With the end of 2014 upon us, it’s time for all sorts of lists and awards. This is a little different, though, as most of the stuff on my list is not written this year; I merely read them this year, so this is more of a This Was My Year 2014 Kinda List. I doubt anybody reads a book based on year of publication, anyway. When I started grad studies a bit over a year ago, I kept a list of books I read so this is not really 2014 only but close. A couple of different genres and it’s kept to books only, and a few other things at the end. No papers because then we’d be here all year. Everything (but one) on this list is worth your time.
I’ve listed non-fiction, then fiction, then a bit of cultural stuff. There’s something in there for everyone.
Here it is, the best from my list of how much I’ve read this year (full list here, yes this #humblebrag.)
World War I
1. The First World War (Hardach)
Hardach’s 1977 book is still the best book about World War I, both covering economics and war strategies (the chapter on the blockade is awesome.)
2. Great War, Total War (many authors)
A combination of essays on World War I, this gem of a book is not that well known. Best thing after Hardach on the total mobilization (even if it has a Fergusson piece. It’s his best one, though.)
3. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (MacMillan)
Personally I think this book drastically underestimate the fault of Germany in the break-out of World War I, but it does show how it was really not just a random killing of Franz Ferdinand that started it all: many countries in Europe were preparing for war long before.
World War II
1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer)
Old but good. I have yet to read a book about Nazi Germany that does a better job than Shirer. This is a masterpiece.
2. Inferno (Hastings)
A beast of a book, showing how the Allied were often outsmarted in various battles, but won the war because of the numbers game. If you like the small, never-heard of battles of WWII, this is for you.
3. Wages of Destruction (Tooze)
Was Hitler always poised to lose? I’m sure it didn’t feel like that in 1942 and Tooze reads more reassuringly than I’m sure the real world was. That said, it is still the best book on the nazi economy (althought Gordon’s critique is, I think, well-placed).
1. Golden Fetter (Eichengreen)
If there is one book that can explain the Great Depression, I think it’s this. The Gold Standard stands in the middle of all explanations, combining it into a force of destruction. If you want to cheat, Bernanke’s review is excellent.
2. A History of Interest Rates (Homer and Sylla)
Homer and Sylla’s magnum opus is required reading if you like macroeconomic history. A close second for best macro book is Countours In the World Economy, but this is the #1. Too much in there for me to go through, but if you’re into this sort of stuff it’s well worth your time.
3. Capital (Marx, Piketty)
It sorta had to be there. Piketty’s Capital is long, it has a lot of numbers, and the last part sucks. Marx’ Capital is long, interesting, and when you read it you’ll be like ‘aaah so this is where it comes from’. Both take time so and energy, so you need to be up for it. On Piketty I recommend graphs + audiobook.
1. Pop Internationalism (Krugman)
I’m a big Krugman fan and this book is a prime example of why.
2. Fragile Empire (Judah)
With Russia in the news, this is a good book to show how Putin got to rule. I didn’t (and don’t) know that much about Russia so a good book for beginners. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s fall is particularly well-written.
3. Fooled By Randomness (Taleb)
Oh I’m agnostic about putting this on the list, because Taleb’s writting style is obnoxious. His first book does have some good points, and if you’ve read this I think you don’t need to read the others.
1. The 500
2. The Directive
These two are the best books I’ve read this year. The former con-man turned Harvard Law grad Mike Ford goes to Washington, where he ends up working for a firm that, well, controls everything. They lobby, cheat, stalk people, and get shit done. Mike, obviously, ends up on the wrong side of this, and The 500 is about how he tries to survive in DC’s political landscape. Rule #1: Never have fun at a party. The Directive is the second one, and I won’t give anything away except to say that it’s about a break in at the New York Federal Reserve. Not the gold, mind. The Markets Desk. “”There’s $300 billion worth of gold in the basement, but the real money is on the ninth floor.” WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE. If you read only two books in 2015, make it these.
1. The Magicians Trilogy (The Magicians; The Magician King; The Magician’s Land)
Oh man is this one awesome. If you, like me, grew up learning to read by following Harry and his friends’ endeavours agains Voldemort, you will like The Magicians. This is Harry Potter for adults — something I’m sure lots of Magicians fans will hate — but we follow Quentin Coldwater, a high school whiz-kid that finds out he can do magic. He also learns, slowly, that doing magic doesn’t solve all of life’s problems, and graduating from magic school can lead to a lot of alcohol and nothingness.
2. A Song of Ice and Fire
You all know this one: Game of Thrones. After the fairly boring book four (I really hope those pointless storylines become important!) book five got back on track. One thing that annoys me is that I’ve turned into one of those guys that says “oh my that’s not in the books” or “grrr they changed that” when I see the tv show, and if you love the tv show don’t read the books. It drastically diminishes that experience. You should read them, though, because the books are better.
1. Ready Player One
Best sci-fi books of the year (from 2012) and of course it will become a movie. You should read it if you like, well, sci-fi because this one is filled with so many references that you will end up reading up afterwards. Set in 2044 in a dystopian world where everyone live inside a sort-of matrix, the creator of the system dies leaving an ‘easter egg’ to find inside the game. The winner (Wade Watts) will get all of his money. This is the story of how he wins. Reading it, I had the distinct sensation that this is like my generations’ feel-good version of 1984.
2. Foundations series
Asimov’s masterpiece is as good as people say. Seven books, where I actually think Prelude and Forward (chronologically the first two, written last) are the best.
3. The Martian
Another to-be movie about a guy stranded on Mars after his crew thinks he’s dead. Takes a while to get started but after the first fifty-or-so pages, it’s really awesome.
Embarrassed that I had never read it like the good lefty I am, I wasn’t disappointed. Some will probably like Animal Farm better because they like being contrarians but 1984 is the best of Orwell’s (many good ones; another favourite is here.) No need for me to write more; will just say this is definitely on my all time top 10 list.
While 1984 is the best classic I’ve read this year, Catch-22 is the funniest. Not often you laugh out loud when you read a book. I did many times reading this.
3. Good Omens
A close second to funniest classic of the year.
Books I Am Glad I Have Read, But Wow Were They Long
4. Anna Karenina; The Gambler; The Idiot; Notes from the Underground
I had a boss once who was into Russian literature, and I guess some of his wisdom did get through. I have yet to read The One (War and Peace) because every time I pick it up, I count the pages and figure out how many other books I could read instead. Some day, maybe. Glad I can file one Tolstoy and three Dostoevsky’s under ‘done’. Notes from the Underground was, in particular, excellent.
Ok, so comics. A word of caution: there are so many great ones, and this is heavily influenced by what I have read in the last six months. All these are pretty cool, though. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree.
1. Superman: Red Son
An awesome take on Superman, who I’m not normally a fan of.
2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
The best Batman out there.
3. The Ultimates (#1 and #2)
If you liked the Avengers (the movie), you will like these two. The scene where Nick Fury talks about how he’d like Samuel L. Jackson to play him in the movie is, well, awesome.
4. The Wicked + The Divine
I’m inclined to agree with Alex here, however Avengers vs. X-Men was pretty good, too.
5. Iron Man Extremis
Tony has to be on the list.
1. Atlas Shrugged
Really, never again. I mostly finished this one to say to all the people who like it, “yes I read it, yes it sucks.” The characters are morons, the writing is horrible, and it is so long you want to put it down all the time. A good rule for life is that if someone says it shaped their life, you can disregard what comes after.
Blog Post of the Year
1. The Global Bezzle – whence it came, where it went and why it matters – Dan Davies
This one is actually from 2011, but Dan Davies’ piece on how we got into this mess is still the best blogpost I have read this year.
This is from 2006, but I have yet to hear a better yearmix than Armin van Buuren’s 2006.
1. Mø: No Mythologies to Follow
This one is actually from 2014, and Danish nonetheless. Candy for your ears.
Most Awesome Thing of the Year
Brøndby IF — 50 years
This one is easy.