I read 58 books in 2011. Here are the top six in terms of impact or enjoyment.
The Forever War – Dexter Filkins
This covers the author’s experiences reporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I have to give this an “R” rating for violence and some profanity, this was a very impactful book for me. While the author didn’t promote an “in your face” political agenda, it still left me appalled at various US missteps that had such drastic consequences for everyday Iraqis. And I wonder about the prospects for pushing democracy on some cultures. But mostly, I ached from the tragedies imposed on normal Iraqi (and Afghani) people, and am in disbelief what awful things some humans can do to others, especially by presumably pious people in the name of religion.
The Journals of Addison Pratt – ed. George Ellsworth
While a dramatically different time (1850’s) and place (South Pacific), I was struck by the similarities in Addison’s missionary experiences and feelings to those of my own. And what a normal, rational person he was (not some fanatic religious zealot). It felt like he would be at home in the modern Church. His earlier life on whaling ships read like Moby Dick. His lengthy separations from, and longings for, his wife and children were heartrending.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Bill Bryson
While a humorous and clever book in its own right for any reader, I was propelled back in time to my childhood from the same period as the author, and so many things and experiences resonated with me.
Doc, the Rape of the Town of Lovell – Jack Olsen
I know, how could such a book make it on my reading list, much less my top list. But on several levels this was a fascinating and impactful account for me. As a bishop, I wondered about how the Church leaders handled things. I was dismayed how the victims were treated by so many, and the doctor supported by so many. I worried how justice could be served, with so many things stacked against the accusers.
Stiff – Mary Roach
A really off the wall subject—dead human bodies. But dealt with by the author in both an amusing and enlightening way. I went on to read other books by the author, but this one was a notch above. Not for the squeamish, though.
Give a Boy a Gun – Jack Olsen
The story of Claude Dallas and his murder of two F&G officers. Very interesting story about a variety of fascinating people. Especially interesting to me as it was in our backyard and dominated Idaho news at the time.
Here are the honorable mention books:
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War – Nathaniel Philbrick
A rather virgin subject matter for me, and this went far beyond the ship and voyage, and continued for a couple of generations of interaction and impact between settlers and natives. A huge percentage of settlers died the first year from illness or starvation.
Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick
All I can say is “wow”. North Koreans have had, and still have, it very rough indeed.
The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham
Poignant story, and the ending differs from the movie (I liked the movie ending better)
Columbine – Dave Cullen
Fascinating, and a bit disturbing.
In the Heart of the Sea – Nathaniel Philbrick
Adventure and peril in the extreme
The Looming Tower -- Lawrence Wright
Very insightful recounting of people and events of the rise of radical Islam leading to 9/11.
Panzer Commander – Hans Von Luck
An interesting and different look through the German army lens at WWII battles and fronts, and the tragic aftermath of many imprisoned for years in Russia.
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
To the Ends of the Earth – Robert Kaplan
I love his adventure travels and commentaries
Inheriting Syria – Flynt Leverett
Reads like an extended report assignment, but interesting in a narrow sense of understanding the modern Syrian regime.
Malcolm X – Manning Marable
The man had some serious flaws, yet a knack for inspiring.
In Cold Blood -- Truman Capote
Interesting treatment of a tragic crime and tragic perpetrators
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling
I read these as virgin territory long after everyone else, so didn’t have to wait for the next installment. I enjoyed them more than I thought I would, and they evolved from lighter YA literature to more mature and complex circumstances. By book 7 I had my fill.
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
I particularly enjoyed this audio rendition.
The Perfect Mile – Neal Bascomb
Learned a lot about the legend and legendary event(s).
The Darkest Summer – Bill Sloan
Desperate and historic times early in the Korean War.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Vincente Blasco Ibanez
Fiction, yet grounded in the times and events and people of WWI.
These were interesting or enjoyable enough, but another notch down for me:
Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson
Hiroshima – John Hersey
The Big Rock Candy Mountain -- Wallace Stegner
Spook – Mary Roach
Bonk – Mary Roach
Packing for Mars – Mary Roach
Last Stand – Nathaniel Philbrick
Without a Doubt – Marcia Clark
The Number One Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith
Rocket Men – Craig Nelson
Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey
Baghdad Without a Map – Tony Horwitz
Vietnam, A History – Stanley Karnow
Hot, Flat, and Crowded – Thomas Friedman
The Ghost Map – Steven Johnson
At Home: A short history of Private Life – Bill Bryson
Son – Jack Olsen
My Father, Maker of the Trees – Eric Irivuzumugabe
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
Six Armies in Normandy – John Keegan
The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester
Shakespeare – Bill Bryson
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
On Mount Hood – Jon Bell
These weren’t worth the time:
Skyjack, The Hunt for D.B. Cooper – Geoffrey Gray
Author jumped all around, ultimately had nothing to add to solving the mystery, and seemed sucked into all the conspiracy kooks.
Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
I like and enjoy Bill Bryson, but I couldn’t get into this account of travels in his adopted UK, and found it just too mean spirited too often.
Judas Gate – Jack Higgins
Churchill – Paul Johnson
Helmet for my Pillow – Robert Leckie