Over the course of what seemed like a very busy year I found time to do more reading than I have in many years. Two themes dominated my titles: the years of the Great Depression and survival literature. My two favorites for the year were books I read very early on: Jared Diamond‘s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Douglas Brinkley‘s biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.
Both Diamond and Brinkley are gifted writers and impressive researchers. There’s also an interesting convergence in that Mr. Diamond and the 26th President are/were ardent birders. Collapse is in many ways a sad, sobering tale of how some cultures persisted in stupid behaviors that so ravaged their ecosystems that the societies perished. The final pages suggest that humanity has the wisdom to not repeat these kinds of self-destructive choices but I don’t share Mr. Diamond’s optimism.
Then there’s the phenomenon of Theodore Roosevelt. Wilderness Warrior offers wonderful insights into the unfathomable Roosevelt spirit. Our America would be a much less beautiful place had it not been for Teddy and many of his passionate conservationist contemporaries like John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. Reading this book certainly changed my views on the role of government vis-a-vis big business. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine, without the efforts of these few individuals, the Grand Canyon as a massive mining pit and Yosemite and similar locales lined with countless fast-food emporiums. I’ll never again pass through a national park or forest and fail to offer thanks to T.R. for preserving so much of America for future generations.
Here’s a list of the rest of my readings for the year:
- The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
- American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work
- The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America
- Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard
- Overboard: A True Blue-Water Odyssey of Disaster and Survival
- Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
- Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont
- Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures
- No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
- Ted Williams: Biography of an American Hero
- Sole Survivor: True Account of 133 Days Adrift
- Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
- Deep Survival: True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death
- Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean
- Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
- Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon