Books I read in 2013:
   
Aiken: Senate Diary, January 1972-January 1975 by George D. Aiken. An independent Republican most famous for saying in the 1960s the US should declare victory in Vietnam and leave. This "diary" is weekly summaries of the last three of his 34 years in the Senate. He's got crusty-but-loveable down pat. Fair, somewhat insightful, but on the detached side given what was going on at the time.
    Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity by Marc Augé. Poetically written reflections on contemporary life. Less about places per se than about how evolutions in communication, transportation and work have speeded up our lives and made them less rooted. Brilliant but takes a lot of concentration and probably some background reading in more straightforward presentation of the subject like Edward Relph or Tim Cresswell.
    1920 Diary by Isaac Babel.
Before he was a famous author, Babel was a writer attached to the Soviet army in the 1920 war against Poland. Mostly in the form of notes, which surely helped him recall events for use in future writing, the diary is most notable for its documentation of cruelty by the Soviets.
    Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum. Chatty, occasionally breathless search for the physical presence of the Internet. Author visits historical places, locations of buried cable, and data centers as well as the people who oversee them. Data centers are huge, power-sucking places, not the ethereal cloud that is the conventional image of the Internet.
    The Regional City by Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton.
Excellent mix of idealism (society's off on the wrong track and here are some ideas on how to get it back) and realism (none of this will be quick or easy). The authors write from the perspective of urban planning, but have a lot to say about politics as well, particularly the need to move the loci of these issues from national and city governments to metropolitan regions and neighborhoods.
    Bruce by Peter A. Carlin. Thorough, well-written biography of the rock legend. Carlin apparently had plenty of access to Springsteen and his associates, but that didn't prevent him from taking a critical tone when merited. I might have gotten even more out of this were I familiar with more of Springsteen's oeuvre, but it had enough to engage even a relative outsider.
    Rethinking the Meaning of Place: Conceiving Place in Architecture-Urbanism by Lineu Castello. Argues for the efficacy of architectural "cloning," defined as producing location where life unfolds through artificial generation of places in the contemporary city, attempting to reproduce the socially constructed urbanity of other urban places (ch. 3). Such intentional construction of places can bring favorable effects to the quality of contemporary cities, if they are "contextualized" i.e. tap into generative factors (symbolism, memory or fantasy) already present in those locations.
    Telegraph Avenue: A Novel by Michael Chabon.
Set in contemporary Oakland, California, but less about place than it is about survival. The characters all show their flaws, but in ways that make them accessible to us. In a globalized world driven by power and greed, how does an ordinary person find the grit and character within themselves to survive? Also a lot of information about rare jazz and r & b.
    The KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler by Duncan Crary. In a series of conversations between 2008 and 2012, Kunstler scores the effects of suburbanization (isolation of children, reliance on cars for everything, impoverishment of public places, obesity, waste), and predicts its demise due to scarcity of resources. His arguments, first presented in his 1993 book The Geography of Nowhere, aren't unique but are made with distinctive rhetorical force viz. labels like the "fossil fuel fiesta," "happy motoring program," "national automobile slum," "parking lagoons," and "nature Band-Aids."
    Under a Midland Sky by Thomas Dean. Excellent place-related essays by Corridor author. Stress is on weather and nature rather than the cultural amenities of Iowa City, which speaks well for its adaptability to other places.
    Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America by Hasia R. Diner. Brilliant analysis of New York City's Lower East Side as a place through history, memory and myth. Accessible and thorough.
    Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. Clearly written, practically-minded advocacy of traditional neighborhood approach to urban growth. The bad effects of urban sprawl, as well as the many ways government policy and wrong-headed private development have contributed to it, are clinically described. Numerous policy recommendations in chapter 11, but the key is hand-in-hand efforts by designers, government and managers to produce neighborhoods that are liveable and sustainable.
    The Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany and Jeff Speck with Mike Lydon. City design recommendations, taken from earlier work like Suburban Nation, are presented in brief handbook form.
    Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, edited by Joyce Dyer. Thirty-five (count them, 35) short essays by women writers of various renown, touching on place as well as gender, family and the writer's life. A few of the essays are quite insightful, and all add something to an overall picture of the place which nonetheless resists coalesence.
    The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja. Well-written history of Chicago in the middle years of the 20th century when it was not only economically but culturally important. Much of American life today (downtowns with fancy-schmansy skyscrapers, expressway-facilitated urban sprawl, fast food, rock 'n' roll, stand-up comedy) originated all or at least partly in Chicago. (For Dyja the first rock 'n' roll song is "Maybelline" by Chuck Berry, who was from St. Louis but recorded in Chicago.) He weaves their stories together to show that these events were products not only of individuals but of a cultural moment. The moment passed by the 1960s, partly due to changing transportation patterns, partly to a racism-fueled turning inward under Richard J. Daley. Neat extra feature: Dyja refers to a lot of places by street address so a traveler can see what's there now.
    The Medieval Vision: Essays in History and Perception by Carolly Erickson.
Describes the reality of medieval life and thought, stressing the credibility of visions, the omnipresence of religion though cynicism about clerics was widespread, the complex tangle of political authority, and the inability of government in large part to administer justice… chapter 8 details the era’s harshly cynical attitudes towards women… to what extent does all this affect the seemingly legalistic argumentation of such like Aquinas, John of Salisbury and Giles of Rome? To what extent should it have done?
    Senses of Place, edited by Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso. Anthropological survey of how native peoples relate to their places. Some intriguing insights (Basso on seating myths in everyday places to preserve their moral lessons, Stewart on preserving a sense of place after mining corporations have decimated the landscape, Frake on place-naming as creating place not just representing it) but a lot of jargon too. Not for the faint of heart.
    Arcadia by Lauren Groff.
The story of Ridley "Bit" Stone, raised on a commune in upstate New York and later (after the commune dissolves) a photographer, educator and single father. The author manages complex character development, maintenance of tension between idealism and reality, and lyrical prose. I was particularly intrigued with the character of Handy, the founder and leader of the commune... idealistic, charismatic and yet barely able to live with himself.
    Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks. bell hooks uses simple language to convey a complex picture of the Kentucky hill country. Some essays are republished, so there's a good bit of repetition, but throughout the work place, race, sex, placelessness, farming and the environment are overlaid with each other. One downer: Routledge is a pretty big name academic publisher, but the book seems not to have been copy-edited.
    Vatican Diary 1965 by Douglas Horton. Observer from United Church of Christ at the final year of Vatican II. Interesting to see the Roman Catholic Church, from a sympathetic perspective, looking outward. I finished it the day Pope Benedict XVI resigned; today's Catholic Church is clearly less confident and more inward-looking.
    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.
Published in 1961, this analysis of what was going wrong in American city design is remarkably contemporary. Every once in awhile she'll use an archaism like "Negro" or "housewife" to remind you it's an old book, but the issues are not old, the writing is crisp, and the analysis remains sound.
    Trail of Story, Travellers' Path: Reflections on Ethnoecology and Landscape by Leslie Main Johnson. Explores an intriguing idea--that the non-western concept of place (trail, emphasis on movement) is different from western (polygonal, emphasis on ownership)--through study of five native groups in northwestern Canada.
    Politics and Society in Ancient Greece by Nicholas F. Jones. Brief, handy summary of the best historical knowledge of ancient Greece, providing very good context for the study of ancient political theory.
    The Great Dialogue: History of Greek Political Thought from Homer to Polybius by Donald Kagan. Published in 1965, this remains an excellent, clearly-written survey, with close readings of texts. He does a good job of comparing/contrasting authors and tracing influences.
    Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.
A novel more heady than plotty. Set in Appalachia, where the author now makes her home, the sudden arrival of a flock of monarch butterflies--a miracle? or nature gone haywire?--spurs the characters' trenchant discussion of issues of social class, economic opportunity, religion, science and diversity. In the hands of a lesser writer these themes would collapse under their own weight, but she weaves them into the story with great skill. The kindergartner Preston is one of the most adorable characters ever, and the reader can spend a good bit of anguish wondering about his future.
    Diary of a Century by Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Not a diary per se but a collection of photographs taken over a lifetime by French photographer, beginning with his first camera given to him in 1901 when he was 7. Concentrates on the early years, historically-interesting rural French people at play.
    The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll by Preston Lauterbach.
Covers the period from the 1920s to the 1950s when new forms of music were innovated in the cauldrons of "bronzevilles" in cities like Indianapolis, Houston, Memphis and Macon. Lauterbach argues that this was where rock 'n' roll originated, that country's contribution to rock has been exaggerated, and that the first rock song was not "Rock Around the Clock" but "Good Rockin' Tonight," recorded six years earlier by Roy Brown.
    Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore. Lepore's reconstruction of the life of Benjamin Franklin's sister from assorted shreds of surviving evidence is fascinating to observe. Jane Franklin emerges from the deep shadows as a real person: devout, persevering through all manner of trials, and a big fan of her brother but hardly in awe of him. She is, of course, much more representative of the 18th century than he is, and thanks to Lepore's painstaking efforts we can see it through her. Anyone interested in the study of history should read this.

    The Story of America by Jill Lepore. 20 short essays on American history, mostly on people but occasionally on themes like inaugural addresses and America's high murder rate. She does a good job of giving people like John Smith, Edgar Allen Poe and the author of the Charlie Chan series a second look before they're snowed under by conventional wisdom. The book is sloppily edited.
    A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto by Abraham Lewin.
Lewin was a contemporary of Chaim Kaplan, and they describe many of the same events, though it's not clear they ever encountered each other. Kaplan's better on the details of daily life; Lewin is a simply indefatigable a recorder of events, though. What an act of courage and defiance just keeping this record was.
    The Homemade Stuffing Caper (Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire, Book 1) by John V.  Madormo.
Fine young adult novel by WONC Director of Broadcasting-turned-author. Set of quirky characters is redolent of Carl Hiaasen (but without the placedness of Hiaasen's south Florida). Charlie's prowess with word puzzles augurs well for his LSAT or GRE score. The character of Scarlett is not quite believable (a social butterfly-hottie who spends her out-of-school time at her grandfather's barber shop?), but maybe she gets rounded out in the ensuing books.
    Someone by Alice McDermott.
A short, uncomplicated book of scenes from throughout the life of Marie, raised Catholic in Brooklyn during the 1920s and 1930s. The nonlinear presentation makes you think--what?--that she is/we are the same people throughout our lives? that closely-related events in our lives can occur many years apart? that we are all products of times and places and may not make sense to people from other times and places even if we're in the same family? The book jacket lists a website for a reading group guide, and indeed you could chew on this little book for quite awhile.
    Wind from an Enemy Sky by D'Arcy McNickle. Published posthumously, powerful story of loss-of-place in which Native American group has their lives ruined by the infliction of a dam on their living area… well-intentioned actions by white and Native succeed only in making the situation worse.
    The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus by Marvin Meyer with Esther A. DeBoer. Compilation with commentary of references to Mary in the canonical gospels as well as gnostic writing. Some have explicitly feminist themes ("The Pistis of Sophia"), but all taken together have the effect of elevating the visibility of women among the disciples. Much of the gnostic stuff ("Thomas," "The Dialogue of the Savior," e.g.) has the feel of eastern religious texts rather than the more linear gospels. Good brief intro to the subject.
    Willard Mullin's Golden Age of Baseball. I got to enjoy Mullin's cartoons in my early years of following baseball. So this book is a nostalgia trip, plus I get to see the ones I missed by not being born. His cartoons are carefully crafted and informative, sometimes with a slight edge but never mean. The editors have supplied enough accompanying text to understand the context of the cartoons. Then there's a lot more text that doesn't need to be there.
    The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg.
Much of its social commentary has dated, but its central message not only endures, it seems to have inspired a movement. Oldenburg argued than that America was suffering from the loss of casual gathering places, such as the neighborhood taverns, corner stores, soda fountains and coffee shops that had been been a key part of American life prior to World War II, and are still found in much of Western Europe. He coined the phrase third place, referring to the "great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work" (p. 16). The loss of third places, Oldenburg goes on, has led to higher levels of individual stress including heretofore-unheard-of childhood depression, crime, marital stress and divorce, and the loss of public/community life that engages and sustains us.
    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Incredible book that begins with the simple discovery of a Japanese girl's diary washed up on the beach of an island in Washington state in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Slowly but steadily it becomes increasingly surreal as the lives of the American and Japanese families interweave across time and place, looping in Zen Buddhism, quantum mechanics and military service.
    The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. Lucidly-written, breezy survey presenting a coherent version of the worldview of the gnostics, whose long-lost writings were discovered in an Egyptian cave in 1945. An important difference between the gnostics and orthodox Christians was their emphasis on the personal quest for spiritual knowledge, as opposed to the establishment's rigid structure and doctrine. That rigidity, she argued, enabled Christianity to sustain itself through the ages and to broaden its reach. Is thinking for oneself an unaffordable luxury?
    American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment: Modernism and Place by Donald Pizer. Accessible romp through American literature of the interwar period focusing on depictions of Paris. Paris-the-place becomes Paris-the-myth in the hands of autobiographers telling how they took advantage of its crucible of creative energy to attain the greatness they could not in America, and novelists showing how Paris destroyed those who couldn't or didn't approach its power properly.
    Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting by Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal. Early (1997) version of their seminal text is a remarkably readable statistical walk through congressional voting behavior, using their own rich dataset, that finds the vast part of it can be explained through placement on a simple left-right dimension. It is occasionally confounded by a second dimension (slavery in the mid-19th century, civil rights in the mid-20th century) but is stronger than pocketbook voting (ch 6), strategic voting (ch 7) or interest group (ch 8) models. The majority party is generally able to pull policy in its direction away from the chamber median (ch 4). Because policy objectives must be accomplished largely through the party system issue-based interests eventually tend to sort themselves out by party anyhow.
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
Set in a southwest Iowa town in the 1950s, but most of the book is the inner life of the main character, an aged pastor. Intending to leave a message for his young son to read after he dies, he is snapped out of reflections by an unexpected and awkward visit. Fascinating look at the inner life of one who has learned a lot about people and still loves them.
    Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Amusing novel with a saucy heroine, which also goes deeper to touch skillfully on some deeper themes: When doing good becomes competitive, is it still doing good? When other people decide you have potential are you marked for life? How do you cope when everyone seems to make driving you crazy their personal mission? The plot gets ludicrous but not annoyingly so; it's like an extended metaphor. The review I read made a lot of the Seattle setting, but I'm not sure that the book is all that placed... I haven't spent a lot of time in Seattle, though.
    I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. Author Simmons has done yeoman work interviewing Leonard Cohen and numerous other people, then weaving it into the story of his life. The problem is that it never attains coherence, perhaps because Cohen himself has been so erratic. There's always the next girlfriend, the next home, the next religious experience to track down, and the poetry and music sometimes get lost. This is a good first/authorized biography, but it's not the definitive one.
    A History of Greek Political Thought by T.A. Sinclair. Survey first published in 1951 that begins with Homer and ends with assorted Hellenists of the Roman Empire. Very helpful, but for annoying tendency to use Greek words for key terms.
    Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck. The long-time city planner and co-author of Suburban Nation has a handbook for making cities more livable that is accessible to ordinary citizens. People who ask 'what is missing from my city?' and 'how can my city work better?' can find answers here for which they can advocate. At the core is making it possible, safe and attractive to walk to places. People walking creates action, and interactions, which is good for business, quality-of-life, and the reputation of the city.
    All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Sweet young adult book, written in the early 1950s but set 40 years earlier in New York's Lower East Side. A family of five girls and their patient and talented parents deal cheerfully with poverty, illness, summer's heat and whatever else life deals them.
    The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. A richly-told tale that incorporates folk legends from both Islam and Judaism, diverse immigrant experiences, and the rollicking place that was New York City in the late 1890s. The city-of-then is as bizarre and exotic to the two mythical creatures at the center of the story as it would be to us, and we experience each sight, sound and smell with them.
    The Last Days of Paris: A Journalist's Diary by Alexander Werth.
British journalist stationed in Paris chronicles the events of May and June 1940, then gets out just ahead of the advancing Nazi army. Excellent depictions of how everyday life goes on, until it doesn't. Interesting thought that a united Europe could have nipped Hitler's ambitions in the bud, but the Europe depicted here was so riven on national and class lines that it was easy pickings.

Books I read in 2012:
    The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy by Alan I. Abramowitz. Carefully uses statistical data to trace the causes of contemporary political polarization, which he attributes to polarization of views among an increasingly engaged and well-educated public. Core differences are between white married Christians and everybody else; like John Kenneth White, he notes that the former group is decreasing its proportion of the American population.
    The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought, edited by Terence Ball and Richard Bellamy. Invaluable reference work. The book is organized thematically, with each author surveying a wide range of authors on their assigned theme. Doesn't stand alone as a research tool, but a good place to start as well as to get context for whatever writer one is researching.
    A World History of Ancient Political Thought by Antony Black. Valuable introductory survey of the  political thought of various traditions, though only Egypt represents Africa and there's nothing from the Americas. The concluding chapters are brief but impressive by way of summary and comparison.
    Last Chance in Manchuria: The Diary of Chang Kia-Ngau. The author, an economist, describes a diplomatic mission he undertook in 1945-46 for the Chiang Kai-shek regime negotiating over Manchuria with the Soviet Union, who had occupied it after driving out Japan. Surprisingly dry writing, but shot through with frustration and impending doom.  
    In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age by Patricia Cohen. Interesting quest for the origins of the concept "middle age," which emerged in the early 20th century amidst bad social science and energetically predatory marketing. She has much to say against the Midlife Industrial Complex, but concludes with hope for a more reasonable future.
    The Making of the American Landscape, edited by Michael P. Conzen. Impressive collection of essays explaining why places look the way they do. Draws on historical patterns of settlement, physical geography, and political and commercial power, and concludes with a saucy essay on the quest for contemporary utopias.
    Place: A Short Introduction by Tim Cresswell. Good overview of geographic thinking about "place," a frustratingly elusive concept if ever there were one. Cresswell's eight-fold taxonomy in chapter 2 is invaluable, as is the extensive bibliography.
    Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard. Essays written on retreat in Washington state reflecting on solitude, nature and suffering. Articulate and layered.
    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.
An incredible book. Baseball meets Zen Buddhism meets 19th century American literature.I'd like to read the fictional book "The Art of Fielding" for which the book is named!
    People and Place: The Extraordinary Geographies of Everyday Life by Lewis Holloway and Phil Hubbard. Brilliant British geography text on place, covering a variety of perspectives touching on environmental studies, history, philosophy, political science and psychology. Suffers from being out of print, not to mention old enough for its cultural and bibliographic references to be out of date, but good raw materials and outline for the course on place.
    A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time by John Brinckerhoff Jackson. J.B. Jackson (1909-1996) was a geographer, a historian of landscape, who wrote beautiful essays. He was a practical man, who was ambivalent about idealists of all stripes. The title essay is a valuable history of the concept of "place;" other place-related essays explore trees, parks, gardens, homes, roads and the impact of the automobile.
     Health Care Reform and American Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know by Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol. Thorough legislative history of the 2010 health care law, with attention to problem definition, political strategy and legislative maneuvering. Clearly sympathetic to the goals of the law, but information is well-documented and overall approach is scholarly. The last chapter on implementation challenges is a useful guide for watching developments in the years to come.
    Death Comes to Pemberley: A Novel by P.D. James. Sequel to Pride and Prejudice penned by gifted mystery writer. Capt. Denny, a minor character in Austen's novel, is whacked in the woods on Darcy's estate. Sometimes contrived, sometimes very clever, sympathetic to the original, and an entertaining read.
    Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. 14th-century mystic, using visions of Jesus as the basis for discussion of a wide variety of religious topics. She takes pains to say nothing in her revelations contradicts Church doctrine, but her work is distinctive for its use of female images of God, of Mary as role model for humanity, and constant references to God's joy and cheer.
    In Search of Authority: Twentieth-Century Political Thought by Henry S. Kariel. Published in 1964, it is nonetheless a valuable survey of early- to mid-twentieth century political philosophers. Many--like Dewey, Maritain and Niebuhr--have much to contribute to our discussion, or what passes for discussion in 2012.
    A Diary of Darkness: The Wartime Diary of Kiyosawa Kiyoshi. Chronicle of the war years by a writer-historian had opposed the war to begin with. Memorably acidic commentary on the government's attempts at information control and intimidating opposition.
    Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David T. Koyzis. Koyzis's survey of the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary ideologies is a tour de force; his discussion of the many variants of liberalism may be the clearest I've read. His critique is simplistic, relying on straw-man arguments and terms like "idolatry" that are unlikely to resonate beyond conservative Christians.
    Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow. Chatty and frequently sarcastic, cable TV host nevertheless raises an important question about American military policy: In spite of the Framers' vision of checks and balances, what checks can feasibly exist on presidential use of military power? Her last chapter, on sloppiness in American nuclear weapons maintenance, is harrowing.
    Being and Having by Gabriel Marcel. Marcel (1889-1973) was an existential philosopher and Christian apologist. This book contains a "metaphysical diary" for the years 1928-1933, which is not a diary so much as a record of ideas. These are not easy for the novice existentialist to grasp, but intriguing to watch develop, and he raises some intriguing questions. The rest of the book consists of essays and speeches defending Christianity against secular philosophy, which gets dull.
     An Outsider's Campaign Diary by George B. Martin. Collection of blog posts during and after the 2008 presidential campaign by "the Bard of Wilmette" who is also a Coe grad. Well-written, analytical and insightful, they give a real-time feel to what it was like to live through it.
    An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin. Young, egocentric woman comes of age in the New York art collection world, observed by her friend the narrator. Narrative is less than compelling, but the novel succeeds on several levels: part morality tale, part tutorial on art collection (accompanied by illustrations), part social history of our times.
      Makiko's Diary: A Merchant Wife in 1910 Kyoto by Nakano Makiko. Interesting chronicle of everyday life in Japan by a 20-year-old newlywed. Good detail, good and informative editing, although her life was probably more difficult than comes across here.
     Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels. Tells the story of the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible about as well as it can be told given very few of the circumstances surrounding its writing are known. Best guess is that it's an anti-Roman allegory, but it made it into the Bible because a 4th century bishop named Athanasius saw it as a useful rhetorical tool against diversity within the Christian church.
    Prodigious Youth, 1907-1914; Behind the Mask, 1915-1923 by Sergei Prokofiev.  Two volumes of the diary of the young Prokofiev, who was as gifted a writer as he was a composer. These years take him from youthful conservatory student to expatriate composer living in France away from the Bolshevik regime. His writing voice is utterly delightful, and his portraits of his friends and teachers are vivid. He could be a bit of a jerk at times, but was pretty frank acknowledging this, at least to himself. I also read a short diary from his first return to the USSR in 1927 in Soviet Diary and Other Writings.
    The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and the Modern Subject by Claire E. Rasmussen. Contemporary case studies explore the boundaries and limitations of the concept of individual freedom. Thought-provoking with a lot of data, argumentation is subtle.
    The Last Holiday: A Memoir by Gil Scott-Heron. Scott-Heron wanted to be a novelist; this book describes how he became an extremely hip musician instead. Well-told stories with just enough ambiguity to make you wonder what he's actually talking about.
     Jesus for the Non-Religious by John Shelby Spong. Provocative and tough reading. Spong argues that Jesus was a human being, not God, who was interpreted using allegories available to Jewish people of his era. This isn't particularly original, but Spong goes on to argue that this viewpoint helps one to follow Jesus more than the literal approach of traditional Christianity. Unnecessarily contentious?
    Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Interesting daily chronicle of World War II from the perspective of a high-ranking Japanese Naval officer. He's strong on detail and clearly perceived the progress of the war, but his rigid worldview prevented him from thinking about what the world would be like afterwards. It's weird to have my country consistently referred to as "the enemy" in the book.
    Stan Musial by George Vecsey. Interesting biography of a midwestern baseball icon focusing less on baseball and more on what it was like to be Stan Musial.   
    Barack Obama's America: How New Conceptions of Race, Family and Religion Ended the Reagan Era by John Kenneth White. Analysis, based on 2008 election results, of how cultural and demographic shifts in America have affected politics. Elections and other events since then certainly raise questions about his conclusion.
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise of the Third Reich by Steve Wick. Biography of Shirer, focusing on his years covering the early Nazi regime. (He left Germany in 1940.) Shirer had, as Wick says, only a narrow window onto what the Nazis were up to, but Wick uses Shirer's papers to show clearly what it was like to try to work or live normally under such a regime, even as a relatively protected American. Nice shouts out to helpful Coe staff and to the amazing diarist Victor Klemperer.
    Main Street Public Library: Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876-1956 by Wayne A. Wiegand. Four case studies of midwestern public libraries, including Osage PL in Iowa. Libraries were seen as public goods, mainly for socialization of the working class, which led to some interesting choices in building collections. (There was a longstanding anti-fiction bias, for example.) Yet imaginations were sparked and horizons broadened, too, which was and is all to the good.
    Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young. Non-linear reflections on his life and career by one of the all-time great rock singers. It has the feel of riding shotgun in his car while he talks about this and that, mostly interesting. He admits to writer's block and to some youthful self-righteousness he now regrets, such as the song "Southern Man." The last chapter may be a four-page description of heaven.

Books I read in 2011:

    The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300 by John W. Baldwin. Brief but thorough introduction to intellectual life in the middle middle ages. Politics relates to the secular study of law but least as importantly to the study of theology.
    Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne. Magnificently detailed, season by season chronicle of the year in rock, focusing on the four acts in the subtitle. Two were breaking up, two emerging. It falls short of some broader statement on music and/or social significance, but the story itself is well-rendered.
    My Northcliffe Diary by Tom Clarke. Clarke's 1931 reminiscences of his years (1911-1922) working at the Daily Mail newspaper in London under its founder, Lord Northcliffe. It's harmless reading, interesting to the contemporary reader for its depiction of a male-dominated work world, and of an extravagant, competitive, energetic style of journalism mostly gone in this financially troubled era. Northcliffe wanted his staff informed about the world, so he funded their vacations (to places he selected); news media today are living large if they have any foreign news to speak of, much less reporters on the beat.
    The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb. Graphic novel version of the wacky, provocative first book of the Bible. Imaginatively and sympathetically rendered. Hit home to me how much sex there is in Genesis.
    The Unity of William James's Thought by Wesley Cooper. This is not an introduction to James's philosophy, but an engagement with others who have written about it. Cooper argues, contra R. Gale and Stephen Nathanson, that James's universe of "experience" included both a single empirical reality and multiple experiences of reality. The "inside baseball" tone of the book is reinforced by multiple references to in-jokes in "The Philosophical Lexicon."
    And Furthermore by Judi Dench. Judi Dench is one of the most accomplished stage and screen actresses of our time. Her warmth and spunky personality comes across clearly in this book of reminiscences. It's not great literature: the anecdotes are undeveloped, and anyone wishing more information is referred to two other books. But for those who love her, it's fun.
    High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. What an amazing, charming, insightful book. He captures romance, and life itself, at the awkward point where it turns from sport to serious business. He pinpoints the ambivalence of being with even the right person. Better than the movie, for sure, and that's saying a lot. If I'd read more books like this I'd probably be easier on my fellow humans, and easier on myself.
    That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. Truly provocative social commentary, setting out four challenges the U.S. is not facing in the 21st century: permanent changes to the world economy wrought by (1) globalization and (2) information technology; (3) long-term governmental budget deficits; and (4) climate change. Our politics and business life is driven by short-term-advantage. I need no convincing on any of these points, as I read the book amidst the intellectual wreckage that is the Republican presidential campaign. Their way out includes educational reforms that focus on the needs of employers; more candid political discourse, perhaps spurred by a well-funded third party movement; and a willingness to compete harder than anybody else. I ask: can we conceive of this relentless competition in a way that includes everyone, not just those with exceptional skills or a knack for marketing themselves?
    High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Saw the movie, loved the movie, read the book which is even better. Hornby absolutely nails the stage of life when choices get serious and you can no longer live day to day.
    Humorists: From Hogarth to Noel Coward by Paul Johnson. Profiles of 14 writers, actors and artists who used humor in their work. He articulates not only what they did but also the sources of their humor. I enjoyed chapters on those I knew well (James Thurber) as well as on those about whom I didn't know much (Toulouse-Lautrec).
    The Complete Dublin Diary of Stanislaus Joyce--complete, that is, except for the part he burned. Covers the period 1903-1905 when he was in his late teens. It's a random bunch of thoughts, randomly ordered, but occasionally interesting as the workings of a bright, sensitive teenage mind.
    Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memory by Edward Lengel. Lengel, editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington project at Charlottesville, has undertaken to dispel many of the popular but false legends about Washington that have been propounded over the years for various reasons. He never was offered a kingship. He never prayed in the snow at Valley Forge. He was never slapped on the back by Gouverneur Morris on a dare from Alexander Hamilton. He didn't make statements attributed to him advocating gun rights, veterans' benefits, or America as a Christian nation. Lengel also shows how Washington is re-mythologized by each generation to suit its ethos. In that way it makes for an interesting history of the American psyche. Washington quotes, like Lincoln quotes, are everywhere in abundance, and probably mostly fabricated; it's testimony to how much they matter to America and Americans.
    Minnesota Diary 1942-1946 by Sinclair Lewis.Particularly early on, it's a richly detailed record of observations of life in Minnesota, including one-to-two week driving vacations every once in a while. Lewis is not the only old guy ever to be fascinated by tracking the weather.    
    33 Revolutions Per Minute
by Dorian Lynskey. Ranges in territory far beyond the promise of the title to include a broad swath of music history and American and British social history (with occasional side trips to protest music centers like Jamaica and Nigeria). Each essay centers on a particular song, but uses its story only as the basis for an essay on the musical and social context in which it occurred. It is at once informative, analytical, and politically committed (which occasionally gets in the way of the other two). It's obvious politics and art are hard to mix, and even more difficult to sustain. Lynskey leaves us asking: is it good for music to address political issues? Does it achieve any political good to do so? What will be the impact of technological change?
    The Sherlockian: A Novel by Graham Moore. Plausible, in a geeky sort of way. A Sherlock Holmes fanatic tries to solve a murder when the only detecting experience he's had is reading Sherlock Holmes stories. The chapters alternate with a fictional account of Arthur Conan Doyle himself, along with best bud Bram Stoker, investigating the murders of three women in 1900.
    Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick.
Set in 1952, this novel ranges between Paris and New York and Los Angeles. Middle-aged, long-since-divorced Bea Nachtigall goes to Paris to search for her nephew, the son of her estranged brother. The relationships in the book are exploitative and strangling; no wonder young Iris Nachtigall decides at the end of the book she will never have sex again. Still, how they think and act their ways to liberation is interesting.
    Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. Interesting and hopeful ideas about motivation. His argument that people are motivated to do their best work by senses of autonomy, mastery and purpose gives me hope that we're more than rational benefit calculators. Still, there's the putting it into practice...
    America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense by Scott Philip Segrest. Interesting survey of three American thinkers from different points of our history: John Witherspoon, James McCosh and William James. Good at drawing connections and suggesting that common sense approaches require balancing principle and new evidence; marred by side comments that suggests he has a broader agenda but won't quite say what it is.
    Stone Arabia: A Novel by Dana Spiotta. A novel about two middle-aged siblings whose charming "carefree" youth has turned into off-putting "careless." Nik was and is a talented rock musician who never quite made it, but who has created an elaborate alternative life history for himself through boxes and boxes of fictitious documents. Denise had some theatrical ambitions but now is trying to come to grips with her family and/or reality. A thoughtful, only slightly-troubling story.     Confidence Men by Ron Suskind. A history of the first two years of the Obama administration, focusing on his handling of the economic crisis. It is based on numerous interviews with people in and out of the administration. He portrays the time as one of missed opportunities, as caution, deference to Wall Street, and dreams of bipartisanship squelched the soaring rhetorical vision of the campaign. Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers take a lot of the blame, as does Obama for trusting them with so much power. It's detailed and sympathetic criticism, but I caution that just because something didn't work out well doesn't mean a different approach would have worked out better. Details of a hostile environment for female advisers is disturbing.
    My Travel Diary: 1936 by Paul Tillich. Details Tillich's five months of travel around Europe, to which he returned from America after having been exiled from Germany three years earlier. Surprisingly little theology, given that he was lecturing and attending conferences throughout the trip. Editing is very low-key, so that people he encounters and even where he is at a particular time is not always clear.
    Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. Granted the plural of anecdotes is not data, but Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT, very effectively marshals anecdotes, observations and personal conclusions to raise a very important question: What is technology doing to us as individuals, as a society, and as a species? She resists the temptation to be either a Luddite or sanguine, and leaves it to us to answer, with the hope that we will be cautious and reflective in our embrace of Life 2.0.
    The Price of Vision: The Diary of Henry A. Wallace, 1942-1946. Wallace's unabashed liberalism is a counterpoint to the more pragmatic approaches of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. His warnings that an aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union would provoke an equally aggressive reaction were prophetic, or at least suggest the Cold War may not have been inevitable. He's not as muddleheaded as his reputation anyhow.
    The Diary of Virginia Woolf. It took me about five months to get through these five volumes, and a good read they were. It's a remarkable record, particularly since the heart and soul of her writing went into her books and periodical articles. She uses it variously to record observations and conversations; make notes about particular events; or to articulate her hopes and fears. She writes irregularly, when she has the time, or needs a break from some arduous labor of writing. Her writing comes out in notes, with references that may have been clear to her but not to me. Fortunately, her relative-by-marriage Anne Olivier Bell is a skilled editor, not too heavy-handed but filling out what needs it. The last volume was published in 1984.