A whole lotta space opera. Woohoo!

My 2020 Bibliography

These are the books I read in the past year

As usual, I read lots of books this year. Some of them were fun and frivolous while others were as serious as a heart attack. Welcome to 2020, the year of breakdown.

1. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, by M. Kat Anderson (2005)

2. Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock, by Barney Hoskyns (2016)

Bob Dylan on his Triumph motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, photo by John Byrne Cooke

3. How Will Capitalism End?:Essays on a Failing System, by Wolfgang Streeck (2017)

Well, much to my surprise, all of the scholarly early architects of capitalism clearly foresaw that, if widely and successfully adopted, capitalism would devour itself. There’s lots of eye-openers in this book.

4. How Design Makes the World, by Scott Berkun (2020)

Not just an explanation of what design is, but essays on why design is important. Berkun is an articulate observer of the tech scene with a strong appreciation for the role of design within it.

5. Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, by Ben Goldfarb (2019)

All of my life I’ve looked at the American landscape and failed to understand how it came to be shaped the way it is. I could never understand what created the countless broad, flat-bottomed, fertile valleys that dominate the temperate world. This book makes clear that it was the beaver that did all of that.

6. Sword of Honor, by Evelyn Waugh (1965)

English author Evelyn Waugh has a brilliant knack for biting humor and incisive story-telling. I’m surprised I haven’t discovered his writings before this. This volume, published in 1965, relates the wartime thoughts and adventures of an upper-class Englishman, Guy Crouchback. It is composed of three books originally published separately, Men at Arms (1952), Officer and a Gentleman (1955), and Unconditional Surrender (1961). Contemporaneous observers claim that the stories are largely autobiographical.

7. Figure it Out, by Stephen P. Anderson (2020)

This is a book about how we understand things. Not just how we see and hear, but how we create mental images and metaphors for assessing and categorizing the things we sense.

8. The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (2008)

Maybe it’s because it’s a translation from the original Chinese, and maybe it’s because it’s difficult for me to identify with the events of the Cultural Revolution, but this book didn’t really grab me the way it has many others. Some of the trans-dimensional ideas put forth in the latter part of the book are interesting, but somehow unsatisfying.

9.Clear the Bridge!: The War Patrols of the USS Tang, by Richard O’Kane (1977)

10. Run Silent, Run Deep, by Edward L. Beach (1955)

Meandering around YouTube, I found myself watching a guy play a WWII submarine game. He was captain of a Gato-class sub in the Pacific. According to the game, he was doing fine, sinking merchant ships and skunking the anti-sub destroyers and patrol craft. But based on what I know about good sub doctrine, I thought he should of gotten killed many times over. Everything I know about good sub doctrine I learned reading books by guys like Dick O’Kane and Ed Beach. It’s been decades since I read them, but I pulled them off the shelf, blew the dust off, and reread a couple of them.

USS Greenling, a Gato class submarine of WWII

11. The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, by Jesse Eisinger (2018)

The justice department, like so many government agencies, is supposed to be non-partisan. In practice it doesn’t work out that way. Here’s a brief history of the people whose job it is to rein in white collar crime, and how and why it doesn’t seem to get done anymore.

12. Fusion Visual Effects with Davinci Resolve 16, by Damian Allen, Tony Gallardo, and Dion Scoppettuolo (2020)

I make a lot of stuff out of wood and metal in my work shop, and lately I’ve been learning how to make YouTube videos showing how I do things. One of the tools I’ve been using is a non-linear video editing program called Davinci Resolve. It’s an amazingly powerful program, and for all its capability, the user interface is (relatively) learnable, memorable, transparent, and flexible. But it’s still an enormous program and learning to use it is basically a full-time job. This textbook helped a lot, as do the many YouTube videos posted by others.

13. Artemis: A Novel, by Andy Weir (2018)

It’s very difficult for men to write from a woman’s point of view, and this book proves it. However, if you forget about that one thing, it’s a fine science fiction story.

14. From Truths to Tools, by Jim Tolpin and George Walker (2019)

These two guys write simple books about how to design elegance in the physical world through the use of classic proportions. They explain the underpinnings of Greco-Roman architecture better than anyone else.

15. The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It, by Gerald Astor (2015)

This is a very well done oral history of the American Eighth Air Force, formed in the mid-1940s in the crucible of the anti-fascist war in Europe. The author manages the hat trick of telling the big story of an historic organization, while simultaneously giving credible personal views from the cockpit, all in a readable narrative without getting lost in the trivia.

A B-17 bomber of the Eighth Air Force has its wing shot off by a German fighter plane

16. These Truths: A History of the United States, by Jill LePore (2018)

This is an excellent one-volume history of the United States of America.

17. The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, by Robert Gerwarth (2016)

18. The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, by Stephanie Kelton (2020)

19. Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944, by Stephen E. Ambrose (1985)

Reconnaissance photo of Pegasus Bridge showing gliders

20. The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, by Thomas Frank (2020)

I’ve always been confused by the term “populism.” It turns out that a) so are about a hundred million other people, b) it clearly should mean something good, c) it most frequently is applied to horrifically bad behavior, and d) this confusion and obfuscation is all created on purpose.

21. Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover (2018)

I had no idea what this book was when I purchased it, except that it had gotten widespread praise. I thought it was a critique of our educational system, but it was far from that. It’s not even really about education, or schools, or being a student.

22. All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir, by Kathy Valentine (2020)

I liked the music of the Go-Gos, an Eighties band from LA notable for being the first all-female group to write their own material, play their own instruments, and hit the top of the music charts.

Kathy Valentine, photo by Arnold Neimanis

23. Under Occupation: A Novel, by Alan Furst (2020)

On a dim street in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, a man runs for his life, is shot, and as he dies he hands a document to a stranger, Paul Ricard, the hero of the story. As Ricard tries to find the proper people to give the dead man’s document to, he slowly slips into the role of resistance fighter. Furst is a master at this genre, and the story evokes the Damoclean sensation of living in your own home town as an enemy of the state.

24. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer (2017)

This is the most important book I’ve read all year, maybe all decade.

25. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson (2011)

This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. In 1933, FDR appointed William E. Dodd as Ambassador to Germany. With his family, including, Martha, his very strong-willed daughter, he took up residence in Berlin and began his work with the German government, including the new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. A quiet Southern college professor, Dodd arrived in Berlin determined not to assume anything about the new regime and its charismatic leader. But events over the next 18 months slowly revealed the truth of Hitler and Nazism.

26. Caliban’s War (2), by James S. A. Corey (2012)

27. Abbadon’s Gate (3), by James S. A. Corey (2013)

28. Cibola Burn (4), by James S. A. Corey (2014)

29. Nemesis Games (5), by James S. A. Corey (2015)

30. Babylon’s Ashes (6), by James S. A. Corey (2016)

31. Persepolis Rising (7), by James S. A. Corey (2017)

32. Tiamat’s Wrath (8), by James S. A. Corey (2019)

Last year I read the first volume of the science fiction series The Expanse, called Leviathan Wakes. I liked it well enough that I purchased the second volume, Caliban’s War, and, as I do, let it sit on my shelf for several months awaiting the right moment. I finally began reading it this summer, and, well, I fell down the rabbit hole.

33. Enemy of all Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt, by Steven Johnson (2020)

Pirates. A history book about pirates. It’s full of interesting stuff that you didn’t already know about pirates, the creation of the legend of pirates, and the people the pirates robbed.

34. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (2014)

35. Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America, by Michael Hiltzik (2020)

I love railroads. I thought this book would be about building the railroads across America. It was not. It was about the financial shenanigans of unscrupulous speculators like Jay Gould, James J. Hill, Jim Fisk, and J. P. Morgan. It details their barely legal, not really legal, slightly illegal, questionably legal, arguably illegal, definitely illegal, and OH MY GOD THAT IS HORRIBLY ILLEGAL actions in the first Gilded Age around the turn of the 19th Century. To them, railroads weren’t for transportation but were simply levers they could use to pry money away from unsuspecting investors. They were despicable men and they did despicable things, and a by-product of their grubbing and trickery was creating a sprawling railroad system that was loved and hated, important and trivial, used and feared. Above all it was private. That is, it served the needs of the robber barons and only incidentally served the needs of a growing nation.

36. The Underground Railroad: A Novel, by Colson Whitehead (2016)

This book was a gentle counterpoint to the shoot-em-up action of The Expanse books. Surprisingly so, as there’s little that’s gentle about slavery and the treatment of slaves, but the author’s calming tone is in tingling contrast to the subject.

37. Leviathan Wakes (1), by James S. A. Corey (2011)

38. Caliban’s War (2), by James S. A. Corey (2012)

39. Abbadon’s Gate (3), by James S. A. Corey (2013)

40. Cibola Burn (4), by James S. A. Corey (2014)

41. Nemesis Games (5), by James S. A. Corey (2015)

Well, I fell down The Expanse rabbit hole again. After finishing the eighth book in the series, I resumed watching the TV series. I went back and started with the first episode of season one. It’s entrancing video, but I began to notice some deviations from what I remembered happening in the books. That didn’t bother me, but it made me curious, so I fetched the first novel off the shelf and started re-reading it, and didn’t come to a halt until I’d re-read five books. Upon re-reading it’s clear that not only do the stories hold up well but the foreshadowing and intertwining of long story arcs into single-book story arcs is really well done. The same is true of the personalities of the protagonists. They are well-rounded and complex and you want to know more about them. I think this is remarkable in a space opera.

42. The Churn, by James S. A. Corey (2014)

As I’ve been tweeting about The Expanse many others have suggested that I read the series of novellas that explore the backstories of the characters and events in the series. The first one I read is the origin story of one of the four protagonists, Amos Burton. It’s good. I read it in one sitting.

43. Being Gary Fisher, by Gary Fisher (2020)

head and shoulder view of Gary in quirky hat, glasses, waxed handlebar moustache, and midnight blue suit.
head and shoulder view of Gary in quirky hat, glasses, waxed handlebar moustache, and midnight blue suit.
Gary Fisher
Gary in our light show rehearsal loft in Marin County, circa 1970.
A rare photograph of one of our light show screens
l to r: Gary, Me, Jane, Roger, Steve, and dog about 1969. Gary took this photo.
Mt Tamalpias, the legendary Sleeping Lady in the middle of Marin County, the birthplace of the mountain bike. By Joe Matazzoni — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67351963

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher