Most memorable books of the 00’s

Okay, time for my list of books of the decade.  Favorite seemed a little too ordinary, so I decided to go with "books that have stuck with me the most."  That is, books that I still think about a lot after I read them.  Of course, all of them can be food on my full reading list.  I've got a favorites list, but I make that at the time of the original review.  Some of those books I hardly think about any more and others that did not make the list still stick with me.  I just looked through my full list to see how much I've read in the past decade– damn that's a lot of books.  Anyway, so here's the books I read in the 00's (many were also written this decade, but many are older) that have stuck with me, in rough chronological order (damn there's a lot of really good ones):

  • Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.  The 2nd work in Simmons Hyperion cantos remains for me the most engrossing and thought-provoking of any science fiction I have ever read. 
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  A near-perfect novel.  When asked to name my favorite book, this is always right at the top of my list.  Perfectly nails the interior lives of his characters and one of the two funniest books I have ever read (the other being Richard Russo's The Straight Man, which I read in the 1990's).
  • We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families by Philip Gourevetich.  Tells the story of the Rwandan genocide in heartbreaking detail.  Hard not to have a lasting impact from this subject matter.
  • As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto.  Tells the true story of a boy who was raised as a girl after a horribly botched circumcision.  This book, as much as any, really got me thinking about the biology of sex and gender identity, a subject I remain fascinated in.  
  • Carter Beats the Devil by Glenn David Gold.  Quite simply as entertaining a novel as I've read. 
  • Base Instincts: What makes killer kill by Jonathan Pincus.  Tremendous insight into the biological and sociological sources of violent crime.  I come back to the ideas in this book a lot.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Not the most entertaining, but I think the best of the HP books.  I loved the way JK Rowling was not afraid to take her hero and make him a brooding, annoying teenager.  Rowling's great achievement in the series was making the characters so utterly real and familiar in an enchanting and fantastic world.
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.  I still eat meat after reading this book, but I'm not happy about it.
  • Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Blum. If you've ever learned about the famous wire mother monkey experiments, here they are in all their disturbing detail.  A good, but not great book, but very memorable to see how far we've come in understanding the nature of love and affection. 
  • Overdosed America by John Abramson.  Terrifically details the evils of the pharmaceutical industry and how it harms the health of Americans.  If you've ever heard me rail against various pharmaceuticals (and if you know me, you probably have), this book is why.
  • The Ha-Ha  by David King.  The narrator of this book is incapable of speech due to a brain injury and thus treated as an imbecile, but looked inside is a pained and thoughtful man.  Terrific reading.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  Best.  Novel.  Ever.  Don't be afraid of the length or the fact that it's Tolstoy.  He is a very accessible author who has the best insight into the human condition of any author I've ever read.
  • Courtroom 302 by Steve Borgida.  Amazing tale of just how much injustice there is in America's justice system.  I'm assigning it to my Criminal Justice class next semester.
  • Oblivion by Peter Abrahams.  Surely my favorite mystery/thriller I read over the decade.  Everything a novel should be.  I love a really intriguing unreliable narrator.
  • The Omnivore's Dillemma by Michael Pollan.  Another book that totally changed the way I look at food.  The first section on our corn-based food system is a non-fiction tour-de-force.
  • The Subtle Knife  by Phillip Pullman.  How unusual for the middle book of a trilogy to be the best, but I loved this middle work of Pullman's acclaimed trilogy– so thought provoking– the others were just very good.
  • Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs.  I'm full of all sorts of great bacterial anecdotes thanks to this book
  • How to Read the Bible by James Kugel.  I've long been since to modern biblical scholarship, but I was still amazed to learn so much of the story behind the Old Testament.  This book has quite strongly influenced the way I think about religion.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  I think I may have loved this book more than anything I read this decade.  Simply brilliant.
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.  Why we drive the way we do.  I think about lessons from this book practically every time I am on the road.  
  • Outliers  by Malcolm Gladwell.  A very powerful argument for really understanding the role of context and chance in explaining individual success.  Something I know think about a lot more.

Congratulations if you made it through the whole list.  Wow, I've been influenced by a lot of books.  I even had to leave off some great ones because this was getting way too long, but you know where to find them. 


What’s up with Joe Lieberman

So far the evidence that Joe Lieberman has acted in bad faith to kill health care reform strikes me as quite persuasive.  I'm definitely of the opinion that Lieberman is a sanctimonious blowhard who is just a complete jerk.  Anyway, Ezra Klein does a terrific job deconstruction Lieberman's changing positions on health care reform and makes a compelling case the Lieberman's central motive is pissing off liberals (if people die from lack of health insurance, so be it in Lieberman's world).  Pretty hard to argue with Ezra's conclusions.   In a somewhat complimentary post, TNR's Jon Chait argues that we strongly need to consider the fact that Lieberman is just plain stupid.  Actually, I think they are both right, as Chait makes the point in his conclusion:

I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of
a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers. Trust
me, it's not true. If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats
by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an
idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it's part of a plan. I think he
just has no idea what he's talking about and doesn't care to learn.
Lieberman thinks about politics in terms of broad ideological labels.
He's the heroic centrist voice pushing legislation to the center. No,
Lieberman doesn't have any particular sense of what the Medicare buy-in
option would do to the national debt. If the liberals like it, then he
figures it's big government and he should oppose it. I think it's
basically that simple.

Joe Lieberman: unprincipled and  stupid.  Works for me.

Lethal injection

Every semester I have my public policy class write papers on potential policy reforms.  Among the most interesting (and educational for me) I have read was one on lethal injection.  It was pretty amazing to discover how little medical science actually went into the current 3-drug cocktail.  Basically one guy said, "hey, let's see if this works," seemed to work well enough, and everybody else just went along.  In fact, the best evidence suggests we euthanize our pets much more humanely.  Thus, it is encouraging to see some policy change here (hooray federalism) as Ohio has become the first state to use a presumably preferable single-drug method.  Slate's Daniel Engber has a nice article explaining the development of the current practice.  Now that Ohio seems to have figured things out, it will be interesting to see how quickly other states follow in line (prediction: Texas will be among the last to change its policy).

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