November 3rd, 2012


Links I found interesting for 03-11-2012


November non-fiction, 2003-2011

This is my tenth year of bookblogging - I started back in November 2003, and next Halloween I shall celebrate the tenth anniversary of starting it all. Buit it may never be too soon to start looking back, and I plan to do that systematically for each month between now and then.

These are the non-fiction books that I have read, and reviewed here, in each November from 2003 to 2011:

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It's funny how variable memory is. I have at least vague memories of reading most of them, but can't recall anything at all about, say, The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland except that I didn't think it had enough about Ireland. Likewise few of the collected essays left much impact on me. As far as I remember almost all the Cyprus books were pretty bad, heavily biased in one way or the other, though Kızılyürek's interviews with Clerides were fascinating. I remember the circumstances of reading From Genocide to Continental War because I was sitting beside the author on an intercontinental plane flight, which is a bit unusual even for me, and after the events of the last week it's amusing to see Denis MacShane on the list.

To be more positive, I shall list the top five books on this list, and on each of the subsequent lists, with some attempt at justification.

Up Through an Empty House of Stars: Reviews and Essays 1980-2002, by David Langford
When I read this, Langford was still the automatic winner of the Hugo for Best Fan Writer every year, and the pendulum seems to have now swung against him. But he was still the first sf critic I ever read regularly, and his essays are humane and witty, and insightful too as far as I can tell.

The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert Cooper
A fantastic pithy summary of how international politics actually works, by one of its key practitioners (who retired this year, though I think we have not heard the last of him.)

Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King
An extraordinary story of American sailors enslaved by Africans in the early nineteenth century (rather than the other way round). I am often a bit distrustful of historians who mine a single source, but King adds quite a lot to the original account.

Postwar by Tony Judt
I have read several blockbuster histories of Europe, but this was the one from which I really learned something - specifically about the years immediately after the second world war, when it wasn't clear that we would be settling into decades of stalemate between vaguely capitalist democracies and vaguely socialist authoritaran regimes, and when the dynamics in several countries might have led to different outomes.

Brussels versus the Beltway: Advocacy in the United States and the European Union, by Christine Mahoney
This is one book that I keep recommending to professional colleagues. Not much has been written about how people try to influence policy in Brussels, and even less of it is any good. But Mahoney takes a sensible and relatively light comparative approach, based pretty firmly on actual research rather than gut feeling, and the result is very useful.

Race of a Lifetime (aka Game Change), by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
I guess it's that time of the electoral cycle, but I think even if it weren't I'd be recommending this excellent insider story of the 2008 election. (The film starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin is based on only about ten pages of the book.) It's a well-paced insider story of the campaign, with dynamics which will be painfully familiar to anyone who's ever been involved in electoral politics, and with some explanation for events which seemed at the time incomprehensible.

If I had to pick one it would be Robert Cooper; although the last piece in the book rambles a bit off topic, the rest is excellent.

Honourable mentions (also five):
A Bachelor's London: Memories of the Day before Yesterday, 1889-1914, by Frederic Whyte
The Awful End of William the Silent, by Lisa Jardine
Who Goes There (Travels through Strangest Britain, in Search of the Doctor), by Nick Griffiths
King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild
Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson