Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Favorite Books of 2018

Most of my mornings involve time listening to audiobooks while working out. These are my favorites from 2018. Most were published in 2018 or recently. My tastes currently run toward history and biographies. Perhaps you will find some inspiration for your next read. I've included links to Amazon. All of these are first rate.

1. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. This is the riveting story of the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. They claimed to have developed proprietary technology for blood tests from finger stick samples. This book reads like a novel and is difficult to put down. There are many lessons about life and business in this book--many of them about what not to do. The famous lawyers involved do not cover themselves or the legal profession with glory. Highly recommended.

2. The Shipwreck Hunter: A Lifetime of Extraordinary Discoveries on the Ocean Floor, by David Mearns. This is the story of the career of David Mearns, who is, as the title indicates, a shipwreck hunter. He has located the wrecks of many famous ships, including the Hood, the Bismark, and the Sydney. I was unaware of Mearns before reading this book, but his life is truly extraordinary. Very well written and written with a lot of compassion for the victims. It also reads like a novel (well, actually, a collection of short stories), and is difficult to put down.

3. Ship of Fools, by Tucker Carlson. This shortish book by Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson (let's get the Fox News connection out of the way) is pretty outstanding. It explains quite lucidly how our country is being led, literally, by a ship of fools from both parties. Carlson explains that, by abandoning mainstream America, both parties sowed the seeds that allowed Trump to be elected. Carlson's analysis of how liberals have largely abandoned the working class and liberal ideas (such as an expansive reading of the First Amendment) hits the mark. In other words, this is probably a more informative book for liberals than for the Fox News crowd. It will make you think.

4. Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon, by Robert Kurson. Having grown up in the 1960s, it's not surprising that I'm a space program junkie. Apollo 8 (we have just reached the 50th anniversary of the mission) was daring and audacious. The book tells the story well. It was a time when our country dreamed big and seemed capable of accomplishing almost anything. I miss those days and rue the squandered opportunities about what we could have and should have accomplished in the intervening half century.

5. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, by Robert Matzen. This book is about Jimmy Stewart's service in the Army Air Corps in World War II, a subject that Stewart did not discuss much in his lengthy career after the war. Stewart was a true patriot, literally having to fight for the right to fight for his country. And he did not fly a desk--he flew B-24 Liberators. A really great book.

6. The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A.J. Baime. So much has been written about Harry Truman that I wondered if there would be anything new here. But, then again, I really like A.J. Baime. Baime focuses on the first four months of the Truman Administration after Truman became President on the unexpected death of FDR in April 1945. Baime ably makes the case that those four months set into motion events that would shape the remainder of the 20th Century and beyond. The book is well-written and really moves along.

7. The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s, by William I. Hitchcock. As the author notes, President Eisenhower has risen steadily in recent years in the historical rankings of presidents. The book focuses mainly on Ike's years in office, not on his outstanding military career. Hitchcock's balanced treatment demonstrates that Eisenhower faced many challenges during his presidency. Eisenhower approached them cautiously and with a steady hand. Given what we have dealt with in the 21st Century, a return to the Eisenhower approach would be very welcome--even though it does not appear to be on the horizon. 

8. Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Brett Baier and Catherine Whitney. Yes, it's that Brett Baier of Fox News. Do not let that dissuade you from reading this book. The book focuses on a speech President Reagan made to university students in Moscow focusing on freedom and liberty near the end of his presidency. The speech was truly a remarkable event--given that Reagan bashed the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" upon taking office--and an event that would largely be lost to the sands of time but for this book. The book provides a fairly intimate look at the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev--two very different men who somehow found a way to work together. They (along with George H.W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher) made the world seem to work for a short period of time. Unfortunately, Putin (and others) came along and it did not last. The book moves along well and is well-written.