It’s been a particularly busy year with work, theatre going, travel and writing ~180 blogs, so I’ve only managed to read ~60 books, my lowest number in five years. I increasingly prefer non-fiction to fiction, finding it more reliably interesting and engaging. Here are my highlights of 2016.
Once Upon A Time : The Lives of Bob Dylan by Ian Bell
Contender for the best written book I’ve read this year. I’ve read a lot on Dylan over the years but this made everything seem fresh again, and beautifully set in context of the times.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The only work of fiction on my list, from one of the most reliably impressive and engaging authors around. Multiple storylines and time periods will be familiar to anyone who has read many of his other books.
The English and their History: The First Thirteen Centuries by Robert Tombs
A huge (~900 pages) but consistently fascinating story of the English. Filled with new and interesting perspectives, quite different from what I was taught at school.
Fallen Glory : The Lives and Deaths of the World’s Great Lost Buildings by James Crawford
Far wider ranging and more intriguing than just an architectural study of buildings that are no longer with us. An evocatively written collection of essays covering places as wide ranging as Palmyra, London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the World Trade Centre.
Deep South by Paul Theroux
One of my favourite travel writers, always provocative, well researched and interested in the less obvious places. In his latest, and possibly one of his last, he explores the southern states of America, as foreign to his home state of Massachusetts as his overseas travels.
Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 by Tim Ross
Or how the Tories secretly shafted the Lib Dems to win a majority in the last UK election. For those interested in the machinery behind political parties and elections this will fascinate.
Nature’s Metropolis : Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon
A 600 page tome on the grain, meat and timber industries in the early days of Chicago. Sounds good? It actually is, an enlightening story of how a city grows and the reasons why, demonstrating the power of the market and geography.
Political Order and Political Decay by Francis Fukuyama
The follow up to his The Origins Of Political Order which made my best of 2015 list. That volume ended at the French Revolution, this takes it to the modern day, up to the dysfunctionality of the U.S. government, and explains the historical reasons why. Key takeaway is that elections are only one part of an effective and efficient government, as important are the strength of the state, and the rule of law.
Roth Unbound by Claudia Roth Pierpont
A must read for any fans of Philip Roth, thanks to the amount of interview time Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) gained with her subject, and the insights into the context in which his novels were written. Did remove some of the magic of the books for me but still glad I read it.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
A hugely entertaining and informative book about a subject close to my heart, hiking, but that puts me off the Appalachian Trail (and most long distance trails) almost completely. Made a good companion to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.