The Year in Books - 2011
At the start of 2011, I set a goal to read 25,000 pages by year's end:
I think this is ambitious, but achievable. If I can read 18,000 pages in a year in which I learned to be a father, took a bar exam, started a new job, and bought a new house, I should be able to do quite a bit better this year. It would be easy to set the goal at 20,000 pages, but I am too certain I could achieve that. I need a goal that actually creates a challenge.
And a challenge it was, particularly during the early months of the year as I studied for the Florida bar exam, my second bar exam in as many years. The studying paid off and I passed, but it left me with a mild deficit to make up later in the year. Fortunately, my daughter continues to excel in the sleep department, and her 2-hour afternoon naps on the weekend provided some prime reading opportunities (as a well as a chance to get back in to my woodworking in time to build a new CD case by Christmas).
Here's what I read in 2011:
- Julius Caesar - Philip Freeman
- Antony and Cleopatra - Adrian Goldsworthy
- The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing - Taylor Larimore
- The Four Pillars of Investing - William Bernstein
- The Automatic Millionaire - David Bach
- Smart Couples Finish Rich - David Bach
- Common Sense on Mutual Funds - John Bogle
- The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson
- The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
- A Random Walk Down Wall Street - Burton Malkiel
- Winning the Loser's Game - Charles Ellis
- Alexander the Great - Philip Freeman
- Lenin - Robert Service
- Trotsky - Robert Service
- Stalin - Robert Service
- A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
- The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
- Watership Down - Richard Adams
- The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown
- When Genius Failed - Roger Lowenstein
- Den of Thieves - James Stewart
- Too Big to Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin
- American Rust - Philipp Meyer
- T.R. - H.W. Brands
- Big Machine - Victor LaValle
- Woodrow Wilson - John Milton Cooper, Jr.
- Freedom From Fear - David Kennedy
- Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
- Grand Expectations - James Patterson
- Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks
- Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
- Restless Giant - James Patterson
- An Unfinished Life - Robert Dallek
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
- This Kind of War - T.H. Fehrenbach
- The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning - Taylor Larimore
- Crucible of War - Fred Anderson
- Almost a Miracle - John Ferling
- Plain, Honest Men - Richard Beeman
- Ratification - Pauline Maier
- Paradise - Toni Morrison
- The First American - H.W. Brands
- The Right Financial Plan - Larry Swedroe
- Empire of Liberty - Gordon Wood
- The House that Bogle Built - Lewis Braham
- Don't Count on It! - John Bogle
- What Hath God Wrought - Daniel Walker Howe
- Andrew Jackson - H.W. Brands
- The Impending Crisis - David Potter
- The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
- Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
- The Greatest Show on Earth - Richard Dawkins
- The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville - Shelby Foote
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
- The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
- The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian - Shelby Foote
- The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
- The Art of Fielding - Chard Harbach
- The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
- The Civil War: Red River to Appomattox - Shelby Foote
- Unconventional Success - David Swensen
Having read 29,020 pages in those 62 books, my basic goal was met. After devoting most of 2010 to reading fiction, 2011 was quite the opposite. Of the 62 books I read, 45 were nonfiction, and a third of those were in some way money-related, either focused on investing, personal finance, or business history. It seemed time to finally get my financial house in order, and this showed in my book selections. This included a second (third?) reading of William Bernstein's The Four Pillars of Investing, which remains my favorite book on personal investing.
The other mini-project I enjoyed this year was a journey in American history from the colonial period through the Civil War, beginning with Crucible of War, Fred Anderson's magisterial history of the Seven Years' War, and ending with Shelby Foote's three-volume The Civil War: a Narrative.
Amongst the 45 nonfiction titles I read in 2011, the best was David Potter's The Impending Crisis, a book that one of my law school professors had raved about and which I was so desperate to finally read that I actually bought a paperback copy! Devoted to the dozen or so years between the Wilmot Proviso and Fort Sumter, Potter masterfully captured the looming rip in the fabric of the country. It saddens me that Potter died before the book was published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History, but that such a scholarly work remains in print 35 years after publication is a testament to his success.
Just behind Potter's book on my list of favorites is the book I read just before, which covers the prior three decades starting with the end of the War of 1812. Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, a recent entry in the exceptional Oxford History of the United States and another winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, makes a strong case for expanding the traditional economic explanations for the post-founding evolution of the United States. His synthesis of political, cultural, and economic storylines is simply extraordinary.
Though I read just 17 works of fiction, it was a strong group. Five books share the stage as my favorites for 2011: Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, Philipp Meyer's American Rust, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. With perhaps a slight nod to Harbach as my favorite of the year, all five are highly recommended.
There were, as always, some disappointments this year. I had trouble finding much value in the few personal finance books I read, and did not even finish the much-lauded Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. On the fiction side, two book club selections brought up the rear: Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, which inexplicably took home the Booker Prize in 2010, and Victor LaValle's The Big Machine.
All in all, another wonderful year in reading. Later today I will set my goals for the new year.