Here are my top-ten favorite reads from 2011 (in alphabetical order).
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker. This sweeping survey by psychology rock star Pinker makes a superb case for a downward trend in human violence over the long, medium and short hauls. It’s a must-read optimism-jolt for anybody on the frontlines of the battle to stop aversives in dog training. Spoiler alert: the good guys are going to win. Yay!
Death by Black Hole by Neil de Grasse Tyson. I listened to the audiobook and as good as it was, I kept wishing Tyson had done the narration himself because he has a warm, booming voice and terrific enunciation. But this is being picky.
I may go back and read the paper version after I get through his latest, Space Chronicles, which is slated for release later this month. If you’re a fan of his, be sure to check out episodes of StarTalk Radio.
The Making of the Fittest by Sean B. Carroll. An evo-devo primer by the clearest author I’ve found on this difficult subject. Awe-inspiring and well worth the effort to understand.
(By conicidence this past year I read an explodohead book about the nature of time by the as-fantastically-smart Sean M. Carroll, From Eternity to Here. It was also tough sledding, which leads me to believe these guys are in fact related.)
Mayhem in Mayberry by Brian Lee Knopp. An absolutely honest and gritty memoir based on the author’s life as a private investigator in – get ready – Appalachia. If you really, really want to know what it’s like being a PI, read this. People are surely at their worst when they seek PI’s.
The author is rather a Renaissance Man – teaches writing as well as being a talented dog trainer!
Mistress of the Monarchy by Alison Weir. Weir’s portraits of the English monarchy are unparalleled in their meticulousness and readability. This one is a veritable page-turner on the life of Katherine Swynford, the third wife of John of Gaunt. Their great-great grandson was Henry Tudor (Henry VII, usurper and father of Henry VIII) whose claim to the throne was derived from his descent in the junior Lancastrian line (Beauforts) tracing back to Gaunt and Swynford.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Best book ever. I re-read it in 2011 to celebrate the release of the movie. Brad Pitt = More Readers. Yay! (The movie, BTW, is only verrrrrry loosely based on the book. They did a decent job with what had to feel like an unglamorous thesis to translate into Hollywoodease: empricism and advanced statistical analysis as superior to tradition and intuition for player evaluation.)
If you’d like a thoughtful baseball book published last year, try The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri. It was a nice read although nobody – but nobody – writes like Michael Lewis. I hope to read everything else he’s ever written in the next year or so even though it’s all on scarrrry, foreign topics like business and finance.
Old English and its Closest Relatives by Orrin W. Robinson. If you like words and are curious about how language in general (and English in particular) evolves over time, this is a fantastic read.
It actually might give you chills.
Perspectives on Animal Behavior by Judith Goodenough, Betty McGuire and Elizabeth Jakob. I’ve used Comparative Animal Behavior by Maier and Animal Behavior by Mark Ridley for years but periodically check out other texts and was super-impressed with this one.
A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer. Carl Zimmer can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned and he’s nowhere better than when he’s on the subject of Very Dangerous Small Organisms or, in this case, Semi-Organisms.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by my new hero, Daniel Kahneman. The book is a summary of the fascinating research on cognitive biases, heuristics (rules of thumb), and decision-making. This is incredible stuff: important and impeccably written and organized. A colleague of mine has said it should be required reading in high schools and I couldn’t agree more. Everybody should read this book to have a better understanding of their own brains. Gets my vote for best book since Moneyball.