Books I read in 2018
In 2018 I was able to make some significant progress on my reading backlog. This also marks my commitment to catalog and reflect more on what I’ve read for future review.
Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love, David Talbot – I like to describe today’s San Francisco as “sanitized.” As the technology boom continues unabated, gentrification’s relentless march continues to reshape even the grittiest neighborhoods before our very eyes. And with so many residents arriving from other cities, there is a general unawareness of San Francisco’s crazy, insane, why-have-I-never-heard-about-this history. Talbot does a fantastic job explaining the twin forces at work in San Francisco’s post-war political sphere, and walking us through the tumultuous decades that birthed one of the most unique cities on the planet. Highly recommended for any Bay Area transplant who wants to learn more about how San Francisco came to be the City of Light.
Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Russell Hochschild – Prof. Hochschild puts her sociology background to the test and spends five years immersed in the lives of Tea Party supporters in the Louisiana Bayou. The resulting observations form the foundation for Strangers in Their Own Land, a lucid framework for understanding the values and mindset of folks in the Tea Party. I found her conclusions helpful for explaining things I was seeing in my own life, and it prepared me well for my campaign.
Shoe Dog, Phil Knight – I’ve only known Nike to be a cultural and fashion behemoth, so I was fascinated by the story of how a motley crew created, through sheer willpower and a lot of luck, one of the most influential companies of the 20th century. Extremely well-written, Shoe Dog gives a window into the world of startups at a time when such a path had neither the business nor cultural institutions present to spawn and grow such enterprises.
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, Bill Browder – Browder isn’t exactly the most humble narrator, but he certainly backs up his boasts. There is no way to summarize this book succinctly, which probably shows just how many twists and turns Browder’s life has taken. Suffice it to say Browder is directly responsible for the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians during the campaign, and this book details why. An easy and quick read that gives the reader a peak into the wild, no-holds-barred life of ex-pats in Russia.
Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, Lizzy Goodman – 2005 was a big year for me. It was my first year of middle school in an entirely different part of town, which meant I was very busy (unsuccessfully) assembling a cool, new identity. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my favorite artists released seminal albums around this time: The Funeral by Arcade Fire, LCD’s self-titled debut, and the Strokes’ latest record. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the way New York City drove internet culture and the music scene fundamentally shaped middle-school Steven and laid the foundation for my interests and values even today.
It would be inaccurate to say that Lizzy Goodman wrote this book, as much as she guided it. The book is composed entirely of first-person interviews with some of the biggest players of the era: Interpol, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the folks at Death From Above, Grizzly Bear, and more. It’s a first-hand look at how NYC reinvented itself in the wake of 9/11. If any of those bands have had an impact on your life, it’s worth peeking behind the curtain and seeing how it all came to be.
Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss – A fantasy novel that came very highly recommended by several of my friends. Rothfuss created a rich and detailed world with a compelling main character, but honestly it didn’t live up to the lofty expectations set by my friends.
Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State, Ali Soufan – The war in Afghanistan has been ongoing for most of my life, so I figured it was about time to truly understand the history and current situation in the Middle East. Arguably, no one understands the Middle East better than Ali Soufan. When Soufan joined the FBI in 1997, he was one of only eight F.B.I. agents in the country who could speak Arabic. The New Yorker credits him as the person who came the closest to stopping 9/11. This guy’s been hunting terrorists for years, and he puts his deep knowledge and contacts to use in Anatomy of Terror. In this book, Soufan explains the structural and philosophical differences between the different terrorist groups, maps out the complex web of terrorist networks, and explains how US strategy is currently ineffective at solving the root problem of terrorism. Dense, but thorough.
Fear, Bob Woodward – Essentially, 450 pages of anecdote after anecdote about how the White House has no process. Of course, the book is deeply-sourced but most of the juiciest bits were written up in the paper. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re really not missing out and I would skip this one.
The Three Body Problem series (Three Body Problem, Death’s End, The Dark Forest), Cixin Liu – Liu mentions in one of his afterwards that he’s been thinking about first contact for most of his life, and it shows. The narrative arc is carefully constructed, presenting the reader many opportunities to consider the hard questions presented and take sides. It was refreshing to read a book that is sinocentric, and I only wish I could read it in the original Mandarin as I can tell a certain flavor is lost in translation. I found the pacing to be excellent, with enough hard science to keep the story grounded but not so much that you get bogged down into it. I would highly recommend for any fiction fans.
I encourage you to take a look at my reading backlog. I welcome your suggestions!