1. Jenny Erpenbeck, Aller Tage Abend [The End of Days]. The first quarter of this book I thought it was amazing, a candidate for one of the better novels of the last thirty years. But as the pages passed, it slipped ever more into various sentimental cliches about the tragedies of German 20th century history. Frustrating, and I fear the author’s success will make it harder to get back on the right track?
2. T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. Almost certainly the very best book on the history of Texas, and also one of the very best books on the USA and the history of the southwest, especially pre-1870. The writing is dramatic, many segments are vivid, and the book (1980) precedes the cult of political correctness. If you wish to read a semi-libertarian defense of how the United States obtained Texas (or do I have that backwards?), this is the place to go. 725 pp. In 1880, Galveston was the largest settlement in Texas. And here is a good sentence: “Because poor people settled the West, the frontier was always in debt.”
3. Peter Doggett, Growing Up: Sex in the Sixties. A book more of substance than sensationalism, that said the substance is one of sensation. An excellent cultural history, and it also drives home the point that things back then really were not so great, matters sexual included. The focus is on Britain, but the coverage is global.
4. Joe Posnanski, The Baseball 100. A very long (827 pp.) and thorough look at who might be the best baseball players of all time. Entertaining, and I have relatively few gripes. Given that Babe Ruth was a first-rate pitcher, should he really be #2 to Willie Mays at #1? Oscar Charleston is at #5, but I might have put Satchel Paige there. I can’t bring myself to put Tris Speaker ahead of Mike Schmidt, and Cy Young doesn’t do as well as you might think. Pete Rose and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not canceled, but are allowed to take their rightful places in the rankings. Recommended, for those who care.
I won’t have time to do more than browse Naomi Oreskes’s Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don’t Know About the Ocean. But it appears to be an entirely serious book about the government funding of science, a drmatically understudied topic area.