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My Best Reads in 2021
Barbarians, Robots, Science, Speculation, Swearing, and the Bible. Anyone See a Theme Here?
I was looking over my reading from 2021 and thought it would be useful—or at least diverting—to list my top-ten reads and a provide quick thought about each.
Douglas Boin, Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome (Norton, 2020). A side of the story I’d never really considered—the jilted ally.
Virginia Postrel, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World (Basic Books, 2020). Textiles are everywhere, and they’ve contributed like no other technology for getting us here.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (Knopf, 2021). Sometimes you need to ask a robot what it means to be human.
Michael Strevens, The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science (Liveright, 2020). Science is both subjective and objective; it’s the interplay that makes it work.
Leonard Mlodinow, Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change (Pantheon, 2018). People have tremendous capacities to learn and adapt; here’s some entertaining neuroscience that explains the ability.
Michael Blastland, The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals Its Secrets (Atlantic Books, 2019). Most of our confidence is misplaced.
Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Princeton University Press, 2020). The life of the mind is intrinsically valuable.
John McWhorter, Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever (Avery, 2021). It turns out cussing fashions reveal societal change.
Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Bible with and without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently (HarperOne, 2020). What the Bible says depends on your lens. Reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s line from Mystery and Manners: “It takes readers as well as writers to make literature.”
John Barton, A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book (Viking, 2019). The story is not as straightforward as some might think.
Curious of your opinion. Anyone see a theme here?
Another reason for sharing this list is to give a sample of the kinds of books I’ll be reviewing here, beginning January 1, 2022. In fact, I’m planning on reviewing one of these books on that very day: Michael Blastland’s The Hidden Half.
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