Favorite Books of 2005

01:31 Fri 28 Aug 2009. Updated: 19:23 24 Oct 2010
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In 2005 I set myself a goal of reading 60 books, partly to try to make up for the low numbers in 2004. I barely made it, reading The Phantom Tollbooth on 31 December.

Getting Things Done is worth reading. I’m not sold on the system as a whole, but there are definitely good ideas in there.

The Táin was extremely interesting. I remember being fascinated by how modern some of it seemed, and how utterly alien other parts were—the morality of the hero, for example, just seems completely bizarre.

I’m surprised that I didn’t read Flow until 2005; I read Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity in 2000 and hence was already familiar with many of the concepts. I recommend it, as I think it contains some important insights about human happiness.

In April I was consumed by, and consumed, The Chronicles of Amber, reading all ten in two weeks. Aspects of the first few reminded me of the World of Tiers series by Philip José Farmer, and somehow the psychological attitudes of both series seem similar (and very Seventies, at least for the first few Amber books). They are classics.

The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time and One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player were both, despite the overly-long titles, quite good, as was Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. The last is probably the most over-hyped subtitle. All three are fascinating examinations of gambling, and I think the first sticks in my mind most: the story of businessman Andy Beal going head-to-head against some of the world’s top money poker players. My favorite tidbit from it is Beal trying to convince the pros to play for limits of $100,000/$200,000 because at that point they would no longer be able to keep their edge of treating the money as simply part of the game. Apparently there are two followup pieces by the same author: “The Banker, The Boss, The Junkman, & The Warrior Queen: The Return of the Richest Poker Game of all time” and “The Banker & The IceMan”.

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players, by Stefan Fatsis, was another excellent nonfiction work based around competitive gaming, and apart from the amount of money involved I’m not sure how much difference there is between the obsessives who excel at the particular games involved. Fatsis does a great job of describing the personalities and trials of some of the best Scrabble players in the world.

Anthony Beevor’s The Spanish Civil War is the definitive history of that conflict in English. It’s an excellent work, and definitely worth reading if you have even a passing interest in the topic.

I had read Gogol’s Dead Souls before, but not for years, and it was worth re-reading.

The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks’ non-Culture science fiction novel, was good. I don’t think it’s quite up there with his Culture work, but it was definitely a good novel.

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian was enjoyable, but after I finished it I had trouble making up my mind about how good it was. I think it was excellent in terms of atmosphere, but a little less convincing regarding some of the relationships involved. If you like Dracula, you should probably read it.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond’s examination of the overarching trends in human history, is fantastic. You should read it.

I started R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series in 2005, which I consider thematically one of the most interesting fantasy series I’ve come across. There’s a very heavy philosophical bent to it, and the world Bakker depicts is an excellent mix of the familiar and the strange. Further, the protagonist Kellhus is a completely fascinating creation, and it would be worth reading just for him alone.

As a prelude to reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, I re-read American Psycho, which is very high on my list of novels. It has so far stood the test of time, and I still regard it as the novel for 1980s America in the same way that The Great Gatsby is the novel for 1920s America. Lunar Park, on the other hand, was a disappointment. I kept thinking that Ellis would do something more interesting than what he appeared to be doing, and it never happened. I think that Lunar Park is his weakest work.

The books I read in 2005:

  1. Hegemony or Survival; Noam Chomsky 17/01/2005
  2. Getting Things Done; David Allen 05/02/2005
  3. The Táin; Thomas Kinsella, trans. 05/02/2005
  4. The Medici; Paul Strathern 13/02/2005
  5. Flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 29/03/2005
  6. Foul Ball; Jim Bouton 07/04/2005
  7. Nine Princes in Amber; Roger Zelazny 09/04/2005
  8. The Guns of Avalon; Roger Zelazny 09/04/2005
  9. Sign of the Unicorn; Roger Zelazny 10/04/2005
  10. The Hand of Oberon; Roger Zelazny 12/04/2005
  11. The Courts of Chaos; Roger Zelazny 14/04/2005
  12. Trumps of Doom; Roger Zelazny 16/04/2005
  13. Blood of Amber; Roger Zelazny 18/04/2005
  14. Sign of Chaos; Roger Zelazny 19/04/2005
  15. Knight of Shadows; Roger Zelazny 20/04/2005
  16. Prince of Chaos; Roger Zelazny 23/04/2005
  17. The Dark Fields; Alan Glynn 26/04/2005
  18. The Briar King; Gregory Keyes 30/04/2005
  19. Legends II; ed. Robert Silverberg 08/05/2005
  20. The Charnel Prince; Gregory Keyes 12/05/2005
  21. The Consumer Trap; Michael Dawson 15/05/2005
  22. The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty; Buster Olney 18/05/2005
  23. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; Susanna Clark 21/05/2005
  24. Finding Flow; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 25/05/2005
  25. Revolution and War in Spain 1931-1939; Ed. Paul Preston 29/05/2005
  26. Memoir from Ant-Proof Case; Mark Helprin 11/06/2005
  27. Olympos; Dan Simmons 07/07/2005
  28. The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time; Michael Craig 30/07/2005
  29. One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player; Nolan Dalla, Peter Alson, and Mike Sexton 31/07/2005
  30. I Can’t Believe I Just Did That: How Embarrassment Can Wreak Havoc in Your Life—and What You Can Do to Conquer It; David Allyn 10/08/2005
  31. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions; Ben Mezrich 11/08/2005
  32. Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players; Stefan Fatsis 16/08/2005
  33. The Spanish Civil War; Anthony Beevor 22/08/2005
  34. Dance Dance Dance; Haruki Murakami, trans. Alfred Birnbaum 24/08/2005
  35. Dead Souls; Nikolai Gogol 28/08/2005
  36. Lost in a Good Book; Jasper Fforde 30/08/2005
  37. The Algebraist; Iain M. Banks 02/09/2005
  38. Neverwhere; Neil Gaiman 02/09/2005
  39. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science; Atul Gawande 06/09/2005
  40. Bangkok Tattoo; John Burdett 11/09/2005
  41. Jumper; Steven Gould 11/09/2005
  42. The Historian; Elizabeth Kostova 18/09/2005
  43. The Erotic Anime Movie Guide; Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy 24/09/2005
  44. Midnight Tides; Steven Erikson 01/10/2005
  45. Guns, Germs, and Steel; Jared Diamond 14/10/2005
  46. The Darkness that Comes Before; R. Scott Bakker 18/10/2005
  47. The Warrior Prophet; R. Scott Bakker 27/10/2005
  48. Legends; ed. Robert Silverberg 29/10/2005
  49. Status Anxiety; Alain de Botton 30/10/2005
  50. In the Shadow of the Law; Kermit Roosevelt 06/11/2005
  51. A Feast for Crows; George R R Martin 13/11/2005
  52. The Risen Empire; Scott Westerfield 14/11/2005
  53. The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney’s War Against the Counterculture; Bob Levin 15/11/2005
  54. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman; Richard Feynman 19/11/2005
  55. The Great Unraveling; Paul Krugman 22/11/2005
  56. The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry; Legs McNeil, Jennifer Osborne, Peter Pavia 25/11/2005
  57. The Killing of Worlds; Scott Westerfield 11/12/2005
  58. American Psycho; Bret Easton Ellis (again) 23/12/2005
  59. Lunar Park; Bret Easton Ellis 26/12/2005
  60. The Phantom Tollbooth; Norton Juster 31/12/2005
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