Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Best of 2007:

While I do enjoy writing about the books I read (writing in general, really) and sharing my thoughts, the primary purpose I have for this blog is to keep track of my own reading. It occurred to me today that perhaps I should look at some of the books I’ve read this year; as I plan on maintaining this for myself for years to come, I can make it an annual tradition. This first year is a bit off, of course, and will be incomplete since I only started this series on my MySpace back in May. I have read my past entries and compiled a list of my favorite books from the year 2007. These are not the only books I enjoyed this year, of course, but they are the ones that stick out.


The Know-It-All: Author A.J. Jacobs chronicles his attempt to read the entire Encylopaedia Britannica. The book is packed full of interesting trivia and humor. Jacob tries out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire and speaks with Alex Trebek.


Universe on a T-Shirt: Dan Falk talks about science as a way of understanding the world around us, and tries to tie the history of science together and point out that all throughout civilized history, we have attempted to find the ultimate truth of why the universe is the way it is -- and why it even “is” to begin with. He does this by providing a history of science, tying together various disciplines like biology, cosmology, and physics.


Before the Dawn: This is an anthropological work by Nicholas Wade that focuses on humanity as we began populating the globe and began transitioning from hunter-gatherers into settled creatures. I commented at the time that it reminded me of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

Phantoms in the Brain: This book by V.S. Ramachandran covers neurological abnormalities, like phantom limbs. While I had long since forgotten what I learned in psychology or anatomy classes, I understood the book and thought it was one of the most interesting things I had ever read.

The Stand: Given my distaste for supernaturalism, I do not make a habit of reading horror books. This book was highly recommended and I was in the mood for a end-of-the-world scenario, so I checked it out. The book is about a super virus that decimates western civilization (and through military officials, the Soviet Union and China). While I did enjoy much of the book, I wasn’t a fan of the religious overtones. Quite enjoyable overall, though.


Theories for Everything: Theories is an overview and history science. I was quite taken by this book, and it is one book I want to have in my personal library. The book has several authors, each experts in their respective fields. All of them were able to convey the details of their disciplines in a manner easily understandable by someone with an average understanding of science like myself.

A Man Without a Country: Kurt Vonnegut’s final work expresses his thoughts on a number of subjects, and his humanistic idealism shines through in many the essays, particularly in the latter half of the book. I share some of my favorite quotations from it here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: I gave in to the numerous friends who were badgering me to at least give the first book a chance and read the book. As it turns out, I really rather loved the book. In this book, Rowling introduces her world of wizardry and witchcraft and begins weaving the story that she will finish years later (or in my case, a month later) with The Deathly Hallows.

The Rising Tide: Jeff Shaara’s latest book is the first in a planned three-book trilogy on the European war. Shaara attempts to write the story of the second world war through the eyes of the men who fought in it, borrowing his father’s style that worked so well and achieved such acclaim in The Killer Angels. I enjoyed this book as I have others written by the Shaaras, although since he uses near-contemporary characters like Roosevelt and Hitler I felt it necessary to use fictional portrayals of those characters (like Roosevelt’s portrayal in Pearl Harbor) when picturing the book’s scenes in my head.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Second in Rowling’s Harry Potter series, this book introduces plot elements that will be revealed in The Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. The plot of this particular book, though, dealt with a monster in the bowels of Hogwarts School preying on the students. Harry, of course, triumphs.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban : Third in the series, and one of my two favorites in the series, Azkaban sees Harry learning more about his parents and introduces several main characters.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is sixth in the Harry Potter series, and the second of my two favorite books. Half-Blood Prince is in many ways a direct prolouge to The Deathly Hallows. Harry and Professor Dumbledore begin to attack Lord Voldemort by seeking out and destroying Horcruxes that contain bits and pieces of his soul.

Pale Blue Dot: I need only to reveal the author of this book (Carl Sagan) to indicate that I very much enjoyed this book. I enjoy pretty much anything by Carl Sagan. I daresay I would be enthralled by his doodles. Sagan writes about humanity’s future role in regards to space. The introduction to this book has been set to video, and remains my favorite YouTube video.


The Darwin Awards: Darwin Awards are awarded to humans who remove themselves from the gene pool (before reproducing) in particularly stupid ways, thus improving the gene pool by removing genes prone to excessive stupidity. (I think family life and environment contributes more to stupidity than genes, but ignorant parents often breed ignorant children so I suppose it’ll work.)


Great Tales from English History, parts one and two: both books are a collection of short chapters. Each chapter deals with a particular tale that deals with medieval English history -- the influence of Joan of Arc, for instance, or the story of Queen Boudicca. I enjoyed both books very much and look forward to the day that they are added to my personal library.

The Hundred Years War: I checked this book because I was then in the process of writing a paper on Jeanne d’Arc. Desmond Seward’s book is an excellent review of the Hundred Years’ War, and helped me understand the background of Jeanne’s story. I found out in the course of writing my paper, though, that she is really overrated. England lost the hundred years’ war when they lost their alliance with Burgundy. Unfortunately for my paper, I figured this out too late to do a revision. I managed to get an A, but I could’ve done much better.


The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operation Air War: This was my main source when writing my second term paper on the Luftwaffe. The book is well-written, and the author seems to have researched the topic for a number of years before writing the book. The book cleared up misconceptions I had. I enjoyed it quite well.

Meditations: Written by Marcus Aurelius, these musings reveal the mind of Emperor Aurelius. He was a tremendous Stoic and I found his thoughts to be personally inspiring.

That concludes my favorite books from the period of May to December ‘07.

Nonfiction to Fiction Ratio: 13:6. The bulk of my favorite fiction reading consisted of Harry Potter books, though.

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