Monday, January 7, 2013

The Best of 2012

Previous Wrap-Ups: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011

            Another year has come and gone, and once again it’s time to reflect upon the previous years’ reading. 2012 was a banner year for reading, with a flabbergastingly excellent array of books. It was nonfiction's comeback year, as I pursued my private challenge of reading more in science, and read extensively in the area of "civic awareness", learning more about transportation, energy, waste maintenance, and other systems which we all depend upon.  I was a little carried away by my French-themed reading centered on Bastille Day, and one of my Independence Day selections ignited a mild John Adams fixation, but one dwarfed by a resurgent interest in human space flight kicked off by my watching From the Earth to the Moon.



Historical Fiction
Bernard Cornwell was again a mainstay, though the King Arthur trilogy which I read in the fall blew Sharpe away; The Enemy of God in particular stood out.  Cornwell is easy to heap praise on, but that went beyond my usual, already-elevated expectations.  However, I also discovered the historical fiction of David Liss, (The Coffee Trader)  who does business thrillers set in the early industrial area, at a time when the global market was just beginning to be unified and societies were becoming increasingly complex. 
Science
For years I've been saying, "I've gotta read more science". I can call that goal a triumph. The Ghosts of Evolution and The Wild Life of Our Bodies were the most impressive of the lot, with Why We Get Fat and The Sun's Heartbeat also being impressive. And of course, there were the human spaceflight books, the most notable of which was Andrew Chaikan's A Man on the Moon, which inspired From the Earth to the Moon.
Science Fiction
 This hasn't been a big year for science fictionbut even in a good year Lucifer's Hammer would have led the pack. In that, an asteroid smacks the Earth and causes earthquakes, flooding, and other kinds of natural-disaster merriment, leading to the prompt collapse of civilization and good times for all. 
Star Trek
I didn't stay as active in Trek literature as I wanted to, most of my reading being nonfiction, but I did read quite a few new releases as well as a couple of older titles. David R. George III's Typhon Pact duology was the knockout,  however brilliantly-written Christopher Bennett's Department of Temporal Investigations books were.  Two of Peter David's Q books -- Q-in-Law and Q-Squared were easily the best of Trek books outside of new releases.
Fantasy
 Here again I must mention the Arthur Trilogy. Sure, I mentioned in in historical fiction, but there were fantastical elements here, and frankly it's a series worth mentioning twice. I also continued in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, which I'm rather liking given the new Roman take on the gods.
Religion and Philosophy
 The exemplars this year were Seneca's Letters and Dialogues, parts of which I've read repeatedly throughout the year, and Bart Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  Busyness saw a review of that one slip through the cracks, but I intend on re-reading it next year.
History
Ah, my mainstay.  I'll remember 2012 for being the year I found Joseph Ellis, most of whose books on the American Revolution I read during the summer -- save his biography of George Washington, which I purposely saved for 2013's Independence Day reading. I especially liked Founding Brothers,   Some of my historical reads intertwined with civics and society, but on the 'pure' history side..
  • John Adams, David McCullough
  • A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikan
  • A People's History of the Civil War/  Bitterly Divided: the South's Inner Civil War, David Williams
  • Salt: a World History, Mark Kurlansky
  • Blood, Iron, and Steel, Christian Wolmar
  • If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley
Civics and Society

As mentioned, a lot of my reading this year connected to a 'civic awareness' theme, one that grew out of my longstanding interest in urbanism. The books I read in this area combined science, history, technology, and social criticism. They were the cream of the crop, many the kind of books that made permanent inroads in my mind.  When I composed a "top ten" list,  they took six spots.

  • Bowling Alone: the Decline and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam
  • Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Keay
  • Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
  • Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zybeck et. al
  • Consuming Kids, Susan Linn
  • The Great Good Place, Ray Towneley
  • The Green Metropolis, David Owen
These listed were the best, but I can't go without mentioning Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.

What will 2013 bring? Well, I've not yet exhausted Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, and he has another medieval work about to be released which I'm sure to jump on. I'll be keeping up with Trek literature, of course. I anticipate continuing my civics and society theme, and in particular finishing Jane Jacob's The Life and Death of Great American Cities, which I began reading last spring, until I fell off the horse and became fascinated by books on trash and toilets. Even only halfway in, though, Jacobs' work has profoundly altered my worldview. 


I've opted to take down my embarrassingly bloated book wishlist with an "upcoming reads" section, which will only list at maximum 25 titles. The idea is the same, but I'll be including only titles I'm very much interested in. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the way you choose the categories, I need to do more of that. here is my wrap up: http://wordsandpeace.com/2013/01/03/year-of-reading-2012/

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