Books I Read in 2014

Often when you read interviews with business leaders, they get asked about their favorite book, or what they’re currently reading. Invariably the answer is some business tome, which led me to make this observation one day:

I try to read professional-type books every now and again. Invariably the business ones are an assortment of speeches (often including the sort of one-liners that work in a speech but sound really lame on a page) packaged together by a ghostwriter. There’s maybe a page worth of useful nuggets in 200 pages of text. Technical ones are far more useful, though not the best bedtime reading. Since I only get a chance to spend uninterrupted time with a *book* shortly before bed, I find single-topic blogs I can read in 20 minutes during the day better for personal tech education.

Here’s the one professional *book* I read this year: The Art of Community by Jono Bacon (O’Reilly). And to be honest, I haven’t really read it from front to back. I thumb through and read various sections that catch my eye at the time. Much of it is common sense, as least if you approach social media and community through the lens of dealing with actual people as opposed to marketing metrics. I was also looking for more advice on relevant platforms and tools than the book delivers–it’s really more about the mentality and social process required to build a community. Which made it one of those things I want to force-feed to a number of Corporate Marketing-type people in my life, since I know they would never read it on their own. The author also has a way with words that captures some complex thoughts quite nicely. Recommended.

The Black Count (in my tweet picture) by Tom Reiss (Broadway Books) is the biography of Alexandre Dumas Senior, the father of the novelist, and a soldier-hero of the French Revolution. It’s also a very interesting study of the changing conditions for people of African descent in France and in the French New World colonies before, during and after the Revolution. For me, it built very directly on what I took away from a book I read some years back, Crossing the Continent, by Robert Goodwin. (You can read my Amazon review of that book here.) Recommended for The Black Count.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin Books). I’ve liked most of Brooks’ books, both fiction and non-fiction, but I think this and Seven Parts of Desire are my two favorites. This one is a fictionalized biography of one of the first native Americans to attend, and graduate from, Harvard, in the late 1600s. One detail that’s lingered with me comes at the very end of the book: a few hundred native Americans started at Harvard in that timeframe, but most died during their stint there, or shortly thereafter. She makes a pretty effective case that a sedentary lifestyle is a thoroughly unhealthy one. Time to get moving in 2015. 😉 Recommended.

Finally, there’s a completely obscure topic of medieval European history that’s captured my attention: the Albigensian Crusade (really crusades) that took place in southern France in the early 1200s. It was the first organized military action against non-Catholics on European soil, the reason the Office of the Inquisition AND the Domincan order were founded, and the event that changed France from a small state around Paris to the nation whose borders we know today. So it’s actually kind of a big deal.

My interest started because whenever the subject cropped up in something else I was reading, I noticed a very curious thing: if the book was in English, the heretics at the center of the Crusade were painted as happy, free-love proto-Protestants. If it was a French source, they were variously anti-social radical loonies, early counter-Reformationists trying to purify the Catholic Church, or Southern nationalists. Untangling the Rashomon effect has had me diving into a number of books in both French and English, most of which are so esoteric I won’t bother recommending them, but I did discover a good website, in English, which provides a good, accurate overview. The Cathar Inquisition section is quite an instructive read in light of the various elements of US surveillance and national security tactics of the last decade which have been in the news in 2014. It’s almost like we’ve been here before.

What are you reading in 2015?

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8 comments on “Books I Read in 2014

  1. What am I reading?

    Just started:
    “A Philosopher’s Blog: 2014: Philosophical Essays on Many Subjects” by Michael LaBossiere
    “The Practice of Cloud System Administration: Designing and Operating Large Distributed Systems, Volume 2” by Limoncelli et al

    Next up:
    “Feedback Control for Computer Systems” by Philipp K. Janert
    “NSA Secrets: Government Spying in the Internet Age” by The Washington Post
    “The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters” by James M. McPherson
    “Is the EU Doomed (Global Futures)” by Jan Zielonka

    On pre-order (March):
    “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

    Downloaded Kindle sample:
    “The Inheritance Trilogy” by N. K. Jemisin

  2. Currently, Fourteen Eight Thousanders by Reinhold Messner. The nightstand has several books related to backpacking and outdoor navigation. Recent Kindle purchases include Inerrant the Wind by Robert M. Price, The Four Hour Philosopher – a selection of Seneca’s letters palatably translated, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and The History of New Hampshire by Jeremy Belknap. And then technical books too many to spell out from this iPad.

  3. I know all of us read novels that are just fun on occasion. I neglected to mention the series I’m following: Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. It’s about Alfred the Great of England and his children, and their battles to keep England from becoming a Danish colony. The central character is an immensely colorful and hilariously irreverent pagan Saxon warlord, raised by Danes, who hates Alfred but keeps winding up in his service anyway. Like Forest Gump, Uhtred manages to be actively involved in many of the surviving tales of that time (including the martyrdom of a saint), though his telling of events has a distinctly different spin than what’s found in the official chronicles. Probably somewhat closer to the truth, at that.

  4. Pingback: Books I Read in 2015 | The Borg Queen

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