The Books of 2012

I started the year with a modest goal of 50 books (using the Goodreads site to log and track), using last year’s 57 as the measuring stick. I was going to be taking part in a year-long management development program for work and was not sure how much time I’d have to read. I was a bit surprised when I passed 50 in June and 75 in August, so I bumped the goal to 100, which I passed in October.

I read quite a few as a result of that management program, though only two were “required” reading. Also, two years ago, after taking and passing my Professional Engineer licensure, I resolved to go back to science fiction and read the Big Three. Asimov was so prolific I decided to just read his Foundation universe arc last year. I could never get into Heinlein when I was young, so chose him to tackle this year, reading as many of his novels as I could find in publication order. More on him later.

In last year’s recap, I broke out the list into fiction and nonfiction (turned out to be a rough 60/40 split), ambitiously grouping the books into categories. That’s going to be a bit too much for this year’s recap, as I doubled the run for 2011, so I’ve decided to just group the books by the month in which I finished them (and fiction/nonfiction subgroups.)

Some quick stats for the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): heavy on the nonfiction this year:

  • 72 nonfiction (actually, the nonfiction total was 73…one was a reread, which I’ll explain in September)
  • 46 fiction
  • roughly 60/40 split flipped from last year
  • 16 of the fiction were Heinlein novels
  • 7 of the non-fiction were memoirs (that tidbit is for my benefit)
  • 24 – the number I rated on Goodreads as five-star (one was generous)
  • 6 – I gave a one-star not-only-no-but-really-no UNrecommendation

Many of the nonfiction had to do with leadership, cognitive studies, and health (our management group project ended up focused on employee health plans). I expect to read more on the brain in 2013; I find the science fascinating – the real science, not psychology or other such fuzziness.

Anyway, now to the books (five-star ratings are underlined; one-star ratings called out in the short comments):

January (11)

Nonfiction (6):

  • The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade by Sally Wade
  • The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
  • Artful Work by Dick Richards
  • Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics by Paul Ormond
  • The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature by Jeff Vandermeer (and many others)
  • That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

I can’t recommend the Ormond (he didn’t address why his book fairly failed) or Richards (fluffy nonsense) books, but I liked seeing a candid side of Carlin, learned a few things from Jacobs, loved The Steampunk Bible and do recommend That Used to Be Us with the caution that they didn’t really come up with anything on how to come back.

Fiction (5):

  • Rocket Ship Galileo; Red Planet; Between Planets; Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein
  • The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling

I started the year with the earliest Heinleins I could find with the goal of reading them in published order so as to watch the author hone his craft. These were somewhat okay. I read The Difference Engine after Vandermeer’s book recommended it as one of the better steampunk literary incarnations. Nope. Gibson seems to relish making up nonsense words to set a tone of difference, and this was no different…difference… whatever. It wasn’t even that good of a story.

February (13/24)

Nonfiction (7):

  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard (& others)
  • Best Practices: Managing People: Secrets to Leading for New Managers; Best Practices: Motivating Employees: Bringing Out the Best in Your People by Barry Silverstein
  • Strategic Learning: How to Be Smarter Than Your Competition and Turn Key Insights Into Competitive Advantage by Willie Peterson
  • The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot
  • Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Outsmart the Competition by Stephen Shapiro

In February, I decided to look at some business, management, leadership books to try to get the most out of the management program I had just started. I do not like the term “best practices”, and was not impressed with Silverstein’s books. Nor was I impressed with Shapiro, despite the title that attracted my attention. Strategic Learning was an assigned text and I’ll just say I got more out of the group discussion than the actual book (hint: if you feel the need to check it out, just read the chapter recaps and the appendix; Peterson even contradicted himself from chapter to chapter, but only a couple of us caught that…) I read Drive after watching Pink’s TEDTalk and felt it to be one of those rare forehead smackers. Made me want to read A Whole New Mind (see August) to see what else Pink had to say as I had seen that book recommended in a couple of other books.

Fiction (6):

  • The Puppet Masters; The Rolling Stones; Farmer in the Sky; The Star Beast by Robert Heinlein
  • Catching Fire; Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

More Heinlein and the second and third books of the Hunger Games trilogy. I thought Mockingjay was a little thin and uneven, but her first two were good.

March (7/31)

Nonfiction (4):

  • The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine by David Brock
  • Cultural Idiocy: Why America is Losing the War of Words by Joe Marconi
  • 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks
  • The New Health Age: The Future of Health Care in America by David Houle

Anything that exposes the charade that is Fox”News” is likely going to get a good review from me. Well documented, but I don’t expect it will be read by those who need to read it. 13 Things started out pretty good, but Brooks crossed the line by including homeopathy…oh, it certainly doesn’t make sense, fitting the title, but he portrayed it as something legit. Sorry, molecular memory theories fail big time – the water must also remember a time when it was a waste product, too, right? Marconi would have gotten five stars had he not been so glib. And by this time, our management program group chose employee health care as a year-long project, so I started reading up…

Fiction (3):

  • Tunnel in the Sky; Double Star; Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein

Light on the fiction this month…I gave four stars to the last two…thought he might be getting better, but…

April (10/41)

Nonfiction (5):

  • I, Asimov by (surprise!) Isaac Asimov
  • Attack of the Theocrats by Sean Faircloth
  • Free Will by Sam Harris
  • Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
  • The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads Heart of the Matter Facts You Need to Know by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Faircloth’s book was infuriating and highly recommended, though I was disappointed he didn’t cite his quotes – I guess he thought one could google them easily enough. Halpern’s book was laugh out loud hilarious, particularly when imagining Bill Shatner voice (short-lived show based on the blog and book). Not as impressed with Sam Harris’s outing this time. The Kouzes and Posner Leadership was our second assigned text. Did not like and had to reread in September to refresh my memory before the group discussion.

Fiction (5):

  • Citizen of the Galaxy; The Door into Summer; Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
  • Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler

Citizen was the third four-star in a row of the Heinlein novels…I was encouraged…only to see that fade with Door. And Have Spacesuit earned my first one-star of the year. Awful stuff. But I persisted, stubborn that I am. I reread Titanic as a diversion from Heinlein and because of the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Good yarn.

May (9/50)

Nonfiction (4):

  • A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence Krauss
  • Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
  • The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – And Reality by Chris Mooney
  • The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones by Jim Derogatis and Greg Kant

Finding Flow got my first nonfiction one-star. From my Goodreads comments: “Opinions as fact, conclusions tailored to support the thesis, odd references to ESP and spirituality, the only thing I can recommend is he has a really cool name.” Yep. Cool name. And it was actually worse…ever heard of “psychic entropy”? Nonsense using real scientific terms.

Now, Krauss wrote a wonderful book. So did Mooney, though Mooney’s use of un-noted end notes irritated me (no in-text cites, just an appendix with page numbers, soundbites to anchor and then the sources at the end of the book where it goes unnoticed until one stumbles across it!). I would rather see the cites as they are pertinent…I like to check them as I read the quotes; I don’t like to flip around trying to see where a quote is after learning of a source…that’s just backwards.

Beatles. No question. Stones had maybe three good songs.

Fiction (5):

  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • A Deadly Row by Casey Mayes
  • Lilith: A Snake in the Grass; Cerebus: A Wolf in the Fold by Jack Chalker
  • The Last Testament: A Memoir by God by David Javerbaum

With Stranger, my quest to read all of Heinlein’s novels came to an end. Not only was he not getting any better, but that book was a monumental chore to slog through. (I did start The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but threw in the towel after a few chapters.) Awful writing, sexist, preachy…how that guy was considered one of the grandmasters is beyond me. To wash the taste from my mind, I read a weak mystery and then reread some actually good science fiction: the first two of Chalker’s Four Lords of the Diamond. Javerbaum’s Testament was very creative, but a tad too long.

June (14/64)

Nonfiction (9):

  • Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe
  • Lucid Dreams in 30 Days: The Creative Sleep Program by Keith Harry
  • Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked Into an Intellectual Black Hole by Stephen Law
  • Worlds of Their Own by Robert Schadewald
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste by Gillo Dorfles
  • unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation by Kathleen Jamieson and Brooks Jackson
  • As Texas Goes…: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins
  • Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue and others

June was an interesting month for a couple of reasons: four five-star recommendations and two one one-star non-recommendations. I really recommend Marilyn’s fragments. There was a lot more to that woman than the legend says. Believing BS and unSpun I recommend as well for critical thinkers or anyone who wants to be. Gail Collins wrote a book that fit my confirmation bias, but it was still a well-researched and well-documented book. Lucid Dreams was a joke that the gullible won’t get and the only “method” in Pain Free was the author’s capitalization of the word over and over. Pure folderol.

Blink is not recommended; Gladwell reached conclusions on the weakest subjective observations. In Kitsch, the authors didn’t see their essays were a combination of pretentious nonsense and a demonstration of pointing out the obvious. And Schedewald’s Worlds is a good companion to Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

Fiction (5):

  • Charon: A Dragon at the Gate; Medusa: A Tiger by the Tail; Midnight at the Well of Souls; Exiles of the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

The last two of Chalker’s Four Lords of the Diamond tetralogy…a series I still like to reread now and then and Midnight is just plain great science fiction. Abraham Lincoln? Great start, weak ending and for this book, I count everything after the intro the “ending”. Not a good book.

July (8/72)

Nonfiction (4):

  • The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
  • Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
  • What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert Wolke
  • Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter

I liked Moonwalking and Denialism – taught myself how to calculate the day of the week for any date after reading Foer’s book…and have forgotten since. So much for remembering everything. I didn’t know there was a world championship competitive memory circuit. Something new every day, right?

Fiction (4):

  • Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil Foglio
  • Quest for the Well of Souls; The Return of Nathan Brazil by Jack Chalker
  • The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

Two more of Chalker’s Well of Souls books and a steampunk novelization of a comic…uh, graphic novel … that is, an internet serial comic. Someone listed it as one of the 10 best steampunk novels of 2011. Dear me, if this is one of “the Best”, then I’d cringe to read one of the lesser attempts. Uneven, not well written and certainly not stand alone – one need must follow the comic to know the obscure references. Now The Affinity Bridge earned five stars from me. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but in the steampunk genre, Mann did not feel the need to use made up words and kitschy plot devices.

August (14/86)

Nonfiction (11):

  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
  • Curious Folks Ask: 162 Real Answers on Amazing Inventions, Fascinating Products and Medical Mysteries by Sherry Seethaler
  • Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
  • Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in and Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne
  • Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism by Jay Strongman
  • The Best Buddhist Writing 2010 by Melvin McLeod and others
  • The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement by Art Donovan
  • A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
  • An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
  • Credibility: How Leaders Gain It and Lose it, Why People Demand It by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
  • The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

Trying to stretch myself, I read Buddhist Writing and Piglet’s Te… not impressed. Nor was I impressed with The War of Art. It got one star for two insightful phrases. Spiritual psycho-babble nonsense that should be taken as an affront by any artist. Finally read Peart’s Ghost Rider. Liked it. Was disappointed in Pink’s New Mind, especially as I applauded his Drive earlier this year. Kouzes and Posner can really stretch a little bit into a longer book. That’s not a compliment. I called Dionne’s book a “sad commentary” on Goodreads. Recommended, but don’t look for any silver linings.

Fiction (3):

  • Twilight at the Well of Souls; The River of the Dancing Gods by Jack Chalker
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

Chalker’s first Well of Souls conclusion was still pretty good. I read River many years ago but had a hard time getting through it this time. There are more in the series that I may fit in to the fiction cycle in 2013.

That Fifty Shades is on my list deserves an explanation. I heard an interview with the “author” on NPR when she was at ComicCon. So I decided to check it out. Whoever told this woman she should write professionally deserves to have the fleas of a thousand camels invest their armpits. I suppose that’s just jealousy for not having come up with the idea myself to rip off another lowbrow series and hack together a bunch of words and sell them to the sheeple.

September (9/95)

Nonfiction (6):

  • The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts – From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers – Came to Be as They Are by Henry Petroski
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Shulz
  • Brain Candy: Science, paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons by Garth Sundem
  • The Ten, Make That Nine, Habitsof Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin (who else?)
  • Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock

Ms. Shulz examines error and our reactions to ours and others. Steve Martin had me laughing out loud a lot. Both highly recommended, for very obviously different reasons.

In August, New Scientist magazine asked its readers to narrow down a list of 25 of the most influential popular science books, of which Gaia was one. I had read several already (Chaos, Brief History of Time, Guns, Germs and Steel, and a few more), but decided I’ll read all of them, rereading those already read. Gaia was the first I selected. I thought the premise interesting, but the composition lacking. Not compelling.

Not on the above list is a re-read from April, The Truth About Leadership. Our management class had a group discussion scheduled on it and it made such an impression on me the first time that I had to quickly re-read it to prepare. That is, not a good impression. Still, I devoted reading time to it.

Fiction (3):

  • Space by James Michener
  • Ghost Boat by George Simpson and Neil Burger
  • Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson

I loved Michener’s Space when it was first published. I still liked it, but as a much older reader, I saw flaws where the younger me either didn’t, or didn’t care. Still, the subject is a favorite, whether fiction or real. Simpson and Burger wrote several collaborations that I enjoyed as a youth. I own three and am still looking for two more. Engaging reads.

Can’t say the same about Anderson’s piece. As a Rush fan, I looked forward to their album of the same name when it was released in May. Didn’t really grab me until after the seventh time through. I hoped the book would help make some sense out of the album tracks, and it did, but the book is not very good. More’s the pity.

October (8/103)

Nonfiction (6):

  • The Seven Numbers; The Seven Healers by Scott Conard
  • TED for Diabetes: The Empowerment Dynamics: A Health Empowerment Story by David Emerald
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to SurvivingWith Grace by Gordon Mackenzie
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

In research for our group project, we met with Dr. Scott Conard and an associate one Friday morning in October. Dr. Conard left the first three books with us, saying “They’re free, but you have to read them.” So I read them. In one weekend (we met with Conard again on the following Monday). So, so on The Numbers, less so on Healers.

The facilitator of the management program is a psychologist specializing in conflict resolution. He always seems to have a new book or three that he is reading. Habits was one he recommended to someone in our group. So I read it. I thought the part dealing with individual habit was good, but the author failed in extending the premise to organizations and societies. During one seminar, we watched a TEDTalk with Dan Ariely and I was interested enough to track down his book. I thought Predictably Irrational was fascinating, though it seemed Ariely drew his conclusions from too narrow and specific a research pool. Still, it is worth reading. Mackenzie made a few good points in the beginning of Hairball, but then wasted 170 pages on meandering confusion. It’s okay, but only if you happen upon it. Or are given it as a gift as my wife was with this copy.

Fiction (2):

  • Thin Air by George Simpson and Neil Burger
  • The Mammy by Brendan O’Carroll

Some might recognize the plot of Thin Air as that of the “nonfiction” book and movie, both with the title “The Philadelphia Experiment”. Thin Air came first and why the subsequents weren’t sued for plagiarism, I don’t know. Oh, and it was fiction. If you’ve seen any of Mrs. Brown’s Boys, from BBC, Mammy is the original incarnation of O’Carroll’s Mrs. Borown. Funny. Especially in O’Carroll’s Mrs. Brown voice. I hope to get to the rest of his books in 2013.

November (7/110)

Nonfiction (5):

  • What Is Life? With Mind & Matter and Autobiographical Sketches by Erwin Schroedinger
  • Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind’s Greatest Adventure by Dan Parry
  • I Suck At Girls by Justin Halpern
  • Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions by James Randi
  • The New Ambidextrous Universe by Martin Gardner

What Is Life? and Ambidextrous Universe are both on the New Scientist list. Gardner’s got better as the book progressed. Halpern made me laugh again and Randi is Randi. Pulls no punches in dismantling charlatans.

Fiction (2):

  • Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Vol. 1 by Neale Walsch
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I’ve seen Walsch’s book listed as nonfiction. Nope. Fits in Randi’s book as another delusion. As for Cloud Atlas, I saw the trailer, looked it up, found the book…and wish I didn’t. Stubborn me would stop. Not good writing and I’m sure a worse movie.

December (9/119)

Nonfiction (6):

  • Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
  • The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton
  • Oh Myyy! By George Takei
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Damn You, Autocorrect!: Awesomely Embarrassing Text Messages You Didn’t Mean to Send by Jillian Madison

December was a banner month for good reading. Alan Alda’s memoir grew on me as I read it; wonderful stories. Kleon’s book was a little charmer; lots of insights. Takei’s book makes me want to go find his first book and Madison’s collection had me laughing out loud.

The Art Instinct and Brief History were on my nightstand at the start of 2012. Dutton had some very interesting theories that make sense to me – recommended read, for sure. I had already planned to re-read Hawking before the New Scientist list came out, so I got to meet a reading goal set on 12/31/2011 and cross off one more on that list.

Fiction (3):

  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

I took a sampling from two members of the Inklings this last month. The Hobbit, as simple as it was, is still much better than anything I’ve ever read of Lewis. And I like Niven. I happened to learn that Dream Park had sequels so re-read it to refresh my memory before moving on to those.


So, there you have it, 2012 reading in review. These are the books I read. Add a slew of articles researched for the group project and parts of two doctoral dissertations (I really do not like academic writing!), and parts of a couple of other books I didn’t log because I hadn’t started them in earnest.

For 2013, I’ve got a number of books already in the queue. I also want to read (and re-read) as many of the third of the Big Three – Arthur C. Clarke – as I can. Asimov is fun, Heinlein is grossly overrated and Clarke is in my estimation the best science fiction writer of the three. I’ll probably also run through Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality, more Chalker, Niven’s other three Dream Park books and perhaps some Clive Cusller.

That is, if I have the time. Happy reading, folks!


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