Open thread: best books of 2016

by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2016

An open thread for commenters to recommend their favourite books of 2016.

I’ll start with Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable (Allen Lane).

Trying to understand my country in the light of the EU referendum vote, I picked up a copy of Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable: The Experience of Class. I’m glad I did. Hanley is now an academic at Liverpool John Moores and lives a life shaped by the culture and expectations of Britain’s middle class, nourished, as she explains, by a diet based on mackerel and pulses. But this isn’t where she started. Life began on a vast working-class estate on the edge of Birmingham, Chelmsley Wood, a place to where many families had been decanted as part of the post-war social democratic experiment, and where they’d stayed. The book is about social class and social mobility, about getting from there to here, and about the “walls in the head” that make the transition a matter of profound anxiety and which stop many people from leaving at all. It is also about divisions within the working class, between those who cope with their subordinate status by keeping up appearances, and those who don’t, between those who read the Mirror and those who read the Sun. As Hanley puts it in the introduction: “Changing class is like emigrating from one side of the world to the other, where you have to rescind your old passport, learn a new language and make gargantuan efforts if your are not to lose touch completely with the people and habits of your old life.”

{ 55 comments }

1

Ted Lemon 12.18.16 at 3:06 pm

My favorite nonfiction book this year is The Mind Illuminated by John Yates and Matthew Immergut. I don’t know how interesting it would be for people who are not into meditation, but it’s the most detailed book on the process of learning to meditate that I have ever encountered. There is a refreshing lack of vagueness.

2

Metatone 12.18.16 at 3:11 pm

I realise that I didn’t really read very much this year.

I can’t imagine many fans didn’t read the latest Laundry Files (Charlie Stross), but if you haven’t it’s worth getting.

Ian Dunt’s Brexit book is a good attempt at a realistic look at the mess we’re in. (Most of the other books so far seem to have been written about the Tory party first, Britain second.)

3

nnyhav 12.18.16 at 4:34 pm

of what’s been published this year, a handful for the CT crowd:
Lit: Jack Cox, Dodge Rose [Dalkey Archive]: creative destruction beyond the austerian sense, dropped in the middle of all the way down all the way down (under)
SF: M. Suddain, Hunters & Collectors [Jonathan Cape]: Gastronomy Domine
Crit: John Kerrigan, Shakespeare’s Binding Language [Oxford]: vows and oaths, Empsonically
Shorts: Christos Ikonomou, Something Will Happen, You’ll See (Karen Emmerich) [Archipelago Books]: down & out in Greece
Essays: Eliot Weinberger, The Ghosts of Birds [New Directions]: continues Elemental Things, plus further cross-cultural musings
Poetry: Pierre Reverdy, The Thief of Talant (Ian Seed) [Wakefield]: if only surrealism had taken this track and knit itself as tautly
Science: Roger Penrose, Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe [Princeton]: trying to find a better way to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics, some mathematical heavy lifting but stripped down to essentials, and a sort of return to natural philosophy (bringing math into ontology)

4

LFC 12.18.16 at 4:37 pm

Harry Parker, Anatomy of a Soldier, published earlier this year. He was in the British army and this novel is based on his experience in Afghanistan and the experience of being severely wounded and recovering. His technique is to give different inanimate objects the first-person narrative voices in each chapter, which gets a little wearing but it’s not as weird or contrived as it sounds. The novel is somewhat uneven, but the best chapters, such as the ones in which he in effect imagines what the surgical procedures he went through were like and how the doctors performed them in minute-to-minute detail, are gripping. Most of the time the book is direct, unsentimental, closely observed, and able to see things from different points of view (including those of the Taliban or associated forces that he was fighting). Not perfect, but I found most of it to be reasonably absorbing.

5

Dipper 12.18.16 at 5:16 pm

“Prisoners of Geography. Ten Maps that tell you everything you need to know about Global Politics” by Tim Marshall, former Sky Foreign Affairs correspondent.

A book that is highly relevant now, and as Donald Trump blunders into his presidency is likely to become even more relevant. Every one who fancies themselves as a bit of a political pundit (i.e. everyone on here) should have a copy.

If my word isn’t enough – and on here it generally isn’t – there are numerous reviews on the web. This is from The Standard “He has no ideology: this is realpolitik, and explained in such a way that the book is, in a way which astonished me, given the complexities of the subject, unputdownable.”

6

bob mcmanus 12.18.16 at 5:27 pm

Not positive about dates, and not best but what I’ve read and liked, I come up with:

Jodi Dean – Crowds and Party
Anwar Sheikh – Capital
Joshua Clover – Riot Strike Riot (Prime)
Thomas Frank – Listen Liberal
Routledge Handbook of Neoliberalism
Peter Frase – Four Futures
John Smith – Imperialism in the 21st Century

7

Tom Slee 12.18.16 at 5:48 pm

Fiction: the Ferrante quartet, which do the surprising thing of getting better as they go along. But also Jessie Burton’s “The Muse” which I just finished this morning, was the least-putdownable novel I read this year.

Non-fiction: Cathy O’Neill’s “Weapons of Math Destruction” — the right book at the right time about the problems of big data-driven algorithms. Accessible and wide ranging.

8

Chris "merian" W. 12.18.16 at 6:37 pm

I’m finally back to regular reading (beyond academic articles about my precise scientific specialty), though still ramping up again. I missed it.

In non-fiction I’ll throw in another vote for Cathy O’Neill’s “Weapons of Math Destruction”. I’ve also read parts of J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy”, and those parts were worth reading though the book becomes a little repetitive. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World and Me” (apparently the book white people in America read about race, and looks like I’m one) came out in Dec 2015 but I read it in January I think. On my list on that topic is Carol Anderson’s “White Rage”. On a lighter though thoughtful note, there’s a lot to like in Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays “The Geek Feminist Revolution”.

In fiction, I waited for, bought and enjoyed Tana French’s “The Tresspasser”. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy has part 1 (“The Fifth Season”, 2015) and part 2 (“The Obelisk Gate”, 2016) out, and I’m waiting for the conclusion next year: geology-based science-fantasy, which is great, and her writing is excellent. And then I’ll put in a word for Volker Kutscher’s police procedurals set in late 1920s to 1930s Berlin. Really well done, and a time that one should read novels about these days. The first one “Der nasse Fisch” was out in 2007 already, but it’s an ongoing series, and only this first one is available in English for the time being (“Babylon Berlin” — the German title is not literally translatable because it’s metaphor wrapped around police jargon, and gets explained in the text).

9

Dipper 12.18.16 at 6:42 pm

Tom Slee modestly omits his own outstanding contribution to this year’s literature; “What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy” was published at the back end of last year but only got reviewed and publicised this year. It’s an excellent in depth analysis of the reality of the Sharing Economy. The Guardian is spot on when it calls the book “superbly argued”.

10

Ronan(rf) 12.18.16 at 6:56 pm

I’m just finishing Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ You did not come back’, a short memoir/stroke letter to her father who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. (I’m planning to read Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches (about the Rwandan Genocide) and Hisham Matar’s The Return, over Christmas, which might be of interest to others)

On the current topic of the day, the decline of dominant ethnic groups and their political reaction. I liked- The white working class by Justin Geist (an ethnography of WWC decline in East London and Ohio)
Descendancy by David Fitzpatrick (a collection of essays about Protestant decline in
Ireland)
The Sunni Tragedy in the Middle East: Northern Lebanon from al-Qaeda to ISIS by Bernard Rougier (The title gives the gist)

I’m not sure about best, but they’re the ones that stuck with me. (Novel wise I enjoyed Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish)

11

Peter Dorman 12.18.16 at 8:25 pm

Maybe my biggest reading pleasure this year was The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, a model of nature writing and science journalism. I loved The Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert despite the cavils by various economic historians, perhaps because I read it as a story of contingency and improvisation. Right out of California by Kathryn Olmsted went down in a happy gulp. I read a bit of fiction this year, but nothing stood out.

12

Maria 12.18.16 at 8:59 pm

Seconding LFC and Anatomy of a Soldier. I read it twice. The author’s from the same regiment as my husband, and I used to know his father very slightly from parade ground/funeral/mess. There’s a scene in the book that involves shaving and it’s a heart-breaker.

13

William Berry 12.18.16 at 9:43 pm

Sixty-five yo and an sf fan and only got around to reading Vance’s “The Dying Earth” stories this year. Circuitous route through Harrison and Wolfe. Amazing language facility that (IMNSHO) far exceeds that of some of his successors/ imitators. I haven’t read anything important this year and, given recent events, might not do so ever again.

(Crawls back under flannel sheets.)

14

LFC 12.18.16 at 10:16 pm

Maria:
interesting — I thought/guessed you would have read it.

15

Alan White 12.18.16 at 10:54 pm

Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton”. I read it for my multi-disciplinary faculty book group, and it generated very heated debate about the reliability of the narrative filtered through the title narrator’s experience. Really, it should be read twice to get the most out of it. Very impressive work.

16

kidneystones 12.19.16 at 12:36 am

Excellent OP. Thanks for this, Chris.

We all need to learn more about the world we share. New books are part of the process. Making a new friend from the other side of our divides is another.

17

JanieM 12.19.16 at 1:04 am

Monica Wood, One-in-a-Million Boy (a novel)

18

Donald A. Coffin 12.19.16 at 1:22 am

I’ll mention 2, one fiction and one non-fiction.

Walter Satterthwait’s New York Nocturne: The Return of Miss Lizzie (2016; it’s a sequel to his 1989 Miss Lizzie). A brilliant evocation of New York City in the 1920s, narrated by a young girl (who has a history with Miss Lizzie). And the mystery aspect of the book is very nicely done. (And, yes, that’s Miss Elizabeth Borden.)

Joel Mokyr’s A Culture of Growth (2016) continues his long engagement with the causes and consequences o the industrial revolutions(s). Even if you ultimately don’t agree with him (I mostly do, but with some reservations), you will probably learn a lot both from this book, but from what he points us to.

19

faustusnotes 12.19.16 at 3:20 am

I tried reading The Three Body Problem based on recommendations from the CT crew, and it was the most abject rubbish I’ve read in years, so I’m afraid to try anything else from this site (I have a suspicion Chris B recommended this horror show too, but if not my apologies for slandering him!) However the book on people who changed their class seems like a very good idea and definitely something I would like to read more about, since I have had this experience myself.

I read all the Rivers of London novels this year, which have been awesome and the first books I have ever read that made me want to go back to London. I also discovered Lois McMaster Brujold for the first time, and she’s been pretty special.

I’m currently struggling through a manga series called Delicious in Dungeon that is the first manga I’ve read in years that has held my attention. So I guess it must be good. Also I recommend the new Star Wars movie, obviously.

20

ZM 12.19.16 at 4:04 am

I haven’t read many books this year, but I’m currently reading Between The World And Me, and also Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen who passed away this year.

21

Yan 12.19.16 at 4:12 am

If long out of print books republished in 2016 count, I vote for Elliott Chaze’s 1953 noir, “Black Wings has My Angel.”

The only new 2016 book I can recall reading is Thomas Frank’s “Listen, Liberal,” which I also highly recommend.

22

Zora 12.19.16 at 6:08 am

I read a great many SFF novels, mystery novels, and Victorian triple-deckers. I cannot say that any of these were great, or would be great for anyone who did not have my tastes.

BUT I found Jerry Thompson’s Cascadia’s Fault absorbing and timely. I sure hope that the big Northwest Coast (US and Canada) subduction quake holds off for a few more centuries, until we can do better on mitigation and possibly, prediction.

23

Chris Bertram 12.19.16 at 6:55 am

I’ve never read The Three Body Problem, faustusnotes, I don’t even know what it is about.

24

SC 12.19.16 at 7:28 am

The book that grew and grew on me–while reading, rereading, and thinking about it in the context of the rest of the books I’ve read since–is Tim Murphy’s novel Christodora. (Grove, 2016. https://www.amazon.com/Christodora-Novel-Tim-Murphy/dp/080212528X) Christodora covers a history I thought I knew—the last thirty years of the East Village—and speculates about a familiar future but . . . it rewrote the history of NYC that I used to carry around in my head into a more logical, more complex, history. The only book that I can think of that so immediately changed my view of the sidewalks I walk every day is All That is Solid Melts Into Air.

The best book I read at work this year (insert conflict of interest warning here) was Kia Corthron’s The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter (Seven Stories, 2016. https://www.amazon.com/Castle-Cross-Magnet-Carter-Novel/dp/1609806573) which just won the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Like Christodora, Castle Cross largely takes place in a history I thought I knew—post-WWII Deep South. Turns out there was a parallel world all around me. (Some parts of Castle Cross were like The Wire—which Corthron wrote an episode of—set in my elementary school.)

I can’t think of a recent year in which my favorite books were novels. Usually, there’s a novel or two in my top ten but there are always a half-dozen non-fiction books that I find far more engrossing/insightful. Maybe it’s just a 2016 thing? Maybe parallel histories that hit close to home are the best escapism around?

25

Joe 12.19.16 at 7:38 am

Here are a few favourites from a public librarian who works a lot with non-fiction collections.

The Inner Lives of Markets by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan will go on my list of books to recommend that explain orthodox economics in a helpful and non-obnoxious style. It’s a really pleasurable, quick read that focuses on the evolution of the mathematical modelling of markets, butting up against how the models play out when applied to real-world markets. This includes markets without money like allocation of school spaces or matching of organ donors with patients. It’s mainly written like a popular science book but delivers some sharp criticisms toward the end to boosters of the sharing economy. (I have What’s Yours is Mine queued up next on this topic.)

My other favourite was The Nordic Theory of Everything. It’s a pleasure to read and makes a case for the social democratic state by plumbing the ways it supports a republican version of personal freedom and autonomy. She manages to make her case with practically no left sources without this feeling at all like a stunt or a cheap ploy to appeal to conservatives by stretching the implications of her sources. It seemed to me like a great example of public reason in action.

What is Populism? By Jan-Werner Mueller is succinct and insightful. It’s useful not only for shedding light on contemporary politics but also clearing a path through the well-poisoning way the term “populism” is often deployed, particularly by pundits. As Mueller points out, a theory of populism needs to be able to pick out instances of justifiable challenges to power, which our current media doesn’t do very well at at all.

It’s not from 2016, but I’ve been recommending Joseph Heath’s Enlightenment 2.0 since it came out, and it’s all the more relevant now. It’s about what is required to have a more reasonable political culture. The helpful answer is that we don’t primarily need to try harder or call out stupidity more, but to focus on providing the “institutional scaffolding” that people, with our limited working memory and implicit biases, need to make progress.

26

faustusnotes 12.19.16 at 7:54 am

You’re lucky Chris, I recommend you avoid it!

27

Neville Morley 12.19.16 at 9:02 am

Plus one for Frase and Mueller, and delighted that I’m not the only Volker Kutscher fan here; latest is just out in hardback and I haven’t read it yet, but it’s great that they’re now coming out in English – and there’s a TV adaptation on the way (which may explain the translation). Also loved the latest Ulrich Ritzel (not available in English, unfortunately).

SF: latest Stross, of course; only just found time to start on the third in Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy but it’s looking good; streets ahead, and not just for CT connection, Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning.

28

Jesús Couto Fandiño 12.19.16 at 11:53 am

I liked the whole series, not just The Three Body Problem, but I can understand how it may rub somebody the wrong way. It is, basically, like reading some SF for the 50, but looking at things from a Chinese point of view. That I found fascinating, but there are long parts of the books that feel exactly like all the defects from the old SF amped to 11. Long expositions, civilization changing in ways that are more author fiat that actually showing you anything, if you care about female agency the last book has a female “protagonist” that merits the quotes because she never does anything at all…

Funny enough, what I got is a bad reaction to Too Like The Lightning. I read it, I just couldnt put it down, I want to see the second book, so it really does something well, but I just spent the same amount of time angry at it, confused, and thinking it doesnt make much sense at all. Dont know, maybe is because I’m an anti-monarchist Spaniard

Really great for me that you are having this thread, as I’m normally up to date with what is going on in science fiction and fantasy, but I need to read some economics or philosophy or history or anything real every now and then, and a lot of those recommendations sound very interesting.

29

Placeholder 12.19.16 at 1:37 pm

“And on Independence Day – and please remember that in Halimunda that meant the 23rd of September – they held the most cheerful carnival and parade, with the communists shouting out their revolutionary cheers. The city folk would spill out in a crowd along the road and listen to verses from the “Sama Rata Sama Rasa’ treatise that Marco Kartodikromo had written many years ago, proclaiming that everyone should be treated equally no matter their rank or occupation

Adinda was thinking the mass demonstrations about to be carried out by the communists on the streets of Halimunda would be like that. Years later, she would realize that after the Communist Party was outlawed she never again saw such cavalcades, with all the decorated cars driving by on all the roadways.”

Eka Kurniawan, Beauty Is A Wound.

30

SamChevre 12.19.16 at 2:01 pm

The best things I read this year were blogs, not books: none of the books I read were as enlightening as the two best blogs/blog posts.

Best single post: Anne Amnesia, Unnecessariat, on the blog “More Crows than Eagles.” Go and read the whole thing, and the linked story right below the pictures.

Most thought-provoking blog: The Archdruid Report (John Michael Greer); I discovered it this year, so only one of the posts I’m noting is from this year. Three good starting points are this post from January on (class structure and resentment, this one from last year on progress (echoes of Economics in Two Lessons). One of the key ideas is catabolic collapse–I had only known that as a biological term previously–and here are three good posts on it: 1 (introduction), 2 (in empires), 3 (the first in the Dark Age America series, which is worth reading in full).

31

faustusnotes 12.19.16 at 2:20 pm

I’ve started reading Respectable and just the first chapter is packed with insights into the life of working class people in the UK in the 1980s that perfectly encapsulate what I felt growing up there. It’s a bit rambly but so much of what she says is spot on. The paragraph about loss (the intergenerational experience of moving to escape poverty, the lost connections due to people migrating overseas, the loss of jobs and economic and social wellbeing when factories close) really concisely summarizes so much of what I felt growing up and always moving and being moved. And the stuff about the wall in the head is a really powerful tool. The thing about working class people being invisible but constantly scrutinized, while middle class people are ignored and yet have a powerful voice, was really apt. A great opening chapter.

If the rest of the book is as good, it’s going to be a really powerful read!

32

megamie 12.19.16 at 2:43 pm

Here is a sample of what of I have read:
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets
Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie
Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion
Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust
The Perfect Horse The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis
The Life of Louis XVI by Louis Hardman

33

JoB 12.19.16 at 3:10 pm

William H Gass: Eyes.

It’s by far not the best Gass but being a Gass it’s by far the best novel to have appeared.

34

MPAVictoria 12.19.16 at 3:12 pm

Read a number of really good books this year.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins-

If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods then I would think this would be right up your alley. It has a similar feel of exploring a magical world just a half step to the left of our own. Mythical beings, Powers and Dominations playing their games and regular folks caught in the crossfire. If anything I think it is better realized then Gaiman’s work and certainly more quickly paced. I kind of fell in love with the mythology created in the novel and was disappointed to learn that Author is not planning on writing a sequel.

https://www.amazon.ca/Library-at-Mount-Char/dp/0553418602

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo
I am only about 2/3 of the way through this one but so far it has been an absolute delight. The basic plot is a unsuccessful poet accidentally gives his wife to the devil and then has to go into to hell and get here back. Written in the style of a 19th century comedic novel that has been spend up 50% the prose is just a delight. Everything is witty and it has a lot of the kind of lines that stick in your memory. Plus, in the style of Flashman or Pratchett, the author makes great use of footnotes to ad background and comedy. Highly recommended.

35

SamChevre 12.19.16 at 4:56 pm

I posted a long post–I’m not sure if it is lost, or in moderation (several new posts have appeared since), or rejected.

36

Harry 12.19.16 at 5:09 pm

Thanks Sam — it was in spam, must have been auto-rejected because of the links??

37

Harry 12.19.16 at 5:10 pm

I mean because there were several links, not because of what you linked to.

38

Matt 12.19.16 at 7:11 pm

I bought Too Like the Lightning with no prior knowledge of Ada Palmer based on an endorsement here, and I provisionally love it. “Provisionally” because the first book has lofted everything into the air, and in subsequent books she may make it all fly (I hope!) or it could come thudding back down. I’d be delighted if she managed to explain Bridger without magic*, content if she left his Mystery unexplained, disappointed if she tried to write a cause too mundane for its effects (“midichlorians”).

Like faustusnotes I thought that The Three-Body Problem was a stinker. I wanted to like it since some more non-Anglosphere voices in SFF would be great, and it came recommended by a lot of people whose opinions I normally expect. It suffered from the kind of world building problems that sometimes grate in the Star Trek and Harry Potter** settings: amazing capabilities that seem plot-destined to be used in specific narrow ways without in-world justification for the limits. Like how time travel is apparently easy in Star Trek if you need specimens of extinct whales but doesn’t even come up in discussion most times Star Fleet encounters some species-threatening menace. Or the thousand and one capabilities of transporters, nonetheless treated as simple people-and-cargo movers. Or the Time Turners in Harry Potter.

*Though I could accept outright magic. I adored the Thessaly trilogy even though it had ample magic to go with the philosophy and robots.

**Plenty of people find pure delight in ST and HP, so I recognize that this is a matter of taste. And I like HP just fine, only sometimes distracted by problems like this.

39

Eric 12.19.16 at 7:49 pm

Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

Ian Cobain, The History Thieves

I am currently nearing the end of a long engagement with last year’s Booker Winner, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings

40

Layman 12.19.16 at 8:29 pm

“It is, basically, like reading some SF for the 50, but looking at things from a Chinese point of view.”

This is nearly right. The Three-Body Problem reads as if no science fiction was written between it and Kornbluth’s “A Martian Odyssey”, 1934.

41

Altoii 12.19.16 at 8:36 pm

Sarah Schulman, Conflict is not abuse: overstating harm, community responsibility, and the duty of repair.

42

Peter T 12.19.16 at 10:15 pm

I’ll throw in Kenneth Pomeranz’ The Great Divergence, on Asian economic growth pre-industrial revolution (like all good history, full of small details that challenge your preconceptions) and, for fiction, Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook and Stiletto.

43

bob mcmanus 12.20.16 at 1:15 am

Well, if we are extending this to books not published in 2016

Bill Bishop – The Big Sort
Eric Drott – Music and the Elusive Revolution – Francs 1968-1981
Harold Isaacs – Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution
Lev Manovich – Language of the New Media
Marc Byth – Austerity
Setsu Shigamatsu – Scream from the Shadows- Women’s Liberation in Japan (60-70s radicals)

and especially

Isobel Armstrong – Victorian Glassworks – Glass Culture and Imagination (skilled glassblowers, Crystal Palace, meaning of windows and window breaking, the shock of amorality in microscopic life)

44

alfredlordbleep 12.20.16 at 1:30 am

Machiavellian DemocracyJ. P. McCormick Cambridge University Press

45

PatinIowa 12.20.16 at 1:34 am

I just finished The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published 2015, Pulitzer 2016. It’s probably not the best literary fiction published this or last year (damn Marlon James is good), but it’s a reminder about who gets to write history–the facile claim is that it’s the winners, but in the case of the US Civil War and the US involvement in Southeast Asia, that’s not always the case.

And it is a hell of a spy novel.

46

Alan White 12.20.16 at 2:00 am

PatinIowa–

I just read The Sympathizer too–I thought it was overall very well written, and with important insights about intercultural matters, but uneven enough so as not to deserve the Pulitzer. Example–one sentence composed of iterated conditional antecedents that ran almost a full two pages? There’s a difference between using concatenated intensity of prose and just being overdone. The author is often brilliant at times in turns of phrase–but perhaps sacrificing some such frequent flashes in the pan is the better part of narrative valor in service to the work overall.

47

dr ngo 12.20.16 at 7:01 am

John Eliot Gardiner Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (2013). If there’s a better combination of erudition and enthusiasm, I’ve never encountered it.

48

Mat 12.20.16 at 7:36 pm

I read Too Like the Lightning based on a recommendation here too. I liked it by the end, and I want to read the next one, but I found it a bit infuriating. It felt like there were only ten people in the entire world. I know the point is supposed to be that it’s incestuous, but seriously, we only ever seem to meet one family, one ex-criminal, and all the world leaders.

As I say I liked it, but I think she needs to flesh her world out a bit.

49

William Berry 12.20.16 at 8:09 pm

Layman @40: AMO was written by Stanley Weinbaum. With its absurdist humor (and some tweaks, obviously) it could almost be published today.

50

Randy 12.20.16 at 9:21 pm

Evicted was definitely the best book I read this year. It’s an ethnography of housing insecurity (and its motives) in Milwaukee. I think it offers a very rare look at one aspect of many poor people’s lives, and its beautifully written.

51

Layman 12.20.16 at 10:30 pm

@William Berry, yes, you’re right about Weinbaum, my bad.

52

WLGR 12.22.16 at 6:05 pm

Seeing Peter Dorman mention Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton from 2014, I’d also put in a plug for Matt Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy, which actually was from 2016. I haven’t read more than chunks of it but it seems like a thorough and engaging attempt to put US history back on the hook for the kind of antebellum racist triumphalism that American liberals often seem to want to sublimate entirely onto the Confederacy so it can be cast out as a foreign object, as in Phil Ochs’ refrain “Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of”. In this telling, the way we tend to interpret Southern US statesmen like Calhoun as actually having been proto-Confederates, not to mention giving short shrift to the roles of actual Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis in earlier US policy, becomes a way to disavow the thoroughly American nature of their ideology and legacy — which certainly seems like an important theme in today’s political climate!

Also, bob mcmanus and I have both cited John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century on CT recently, so as one would expect I have to second his recommendation here. Speaking of important themes in today’s political climate, anybody interested in the immigration and the economics of nationalism should give it a close reading, especially those anti-leftist liberals fixated on a perceived opposition between issues of class and issues of race.

53

LFC 12.22.16 at 7:35 pm

@WLGR
I’d also put in a plug for Matt Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

W.R. Mead in the Jan/Feb ’17 Foreign Affairs gives this bk a favorable capsule review, showing that a somewhat-right-of-center person (Mead) and a leftist (WGLR) can agree on something, though their interps. of the bk presumably differ somewhat… haven’t read it myself.

54

WLGR 12.23.16 at 1:50 am

AFAIK Karp identifies as a leftist (by which I mean the “not a liberal, a leftist” kind of leftist) but don’t take my word for it…

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Harry 12.23.16 at 2:23 am

I’d second faustusnotes’ plea for the Rivers of London books. They are terrific. Despite the supernatural (which is pervasive!). Just the other day I wanted to recommend them to a student going to London for the semester but was too timid….. Buyer beware – author is David Aaronivich’s brother….

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