1. William Vaughan, Samuel Palmer: Shadows on the Wall. Another first-rate Yale University Press book of art plates and art history, for this they are the best. Get a hold of as many of them as you can.
2. Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak. This short Chinese noir novel, with a dash of Murakami, is one of my year’s favorites and also one of this year’s “cool books.” I finished it in one sitting. Set in Beijing, the protagonist sells audio equipment, and then strange things happen. Here is a good interview with the author.
3. David J. Garrow, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. So far I’ve only read bits and pieces of it, but I am surprised it is not receiving more positive attention. It seems like one of the most thorough and smart and thoughtful biographies of any American president. It has plenty of detail on Obama’s life and career, and you can learn what Obama’s ex-girlfriend says about how he was in bed at age 22 (“he neither came off as experienced nor inexperienced”, [FU Aristotle!]) Yes, at 1084 pp. of text this is more than I want to know, but what’s not to like? Here is a good Brent Staples NYT review. Garrow cribs his main narrative — the artificial construction of his blackness — from Rev. Wright and Steve Sailer, and doesn’t exactly credit them, although that (the former, not the latter) may explain why the mainstream reception has been so tepid.
4. Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. The title says it all. I disagreed with almost everything in this book, still it is useful to see where the Zeitgeist is headed.
5. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, assorted authors and editors and photographers. One of the best and most readable introductions to Incan civilization. I’ll say it again: you all should be reading more picture books! They are one of the best ways to actually learn.
Two useful books for presenting meta-information on learning things are:
And Thomas W. Hazlett, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone, is a very learned, market-oriented look at what the title promises.