Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. I’m going to cheat a bit this week, because I was planning on doing a list of the best nonfiction books I read this year anyway. Most, but not quite all of these, were released this year. I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction this year, but I read a lot of great stuff. The books are in roughly the order I read them.
The Conservatarian Manfesto: Where Conservative and Libertarian Politics Meet by Charles C.W. Cooke
Cooke’s manifesto seems a bit dated already. Can we safely say the libertarian moment has passed with Donald Trump at the top of the polls and Rand Paul at the bottom? History, though, remains on our side. The “history of the United States has been a slow history of recompense—not of fixing fundamental problems with what remains a remarkable and relevant piece of work, but of augmenting access to its protections.” Amazon review here.
Market Madness: A Century of Oil Panics, Crises, and Crashes by Blake C. Clayton
One of the most consistent but counter-intuitive principles of resource economics is that commodity prices rise at less than the rate of inflation. This includes oil prices. Nonetheless, people have reacted to the oil market with the opposite of irrational exuberance from the very beginning. This book should pretty well put the final nail in the coffin of peak oil (but it won’t). Geopolitics and pollution remain thornier problems.
Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports by Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham
Academic shenanigans related to athletes are ubiquitous. But nobody has combined sanctimoniousness with blatant academic fraud quite like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It by John Ferling
Much better than his biography of John Adams. Amazon review here.
By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission by Charles Murray
The book is a bit disjointed and the plan probably unworkable, but fascinating nonetheless. I go on at great length in my Amazon review here.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It by Arthur Herman
The hyperbole in the title is pure Scots, but the Scottish role in the world in undeniable. Sort of an intellectual history of the Scots, albeit one with ample tangible results.
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
It’s very funny and delightfully skewers the absurdities of the (now reforming) Burmese military junta (and parenting).
Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History by John Julius Norwich
Your average anglophone probably doesn’t give Sicily much thought. But it has a rich, if rarely independent, history, serving time as a Greek colony, breadbasket to the Roman Empire, Arab empirate, and Norman fiefdom.
Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma by Richard Cockett
Published by an academic press (and priced accordingly) but reads like it was written by a former writer for the Economist. Which it was. Blood, Dreams, and Gold is clearly written and accessible to a Western neophyte. Particularly valuable is the effort to put modern Burmese history in the broader context of SE Asian post-independence nativism.
Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley
I went in expecting this to mostly be about Brazil and the New World, which shows how much I know about Portuguese history. Instead it is focused on the Portuguese efforts to round Africa and then establishing a trading empire based in India. Somewhat of a sequel to Crowley’s book on medieval Venice, because what the Portuguese did here fatally undercut Venice’s position as Europe’s spice middleman.
Honorable mention to H.W. Brands’ book about the fight for Texas Independence, Lone Star Nation, which I’m reading now.