Best Reads of 2018

rtlHere are my best reads in English during 2018. The total was only 39 books (when 40-45 is my normal number), mainly because I slogged through a lot of borderline-bad Swedish paperback novels. They became my lot in life for months after the local historical society gave me a book token for a shop that hardly stocks any English titles. Even giving them each a 50-page chance was quite the chore.

Seven of the books I read were e-books. Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what were your best reads of the year?

  • Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah, Vol 2. Richard Francis Burton 1857.
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. H.P. Lovecraft 1927.
  • Maskerade. Terry Pratchett 1995.
  • Guys and Dolls and Other Writings. Damon Runyon.
  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. Mark Levinson 2006.
  • Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. Michael Chabon 2008.
  • The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal #4). Jonathan L. Howard 2014.
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats. Jon Ronson 2004.
  • Salt. Adam Roberts 2000.
  • A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton. Mary S. Lovell 1998.
  • Air. Geoff Ryman 2004.
  • A Meeting with Medusa (The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, #4). 1960s.
  • Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond #4). Ian Fleming 1956.
  • The Door into Summer. Robert A. Heinlein 1956.
  • The Innocents Abroad. Mark Twain 1869.
  • Pistols at Dawn: a History of Duelling. Richard Hopton 2007.
  • Spinning Silver. Naomi Novik 2018.

Here’s my list for 2017.

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8 thoughts on “Best Reads of 2018

  1. Best book I read by far was David Reich’s Who We Are And How We Got Here. It is fated to become dated pretty quickly, but I think history will judge it to be a classic, and a major milestone.

    All of my other good reads for the year were either papers or blog posts, including an excellent pair of posts on the blog The Scholar’s Stage by the youngish American scholar of Chinese history Tanner Greer, about how, after trying appeasement and failing completely for 200 years, the Chinese finally defeated the Xiongnu by learning how to fight like them as mounted archers, and effectively genocided them, killing every man, woman and child that they could, because it was the only way to stop them from raiding and slaughtering huge numbers of defenceless Chinese farmers; the remnants of the Xiongnu fled westwards and vanished from history.

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    • Might or might not be – what’s in a name? Early fairly loose confederation of tribal nomadic herders on the East Asian Steppe who gave the Chinese hell in the northern border regions during the Han Dynasty. Chinese tried appeasing them with bribes of material goods + noble Chinese wives in exchange for peace treaties for 200 years, which achieved zero – one Xiongnu group would agree in order to get their hands on the goodies, but that meant nothing to other groups who just kept on raiding, plundering and killing. Finally a couple of smart Chinese generals realized this strategy of bribing then subjugating would never work, and that standard Chinese military tactics could never beat them (chariots were useless against mounted archers) so set to work developing regiments of ‘swift cavalry’ to combat them, plus very long range surprise attacks with big support trains needing 100s of 1000s of horses, including coming at them out of ‘impassable’ desert, sometimes literally catching the Xiongnu sleeping and slaughtering every one of them. It took 80 years to effectively wipe them out as a threat.

      This pattern of China having to constantly try to protect its borders against different groups of ‘barbarian’ hordes was repeated over and over through Chinese history, as attested by the construction of various massive walls, of which the Great Wall construction during the Ming was only the latest. Establishing the identities of those various ‘barbarian’ groups is a pretty thankless and probably futile task, except for a couple of more obvious ones like the Mongols and Manchu. And the Japanese invading China through Manchuria, obviously. People still don’t know what Attila’s ethnicity was for certain, although from contemporary descriptions he sounds like he could have been East-Asian-like. Xiongnu = Hun or similar then seems likely – highly mobile East Asian Steppe nomadic herders.

      The pattern of such people impacting on sedentary farming populations is repeated in other parts of the world throughout history. It’s what they did.

      Strange comparison with Eric – I read Darwin when I was 11-12. My interest in evolution and human origins is not a new thing, it dates from childhood and has been a lifelong interest. Mildly surprised to realize that when I just read Eric’s comment, but on reflection, it’s a reality – have always been interested.

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  2. Of the books on your list, I have read Maskerade, The Door Into Summer, and Innocents Abroad.

    Anything by Pratchett or Twain, in my experience, is worth reading. Heinlein, as we have discussed on other threads, definitely has issues, which are particularly visible his later books, although signs of it start to appear as early as Starship Troopers (which is still an effective propaganda piece).

    Among my 2018 reads are some books I can recommend:
    Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
    Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate
    Harry Frankfurter, On Bullshit
    Martha Grimes, The Case Has Altered
    Martha Grimes, Help the Poor Struggler
    Voltaire, Candide

    Frankfurter’s learned treatise is helpful for understanding that people like the current Oval Office occupant do not care about truth. Liars do at least care about the truth, because they understand that their lies have to be consistent. Bullshitters do not care about the truth. Dolt 45 is in the latter category.

    I have had to cut back on book purchases. My personal Mount To-Be-Read is much too high, and my eyes do not work as well as they did in my younger days.

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  3. I read only a few books in 2018 which were not on archaeology, but this year promises to be better. My colleagues gave me a gift card from the local bookshop for my name day gift which was quickly exchanged for a pile of paperback classics. So starting with Chekhovs Uncle Vanya.

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  4. Cool, I haven’t read Chekhov or many Russians at all. Bulgakov and Makine are the ones I can recollect. Asimov doesn’t count since he left Russia when he was 3.

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