Friday, January 1, 2016

The Best Books I Read in 2015

Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts.

Cruising Speed, by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Dead Wake, by Erik Larson.

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow.

Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind.

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, by Tom Wolfe.
I read 22 books in 2015, and throughout the year I reviewed most of them on this blog. Here are my favorites of those 22 books. The links will take you to the full reviews of these books.

Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts, 2014. This sweeping study of Napoleon’s life is an excellent look at one of the most remarkable men in history. Roberts is one of the first biographers to make full use of Napoleon’s 33,000 letters, which are still being published in full. Roberts is able to give the reader a sense of Napoleon Bonaparte’s complex personality, and how he rose from obscurity to rule most of Europe.

Cruising Speed: A Documentary, by William F. Buckley, Jr., 1971. This book is a chronicle of one week in the life of William F. Buckley, renowned conservative political commentator, newspaper columnist, host of the TV show Firing Line, and all-around bon vivant. It’s highly entertaining, and whether or not you agree with Buckley’s politics, it’s a fascinating look at the life of one of America’s leading public intellectuals.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson, 2015. Larson works his usual magic and weaves a mesmerizing spell, even though we know what the ultimate outcome of the Lusitania’s voyage will be. Larson is a master of narrative non-fiction, with an eye for the telling detail. 

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, 2010. Much like Andrew Roberts does with Napoleon; Ron Chernow sweeps away the musty cobwebs from the life of George Washington and presents us with a compelling portrait of the actual man. Chernow draws heavily from Washington’s own letters and papers, and we see Washington’s fastidious attention to detail, as well as his volcanic temper that he worked hard to keep in check. Some of Chernow’s best writing throughout the book is about Washington and his ambivalent relationship with slavery. Washington was clearly uncomfortable with the institution, yet he never publicly called for emancipation.

Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, 2010. Warren Beatty is one of the most fascinating movie stars of the last 50 years, and while Biskind is sometimes unable to get under the skin of the enigmatic Beatty, it’s an invaluable book if you’re interested in the actor and producer who brought us Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy, Bugsy, and Bulworth. Biskind chronicles Beatty’s love life as thoroughly as possible, and there’s quite a bit of dirt to dish here. Biskind is obviously an admirer of Beatty’s talent, but he doesn’t turn a blind eye to Beatty’s faults. I’m very interested in Beatty because I’ve been slowly reviewing all of Warren Beatty’s movies, and I started a separate blog for all of my Warren Beatty movie reviews, “The Films of Warren Beatty.”

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, by Tom Wolfe, 1965. Tom Wolfe’s first book still thrills, even 50 years after he first burst onto the literary scene. Wolfe’s hypercharged writing style was perfect for the Technicolor world of the 1960’s, and in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby he covers topics ranging from car customizing to Cary Grant.

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