Top nine books of the year

One of my goals for the year was to get more into reading. This started in the middle of last year, and was really kicked into high gear by my discovery of the website http://www.goodreads.com The website helped me find new books I like, and connect with other book fans. I’ve always had a bunch of bookshelves and home, and sometimes when I find a new book, it might be a year or more before I finally get to reading it. Two years ago for my birthday, I got a Kindle, which has also been useful for reading on the go, or before bed, and for finding new books, and maybe appreciating them more. This year, I will have read about 40 different books, almost all non fiction. I read for about an hour a day. I usually have one book going at school, which I dig into after lunch if I have the time, or if there’s ever a late night at school while I’m waiting for something to start or end. Then my Kindle is at home for a bedtime book, or whenever else I can find the time.

This isn’t going to be a list of the top 9 books that came out this year. Maybe one or two of them are actually from 2012, but it’s my favorites that I’ve read this year. Goodreads did come out with books of the year in several categories, and like the Academy Awards, I didn’t read a single book from the list. I actually read one of the books that won an award a few years ago, and thought it was kinda lousy. So I’ll cover those too. Let’s start with the honorable mentions.

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Mayflower was a book about the founding of the Plymouth Colony, and the first two generations of its existance. It began with a quest of independence and freedom, but they found their relationship with the Native Americans to be almost as difficult to manage as it was back in Europe, uneasy trust and wars developed. The Native Americans already had a complex series of relationships with the other tribes, and the arrival of the outsiders only complicated things. This book focuses on the first few years, and then jumps ahead to King Phillips war. The book is fairly good at telling what happened, without taking sides. Most history books cover this time period very quickly, so it’s interesting to see what that era was really all about.

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Primetime Propaganda is the story of how TV became the way it is. The author does a really good job at explaining how tv started off more geared towards a rural, older, and more conservative audience, and is now younger, urban, and a lot more liberal. The author is a conservative, and he loves tv too. He was able to get a lot of good interviews, which were pretty revealing. And he also gives some ideas on how things could be improved.

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In the Basement of the Ivory Tower details how Professor X, got into being an adjunct for a community college, and also teaching night classes at a 4 year college. He details his struggles to teach college english to students who don’t know high school english, and don’t really have a need for learning college english anyway. He talks about how the system screws over the adjuncts, but also the students. The colleges are ok with him failing a large number of students, they have to keep paying to retake the class if they want to become a police officer, or a nurse, or some other profession that really shouldn’t require college literature, but for whatever reason, does. I can see that colleges will soon get the HS treatment, where the government will soon start regulating it a lot more, and taking steps to see that everyone is graduating it, in the same way that everyone is now graduating HS.

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Washington’s Crossing is the story of the unlikely but essential victories of the Continental army in the winter of 1776. The book begins with the armies complete defeat, and near destruction in NY, and flight across New Jersey, into Pennsylvania. Pinned down, defeated, and with the enlistments of many of the soldiers about to expire, Washington decides to launch an attack on Trenton. The British had been on the verge of victory, but very nearly lost the war in that first winter. The battles are described, as is the leadership style of the British, German, and American forces. A fascinating read of an important event in our history.

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Highest Duty is Captain Sullenbergers account of the “Miracle on the Hudson” The story itself is amazing, and it’s such a feel good event, it’s tough not to like any book about it. The author talks about his early life, and uses his newfound fame to talk about the pro’s and cons of the airline industry. Finally, he gives a second by second account of his emergency landing in NY, and talks about the aftermath and how it has affected him and others. the only annoying thing is, he knows everyone wants to hear about the landing, and it looks like he’s going to tell that story right away, and then he cycles all the way back to his childhood again.

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If Chins Could Kill is an autobiography written by Bruce Campbell. I can remember buying this book about 10 years ago in Syracuse, and then not reading it until this year. I had been a fan of “Army of Darkness” in college, and more recently enjoy “Burn Notice” although that doesn’t happen until after this book was written. The book tells the story of his early life, and early experiments with film, eventually getting into the Evil Dead, and some of his initial success. The stories are personable, and interesting, Mr. Campbell seems like a very down to earth guy.

I enjoyed most of what I read, but there were a few books I didn’t care for, and here they are.
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Hollywood Hypocrites isn’t necessarily wrong, but the style of writing seems to be geared towards the far right wing, either that or the author just likes to use a lot of rhetoric to make up for a lack of interesting arguments. He does expose how the hollywood types don’t exactly practice what they preach, but most of us knew that already. The style was just so over the top, that I gave it the lowest ranking of any book I read this year.

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Speaking of over the top styles, The Terrorist Next Door also ruins interesting arguments and valid points with too much over the top opinion. And one point, they go to visit a Muslim community in the south, the author uses such language that we believe they are in mortal danger, but in the end, they are politely asked to leave, which they do. The author makes it sound like they were barely able to escape with their lives. And then at another point, he just invents a story, to prove a point that may or may not be even true. Kills off any credibility he might have built up.

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This is the book that I mentioned was voted as the book of the year. The author seems to be some sort of amateur sociologist or something, who speculates that the same traits that make you not fit in in high school, go on to make you much more successful later in life. This isn’t an actual study, and while she follows around a handful of outcasts for a year, the book doesn’t follow-up with them later in life, to see if her theory is true. This book is also very one-sided, the outcasts she follows are all hero’s, and only portrayed in a positive light. Anyone who crosses them, is automatically wrong. The book is badly missing the other side of the story, which I had wanted to hear. While the book can be interesting, and reminds me of high school, there are too many flaws to be considered a good book.

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I saw that this book was fairly highly ranked, but only based on just a few reviews. The author gives some mathematically examples of how we can get fewer people in prison, but doesn’t do a great job describing why his theories work. The book came off as overly academic, and unconvincing.

And now, the top nine books I read this year. I found I basically had three levels within the top ten, and I’ve been shuffling the books around within those layers within the past few days, here’s where it stands right now.  The reason why I have nine, and not the standard ten, is because there were nine books that I gave 5 out of 5 stars to.

NUMBER 9
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What I found most interesting about this book, was most of the criticism of the President came from liberals, and other people who should be supporting him.  This book was more of a look at his leadership style, rather than his policies.

Number 8

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Fooling Houdini is one mans journey though the world of magic.  It’s something I’ve had an interest in.  There’s a good mix of his personal story, his experiences with other people, how and why tricks work.   I found myself trying out a few of the things he mentioned, and wanting to learn more.

The Perfect Mile is about the quest to break the 4 minute mile barrier, and the three people who were in the hunt to do it.  I used to be a runner, and still enjoy sports stories, and this book was fascinating.  Even though this story happened decades ago, it’s told as if it were yesterday.  The author does a great job at switching from story to story, and the description of each race is excellent.

Number 5

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The story here begins in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, and covers how the American’s reacted, and how they fought the war in the Pacific those first few months.  The Japanese point of view and strategy is covered too, and each battle is covered in dramatic detail.   Not only are the battles described, but the author does an excellent job providing commentary on how each action would come to have consequences later on.  Very interesting.

Number 4

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I sorta like the alternative title to this book, “Who moved my nose?”  This book was hilarious!  I wanted to reread it the moment I finished it.  There’s a lot here about his fighting life, and personal life.  Some of the funniest stories, are those that were told by friends of his.  Forrest seems to be a very messed up person, and that’s what makes the book interesting.  Plus there’s some fighting tips.

Number 3

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I was very impressed with this book.  The author, a college student at Brown, spends a semester at Liberty University.  For such a young feller, he does an excellent job blending in, without compromising his own values, and leading a double life of sorts.  I thought he did a very fair job at telling people’s stories, and sharing his experiences.  He ends up being the last person to have interviewed Jerry Falwell before his death, and event that occurs right at the end of his semester at Liberty.  A very interesting fish out of water story.  This was the book that kept me up the latest at night, unable to put it down.

Number 2

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This was an opinion changing book, which is why I ranked it so highly.  It tells the story of the Boston Miracle, a time when the homicide rate plummeted.  A new form of police work was being developed, one that truly prevented crimes being prevented.  The author also helped develop a system of completely shutting down drug markets, rather than just arresting everyone that day, and having others take their place the next.  But the systems are very complicated, and often either fail to get off the ground, or fall apart after a few years.  It will be very interesting to see if these new methods take over, and we find a way to make them a permanent part of the law enforcement landscape, rather than a special project.  Very interesting and thought provoking.

Number 1

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So here’s one I went round and round on.  This is the biography of the leader of my church, Thomas S Monson.  I almost didn’t even finish the book at one point.  It was pretty long, and even though there were a lot of interviews done with the Prophet in preparing it, we never quite get into his innermost thoughts.  What we do see is his actions.  And President Monson has been a great example of what we aspire to be.   It’s a great example of Latter Day Saint values in action.  The stories are interesting and inspiring, which is why the book ended up at number one on my list.  The stories do inspire you to do better, to be a better leader, a better follower, and just an all around better person.

So, there’s my list.  I’m not sure what my reading list is going to look like for next year.  I’m still not into fiction, and I have a few books ready to go.  Some more history, psychology/sociology, some magic books.  Plus plenty of other books on my shelf that looked interesting at one time.  I’ve tought about having a rereading year at some point, I’ve also wanted to spend some time on my scripture reading.  Prior to book reading, I read a lot more magazines, listed to podcasts, and did puzzle books.  I might bring back some of that.  I really don’t know yet.  This year I signed up for the reading challenge, so I was constantly thinking about keeping on pace, and reading a lot of books.  That was interesting, but I’m not sure I want to do that again.  Although that did keep me reading.   Any suggestions for me for next year?

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About garybraham

I grew up in Mahopac NY, studied geology at Colgate University. I've moved to Queensbury NY to teach HS earth science. I also coach soccer and wrestling, take pictures at local sporting events, and am the Scoutmaster for the Glens Falls ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My wife and I will be married 5 years this October, and we have a two and a half year old little girl.
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