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Books, Books, and More Books

These are the books I read in 2014

1. Beyond Band of Brothers, by Major Richard Winters

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Major Richard Winters in France.

2. No Less than Victory, by Jeff Shaara

A workmanlike telling of the story of the Battle of the Bulge.

3. The Frugal Woodturner: Make and Modify all the Tools and Equipment You Need, by Ernie Conover

Self-taught son of a self-taught wood turner describes ingenious ways of doing things differently from everyone else.

4. Box Making, by Doug Stowe

I make far too few wooden boxes. This book will help me to make more of them.

5. The Verse by the Side of the Road, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.

A history of the Burma Shave sign. Author Rowsome tells the complete story of the innovative roadside advertising campaign along with the text of all 600 of the rhymes.

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6. Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build and Hate to Finish, by Teri Masaschi

Meh.

7. USS Preble, by William Kaufman

A friend of mine — a fellow model railroad enthusiast — wrote and self-published this book, which is how I came to learn of its existence. It’s an interesting, fact-based novel about a naval officer and a warship in World War II. The book has issues, but is still fascinating.

8. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the The Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

The OED was the original crowd-sourced project. Contributions were solicited from across Great Britain and one of the greatest contributors turned out to be a man imprisoned — and rightly so — for murder. Winchester tells the fascinating story of the relationship between the embattled editor of the OED and the learned inmate.

9. Hybrid Woodworking: Blending Power & Hand Tools for Quick, Quality Furniture, by Marc Spagnolo, The Wood Whisperer

Industrialization killed the craft of the wood worker in the Western world. Machines such as electric powered planers, jointers, drill presses, shapers, and table saws made the manual skills of the furniture maker obsolete. Over the years, the prices of these power tools dropped sufficiently to be affordable to the hobbyist, and the weekend woodworker was born. But then an interesting thing happened: not a few of these hobbyists began to discover the joy of working wood with those old hand tools that grandpa had used but that dad had set aside. A few more hobbyists began to make replicas of those old hand tools using modern manufacturing techniques, and the craft of hand wood working was reborn.

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Marc Spagnuolo in his workshop.

10. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, by Wendell Berry

This is a remarkable book by a remarkable author. It is a manifesto for improving our lives by improving the way we cultivate our food. As Berry tells it, we once were a nation of farmers, and that our agriculture was the source of our strength.

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11. Moonshine!: Recipes, Tall Tales, Drinking Songs, Historical Stuff, Knee-Slappers, How to Make It, How to Drink It, Pleasin’ the Law, Recoverin’ the Next Day, by Matthew Rowley

I’d love to make moonshine. The equipment is fairly simple and the process is thousands of years old. Basically, you can take any organic matter, like potatoes, corn, or wheat, crush it and boil it, then just let it ferment naturally. After a day or two you boil it and condense the resulting vapors into drinkable alcohol. Unfortunately, in the USA, it remains illegal, if only desultorily enforced. I have other hobbies that won’t get me into trouble.

12. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

I really like Stephenson. He is a creative original. However, he needs an editor. This book was too long. In this novel he constructs a world slightly different from our own, one where the religion is based on science, and the secular world has crazy beliefs about bearded men in the sky. Once you slog your way to the end, you find out that this notion of a parallel universe isn’t just an intriguing backdrop for a quest, but is an integral part of the story.

13. Sight Unseen, by Robert Goddard

I like Goddard’s books and I’ve read many of them over the years. He spins fascinating mysteries that are…unusual. They are meticulously plotted stories that often involve untangling events that occurred decades ago. While their structure tends to be similar from book to book, each one is interesting in its own right. This one dealt with a kidnapping that goes bad, and a witness is killed by the getaway car. Many years later, seemingly after all the evidence is washed away, a few interested parties emerge and solve the puzzle.

14. Measure Twice, Cut Once: Lessons from a Master Carpenter, by Norm Abram

Norm is a carpenter who makes furniture, and has a lot to offer in techniques, tools, and values. His television show, The New Yankee Workshop, is an excellent demonstration of his skills and approach. This book is less useful than watching him make things.

15. The Political Mind, by George Lakoff

Lakoff is a brilliant scientist who has done ground-breaking work in understanding linguistics and human cognition. In this fine book he turns the bright light of his intellect upon the puzzle of politics and particularly how conservatives seem to be able to frame their issues in a compelling way, and how progressives struggle to do so. This book will give you a greater understanding of how humans think, and why our political world is shaped the way it is.

16. The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident, by Dick Couch

Dick Couch is a former Navy SEAL, so he knows what he’s talking about. This book is a follow-up to his earlier work on the the Navy SEAL program, The Warrior Elite. In this book, he focuses on the training the SEALs receive. It will leave you in awe of the skill, dedication, intelligence, strength, stamina, experience, and courage of these men.

17. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

An excellent novel about a gynecologist in Ethiopia, son of a Carmelite nun from India, and an enigmatic English surgeon. This is a masterful work by a skilled novelist. Highly recommended.

18. Blanket Chests: Outstanding Designs from 30 of the World’s Finest Furniture Makers, by Peter Turner and Word Works

So many things to build, so little time.

19. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

I first read this remarkable book in 1968 on the recommendation of an acquaintance. Actually, that acquaintance, and his pal, upon learning that I had not yet read the book, proceeded to recite — from memory — the entire dialog from Clevinger’s court-martial, one of the more amusing scenes in the novel. Throughout the remainder of the 60s and 70s, I read the book several times and its disturbing story strongly influenced this youthful reader.

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20. Helen of Troy, by Margaret George

This was too boring for me to make much headway with. Abandoned.

21. Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst

Another excellent dark and moody spy novel from the master. I always enjoy Furst’s novels for their characters, situations, and moody environment even when they seem a little repetitive, as this one does.

22. Another River, Another Town: A Teenage Tank Gunner Comes of Age in Combat — 1945, by John P. Irwin

A well-but-simply told, familiar story of a very young man growing up in the rigors of war.

23. Sutton, by E. R. Mohringer

Hard to believe but this is Mohringer’s first work of fiction, he does such an excellent job. In order to tell the story of enigmatic bank robber, Willy Sutton, Mohringer invents an unusual literary device and, through his abundant skill, makes it work. This is a great and readable story, and whether or not you believe it all hinges on a single comment made by Sutton’s lover late in the book. Very well done.

24. Winter of the World, by Ken Follett

The second book of Follett’s great trilogy of the 20th Century. Over the years, Follett’s writing has become a caricature of Follett’s writing. I still like it, but literature it ain’t.

25. Why We Make Things, and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, by Peter Korn

Korn is the founder of a woodworking school in New England. This is his memoir of his life and how he came to create his school and its undergirding philosophy.

26. The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set, by Jim Tolpin

Many woodworking hobbyists are discovering the joy of working with hand tools and eschewing power tools completely. They get more intimate and appreciative of their tools and their materials, the shop is a quieter and more pleasant place to work, and there is no dangerous sawdust to avoid (hand tools produce chips; machine tools produce dust).

27. Redshirts, by John Scalzi

Never having been a fan of the 60s TV show Star Trek, I worried that this book would be lost on me. Still, I didn’t quite live in a cave back then, so even I know that the cheesy TV show regularly killed off unimportant characters to convey danger or drama, and that those doomed actors — coincidentally or not — always seemed to be wearing red shirts in their fatal episode.

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28. The Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun

Berkun spent about a year and a half working for a company, Automattic, for the specific purpose of writing this book about his experience. The company is unique in many ways, and Berkun’s motivation for the book was to describe the different approach the company has to many conventional corporate challenges.

29. On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story, by Richard Jadick

Fascinating story of a Doctor who decides — correctly — that bringing the medical aid station closer to the front line will save grievously wounded soldier’s lives. Of course, bringing the aid station closer to combat endangers the doctor, too. Jadick puts his theories into practice in Iraq, and this makes for a gripping memoir.

30. The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by Gregory A. Freeman

Now that just about everyone involved in World War II is dead, there is an enormous amount of really interesting stuff coming out of the shadows. This fascinating book is about a heroic mission that was never made public and almost didn’t happen because of some despicable political alliances made by people far from the battlefield.

31. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, by Alisa Smith and J.B.Mackinnon

A two-handed memoir of a young Canadian couple eating only locally grown food. This artful small book is the outcome of a blog about the year-long project.

32. Double Cross, by Ben McIntyre

Last year I read McIntyre’s superb book on the subterfuge surrounding the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II. This book is McIntyre’s telling of the even larger effort at deceiving the Nazis about the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

33. Midnight in Europe, by Alan Furst

Alan Furst is back in the saddle with another impossible-to-put-down spy novel. I save my Furst books for long voyages or bouts with illness, when I know that I will have many consecutive hours to enjoy soaking in the moody ambiance of this great series of novels.

34. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is very well researched and contains no speculation, just documented facts, yet it reads like a novel.

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35. Going with the Grain: Making Chairs in the 21st Century, by Mike Abbott

Mike is an English “chair-bodger” who makes simple but incredibly stout chairs out of green wood, primarily ash. Inspiring.

36. Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner

I first read this ground-breaking dystopian science fiction novel shortly after it was first published in 1968. The innovative literary devices and the overall believability made a big impression on me. Re-reading it after 45 years is fascinating as forgotten characters and scenes come alive again. Remarkably, much of Brunner’s speculation about an overpopulated future has come true today.

37. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway

The bible of permaculture for the masses by a genuinely brilliant teacher.

38. Make a Windsor Chair, by Mike Dunbar

Exhaustive discussion of making the essential Anglo-American human-holding device.

39. Chairmaking and Design, by Jeff Miller

Interesting descriptions of various chair making processes.

Written by

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher

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