Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
James Church, A Corpse in the Koryo
This is the first in the series of Inspector O mysteries. Inspector O is a North Korean detective who knows as little as the reader about the case he is trying to solve. The author leads the detective as well as the reader from one incomprehensible scenario to another until loose strings are tied together in the final chapter. North Korean politics and bureaucratic intrigue are the driving, but largely unknown, dynamics of the story. I’m reserving judgment about Inspector O until I try another in the series.
Thirty Three Teeth
Disco for the Departed
Anarchy and Old Dogs
The Curse of the Pogo Stick
The Merry Misogynist
Love Songs from a Shallow Grave
Slash and Burn
This is a delightful series of books (only the last in the series is missing) that can only loosely be called crime fiction because they are much more. Dr. Siri Paiboun, the main character, is the reluctant national coroner of Laos, a position to which he is appointed at the age of 72. As the country’s only coroner he discovers irregularities among his morgue’s “guests” that need explanation. Herein lies the crime motif for the novels. But in addition to weaving crime stories and their resolution, Colin Cotterill, through the character of Dr. Siri, takes us on a cultural tour that involves Laotian customs, political satire, and descriptions of locales that place the reader at the scene. Or, at least, so it seems. Strong character development, especially among the likable characters, carries the narrative even as the story lines sometimes run a bit thin. In the end, the reader cares about these characters and wishes them well. I have never been to Laos, but if the people there are anything like the characters in this series, I would like to go.
Eriksson writes engaging Nordic crime fiction. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t write crime noir, but rather police procedurals. The Nordic setting gives the books a noir feel because there is lots of snow, it is really cold, and it’s dark much of the time. Strong points in Eriksson’s style are the development of sub plots and attention to the back stories of characters. Compared to The Cruel Stars of the Night, The Princess of Burundi, is a disappointment. The Cruel Stars of the Night has a more intriguing plot and moves at a faster pace.
Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint
Åsa Larsson writes intelligent crime fiction involving lots of characters and complex plots. Part of a series, these two novels present two female protagonists, Rebecka Martinsson, a lawyer, and Anna Maria Mella, a police detective. There are a host of other characters who step in and out of the stories, each eventually playing a role, albeit minor ones, in the final resolution of the plots.
Jo Nesbø, The Snowman
Arnaldur Indriðason, Jar City
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing
In this work physicist Lawrence Krauss advances the thesis that everything that is can indeed emerge from nothing. And thus, he removes a major, if not the major, argument in favor of the necessity of a creator. If everything that exists can emerge from nothingness, then the need for God no longer exists. The details of Krauss’ argument are complex and involve discoveries of quantum physics in which subatomic particles have been observed to wink in and out of existence. I don’t pretend to pass judgment on Krauss’ arguments from physics, but I suspect that he has subtly, but undeniably, changed the definition of “nothing” with his arguments.
Lisa Randall, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
In this work Lisa Randall develops two major themes. The first is to advance the thesis that scientific method is necessary to achieve genuine knowledge about the facts of the world. She suggests and science and religion can coexist if religion will keep to its proper domain. The second theme is to explain recent developments in physics and cosmology. This work is exceptionally well-written. Her writing is marked by good organization and clarity. I have now read several accounts of the Large Hadron Collider and it quest for the Higgs boson. In my experience, Randall’s is the best.
Social Science and History
Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist who presents a naturalistic theory of morality, arguing that moral judgment is based on several foundations that developed throughout the course of human evolution. His text begins with the 18th century philosopher, David Hume, who argued that morality was grounded in a moral sense that humans possess. Haidt extends Hume’s theory in two ways. The first is by using evolutionary theory to explain how such a moral sense might develop. And while doing that, Haidt expands on Hume’s foundations for morality by going beyond issues of harm to incorporate the foundations of sanctity, loyalty, and others as bases of morality. Haidt’s work is a compilation of recent work in moral psychology and deserves wide discussion.
Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
Charles Murray, a political scientist, is a controversial author. You may remember that he is the co-author of The Bell Curve (1994), a book that made him a pariah among liberal academics. In this 2012 work, he argues that the white cognitive elite and the white working class are getting further and further apart as the latter are increasingly less able to participate in the economic and political life of the United States. Murray attributes the increasing separation largely to a cultural divide that has occurred as the traditional virtues of family, hard work, and religion have eroded among the poorest of the working class. Note that Murray is describing the situation among white people. He purposefully leaves out minorities in order to eliminate the problems of analysis introduced with the inclusion of racial minorities. Although politically incorrect in a number of ways, this is an important book that deserves discussion.
4 thoughts on “My Year of Books – An Annotated List”
What a varied — and daunting — reading list! I’m resolutely not a reader of crime fiction, but I appreciated the non-fiction list and may try to look at Lisa Randall’s and Haidt’s books as a result of your recommendations. And it was heartening that you persevered with War and Peace (which I haven’t yet read). Thanks for this interesting and valuable post.
Thanks for the kind comments. I didn’t read crime fiction either until I retired. I had never even considered it until I stumbled on the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I think it was the similarity I perceived between Larsson’s description of the the southern Swedish coast and the bleak winter landscape I have experienced in Wisconsin that drew me in.
Best regards – Charles
CEC: My favorite Winchester book is “A Crack in the Edge of the World”, about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Since I do have a copy of Professor & the Madman on my shelf, I’ll use your recommendation to dust it off and read! – Mary Jo
Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out. I like the way Winchester writes.