Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best Books: 2008

This past year, I continued a long tradition by not reading War and Peace. This makes the 51st-year in a row I have not read Tolstoy's book. Needless to say, I look forward to not reading it again in 2009.

But here are several books I'm glad I read:

Best Book on a Subject I Usually Avoid:
Prayer: A History, by Philip and Carol Zaleski.
I usually hate books on prayer; they too often resemble an instruction manual for a vending machine. But I've enjoyed Carol Zaleski's columns in Christian Century, and decided to give this book a try -- and truth to tell, it made me rethink my own prayer-life.

Best Science Fiction Based on the Liturgical Calendar:
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.
A Christmas story -- in more ways than one -- about an Oxford history major from 2048 who travels back in time to Merry Olde England . . . just in time for the Black Death. (And if you'd like something lighter, try To Say Nothing of the Dog.)

Best Series by Authors Who Didn't Know They Were Writing a Series:
Emerson Among the Eccentrics, A Group Portrait, by Carlos Baker . . . and The Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand.
Read Baker, and you'll understand why Transcendentalists such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott were rejected as dreamers by the next generation. Read Menand, and you'll understand why Pragmatists such as Dewey and Holmes would have been a disappointment to their ancestors.

Best Book on a Subject I Thought I Knew Everything About (But Was Surprised to Learn I Did Not):
The Second World War: A Short History, by R. A. C. Parker.
One of my history professors used to call this war The Biggest Thing in History -- and in just 304-pages, Parker covers everything from its cause to its aftermath, with stops along the way to examine economics, strategies, tactics, weapons, controversies, and politics (both domestic and foreign). Not one word is wasted in this book -- and every page made me stop to rethink something I thought I'd known.

1 comment:

h0bbes said...

Connie Willis' stuff is brilliant - science fiction & history combined - I love time travel stories.