Good Reads in 2008

It was a very good year for reading although in retrospect several of the books I most enjoyed had sobering themes. I tortured myself by reading several longish tomes on the Bush administration and one on the Bush family history. Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (Fred Kaplan) is a sobering narrative on how a few key ideologies (and powerful ideologues) drove Mr. Bush into one pitfall after another. It’s frightening, really, how so few individuals can virtually control the destiny of an entire nation overcoming the countering influences of all other government institutions and the will of the citizens. Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Thomas Ricks) details the stunning American missteps in the ill-fated military adventure in Iraq. Many of the key players in both books are the same. Ricks points out the terrible consequences of U.S. leaders’ arrogance and simplistic world-view (not to mention their profound ignorance of history).

Prior to these in-depth accounts, I got through Kevin Phillips’ American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, an intriguing history of the Family Bush from the late 19th-century Walker and Bush ancestors through the presidency of George W. It’s a compelling narrative of family ties to military industries, oil and Yale going back well over one hundred years. Amid those relationships one finds the origins of today’s close ties to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon and Halliburton. I could only wonder as I read how a nation’s foreign policy could be so heavily influenced by generation after generation of a single family.

I’m just now finishing Naomi Klein‘s controversial The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The work is a detailed critique of Milton Friedman‘s free market economic theories and, more importantly, their implications on U.S. foreign policy. I approached this book with caution given the diverse opinions of reviewers but I must say it does help explain large-scale socio-political events like the repressive overthrows in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970?s. As well, the book is prescient in light of the U.S. government’s efforts to privatize vast segments of governmental functions and the collapse of the global financial infrastructure.

During our trip to New Mexico in May we visited the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos and I picked up Brotherhood of the Bomb : The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (Gregg Herken) a superbly well-written and enthralling history of the development of the atomic bomb. It’s a fascinating account of the big egos, challenging science and complex history of the period from the final years of WWII through the death of Teller in 2003.

I didn’t totally ignore my penchant for medical works. My favorite for 2008 was How Doctors Think (Jerome Groopman). It’s unnerving, although obvious I suppose, to know that doctors have the same foibles as the rest of us and can have a bad day just like you or I can. The book will change how you approach your next visit to the doctor’s office.

Last Christmas Trisha gave me Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond. This slight, folksy volume reminded me of all those obvious things you should be doing to keep yourself going and inspired us to sign up for the local fitness club for the year. I don’t know if I’ll make it to 80 but I’m sure feeling a lot better (mentally and physically) with regular trips to the gym.

I sped through a handful of other books this past year and have become somewhat addicted to online news from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News. It will be interesting to see where serendipity takes me in 2009.

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