2014.  A superb book, one of the very best appreciations of poetry and introductions to poetry of the 20th century.  This book has received raves in the UK, it is not yet out in the U.S.

In fiction, to supplement my earlier list, I recommend:

6. Hassan Blasim, The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq.  Short stories about the conflict in Iraq, by an Iraqi.  I expected to find these widely heralded stories to be disappointing, as the premise is a little too easy for the Western critic to embrace.  But they are excellent and this book is one of the year’s best fiction releases.

7. Andy Weir, The Martian.  Ostensibly science fiction, but more a 21st century Robinson Crusoe story — set on Mars of course — with huge amounts of (ingenious) engineering driving the story.  Lots of fun, many other people have liked it too.

8. Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies, Poems 1952-2012.

By the way, Uwe Tellkamp’s The Tower [Der Turm] is now out in English.


Don't be mislead by the high renown of The Tower in Germany. It got lots of attention because it's The Big Book about the East, a sort of socialist Buddenbrooks. But it's mediocre, and the last few hundred pages go on an on and on. Finished it, but only just.

Have a suspicion the book was more often bought as a present and not read than other books.

High renown in Germany? Maybe in professional literary circles back in 2008-9. You'll notice the reviews on Amazon.de are pretty negative, and agree with your assessment. As the years go on the original hype around the book seems to be wearing thin as well. It's not a book I see discussed or recommended very often in Austria to be sure.

Better to reread the Buddenbrooks.

I've just finished _The Martian_. I loved the detailed and thoroughly researched details of human life in Mars. It is also funny. However, I wish the author had spent more time considering issues like the social choice of sending someone to Mars, or even the nature of loneliness. But I have recommended the book and "liberated" my copy to fellow nerds

@londenio - I'm reading The Martian too now, and one of the flaws is that it's too 'robotic' with no feelings in the diary entries. But it's a good book.

Adam Tooze (what a name!) has another decent book "The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy" with a chapter entitled "Volksgemeinschaft on a Budget". Only in Germany do they have words like that.

In other news: I just beat my PC in chess when it was ahead over 500 centipawn points in material and positional advantage. That is more rare than hen's teeth. It made one wrong move in a winning position that allowed me to weave a mating net. I can't say I saw the winning move either, but it turned out that way the more we played. The graph of its evaluation at each move throughout the game looks like a roller coaster sine wave, from thinking it is clearly winning to thinking it's drawing to realizing it's losing, priceless! Score one for the humans.

Regarding Tooze's Nazi book, this blurb from the jacket is telling, and supports the WWII isolationists (that the war between Germany and Europe, UK could have been largely a regional war and not a world war, had the US stayed out of it, though I do struggle to see how the Jews could have been helped, though, as history turns out, they were not helped much by the Allies anyway): “Tooze’s story is far more realistic than the cartoonish tale Americans are told about Hitler aspiring to ‘take over the world.’... This is an unusual book about Nazi Germany, well-researched and well-argued.” --Bruce Ramsey, The Seattle Times

Yes. Its a great book that I highly recommend. It serves as an important corrective to the widespread idea that everything can be reduced to Nazi Ideology +/- crazy Hitler effect. IMO Tooze goes a little to far in the other direction but it's very well researched and written & there are surprisingly few good, or even bad, books on this topic in English (the situation in German is not much better) .

Thanks for recommending "The Martian" by Andy Weir a few weeks ago: I enjoyed it. It's very hard sci-fi in the tradition of the engineering parts of Heinlein's "Have Space Suit, Will Travel."

Matt Damon is slated to play the resourceful marooned astronaut next year for Ridley Scott. The cast is all around good: e.g., Sean Bean is said to be cast in the modest-sized role of the mission control leader (the Ed Harris role in "Apollo 13").

The cast is all around good

The question is really who are they going to cast as his love interest. Seems to be a sine qua non of film making since the 1920s. Of course they could cast Sean Bean in both roles ....

I am never going to make it as a Hollywood film producer, but I think any one of these books, picked at random, might make a better film that a lot of the dreck that has been made recently. Especially the Iraqi one.

"4. Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford, Rendez-Vous, a discursive chat while looking at some classics of art"? Shoot it in Paris, cast a pretty young French girl, thrown in an unexpected use for a stick of butter and you have a cult classic.

"3. Henry Marsh, Do No Harm, a neurosurgeon does behavioral economics as applied to his craft." As long as they don't cast anyone in the mold of the late departed Robin Williams, what could go wrong?

Weir can't write like VS Naupaul.

But whereas Naipaul would write about beautifully, say, a guy in a Congolese village who doesn't do much, Weir writes with substance.

And now that the world is becoming substantively very interesting thanks to exponentially accelerating tech and knowledge, I wonder how much interpretation and expression will matter compared with unfiltered progeess and reality.

Was this a bad year for books? I'm not nearly as interested as I usually am in the books on the lists Tyler has linked to (and made) this year.

Maria Popova's list might have been the least enticing "best books" list that I have ever read — ever. I have more interest in slamming a car door repeatedly onto my own hand than reading most of the books she mentioned.

The Martian was very good. Thanks for the recommendation. - Brad Ingarfield

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