One of my escapes from the cavalcade of crap that has been 2016 has been books. Books are transformative. Books are enlightening. Books are instructive. Books have been a relief. In that context, you'd think I'd read a slew of fiction to make my escape complete. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. Of the 38 books I read in 2016, only one was fiction and it was pretty "meh" for me. The other 37 were non-fiction. Aside from a couple of misses, they were all awfully good reads. For your consideration (or not), here are my Top 10 Reads of 2016:
10) Alexander Hamilton / by Ron Chernow - Admittedly I was late to the game on this one, but man was it worth the wait. At 818 pages, no one is going to call this light reading. It was a fascinating study of a flawed but brilliant man. Interestingly, as an immigrant were he alive today, Hamilton's experiences would be completely different and not in a good way.
9) The Wright Brothers / by David McCullough - 113 years ago, man took flight on the North Carolina shores. In his biography of the Wright Brothers, McCullough paints a very unexpected picture of the two unassuming men that made flight - something we take for granted - a reality.
8) American Heiress / by Jeffrey Toobin - I was about eight years old when a young woman called Patty Hearst was kidnapped and her name was splashed across newspapers and televisions across America. I can remember bits and pieces of that coverage even today. Since her pardon, outside of her own writings, Hearst hasn't had much to say about her experience. This was a fascinating trip into the mess that was the kidnapping and her conversion (or not). It was something of a metaphor of the 70's in general.
7) The Boys in the Bunkhouse / by Dan Barry - This was a deeply unsettling read (Social Justice Warrior Alert). It chronicles the lives of a group of mentally disabled men who were essentially sold into slavery (eviscerating turkeys) just a few years ago. The story of those who worked to free them is powerful but ultimately I was left shaking my head, asking how could this have happened in our nation?
6) Grunt / by Mary Roach - Science, especially the study of it, and I are not friends. We are not even frenemies. However, if it's a science-related topic in the hands of Mary Roach, I will read it all day long. She could write the Yellow Pages (a telephone book - a book that has everyones' telephone number listed in it - oh forget it) and I would read it. Her previous books on death, sex, and our guts are funny and you learn junk. This look at the science of war/warfare was no different.
5) Another Day in the Death of America / by Gary Younge - This was a deeply disturbing look (Social Justice Warrior Alert) at the deaths of ten young Americans on November 23, 2013. They all died by gunfire. These children, ranging age from nine to 19, died in shootings that barely merited attention in their local news because our country has become so desensitized to the madness of gun violence. Younge puts a face on the effects of our gun culture and that face isn't particularly attractive.
4) Hillbilly Elegy / by J. D. Vance - As much a very personal memoir as a window into the culture of America's mostly broken working class, this was a riveting read. It is a case study in Modern America. I'm certain it will be cited by historians in the coming years when they try to explain 2016.
3) Disrupted / by Dan Lyons - Let me first say that I am no relation to the author. We share a last name and an abundance of gray hair. I only wish I shared his funny, insightful writing style. Lyons recounts his work at a Boston startup where he was, essentially, the only adult in the room. He spins a tale of what happens when every child is told they are a very special snowflake and how that plays out in the working world. Spoiler Alert - it's not pretty but in Lyons' hands, it's excruciatingly funny.
2) The Last Goodnight / by Howard Blum - I am fascinated by the history of World War II and this one was literally a book I could not put down. It's the story of an American woman, a Mata Hari to be sure, who spied for both the Americans and the English, and her actions were vital to key wins for the Allied forces. It was an unbelievable story and yet it happened, and it made for an unbelievably good read.
1) Evicted / by Matthew Desmond - Wow, just wow! This book was a gut wrenching look at American poverty (Social Justice Warrior Alert) through the lens of eviction. I found myself having to put the book down from time to time in order to breathe. Throughout the book, I asked myself time and again how would I handle the circumstances of those Desmond chronicled. It was thought-provoking and disturbing. Like "Hillbilly Elegy," this book will be cited time and again in years to come. It's that important.
So there you have it. My favorite reads of 2016. My reading list for 2017 doesn't look like it is going to deviate much from this year's pattern. If there's a non-fiction book that rocked your world, I'd love to know about it. Let me know.
Read on, people, read on!