I thought this might be an interesting exercise (possibly more for me than for you). I had originally headed it “Books I’ve read in 2013”, but I added the “some” to account for the very high probability that I have missed some others off.
It’s a relatively short list, which I am blaming on the first book which appears below, the third instalment in Robert Caro’s masterful biography of Lyndon B Johnson, which weighs in at over 1000 pages of fairly small text. I’m not complaining though; I didn’t want it to end.
Master of the Senate, by Robert Caro
If you’re interested in politics, history, psychology or life, or appreciate biography as a genre, read this book. It covers Johnson’s extraordinary rise from a junior senator from Texas, to minority leader, to probably the most powerful majority leader the United States Senate has ever seen. Caro has dedicated his life to this series of biographies (the penultimate volume was published last year), and they will, I think, be seen as the model of historical biography for years to come.
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
There had to be something in the list on JFK, as the 50th anniversary of his death came in November. At first I wasn’t too enamoured by the style of the book, but it grew on me as I read it. It’s not a long book (just under 300 pages) but crams in a good overview of the critical periods in the lives of John Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald up to 22 November 1963, after which their names would forever live side by side in history.
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, by Sarah Churchwell
I came across this book by chance at the Hay Festival. It is essentially a history of The Great Gatsby, tracing the lives of its author and his wife as well as the events that surrounded its writing and publication. Tremendously written, entertaining, amusing, sad and fascinating, it is well worth reading.
The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger Jr, edited by Andrew and Stephen C Schlessinger
Arthur Schlessinger Jr was quite possibly the greatest historian of America of the 20th century – he was certainly the best known. He spent time working in the Kennedy White House, and a lifetime supporting the Democratic Party. This is a fascinating collection of letters ranging in date from the end of the second world war to the early years of this century, and ranging in its variety of correspondents almost as much.
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
This has sat on my bookshelf for about two years without being read, but the recent bizarre events in North Korea (that being a relative term) made me pick it up. I’m still reading it, but so far I am enjoying it. It gives a picture of what “ordinary” life is like in the world’s most autocratic state.
This part of the list is much too short: I need to rectify that in 2014.
Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh
My first time reading this. It’s lost very little since its publication. Laugh out loud funny in parts; cleverly satirical in others.
To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
I had not read any Hemingway so started with this (because it was short!). I will read more Hemingway this year, so that probably tells you all you need to know.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
I read this in the US because I thought I ought to. A classic for a reason.
Norwegian by Night, by Derek B Miller
This has also sat on my bookshelf for some time (in fact since April, when I bought it to coincide with a trip to Oslo). Miller’s first book, it tells the story of an American veteran and retiree who has come to live in Oslo after a lifetime in urban New York, only to get himself involved in an uncharacteristically (by Norweigan standards) brutal murder case.
Do let me know what you’ve been reading this year, and any recommendations for what I should put on my list for 2014.