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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Eleven favorite books I read in 2019

I meant to do ten favorite books but could not find any among these to leave out.

These are not all books that were published in 2019, but many of them were, and I've mostly called attention to books that are at least recent:

Kingdom of the Wicked, Book One: Rules, Helen Dale. (2017) Alternate world novels have become a staple in science fiction, but Helen Dale’s work about a Roman Empire that has gone through an industrial revolution is fascinating and provocative. Published a couple of years ago, but hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved.

Gnomon, Nick Harkaway (2017). An ambitious literary science fiction novel about a high surveillance society. This is one I intend to re-read. See this blog posting.

Dreaming the Beatles, Rob Sheffield (2017). A good examination of my favorite band. At one point Sheffield proclaims Revolver is the greatest Beatles album (I agree) and notes that is another way of saying it’s the greatest rock music album ever.

Come With Me, Helen Schulman (2018). Life is a matter of making choices, and some choices, made in an instant, have consequences that last a lifetime. A fine novel by a writer I had never encountered before but plan to seek out.

Beyond Chaos and Beyond, Robert Anton Wilson (2019). Scott Apel obviously worked hard putting together this new compendium of RAW material. There’s a lot of strong essays and interviews on a variety of topics, and also a long biographical essay, “Bob and Me: A Record of a 30 Year Friendship.” See my longer review.

Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, Tyler Cowen (2019). A contrarian argument about a segment of American life which Cowen says is underrated. Largely convincing. Cowen is my favorite living "think for yourself libertarian."

Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson (2019). Not always a compulsive page turner, but a philosophical and interesting book about the possibility of digital immortality. References Milton's Paradise Lost, which I guess I ought to read, having only read excerpts in college quite a while ago.

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson (2017). The authors argue that many of our actions are not done for the reasons that we claim. One of the better nonfiction books I’ve come across in recent memory.

Somnium, Steve Moore (2011). I hesitate to call this a fantasy novel, as that often means "the same old shit you've read 100 times before, only slightly different." But this is a fantasy novel, and in fact it's very good. Longer review. 

Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction, Judith Grisel (2019). I’ve read several books about addiction, and this is probably the best. Grisel is a neuroscientist and a recovered addict, so her book is both personal and based upon science.

A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, Kenn Kaufman (2019). Northern Ohio where I live is an important bird migration area. I learned something new and interesting on practically every page. Kaufman is a nationally-known birder who happens to live near where I work.  Like the Grisel, his book is both science-based and personal.

Note: I have gotten pretty good at selecting books for myself -- I seldom read something I really dislike unless it's something I'm forced to read as a Prometheus Award judge -- so these are not the only good books I read in 2019.

Apologies if I left out someone's favorite from yesterday's list of all of the books I read in 2019. For example, High Weirdness by Erik Davis, about Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick,  also is very good. I am not an expert on McKenna or Dick, but the RAW chapters are interesting and insightful.  The Eric Wagner Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson is left out of the top eleven because it was a re-read,  but is also highly recommended,  and I know the new edition, out soon I hope, will be even better. The Martha Wells "Murderbot" short novels are a don't-miss for SF fans. The Margaret Atwood is a classic, even better than I recalled. (I haven't read the sequel yet.)  Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism is my favorite book on dealing with digital overload, and I adopted some of his recommended practices. And so on.


Eric Wagner said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Robin Hanson said...

Glad you liked Elephant in the Brain; as you also liked ideas in Fall, you'll probably also like my other book