Another Year Devouring Books

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Another year, another passel of books read. It is time for my annual review of what I read in 2022. It seems like I just did this the other day. Time is a bandit.

According to Goodreads, the app I use to keep track, I read 50 books totaling 21,474 pages last year. That is down a dozen books from 2021, though the total page count was up almost 1,000. Fewer books with more pages, obviously.

* The longest book was Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, by Caroline Elkins, at 896 pages. One does not come away with a stellar view of the British empire, on which the sun never set during its heyday. The violence committed in virtually all the colonies against the natives is truly repulsive. Even such vaunted historical figures such as Winston Churchill, whose actions during the Bengal famine in 1943 led to the deaths by starvation of up to 3.8 million Bengalis, come in for reprobation. Elkins is a professor of history at Harvard and won a Pulitzer Prize in history for a similarly themed book: Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. She is a meticulous researcher and compelling writer.

* The shortest book I read was a true-crime story by French writer Emmanuel Carrère, titled The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception. It begins: On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting… That is quite a lede. Carrère explores the life of a respected doctor who was not actually licensed to practice and pretended to work at the World Health Organization for 18 years. As his web of lies closes in upon him, he sets fire to his house, killing his wife and four children. The police soon close in on him since he is the sole survivor of the fire.

Carrère manages to develop a relationship with the killer in prison and tells a mesmerizing story of deception and evil.

* I went on a tear reading the murder mysteries of Louise Penney, who is deservedly one of the most popular mystery writers in the world. The Three Pines murder mysteries are set in the Eastern Township of Quebec, which we visited last summer, as well as Montreal and Quebec City. I plowed through all 18 novels last year, the first time I have devoured a prolific author’s entire oeuvre in a single year. It was worth the effort. Now, I am watching a television adaptation by the same name on Amazon Prime. As almost always, it is not as good as the books but worth watching.

* We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland, by Fintan O’ Toole, deftly dovetails Ireland’s history beginning in 1958, when he was born, to the present. O’ Toole is described as a polemicist, literary editor, journalist, and drama critic for the Irish Times since 1988. He brings all those skill sets to this riveting description of Ireland’s evolvement in the past six decades, from a poor country whose population was fleeing wholesale to the United States or Britain to now having a thriving tech and tourism industry.

* The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird by Jack E. Davis describes how this symbol of American has long been savaged as a livestock predator and even baby snatcher. (Bald eagles cannot snatch babies, Davis points out.) He is a history professor at the University of Florida, specializing in environmental history and is terrific at explaining weighty subjects. The Gulf intricately examines the Gulf of Mexico, and in The Bald Eagle, he brings that same level of detail and research. It is well worth reading.

* Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford explodes many of the myths about both the Alamo and the war for independence against Mexico. The authors are convincing in making the case that the war to be separated from Mexico was largely based on Texans’ desire to keep their slaves, after Mexico on several occasions outlawed slavery. Let us just say you are not likely to find this book in the Alamo gift shop.

* Finally, I picked up Astrophysics for People in a Hurry from the Estes Library’s “new books” display while at work. This thin volume by one of the more famous astrophysicists in the world, who is also a television celebrity, was perfect for someone like me, whose understanding of the subject is abysmal. With his concise explanations and witty analogies, deGrasse Tyson raised my level of awareness of various mysteries such as black holes and Big Bangs from abysmal to approaching mediocre.

You can check out the complete list of books I devoured by going to goodreads.com and typing in my name. You just might find something worth reading.

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