Book Reviews

Back in January I guessed that I would read about fifty books in 2009. That was actually a pretty accurate prediction. You can check out my Shelfari profile for the full list, and here are some thoughts on my six favorites (not all of these were published in 2009, I just got around to reading them in 2009), in no particular order:

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein - You don't have to be interested in economics to find this book fascinating. It's an in-depth criticism of Chicago School economics, Milton Friedman, Jeffrey Sachs, and the concept of economic 'shock therapy'. Klein explores the historic significance of transition economies in a depth that most sources on this question fail to wrestle with. The Shock Doctrine is extremely well-researched and reads smoothly the whole way through.

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt - I never would have expected to enjoy a book with the subtitle "Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)", given my feelings about car-culture; but Vanderbilt's book is about so much more. Traffic explores the science behind what happens to us when we get behind the wheel of a car. We learn that humans did not evolve to maneuver vehicles at high speeds, and for many people, driving is psychologically damaging. Most people think driving is simple. Most people are wrong.

The Fence by Dick Lehr - I discovered this book entirely by accident while browsing the "new arrivals" section of the public library on a lazy Sunday. The book tells the story of Michael Cox, a plainclothes Boston police officer who was beaten nearly to death by his fellow officers at the end of a high-speed chase of a group of thugs. Lehr goes on to tell the story of the subsequent finger-pointing, denial, cover-up, court cases, and struggle for reparation. The Fence is a spectacular piece of writing and journalism.

Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes - OK, so this is my dorky urbanist/cyclist book for the list. I initially read a review in Next American City and decided to give it a shot. My expectations were not particularly high; what would a book about bicycling actually have to say? The history of bicycling in the United States is a lot more comprehensive than I realized, and while the U.S. as a whole is not very bicycle friendly, there really are a few places that are leading the way. I also appreciate that the author, like myself, is not a hardcore bicyclist, but is enough of one to present these issues seriously.

Winner Takes All by Christina Binkley - I picked this up after my weekend in Las Vegas. Binkley is a journalist and has written for the Wall Street Journal, and the book reads like something I would expect from a journalist. I find the story of the development of Las Vegas fascinating, particularly how such a seedy town became such a bastion of opulence. Winner Takes All tells the story of the three big casino moguls in Las Vegas and gives some insight as to why no other city is or will be like Sin City.

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell - I'm typically not a fan of books of essays, but Gladwell's was really excellent. I had not read about two-thirds of the pieces, since they pre-dated my magazine reading days, and I was more than happy to re-read the others. Gladwell has an amazing talent, the ability to take even the most mundane topic and turn it into a page-turner. Would you have any interest in reading a several thousand word article about ketchup? or women's hair dye? I probably wouldn't. Unless it's written by Malcolm Gladwell.


    On December 28, 2009 Anonymous said...

    Yo, for future reference, especially since you mention that you get many books from the library yourself, you might use Worldcat as a link for each title instead of Amazon. But if you must direct people to a vendor, try Powell's or, hell, even Bookfinder. Check corporate donations in The Blue Pages, and if I recall correctly you're liable to find that Amazon money will be found in predominantly Republican coffers.