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:

  1. Julius Caesar - Philip Freeman
  2. Antony and Cleopatra - Adrian Goldsworthy
  3. The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing - Taylor Larimore
  4. The Four Pillars of Investing - William Bernstein
  5. The Automatic Millionaire - David Bach
  6. Smart Couples Finish Rich - David Bach
  7. Common Sense on Mutual Funds - John Bogle
  8. The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson
  9. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
  10. A Random Walk Down Wall Street - Burton Malkiel
  11. Winning the Loser's Game - Charles Ellis
  12. Alexander the Great - Philip Freeman
  13. Lenin - Robert Service
  14. Trotsky - Robert Service
  15. Stalin - Robert Service
  16. A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
  17. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
  18. Watership Down - Richard Adams
  19. The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown
  20. When Genius Failed - Roger Lowenstein
  21. Den of Thieves - James Stewart
  22. Too Big to Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin
  23. American Rust - Philipp Meyer
  24. T.R. - H.W. Brands
  25. Big Machine - Victor LaValle
  26. Woodrow Wilson - John Milton Cooper, Jr.
  27. Freedom From Fear - David Kennedy
  28. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
  29. Grand Expectations - James Patterson
  30. Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks
  31. Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  32. Restless Giant - James Patterson
  33. An Unfinished Life - Robert Dallek
  34. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
  35. This Kind of War - T.H. Fehrenbach
  36. The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning - Taylor Larimore
  37. Crucible of War - Fred Anderson
  38. Almost a Miracle - John Ferling
  39. Plain, Honest Men - Richard Beeman
  40. Ratification - Pauline Maier
  41. Paradise - Toni Morrison
  42. The First American - H.W. Brands
  43. The Right Financial Plan - Larry Swedroe
  44. Empire of Liberty - Gordon Wood
  45. The House that Bogle Built - Lewis Braham
  46. Don't Count on It! - John Bogle
  47. What Hath God Wrought - Daniel Walker Howe
  48. Andrew Jackson - H.W. Brands
  49. The Impending Crisis - David Potter
  50. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
  51. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
  52. Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
  53. The Greatest Show on Earth - Richard Dawkins
  54. The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville - Shelby Foote
  55. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
  56. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
  57. The Civil War: Fredericksburg to Meridian - Shelby Foote
  58. The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
  59. The Art of Fielding - Chard Harbach
  60. The Tiger's Wife - Téa Obreht
  61. The Civil War: Red River to Appomattox - Shelby Foote
  62. 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.