This page was terminted on January 21, 2020, but once began:

"Choice Books I've Read Since 2000

And some less choice, that I've tried to read

Before April 20, 2017, last updated 10 May 2015 --

-- indicating an injury and a long, slow recovery"

then the page was picked up in 2017, then neglected again, and may come alive again now.  Comments welcome at (address removed).


2019


In commenting on a new book about the novel 1984, an Irish reviewer says ( https://www.drb.ie/essays/the-glimmer ) that "For years, decades, the published text of Nineteen Eighty-Four included a scene, towards the end, where Winston writes in the dust '2+2=  '. ... Eventually (I have it in my head it was in 1984 itself), that blank was identified as a printer’s error and fixed to '2+2=5'."  Not so.  My 1956 edition has "2+2=5", and of course the error may have been fixed earlier.  The reviewer also says, about the "message of hope" implied by the use of the past tense in the Appendix, "That message is ... the Appendix itself.  This is the Appendix Theory first propounded, as far as I can see, by Margaret Atwood more than fifteen years ago."  The reviewer has tunnel vision.  I can state with certainty that the "Appendix Theory" was vigorously discussed in my junior high school English class in 1956.  That was in San Francisco, far from Ireland, but just because we were non-U doesn't make us unpersons, and it's not safe for the reviewer to assume that because no one in his circle had a thought, no one had the thought.  9/10/19

"The main activity that prepared the human brain for being able to do mathematics was, I will suggest ... keeping track of interpersonal relationships in an increasingly complex society." Keith Devlin, The Math Gene, p. 3 (by which time he's already explained that he doesn't mean just one gene.)  Following this argument should be a wild, counterintuitive, and fun ride.  -- and was until I gave up because of just too much speculation and Kiplingism.  9/4/19

Horrible, horrible, horrible.  I just read a novel about our country's future, if its falling apart continues.  It's a futuristic novel from 1993, by Jack Womack:  Random Acts Of Senseless Violence.  An indispensable punch in the gut to build understanding of where Trump's road naturally leads.  8/25/19


A novel published in 1940, and pretty obscure now:  If It Prove Fair Weather, by Isabel Paterson.  It's very hard for me to follow, since almost every sentence by the protag is followed by a page or so of the protag's internal thoughts about what was said.  That's my problem, and it's worth solving, for things like this:  on p. 93 of the 1940 2nd printing, the book talks about "the attraction of public life and external power for mediocre souls, small minds; and their morbid, unceasing demands for the applause of the multitude, their need to be noticed at all costs; so that an emperor is uneasy if a scullion fails to gape at him.  The fact that other people have their separate being and may continue to exist without us, appears as a kind of treason."  4/28/19

Nell Freudenberger's novel Lost And Wanted, p. 89:  "There is a certain kind of person -- usually male, but not always -- who makes physics into a hobby, who reads all the popular books and makes an honest effort to understand.  Sometimes all these people want to do is show you how much they know, but many of them ... are really curious.  It doesn't have to do with education, necessarily; there are just some people who get pleasure from considering abstract questions about forces and technology."  Until that passage, all I knew was that I was reading a good story about intelligent people; upon finding that passage, I knew I was home.  4/14/19


2018

In Louis Armstrong's book Satchmo:  My Life In New Orleans (the Sierra Vista library's paperback edition), two passages jumped out at me.  On p. 177, "no matter how tough an ofay may seem, there is always some 'black son of a bitch' he is wild about and loves to death just like one of his own relatives."  I'll have to chew on that as I reflect on American history.  On p. 179, "If a person is real ignorant and has no learning at all that person is always going to be jealous, evil and hateful.  There are always two sides to every story, but an ignorant person just won't cope with either side."  11/21/18

I just discovered http://neglectedbooks.com , and am loving it.  I found the link at the end of a very enjoyable book, Second Reading, by Jonathan Yardley, full of looks back at older books, some still read, some forgotten.  The site and the book are good guides into books one might never consider.  11/16/18

Robert Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Our Worst was interesting all the way, but rocketed upward, in a field which I care a lot about, starting at Chapter 12, "Heirarchy, Obedience, and Resistance," which doesn't just discuss that subject, but has data data data about it which I didn't know about. In particular, the section "Oh, why not take this one on? Politics and Political Orientations" has fascinating things about conservative v. liberal orientations.  The book stayed at that peak for me from then on.  5/24/18 -- and, four days later, "Liberals look forward to the adventure of the future, conservatives imagine safety in the past" is a way-too-simple version of chapters 12+ of Robert Sapolsky's 2017 book Behave. But the thought does suggest that liberalism is more of a survival trait. On that theme, here's a passage from Arnold Bennett's prescient essay "The Rising Storm Of Life," way back in 1907:  "the great storm of life is rising, the clouds gathering, the winds moaning ere they scream.... It is going to be the greatest storm that that ocean has ever witnessed. Nobody knows, not even the wisest of us, what will be the end of it -- what craft will founder and what will ride the gale.  It may, nevertheless, be positively said that those will stand the best chance who put out to sea, the open sea, and rejoice openly in the tempest, accepting it, braving it, and trusting it.  And those will stand the worst chance who obstinately pretend that there isn't a storm, or that it will blow over quickly, and who lay up in a cove and drop anchors.... I do not predict the issue of the storm, but I can surmise the fate of anchored vessels."  Best to adapt to the storm, not hide from it.  5/28/18


2017

Lately I've been reading dystopian novels, about victories for fascism and defeats for feminism.  I wonder, insincerely, why those subjects should be linked in my mind.  In order of reading, Philip Dick's The Man In the High Castle, Len Deighton's SS-GB, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Arthur Koestler's Arrival And Departure, Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night; still to come, Rex Warner's Aerodrome and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.  I'm looking for others.


Reviews up to 2015

Rebecca Solnit is a very entertaining writer about real-world problems, becoming a lioness of the left, but in some areas she has a problem with reality.  In 2001, in Wanderlust, she wrote about "a Nike missile guidance system, a system for directing nuclear missiles from their base in the valley below to other continents."  She was wrong; Nike was a short-range missile, not an intercontinental missile.  Ten years later, in Concrete in Paradise, she wrote that "a Nike missile launch site ... was designed to fire nuclear-tipped weapons at incoming missiles launched from overseas."  She was still wrong.  Nike was designed to intercept planes, not missiles, and when intercontinental missiles replaced planes as Russia's delivery system for nuclear weapons, Nike became obsolete.  Also, when Nike was deployed in 1954, it did not have nuclear warheads; that was an add-on, beginning in 1958.  So Solnit is using Nike as a starting place for her major arguments, but all of her ideas about Nike are wrong.  Another of her ideas is even more disconnected from reality.  In Concrete in Paradise, Solnit wrote "In the 1950s the threat was thought to be Russia, but by the late 1960s the nuclear war fantasies ... included China."  Fantasies?  In the 1950s, the threat wasn't "thought to be" Russia, it was real, and it was Russia.  Russia and America both had worldwide plans, they were serious rivals, their weaponry included bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and these weapons carried nuclear bombs.  That was no fantasy.  Solnit was born in 1961, so didn't experience the 1950s at all, and was too young to remember how bad things were in the '60s.  By the time she became conscious, the insanity was declining.  But her experience in the '70s doesn't mean she's right in discounting the experience of those who lived through the '50s and '60s.  Solnit is an entertaining author, but not reliable, either on facts or their interpretation, that were important before her time.  Overall, she will not help her causes.  2/3/15

The New Jim Crow
, by Michelle Alexander.  The very first sentence of this book is idiotic, showing utter carelessness in proofreading, which, to my mind, makes the rest of the book untrustworthy.  Here's the idiotic first sentence:  "For more than two hundred years, scholars have written about the illusory nature of the Emancipation Proclamation."  Oh, really, Ms. Alexander?  Have you come back to us from the year 2063?  Or can't you add?  Or can't you afford a proofreader?  I looked up the publisher:  The New Press, in New York City.  You can look them up too.  This sentence, from their blurb, may explain a lot:  "The New Press is a nonprofit public-interest book publisher."  I admire their goals.  I admire Ms. Alexander's goals in writing this book.  But as long as Ms. Alexander commits howlers like a 150-year-old document being 200 years old, neither she nor her publisher can be taken seriously.  Let her read her writing carefully before inflicting it on an unsuspecting public.

Existence
, by David Brin.  Gave every indication of being chock full of interesting ideas -- until I got to page 18 out of 553, which talks about "a full 1,460 year Sophic Cycle."  No, it's not Sophic, it's Sothic.  Obviously a failure of editing; but also obviously, it's what Brin originally wrote, and it means that Brin didn't master his material, he whomped it up to make a thick book.  I like to read well-thought-out books, not cut-and-paste quickies.  So, on to the next book, leaving 535 of Brin's pages unread.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
, by Douglas Adams.  I'm not that enamored of the book, although I think it's tailor-made for a movie with Hugh Grant playing "Richard."  However, the book has one sentence that if you could trade your life to have written it, you should:  "Make your move while you've got your chance is my advice to you."

Among Others, by Jo Walton.  This was a novel I read upon recommendation, even though I did not expect to like it -- but I sure did.  It is very very similar to a Harry Potter world, in that the protagonista sees actual fairies, so the appeal to Potter might be a way to get someone to read this book.  The book quickly reveals itself to be a very different story, although with the voice of a young person.  No spoilers here.  I'll be reading more by Jo Walton soon.

Life Is a Wheel, by Bruce Weber.  A bicycle trip, mostly solo, from Astoria OR to NYC.

Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.  Why people knowingly insist on being wrong, and the advantages of facing up to being wrong.

Warped Passages:  Unraveling the Mysteries Of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions, by Lisa Randall.  So good it gives me the illusion of almost understanding advanced physics.

Rainbow Pie, by Joe Bageant.  Subtitled "A Redneck Memoir."  A book of incredible power.  Here are two sentences from the first page, and two sentences from the last:  "The United States has always maintained a white underclass -- citizens whose role in the greater scheme of things has been to cushion national economic shocks through the disposability of their labor, with occasional time off to serve as bullet magnets in defense of the Empire.  Until the post-World War II era, the existence of such an underclass was widely acknowledged" ... "I am quite sure [this story] is illustrative of millions of once-rural Americans and their offspring who poured their sweat onto this country's soil and their blood into its wars.  It is the story of the many who know they are screwed but don't know how thoroughly, and for damned sure don't understand why or by whom; the many who, no matter how much blood they gave for their country, never 'made good' in their own country, but will never get their country out of their blood."  Not much hope for the future, but a lot of understanding of the past.

To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild.  A very unusual narrative, written in popular style, about World War I -- not just the events we all know, but also events that most of us (including me) don't know, and patterns of social life and change that we might never think of.  Incredibly interesting, and indispensable for humane thought.

The Invisible Gorilla, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.  Many people have by now seen the psychological experiment after which this book is named.  This book explores the implications, both close and far, of our brain's processing data in ways that cope adequately in the world in which we evolved -- not the modern world.  Eye-witness testimony is, for instance, notoriously unreliable, even among people who concentrate very hard on remembering an accurate description while an event is occurring.  Likewise, our brain is not hard-wired to understand or even perceive the difference between a controlled experiment and an uncontrolled set of experiences.  That last bit leads to the thought that up until the invention of an explicit scientific method in Europe about 500 years ago, give or take a few hundred years depending on where you were in Europe, technological progress occurred so slowly:  it was slow because it relied on untested experience, and only after the invention of the concept of controlled experiments could actual "science" come into existence, with techno progress then taking off like a rocket (from the 80s, not the 50s).  The slowness of our development for the first 5000 or so generations of our existence, followed by the incredibly fast advance that began about 20 generations ago and seems to be getting even faster as it builds on itself, may be due, as this book's subtitle suggests, to "ways our intuitions deceive us."  For about the last hundred years, since Einstein showed how "our intuitions deceive us" about the universe in extreme conditions, the edge of physics has relied on mathematics, and intuition is of use only if it leads to better math.  Well, at least, if you're going to think about subjects like that, this book is a good start.

D-Day:  The Battle For Normandy, by Antony Beevor.  Planning for D-Day, & the follow-through, up to the taking of Paris.  The military parts are common knowledge; what makes this book uncommon is its use of the experiences of soldiers on the ground.  Nothing makes you realize just how incredibly complex the Normandy invasion was, like reading about a few of the many things that went wrong.  My "favorite" -- surely not the right word -- is the Air Corps bombing along the front lines, with the Air Corps using yellow markers to indicate the bomb line, and the Army Infantry using yellow markers to indicate their own positions.  Naturally, we bombed ourselves.  Well, that's just one mistake.  But then the identical mistake happened again, soon after.  At that point you realize just how godawful hard everything was to coordinate.  The killing of POWs wasn't in accord with Geneva, either; to which I say, rewrite the rules.  Let's not have people write neat rules as they sit in ivory towers -- and then criticize human soldiers for reacting to the hell they're going through.  If war is hell -- a singularity in human experience -- then we have to realize that rules based on normal life don't apply.  They can't apply, even in theory; that's what being a singularity means.  Private soldiers may regret what they did in combat; but that should be a personal matter, not a social expectation.  That's one thought that reading this book brings to mind, anyhow.

The Eerie Silence, by Paul Davies.  Subtitle "Renewing Our Search For Alien Intelligence."  Real thinking about looking for aliens.  Very exciting, just technical enough to tempt a bright young person into finding out more about the technicalities.  Fine book.

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow.  Our library keeps this as a YA, Young Adult, book, but YA books, IMHO, are more serious and better written than many books ostensibly for adults.  Fascinating as John Updike's prose is, you'd never know from any of his novels that real adults thought about anything except food, money, and sex.  Little Brother isn't labeled science fiction, but it could be.  It's a very slightly different world, in which the federal Department of Homeland Security, under a thinly disguised Bush regime, is running amok.  The hero, an accurate word for once, is a supersmart geek who uses the internet to attack the fascist regime.  This is a supergood book for teens not afraid of their brains, and treats them with respect, not as freaks or figures of fun.  On the contrary, it's the reflexive centrists who learn a lesson about what freedom and the Constitution mean.  It's been a long time since I've read a new book that would make it to this list.  Thanks, Cory Doctorow.

me 'n Henry, by Walter Swan.  Charming art-that-conceals-art writing about growing up in Cochise County in the olden days, the '20s and '30s.  I'd like the book even if librarian Charlene Kennedy didn't know Walter.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea, by Daniel C. Dennett.  A good, grumpy, chat book about keeping wishful thinking out of Darwinian thinking.  Just the thing for asking your neighbors to read when they want to talk to you about creationism and bring up one of Behe's squalid failures.

Freethinkers, by Susan Jacoby.  Essential, in this era of mandatory, polite ignorance; an overview of American history featuring movers and shakers who do not fit within our current spectacles.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett.  A novel in which an elderly queen discovers the joys of reading, and even writing, which her conscientious public life has denied her.  A lapidary delight; let it be your bedtime reading one night, go to sleep with a smile.

Jim Kane, by J. P. S. Brown.  Real cowboying in the late 1960s on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border.  Barely any plot, more picaresque than anything else.  The book smells of cows and honesty.  It's like Hemingway without the frills.  How did anyone not recommend this to me before?

A Cowman's Wife, by Mary Kidder Rak.  Life on an Arizona ranch -- Old Camp Rucker Ranch, to be precise -- in the Chiricahua Mountains.  Shows the independent, hardworking border breed at its best.  The ideal personality to which Cochise County can aspire.

Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant.  Actual people, not the Hahvuhd simulation.

Merle's Door, by Ted Kerasote.  A dog finds a matching man.  Unforgettable rapport.

The Trouble With Tom, by Paul Collins.  One of the best long essays I've ever read, in the real rambling Montaigne tradition.  Perfect for the nightstand.

Where Men Hide, by James B. Twitchell.  As I get older,  and the composition of the culture begins to seem strange to me, lots of parts of my culture begin to seem strange to present eyes, too.  This book is a good example.  It writes about things -- lodges, garages with pinup calendars, barbershops ditto, recliner chairs -- that I suddenly realize are dying gradually.  A good mental bath, a fun read if you remember the subjects' heyday.

The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan.  The hard-core Dust Bowl of the 1930s, north and south of the Oklahoma Panhandle.  Popular history at its absolute best.  How that part of the Great Plains was ruined (hint:  they did with plows what Arizonans did with cows).  Indispensable if you want to understand the Great Depression, Okies, or hardcase Americans.

The Queen's Gambit, by Walter Tevis.  Even if you know nothing about chess, this novel about a chess player with an addictive personality is engrossing.  Tevis will not win any awards for style, because his style attains the ideal of never being noticeable, which any writer knows is almost impossible.  But what a story the man could tell!  How often do you read a novel which carries you upward through the length of the book, and then gives you a last line which makes you gasp, laugh, cry, and feel exhilarated, all at once?  The last line to this book means nothing out of context, no more than "Any questions?" in Bernstein's Candide, but they are the diamond which reveals the beauty of the setting.

Calamity Jane:  The Woman And the Legend, by James D. McLaird.  This is published by the U of Oklahoma Press, at Norman, which predisposes me to believe it.  Outside of its credentials, it seems as accurate as could be.  It is not an inspiring book to read, but it does not tell about an inspiring life, unless you take Calam as a precursor of Brando on a motorcycle in The Wild Ones.  But if you are interested in Calamity Jane, and her surroundings in the northern plains and mountains, this is fascinating.  **********  Calamity Jane and the Lady Wildcats, by Duncan Aikman, is an account of Calam (who gets about half the book) and several other rowdy women of the frontier.  The McLaird book, listed first in this paragraph, corrects some of this book's errors, but this book is just a lot more fun to read.  It makes Calam come alive.  I'd read both books, but the Aikman first to enjoy the story before it is debunked.

Dead For the Winter, High Lonesome Road, and On Davis Road, by Elizabeth Thornton. Cochise County has itself a real, and superb, poet and storyteller.

blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. Pay attention to both sides of your brain. Many people will like this book at first glance. It's remarkably balanced between the opportunities and the dangers of attending to your inner voices.

The Compleated Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin, compiled & edited by Mark Skousen. Old Ben may seem like Polonius, but he had the decency to act badly before telling the rest of us how to act well. And oh my my, he could see how badly we act at best. From a letter he wrote in 1782 to Joseph Priestley, the chemist who experimented with air and discovered oxygen, and its necessity for life: "Men I find to be a sort of being very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok'd than reconcil'd, more dispos'd to do mischief to each other than to make reparation, much more easily deceiv'd than undeceived, and having more pride and even pleasure in killing than in begetting one another . . . . Perhaps as you grow older you may . . . repent of having murdered in mephitic air so many honest harmless mice, and wish that, to prevent mischief, you had used boys and girls instead of them." This book will not change your life, but it is a good bedside read about a character who was not the kindly old uncle that he often seemed.

1491, by Charles C. Mann. This is subtitled "New Revelations Of the Americas Before Columbus," but also says a lot about America after Columbus, and the latter may be more interesting. The stories of vanished cultures are great, but it's fascinating to see the ecology of North and South America pictured as the result of the collapse of the human population after Columbus arrived, and the abundance of certain kinds of plants and animals as the result of a completely unstabilized ecology, instead of a long-lasting way of life of the Indians. You cannot look at Indian history, or think about the future of the continent, in anything like the received way after reading this book.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I am pretty well Darwined out on fiction. For fiction, it usually takes something like Cryptonomicon to capture my interest. But The Time Traveler's Wife did it with no real science, but some wonderful writing. And, it's thick enough to be a satisfying meal.

Vietnam Vignettes, by Lee Basnar. I wouldn't have come across this if not for living in wildest Arizona, but it happens that Lee Basnar lives very close. I picked up the book because he was local, I stayed with the book because he can write. Basnar has an interesting history; most of his adult life has been spent in the Army (including Vietnam combat), Alaska, and Arizona. Those are all places on the edge. His book is on the edge too. His Vietnam stories aren't strategic, they're tactical; and they're not so much war stories as studies of an intelligent, sensitive person in war. Basnar gives the impression of never having been possessed by the temporary gods of his temporary venues. Always, part of him was taking notes. He is reporting from the meta-edge, where participation is required, enthusiasm is deadly. Of course, he might think my evaluation is total nonsense.

Desert Wife, by Hilda Faunce. Life at a trading post on the Navajo Rez, 1914-1918. Especially fascinating to any non-Dine who has lived on the Rez.

A Man Without a Country, by Kurt Vonnegut. I thought I outgrew Vonnegut 30 years ago. Turns out I didn't. In his reluctant-guru role, he can still preach as well as Jimmy Swaggart. Despite that, a good book to drink by.

Team Of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Best book about Lincoln I've ever read. Inspirational.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful, by Sean B. Carroll. "Evo Devo" is the trendy name for this fundamental subject. The book covers all levels of popularization for adults; you are sure to find something here that is pitched just right for you, and you cannot fail to be astonished by the current work that unites the development of species and of individuals. About the time you get to page 181, with its little chart showing the evolution of ancient gill branches into various modern gills, wings, and even spider spinnerets, the wonder of the subject surely must sink in. Incidentally, a great source for knowledge to use in testing creationists when they pose as scientists.

I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Combines an overview of college life with a microview of one student acting as humans do. Every page has something to chew over. Early on, Wolfe describes college students as wearing children's clothes -- which makes a neat contrast to the picture of Wolfe on the back cover, with his cream-colored suit, dotted tie, striped shirt, and piped handkerchief. College life, as Wolfe paints it, and to coin a phrase, "shines and stinks like a mackerel in the moonlight." I'll probably read this again.

Carnage And Culture, by Victor Davis Hanson. This is one of several books by Hanson on the history of warfare as part of culture. This is the first one I am reading; I will read them all. Chapter Six in this book is "Technology And the Wages Of Reason." It's the best synthesis I have ever seen of the reasons for Europe's excellence in war throughout history. I can't imagine thinking about war without reading this book. Hanson emphasizes Europe's intellectual tradition of reason and science, and its cultural tradition of individual liberty and dignity. Hanson is not out to glorify Europe, but to place it in its proper place in world history. Hanson may carry value-neutrality a bit too far when he contrasts America's WWII acceptance of mass bombing but hatred of Japanese individual cruelty, with Japan's WWII hatred of mass bombing but acceptance of individual cruelty; Hanson views each standard as equally valid, but I'd argue that if European culture had always been ahead of all other cultures in warfare, that perhaps European standards of improper behavior should be given more weight, as more-expert opinion.

Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest, by Jan Morris. Morris emphasizes how conniving a politician Lincoln was when he began, and how much he grew and turned those conniving skills to great ends. Still, she ends up not certain how much she admires Lincoln. Morris is someone you would expect to really appreciate stories of growth through change, but for her Lincoln just can't shake his 19th-century "trailer trash" origin. She hates common people, so she will not last like Steinbeck or Orwell, but this book is still a good read, if only because it reveals her so thoroughly. I could go on about how the cover has half-faces of Lincoln, but a smiling whole-face portrait of Morris, but I refuse to indulge in half-faced humor.

The Politically Incorrect Guide To American History, by Thomas E. Woods Jr. -- I have never before posted about a book I didn't like, but this book is revolting. Its cover says it reached the NY Times bestseller list; if that is true, it must be because of purchases by right-wing organizations that habitually buy in bulk to make poopular books look popular. This book's title appeals to the contrarian in all of us, but Woods's brain seems to made up of pieces that contradict facts without realizing it. For instance, he manages to quote H. L. Mencken to the effect that "The Union soldiers in the battle [of Gettysburg] actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Mencken can be forgiven, because he understood irony and he lived in a time when "the people" mean "the white people;" but in 2005, black people are recognized as part of "the people," and Woods does not seem to understand that it is nonsensical to imply that people fighting to preserve slavery were fighting for self-governance for "the people." Woods wrote this book for Regnery, the far-right publisher whose stable includes Michelle Malkin, the Swift Boat Veterans group, and Phyllis Schlafly. Woods identifies himself as a Ph.D., and the blurb at the top of the cover calls him "Professor Woods," based on his title at Suffolk County Community College, a two-year junior college which emphasizes cheap tuition and job training via "Nursing Program, Fitness Specialist, Physical Therapist Assistant, Ophthalmic Dispensing, Travel & Tourism, Culinary Arts, American Sign Language, Interior Design, Horticulture and Graphic Design." This book is to real scholarship as a cesspool is to the Radio City Music Hall lavatories. I have now put down Woods's puke-inducing book and carefully washed my hands, and with any luck I will never again come across a book so sickening.

The Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. A novel written in the voice of an autistic boy, with moderate number compulsions and good math ability. I feel like I found a long-lost cousin. An outstanding read.

The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. I wanted not to like this book, but I lost. I love this book. It rattles my brains better than any other recent attempt to explain how the world wags. I read a few chapters at a time, putting down the book for a day or two in between, and there was not a day when I wasn't anxious to get back to it.

Collapse, by Jared Diamond. I've read Toynbee's A Study Of History three times. If we could combine Toynbee's approach with Diamond's, we would have a much better history of challenge-and-response than any other I've seen.

Animals In Translation, by Temple Grandin. I have to call this an essential book, because it has so much knowledge about how animals think, & delivers its knowledge in so many different interesting ways. If you know me, you may receive this book for Christmas this year.

Swimming To Antarctica, by Lynne Cox. The woman is 5'6" and weighs about 180 pounds. Her fat is distributed over her body pretty evenly, making her smooth and insulated. And she has the truest grit. A swimmer nonpareil, with good stories to tell.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This came out in 1985, when we were having the worst time with respect to Iran. The appendix draws a specific parallel between Iran's mullocracy and the future imagined in this book, and on p. 225 of my edition, Atwood writes "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time." The Reactionary Republicans would clearly be comfortable with the miserable future that this book imagines. And, of course, the book is a good read, if chilling.

The Zenith Angle, by Bruce Sterling. A novel, nominally science fiction but really a computer tech thriller. What matters is not the plot but the writing and thinking. A great read.

Cradle Of Life, by J. William Schopf. The best science popularization I have ever seen, including George Gamow's 1 2 3 Infinity. Not to be missed.

Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, by Katie Lee. Wonderful tales of cowboys and western songs.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In the Dark, by Carl Sagan. A gentle and friendly guide to using your head on big matters as well as little.

How We Know What Isn't So, by Thomas Gilovich. One of those books you should have if you want to think well.

Entering Space, by Robert Zubrin. A guide to humanity's adaptation to space, and the most inspirational piece of engineering I've ever read. However, if you aren't already committed to the cause, I'd suggest you read the last chapter of the book, but skip the first. The first chapter includes some of the worst ideas about history I've ever seen, e.g. (from p. 7) "Throughout human history the most progressive cultures have been those 'Sea People,' such as the Minoans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Diaspora Jews, Italian Renaissance city-states, the Hanseatic League, the Dutch, the British, and the Americans . . . ." What bilge. He compares absolutely incommensurable entities; he seems to think that Hanse, Holland and England were different cultures; he omits cultures, such as Rome, that were largely "sea people" yet he doesn't feel comfortable with; and he ignores land-based cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, the Mayas, the Aztecs, and the Incas, that were as creative as anything on his list. If you ignore his history and focus on his engineering, the book is worth it.

Catholicism and American Freedom: A History, by John T. McGreevy. An essential book for Americans. Fascinating in its history of Roman Catholicism in America during our Civil War; I had no idea that Catholicism excused slavery as something that Catholics always did. Infuriating in its repeated mentions of centuries-old charges of Roman Catholic suppression of free inquiry and science, without reaching current opinion on the subject. Forthright in showing how American Catholics have entered more into the mainstream of American life, mainly by ignoring what the Pope says. Blind to the conclusion it forces you to: that it is hard to be a good American and a good Roman simultaneously.

The Variety Of Life, by Colin Tudge. A fascinating description of the evolutionary tree in light of current knowledge.

A Primate's Memoir, by Robert M. Sapolski. Looks like the closest you can get to life in Africa without going there.

Stiff, by Mary Roach. "The curious lives of human cadavers." If you like this kind of book, you'll like this book.

The Language Police, by Diane Ravitch. About a particular stupidity of the generally stupid folks in charge of public education.

Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux. It seems tedious at the beginning, bogging down in detail. Later you realize that all the tedium had a purpose: to make you understand his utterly dispiriting conclusion. Indispensable.

Shooting Straight: Telling the Truth About Guns In America, by Wayne LaPierre and James Jay Baker. Citizenship at its best.

Faster Than the Speed Of Light, by Joao Magueijo. If it weren't exciting enough that the author's last name squeezes every vowel into only eight letters, the author also demonstrates real science, including the fight against administrative nincompoops.

What Liberal Media?, by Eric Alterman. Subtitled "The Truth About BIAS And the News." Seems pretty fair.

Bush At War, by Bob Woodward. A sketchbook of the activities at the top level of the White House after 9/11. Powell and Rice come out looking best. Woodward's notes show Bush as trying, but unable to understand the ideas and forces he faces. I don't recall a word about the coincidence between Bush's oil background and his foreign policy.

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. The effect of organized killing.

Madness On the Couch: Blaming the Victim in the Heyday of Psychoanalysis, by Edward Dolnick. Dolnick talks almost as much as a shrink, but he does finally get down to a little hard data to debunk the talking cure.

The Years Of Lyndon Johnson: Master Of the Senate, by Robert A. Caro. Volume 3 of a multivolume biography. Superb, but hard to read, because Johnson is so personally loathsome. Through his lack of principle and his genius at sucking up, Johnson got into the Oval Office, where he couldn't succeed by sucking up. Horrible and fascinating.

The Demon In the Freezer, by Richard Preston. The scariest book I have ever read. Biological weapons.

The Envy Of the World: On Being a Black Man in America, by Ellis Cose, seems to me to indispensable.

Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner, the pen name of Raimund Pretzel, as reconstructed by his son Oliver Pretzel. A gripping memoir of how things were for ordinary Germans when Hitler came to power. Chapters 37 to 40 describe how the Nazis co-opted ordinary life. It may be happening here.

Living It Up, by James B. Twitchell. Very interesting try at making sense of capitalism run wild. Modern Veblenism.

Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story Of Nazi Racial Laws And Men Of Jewish Descent In the German Military, by Bryan Mark Riggs, deserves to be widely read. The ambiguities of actual life under the Nazis turn out to be overwhelming. Hitler's "Mischling" rules and exceptions are much like Israel's rules for civil rights, which depend on how close you are to being Orthodox -- and much like America's developing rules based on racial considerations. Oh, that the 60s were back and history would take a turn toward integration and civilization, not self-segregation and savagery.

Crime Novels: American Noir Of the 1930s and 40s, ed. Robert Polito. Often as alive as writing can get.

Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail Of Ancient Roman Tourists, by Tony Perrottet. A wonderful read.

Mr. Skeffington, by Elizabeth von Arnim. A wonderful, hilarious novel. The movie is utterly lame compared to the book.

Walter Benjamin At the Dairy Queen: Reflections At Sixty And Beyond, by Larry McMurtry. If you love books.

Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, by Bruce Bawer. This seems essential to understanding America's religious trends, although the book is marred by Bawer's proselytizing.

Coloring the News, by William McGowan. Documents the triumph of spin over fact.

Bias, by Bernard Goldberg. Talking heads unmasked.

The Pity Of War, by Niall Ferguson, is its name, and without you have read it, you have no right to an opinion about WW I.

In Robert Penn Warren's World Enough And Time, the protagonist quotes his own diary, about his future mother-in-law watching him from the shadows of her house, during his courtship: "I came to wait for the eyes upon me, and their secret peering, and to know that they were like the eyes of the world which would pry from the shadow upon us in our deepest solitude and before which we must act in our fear or pride." Try changing a phrase.

Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, edited by William H. Chafe et al. Indispensable for Americans who wish the truth to set them free.

Equator: A Journey, by Thurston Clarke, is the best travel book I have read within memory. What people he finds.

The Unnatural Nature Of Science, by Lewis Wolpert. Why religion thrives though it is science that produces.

In Search Of the Light, by Susan Blackmore. If you want to believe in ESP etc. then this personal history will be very interesting. The author embodies the scientific spirit, in a way almost alien to our self-indulgent period.

Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer. Ingenious and indispensable; welcome to century XXI.

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, And Other Confusions Of Our Time, by Michael Shermer. Somewhere, this book must catch you. Here -- http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/edwards-v-aguillard/amicus1.html -- is a link to a superb legal brief discussing science v. religious pseudoscience.

Long Shadows: Truth, Lies And History, by Erna Paris. Not very prescriptive, and beautifully descriptive. Makes you think about dilemmas you haven't thought about before, and lets you work out your own dilemma.

Daniel Defoe: Master Of Fictions, by Maximillian E. Novak. Absolutely essential to literary history and English history.

The Seven Daughters Of Eve, by Bryan Sykes. A lively account of the discovery of the importance of mitochrondrial DNA, though more science coulda been squoze in. The imaginary lives of seven women who are the ancestors of most Europeans are reminiscent of Ayla and the cave bear clan. The final chapter is just the thing to inspire a young person into science.

Death's Men: Soldiers Of the Great War, by Denis Winter. The soldiers' story. Don't leave for war without it.

Here >> Uchronia: The Alternate History List << is one of the most interesting and well done websites I've found. If you like alternate histories, or good reading, it is an indispensable site.

The Battle For God, by Karen Armstrong. More masterful with earlier history than with recent events, but always good reporting. Her views sometimes contradict themselves; she tends to vacillate between stating that religious mythos is not subject to scientific logos, and stating that a particular religious belief is false. She also is a bit prideful, sometimes stating that fundamentalists and liberals cannot possibly understand each other but that she can understand them all.

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. Much more interesting than I remembered from high school. Much detritus from the early 20th century: the machines, the lack of feminism, the Babbittry still found so often in newspapers and the White House.

Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder. A wonderful junior high school predecessor to high school's Godel Escher Bach.

In the Wake Of the Plague, by Norman F. Cantor. A great historian writes a great book; an absolute master of the subject gives the best post-dessert dinner conversation you've ever had.

PC, M.D., by Ally Satel, M.D. A good antidote to the growing influence of stupidity by people who mistake their own inability to understand the world, for the world's inability to be understood.

The Wages Of Guilt, by Ian Buruma. The two essays at the end are a good way to start this book about Japanese and German dealing with WW II.

Nickel And Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Slumming at $7 an hour.

Stuffed Animals And Pickled Heads, by Stephen T. Asma. The subtitle is The Culture And Evolution of Natural History Museums, but that subject is the gateway to lots of related essays, which lit up the sky for me in Chapter 6, "Evolution and the Roulette Wheel: A Chance Cosmos Battles Some Bones."

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small In Mooreland, Indiana, by Haven Kimmel, is a hilarious, sweet-tempered book of the kind you don't often see any more. A good evening's read.

Two books to read together, especially, perhaps, for a college student considering a major: A Primate's Memoir, by Robert M. Sapolsky, and Evolution Of Infectious Disease, Paul W. Ewald.

Here >> Books and plays that changed my life << is a link to another person's list of interesting reading. The site contains hints that the author may be gay.

Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter's Life with Autism, by Clara Claiborne Park. Fascinating, and ought to be required reading for SETI projects.

The Clothes They Stood Up In, by Alan Bennett. An absolutely superb story.

Rope Burns, short boxing stories by F. X. Toole, with a good invisible style. Could be read along with An American Story, by Debra J. Dickerson. Dickerson is admirable, remarkable for her honesty in reporting her personality and accomplishments. She's black, not yet middle-aged, driven to be vivid, reporting on her changes so far. Remarkable.

Looking For a Fight, by Lynn Snowden Picket. The author trained in boxing, and she's a woman! She works out some normal personal demons, and keeps you interested.

The Way Of All Flesh: The Romance Of Ruins, by Midas Dekkers. A unique book, in the form of a series of essays on various aspects of decay and ruin. A must-have if you are aware of your own ongoing decay and ruin.

Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience In Books For Children, ed. Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. A very good guide to the title subject, but why assume that if there is friction between Indians and whites, the Indians are correct?

The Giver, by Lois Lowry. An "adolescent" book that has received many awards, but is also the subject of many attempted bans by immature adults. The book is a good read for anyone -- a variant on Hesse's The Journey To the East?

Opera In America: A Cultural History, by John Dizikes. If you like opera, you must have this book.

Casanova Was a Book Lover, by John Maxwell Hamilton. If you like Isaac d'Israeli, you'll like this.

Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen. For every homo sapiens who has the proper relationship with dogs.

From Dawn To Decadence, by Jacques Barzun. The first really good book I bought was Barzun's House Of Intellect. It probably helped motivate me for college; but that was the dark ages. All these years I've been reading, & so has Barzun. Just buy the book right now. Then, the rest of your life, you will have almost 800 pages of great conversation at hand, and you will finally know how to pronounce "Bagehot." (A few corrections: near the beginning of the book, Barzun has somebody saying "Hand's up." Gawd. Barzun says "the hoi polloi" once, and he keeps talking about "Erehwon" instead of "Erewhon." Two of my corrections should have been caught by the meanest proofreading intelligence, and the last three people who object to "the hoi" will soon die.)

Point Of No Return, by John P. Marquand. It's never too late to learn the difference between streets.

Inferno, by James Nachtwey. Perfect visual accompaniment for listening to William Burroughs answer Brecht's musical question "What keeps mankind alive?"

Old Jules, by Marie Sandoz. Gee, I guess the dominant culture didn't always have things easy. Written 65 years ago in a flat style that reads much like Raymond Chandler.

Darwin's Ghost, by Steve Jones. This must have been a lot of fun to write, using the 1859 Origin Of Species as the pattern for a fine embroidery of modern knowledge about evolution. Whether or not you'll read the Origin, you'll enjoy this.

For the French version of Big Ideas, Fashionable Nonsense, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, is indispensable. It hoses out the septic tank of trendy non-thought. It is reminiscent, though much more technical and comprehensive, of the long-ago Precious Rubbish, by Theodore L. Shaw.

Genome, by Matt Ridley. Another popular science book you can't be without.

The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney. A novel aimed at bright adolescents. A Moslem group called the book racist. They're wrong; it talks about evil in the world without stereotyping any group.

On the Rez, by Ian Frazier. About modern Indian life. If you have any concern about American Indians, you must read this.

Words And Rules: The Ingredients Of Language, by Steven Pinker. Very tasty for all who speak in more than grunts.

Visual Explanations, by Edward R. Tufte. Brilliant. If web site designers would only read it.

Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials, by Wendy Kaminer. Reason and sense, what a rarity.

The Undiscovered Mind, by John Horgan. P. 227: " . . . the flaw in the Turing test. If and when a machine convinces us that it is truly sentient, that even may say much less about the machine than it does about us." Yes! A Turing machine can prove only that a complicated machine can imitate us, not that our minds have passed a mystic barrier.

A Man In Full, by Tom Wolfe. Perhaps the slightest letdown at the very end, or maybe I don't fully comprehend Wolfe's design. Wolfe is in front of the pack.

Lies My Teacher Told Me. A good honest book.

Confucius Lives Next Door, by T. R. Reid. Argues that East Asians aren't really very different from us - they just follow the rules that we make up. Lots of good stories, too.

Clear Springs, by Bobbie Ann Mason. Born in 1940, she grew up in the far-west tick of Kentucky. If you came from country, if you remember family, this is a book for you.

The Universe And the Teacup: The Mathematics Of Truth And Beauty, by K. C. Cole. Many errors, but major issues. It closes "The opposite of a shallow truth is false; the opposite of a deep truth is also true." The author, according to her jacket photo, is small, flat, and gray.

Biological Exuberance, by Bruce Bagemihl. Noah's Ark is not a good model for animal breeding. This exciting book may change your basic view of evolution.

The Deep Hot Biosphere, by Thomas Gold. An optimistic view of life in extreme conditions. Recently supported by experiments replicating conditions in the "Hadean" age of Earth's history.

For the Love Of It: Amateuring And Its Rivals, by Wayne Booth. Why you should do music, or anything; what investments you should make; what returns you should get.

Another Country, by Mary Pipher. The ramifications of the word "elders," and the differences between young-old and old-old (after you break your hip).