Sunday, December 29, 2019

Books I remember from 2019

I read a lot, some people would say too much, but I would say not enough.  The books listed were discovered by reading other people's lists, hearing about it on radio or tv. or reading in a newspaper or magazine, a personal recommendation or sometimes even just wandering around the library.  If any of my selections catch your fancy my efforts have been worth while.  If not, I hope you move onto some other more inspiring list.


"Washington Black"  (2018) by Esi Edugyan tells the story of an 11 year old black boy in Barbados who is taken in hand by inventor and abolitionist.  He travels around America with many adventures and revelations.  A thought provoking book.  

"Hypnotist" (2011) by Lars Kepler which is really a pseudonym of a Swedish husband and wife team.  I have found Scandinavian mystery writers to tell the most compelling stories and this is no exception.

"One Brother Shy" (2017) by Terry Fallis  winner of two Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour + one Canada Reads  He often writes about things he is familiar. I had forgotten that he is an identical twin and he has concocted an amusing train of events starting in the ever familiar Canadian capital Ottawa, but moving onto London and Moscow with lots of local references.  As an engineer his characters tend to gravitate around modern technology.  A new concept for me was "social license" which refers to the fact that having legal permission to do something doesn't mean that society approves.  You will laugh and be drawn into the narrative.

"Albatross"(2019) also by Terry Fallis presents the dilemma of should one do what they want or do what they are good at.  As usual very humorous and thought provoking.

James A Michener  has long been a favored novelist and this year I uncovered two unread books. "Reccessional"  was about a seniors bulding with lots of information (and some philosophy) and an interesting story.  "The Novel" was a fictional account of the process of writing a book that included editor, publicist, critic.  Some interesting insights--also set where Michener grew up among the Amish. (where some of my ancestors lived).

I had vowed never to read David Langercrantz, but I weakened "The Girl in the Spider's Web" (2014)  

"The Children Act" (2014) by Ian McEwan.  Always has a deeper meaning forcing you to pay more attention.

"Mansfield Park" (1811) One wonders how she could understand psychology, but in all her books she delves into the mind of her characters.  Jane Austen

"Warlight" (2018) by Michael Ondaatje set in post war England.  Children are protected from those who might want revenge on their parents.  Recommended by reliable Facebook friend, Vijayakumar Mk Nair.

"The Deserter" (2019) by Nelson DeMille was the latest in a long line of enjoyable books, but this one was co-written with his son, Alex who is an experienced screen writer.  I find his books easy to read, although there is a lot of detail that lends credibility.  One interest to me was the setting of Venezuela.  A few years back my job put me in contact with some people from Venezuela including someone who worked engineering projects in Venezuela.  They were very critical of the government and I confess I thought they were being snobby and elitist.  Will also own up to my bias.   In a conversation with a proud aunt, Nelson told her that she should not read certain sections (sexual) that he had to put in because they were expected.  His sense of humor comes through as much from unspoken thoughts as from dialogue.   The main character is always someone who breaks rules, is obssessed with sex and alcohol.  In this latest he presents criticisms of a secretive bureaucracy. Enjoyable reading that holds attention.

Non Fiction

"The Fifth Risk" (2018) by Michael Lewis was the first book completed in 2019  It is a book about Donald Trump (many were to follow) focusing on the transition and priorities.  They were unprepared for governing perhaps because it was unexpected.  As usual Lewis is apt at pinpointing causes of major problems.

"Identity" (2018) by Francis Fukuyama helped clarify an issue prominent reading about politics.  Although I say clarify it also leads to questions. one of my more popular blogs.

"Educated" (2018) by Tara Westover highly recommended was not at all what I expected.  I imagined someone against all odds educating herself in fits and starts.  There is an element of that, but more so she lives though an unusual family dynamic that in some manner is the really crucial core of her education.  Breaking away from an unhealthy dysfunctional family to strive for rationality.

"Dark Sky Rising" (2019) by Henry Louis Gates Jr.  was written for young people, but is very useful to a better understanding of Reconstruction after the American Civil War.

"The Death of Truth" (2018) by Michiko Kakutani is one of many books on Donald Trump focusing on the importance of truth.  Good perspective.

"Farsighted" (2018) by Steven Johnson discusses the process of making complex decisions.  One example is the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Also uses Charles Darwin with a couple of difficult decisions.  He thinks ahead to mankind's future decisions.

"The Attention Merchants" (2016 ) by Tim Wu is about the evolution of getting your attention mainly for the purposes of advertising.  From print to the inter-net.

"The 100 Year Marathon" (2015) by Michael Pillsbury is about Chinese intention to overcome humiliation.  They are portrayed as very duplicitous and determined.  One personal note was how the Chinese forced re-writing the script for "Gravity, " a movie I enjoyed.  The fictional explosion that precipitated the dilemma of the story was attributed to the Russians when in reality the Chinese are the only ones to have engineered an outer space explosion.  The rescue at the end was credited to the Chinese, when in fact only the Russians had the capability.  It seems Hollywood wanted the big audience in China.

"Becoming " (2019)  someone that caught my favorable attention during the initial presidential campaign.  Her life has been very interesting.  Supported by her family Michelle has overcome all sorts of barriers and has many worthy accomplishments on her own.  A very worthy First Lady and hopefully not finished her public service.

Dying of Whiteness (2019) by Jonathan M. Metzel  Heard about on a radio interview.  Hits at how the wealthy can subvert ordinary voters on social issues with racism a key factor.

"House of Trump House of Putin" (2018) by Craig Unger provides interesting background about Trump's many links with Russian gangsters and Russian govt.

"Let Her Fly," (2018) by Ziauddin Yousafzai a book was promoted at the Hamilton Public Library with a visit from her father.  I ended up buying the book and consider it one of my most memorable experiences of the year.  Read more:

"The Future is Asian"  (2019) by Parag Khanna gives a worldview that is different, but possibly more accurate than what I am surrounded with.

Don't Label me from Irshad Manji (2019) is an interesting book about identity. Irshad has overcome her fear of dogs.   (

Jared Diamond's, "Upheavel"  (2019) was one of the best of the year.  It was a case study set in six countries he has been connected to that illustrate changes and challenges in today;s world.    He uses a personal crisis with national crisis.  His insights are always worth considering.

"Supercooperators" (2011) by Martin A. Nowalk was a scientist demonstrating the role of co-operation plays with evolution.  the emphasis has usually been on the survival of the fittest meaning the most competitive individual or species.  We would not have achieved what we consider civilization if we did not develop the ability to co-operate.

"12 Rules for Life" (2018) by Jordan Peterson gave some guidance based on experience, psychology and philosophy.  As always there is good advice, some of which either reinforces some habits or even adopt.  For a history of my experiences with rules:

"Growing Pains" (2018) by Gwynne Dyer.  I am fortunate to read him in my local paper, but many of you may have easy access to him in one over hundred papers around the world. Gives the best insight into global politics as anyone.

To see my best reads from 2018:

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