2011 in Books

29 12 2011

I should mention, these are books that I personally read in 2011, but were not necessarily published during 2011 (and indeed, a couple have been older texts).

It’s been a busy reading year for me. I was just thinking of all the things I read this year, and trying to separate out the ones I read recently but not this year.  I will do my best to list them out and make some brief comments, as much for myself as for readers of this blog.

In no particular order:

The Millennium series by Steig Larson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest

I was really taken in by these books – they were real page-turners.  I have a Kindle e-reader (which I love) and I read these three on the Kindle.

(I will say generally, as much as I love the Kindle, it does change the reading experience in a couple of important ways. Firstly, you lose the tactile and olfactory sensations of holding a book in your hands; secondly, although the Kindle tells you how far you’ve read through the book in terms of percent completion, it’s different than eyeballing how much progress you’ve made by looking at your bookmark.  Otherwise, I really love the Kindle – we have an older model, without the backlight.  It’s so cool to be able to have hundreds or thousands of books in such a small package.)

There’s not a lot to say about the Millennium series that others haven’t already said and that won’t give away critical plot elements, so I will instead say only that the books are surprising in their darkness and sexual nature, and that the first one is the best, and that the first book stands on its own as a self-contained work.

Riding Man by Mark Gardiner

(I’m not sure if this is primarily only available on the Kindle?)

The Isle of Man TT is one of the longest running motorcycle races of all time. It’s been happening every May-June since 1905, except during wartime.  The thing that makes it so special – and so deadly – is that it is a true road race, held on (temporarily closed) public roads over a 38 mile course.  Roads, as in old British roads, with trees, curbs (or kerbs, as they say), and stone walls.  No safety margin at all – in order to live, you need to not crash in many sections.

This book is about the journey of one man who grew up dreaming of racing the Isle of Man; he was a part-time motorcycle journalist and a full time PR creative director when he decided to quit his job and move to the Island,in order to learn the course (and its 200 + turns/corners).

While the book obviously appeals to riders, I think it would be an enjoyable read to anyone and I would recommend it as a well-written and fun to read book.

Stranger to the Ground by Richard Bach

As an amateur Cold War historian, I came across the book Stranger to the Ground, written by Richard Bach (most famous for his book Jonathan Livingston Seagull) somehow in connection with a bombing technique developed for nuclear bomb delivery, called an “over the shoulder toss” where the pilot flies really low on their way to the target, begins to execute a loop essentially directly over the target, and releases the bomb while in the upward part of the loop. They then fly away as fast as possible as the bomb travels upwards, and then comes sailing down, theoretically giving the pilot chance to clear the blast zone.

Stranger is a great existential commentary on man’s urge and will to fly, and on what it means to be a pilot. It is written is relatively simple style, and contains a lot of references and insight into the national mentality during the Cold War. Bach was a F-84F pilot with the New Jersey Air National Guard, stationed in France in the late 1950s.

The book is about flying, at night and in bad weather, in his F-84F from England to France, but it also includes a lot of side stories and philosophy.  I very much enjoyed reading this quick-reading book.

Flying American Combat Aircraft: The Cold War edited by Robin Higham

I saw this book on a shelf in the bookstore one day, in the military history area. It was right up my alley – a blend of history (Cold War history in particular!) and flying – good stuff.

Basically it’s broken into many chapters, one chapter per aircraft, that is an isolated account of flying the plane written by a pilot who flew that aircraft type.  Accordingly, some of the segments are well-written and entertaining.  Others are readable – you get the info and a sense of the aircraft.  But some are so badly written (and edited), rife with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, that it is a little distracting.

Still, I hadn’t even heard of many of these planes before, and the good authors outweigh the bad. And there are a ton of pictures which is nice in this type of book.

Business Background Investigations by Cynthia Hetherington

I bought this book because I am genuinely interested in doing my job better. It turns out that my bosses are only interested in me doing my job faster, not better. Anyway, I bought this one and have been slowly working my way through it.

I found a lot of the information in the book to be useful, even if certain things were less than revolutionary for me.  There is a lot of information to digest and I must profess that I really haven’t employed many of her techniques for searching public records and the like.

I would say, this is among the worst-edited books I’ve ever read.  There are so many misspellings, grammatical errors and bad punctuation that it sort of boggles the mind; it is, after all, a trade book about business intelligence and due diligence, and I would expect much more attention to detail. I mean it is really bad from a technical perspective – it reads almost like a first draft. The content and tone are great, and I will continue to use it as a reference.

A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada by David S. Whitley

I know that I haven’t written about it here yet, but one of my many interests is ancient rock art, particularly that of the American West (where I live and can visit).

Another book here on my list below (The Void, The Grid & The Sign) inspired me to go hunting for a petroglyph site that my family knew of, out in the Mojave desert in Southern California earlier this year. We found it and took many pictures, and I bought these two books on the subject.

I feel that this one, about the sites themselves, is based more on accepted knowledge and less on theory as to what the symbols mean. It tends to include more information that helps the reader to understand the context that the art is found in, which may help to divine its meaning (no one really knows how to interpret or “translate” the symbols – there is no Rosetta Stone for ancient American petroglyphs).


A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest

I bought this book based on the strength of its reviews on Amazon, but I was a little disappointed when I got it.  There is a lot of subjective interpretation in this book.  I did not locate any of the symbols that we documented at the site we visited.


The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Army Survival Skills, Tactics, and Techniques

OK, I should probably mention at this point that I am NOT a survivalist, I don’t have a small (or large) arsenal and a year’s worth of food and water squirreled away somewhere in the desert or mountains. However, I also saw this one in the bookstore and couldn’t resist.

I can’t claim to have “read” this book cover-to-cover. It’s really not that kind of book, it’s not a narrative. However, it has all kinds of information – helpful stuff like how to build a shelter out of available materials, how to start a fire, etc. It also contains less-useful stuff (hopefully, at least!) like how thick your walls have to be to stop a 7.62mm rifle bullet vs. a .50 caliber one.  There are also instructions for stalking a guard at an army base, and other crazy stuff.


Passing Through: An Existential Journey Across America’s Outback, by Richard Menzies

I saw this amazing PBS documentary called Living in the Big Empty produced by one of the Nevada PBS stations. It focused primarily on two authors, Richard Menzies and William Fox, and their respective books.

Menzies’ book is the more accessible of the two, and is comprised of stories about some of the interesting people that he met during his time in the Great Basin. It also contains photographs that he took during his encounters with them.


The Void, The Grid & The Sign

This was a great read, very abstract and cerebral. I must admit that I struggled with parts of this book.

Fox sort of explains mankind’s early attempts to define and map the Great Basin, an endorheic basin where all precipitation flows inward. He describes man’s failure to accurately scale ourselves within such a vast, open space.

It’s such an interesting book that it’s difficult to summarize or describe. He talks of Michael Heizer and his large-scale landscape installations, such as City in Nevada.

He also goes into a lot of the history of the exploration of the Great Basin, and weaves in a lot of discussion around the Native American rock art.

Overall this is a great book, one that taught me so much and that I will always remember, but a little difficult to read perhaps for some people.


Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security by William Burrows

A very interesting look at American and Soviet early space reconnaissance satellite programs. Very nerdy stuff, published in the mid-1980s, it explains the strategic importance not only of having good overhead intelligence gathering but also the interpretation of the information.


Nasdaq: A History of the Market That Changed the World by Mark Ingebretsen

A book about the NASDAQ stock market. Frankly, very boring unless you are in the business. I can summarize the read-between-the-lines as: traders have been fleecing investors at every opportunity for decades.


Flight of the Falcon by Robert Lindsey

A “part two” of sorts in the saga of convicted Soviet spy Christopher Boyce, detailing his daring escape from prison and his nearly year of freedom before he was caught days before his final escape to the then Soviet Union.  True story!

On the shelf still:

Century of Spies

Peterman Rides Again

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged

A few books about physics, and a couple of Steven King’s newer ones.

It was a busy reading year!



One response

5 01 2012

I’m looking forward to your review of the real J. Peterman book!

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