Books read in 2018

Books! Best to worst.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One hundred years of solitude

A re-read of the magic masterpiece.

Colson Whitehead, The underground railroad

Gorgeous prose and a wildly imaginative literalization of one the most important metaphors in American history.

Robert Hughes, Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History

Highly idiosyncratic history of Rome through the eyes of one of the greatest art critics of recent times.

Nate Chinen, Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century

Chinen is a showy but solidly interesting writer, with opinions and observations of high critical caliber. The mark of a good book is the strength of your desire to read it again, and I do want to.

Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project

Famous writers befriend famous people in other fields. Not up to Lewis’s usual standards, and not as interesting as Thinking: Fast and Slow by one of the subjects of this book, but still quite interesting.

Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, The New Localism: How Cities Can thrive in the Age of Populism

Several years ago I heard Bruce Katz speak and have never forgotten his metro-centric message — that individual cities and their regions are more economically important as centers of influence and power than entire nations. In this book he and Jeremy write an extended riff on the positive example of a product I worked on: Benefit Chicago. Rightly mentioned are the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Calvert Foundation, and The Chicago Community Trust.

“This is how to rebuild nations and repair the world: from the ground up,” is how they conclude Chapter One, which reminds me of a saying from Indiana humorist George Ade: “In uplifting, get underneath.”

David Sedaris, Theft by Finding, Diaries 1977-2002

A writer I have always admired since his first appearance on This American Life, and most of his books ever since. Diaries are of course nowhere as good as the real work, but his are still entertaining in mostly expected ways. Perhaps funniest/saddest thing of all is the change in his comfort level over 25 years. He seemed less put out by trying to make rent and more delighted by finding a chicken for 49 cents a pound in the early years, and more put out and less delighted than his frequent flyer troubles of the latter years. Comfort removed is more troubling than comfort unexperienced, a variation on “ignorance is bliss.”

Mohamed El-Erian, The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse

What you don’t know about global central banks can hurt you.

David Dvorin, Logic Pro X advanced audio production

Superb guide for specialists only.

Erik Larson, Devil in the White City

This good but schizophrenic book sandwiches the design and creation of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition with a serial killer yarn. The experiment mostly fails, but sometimes enlightens.

A M Homes, Days of Awe

Scattershot stories about largely unlikeable, privileged people. Much more astringent and academic than her earlier and longer works with which I’m familiar.

Christopher De Bellaigue, The Islamic Enlightenment

For all the fruits and flowers of enlightenment to be had, the weeds of theology are never far away. Islam is no different from the Christianity it sought (or seeks) to supplant. The superiority complexes of major religions are chiefly political constructs, and boring, idiotic ones at that. Islam is no different. And again, like Christianity, its greatest achievements are primarily aesthetic. Could not make it beyond the Prologue — tl;dr

Amy Herman, Visual Intelligence

Less visual than the title would suggest, this book is about observation of all types and the conveyance of those observations, meant to illustrate a cornucopia of successful case studies that will play well to corporate and government audiences. Many of the illustrative stories have no visually significant component, so the art thread that supposedly holds this book together is tenuous at best.

Edmund White, Inside A Pearl: My Years in Paris

Too much gossip, not enough Paris.

Fodor’s Bahamas

Illuminating, thrilling, luminous.

Sean Stroud, The defence of tradition in Brazilian popular music

Academic to a fault, not of this planet, unreadable.

 

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