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Stack o’ Books 2009 – Part I

Stack of books read in 2009The stack of books pictured at right sits on a shelf in the mancave, and represents all but two of the books I finished in 2009.

Part I: Non-fiction

In the order I read them …

  • Richard Preston – The Wild Trees
    An incredible story about the small “forests” of floraculture that exist near the tops of some of the worlds tallest trees, and the half-crazy Humboldt State professor who climbs to study them. The setting is one of my old stomping-grounds: the redwood forests of the north coast of California. These are beautiful trees and forests I’ve long loved to visit without ever suspecting the complexity and wonders hidden within them high above my head.
  • Andrew D. Blechman – Pigeons
    They get a bad rap, really. And who knew Mike Tyson was a pigeon fancier?
  • Phoebe Snetsinger – Birding on Borrowed Time
    This was difficult to finish. Snetsinger was undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind person, an extraordinary birder, and a courageous woman. But this autobiography too often reads like a droning checklist of the 8,000+ birds she saw (most after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer). It should read like an adventure story, but it just doesn’t. A recent biography of Snetsinger receives rave reviews; I wish I’d read it instead.
  • Walter Isaacson – Einstein: His Life and Universe
    Almost 700 pages, but it could have been twice the length without a dull page. Great biography, fascinating man.
  • A. N. Wilson – London: A Short History
    Less fanciful and pretentious, and about 1/4 the length of Ackroyd’s “biography” of the city. Pretty straightforward and informative, and a nice tour.
  • Richard Louv – Last Child in the Woods
    The premise of this book is sound. A) The loss of access to nature, especially those “wild places” proximate to where we live, leads to a devaluing of nature. B) This devaluing of nature leads to the loss of access to nature. C) Back to A. Further, we as children suffer wide-ranging physical and psychological ill-effects from our separation from nature. He provides copious examples. An overabundance, I thought, and this is my only complaint about the book. At some point the examples feel like an “piling on,” and become numbing. About half-way through the book, numbed to the sensation, I lost some of my zeal for the subject.
  • Kao Kalia Yang – The Latehomecomer
    This book tells of the story of the author’s family’s emigration from this hills of Cambodia, through Laos and Thailand to the United States, and ultimately to our town of St. Paul, Minnesota. There is a lot to admire in this book, and there is a lot to admire in its young author.
  • David Sakrison – Saving Swans and Cranes from Extinction
    Fascinating story poorly told (the author is as interested in the details of the various aircraft used in the efforts as he is in the birds; I’m not).
  • Henry Hitchings – Defining the World: The Fascinating Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary
    I haven’t read Boswell’s famous biography, and I probably never will, but this look at the ten years or so that Johnson spent creating his 2,300-page dictionary makes me understand why he was a fit subject for the first modern biography. What an achievement (the dictionary) and what an unforgettable character!
  • Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion
    I am firmly in Dawkins’s camp when it comes to the “God, fact or fancy?” question. That I choose to call myself agnostic rather than an atheist, while being convinced beyond all reasonable doubt of the non-existence of God, makes me a PAP (Permanent Agnostic Person) in his way of thinking. And he has almost as much scorn for PAPs as he does for the fundamentalists (Christian, Jew, and Muslim) that are so hostile toward science and reason. In my view he’s mostly right about the negative effects on society of much of organized religion. But despite his tireless efforts in the cause of reason, I doubt his intolerant style wins many converts (“two wrongs don’t make a right” comes to mind). Fundamentalists, for sure, aren’t reading him: he’s preaching to the (unholy) choir. I miss Stephen J. Gould.

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