Reading List

The Count of Monte Cristo, regrettably somewhat abridged.  Only book available on a road trip.

Skimming Steal This Book, being reminded of how wrong people can be.

Plautus’s “The Prisoners”, limited by length and conventions.  Insufficient plot.

Robert Parker’s Stranger in Paradise, good, quick, unlikely

John Adams, very good, not dry, very favorable toward the subject

Jean Kerr’s Penny Candy, very light, proves some jokes have been around for a while.  Probably interesting cultural notes in it somewhere.

Caleb Williams, first third worthy of a novel 100 years later, the rest hard to appreciate in the absence of the political environment of 1790.

Truman, well done and with interesting character content, but close to a hagiography.  Good sense of how much America has changed in the last 150 yrs.

Touch the Devil, a little formulaic, and influenced by Count of Monte Cristo.  Short enough to be good.

The Great Tontine, fantastic idea, but nothing happens.  Understandable why it was in public domain.

Early Cases of Hercule Poirot, good if you like Agatha Cristie.  I’m more of a Sayers or Doyle fan, though.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Tales to Send Chills Down Your Spine – of the usual solid “Hitchcock” series quality.

The Great Divorce – Excellent.  I really need to read the rest of C.S. Lewis’s apologetics.

Busman’s Honeymoon – Last in the Wimsey series.  Very good and emphatically written for the fans.  Slightly more serious than you’d think.

They Call Me Mr. 500 – Fast, enthusiastically written.  Bit much about the 1968 Turbine Car controversy, but makes me want to go start racing.

The Mammoth Book of Golden Age Detective Stories – Despite cover blurb, has some common stories.  Those present are largely enjoyable.  Pleased to see a Jacque Futurelle novella.  Since I like the era, I like the book.

The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction – Really dark.  Well written and chosen stories, but probably not ideal for a high-stress evening.  I’ve never really enjoyed Jim Thompson’s work.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Not really a story, per se.  More of a “look at this interesting part of life” presentation, focusing on old instruments.   As with the music section in A Splintered History of Wood, I find this to be quite compelling; there’s a (excuse me) tone to the discussion and study of old instruments that I find somehow heartwarming, encompassing as it does the affection for the workmanship, materials, colorful history, and regard for good work  that are involved with these long-lived creations.

13 for Luck – More Christie.  Still not my favorite, but interesting enough to read.  The last story in this book is probably the nastiest bit of work I’ve read in the “gentlemanly” mystery genre.

The Florence King Reader – The wielder of a notoriously poisonous pen.  I have to confess that I don’t really appreciate the humor involved in much of this book, probably because many of the essays are fighting old battles.  Still, I wouldn’t avoid reading some of her books from which these essays are drawn.   Withholding judgment, which would probably bother Ms. King.

Thud! and Night Watch – Pratchett.  More guards books.  These are a favorite of mine.  They’re both of Pratchett’s usual high quality, although they have minor problems associated with their “long runner” series status.  To give many characters “screen time”, there is a lot going on in Thud!, and Vimes in both books has become an exceedingly formidable character, with his risks now running more toward those of soul rather than those of, say, swift violent death.

Drowned Hopes – Donald Westlake – sadly, I have no more of these to look forward to; this was my last.  Up to Westlake’s usual high standard, though with a bit more death than expected in a Dortmunder. The plot hook is particularly ingenious.

Killing Floor and One Shot – Lee Child – Part of a long series of “lone uninvolved man enters small town and is pulled into a situation, during which he unravels the local corruption”. Interesting protagonist and I like the way that his deductive processes are illustrated, but bloodier than I usually associate with the genre, and I have to say that Dashiell Hammett did it first with Red Harvest and Corkscrew.

Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage – McWhiney and Jameson – an odd book whose thesis starts interesting and gets strange: The South lost the Civil War the way they did because they almost always went on the tactical offensive in a war whose technology favored the defence. OK, fair enough. They did this because they were inheritors of the Celtic way of war, as opposed to the Roman/Saxon North. What?

The Perfect Murder, David Lehman – what I wanted was a history of the detective story. What I got was someone trying to deconstruct Poe. I’m not “literary” enough for this one.

La Belle France, Alistair Horne – Pretty good survey of French history, more of an overview than anything. Written in the old style of history, with the author occasionally taking sides. Not quite as good as Horne’s The Price of Glory: Verdun, but a good starting point.

The Unfair Advantage, Mark Donahue – Written just before his untimely death, this is a straightforward racing memoir from the days when the pros drove anything and everything, rather than specializing. Interesting enough, particularly concerning the development methodologies of the era and the history of the infamous Turbo-Panzer  Can-Am Porche. Certainly drives home the point that suspension development matters.

The Experience of War, Robert Cowley – A collection of military articles from a current military history magazine, with all of the “grab-bagness” that this implies. Some are very interesting, some not, but interesting enough, even if some of the articles are to be skipped.

Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, Panati – Stopped reading it. Found a few mistakes and decided I couldn’t trust the rest. Prefer Bill Bryson’s At Home.

A History of Warfare, John Keegan – Keegan’s usual quality as the current patriarch of military historians, though he takes a some views of the long-term trends of conflict that I can’t quite bring myself to agree with.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers – 2nd to last Wimsey novel, and very good, though somewhat nonstandard as this sort of book goes; the villainy is not what you’d expect and much of the book isn’t written from Wimsey’s point of view and he is in fact offstage for much of the novel. Don’t read this one until after you’ve gotten familiar with the series.

Monster Hunter International, Larry Correia – Hoo boy. Lots of guns, lots of action. Would make a good movie if they didn’t take the subject matter too seriously. An engaging first novel, if a little further down into comicbookland than I usually go.

Monster Hunter Vendetta, Larry Correia – Not as good as its predecessor but worth reading if you liked the first. I’m somewhat sympathetic; after all, what do you do to top then end of the last book?

Lord Peter, Dorothy Sayers – collection of Wimsey short stories. Some are good, some too erudite for me, and a few, such as “Talboys” and “The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head” are delights for characterization.

Six Armies in Normandy, Keegan again. Interesting when read with other books about Normandy, particularly in light of the great question of Montgomery’s competence. More mid-level formation focus than most of Keegan’s work.

Bioshock Rapture, John Shirley. Prequel novel for the Bioshock games. Considerably better than one would fear for a video game prequel novel. The author (Bram Stoker award winner) does a good job with many of the little loose threads the games introduced but did not explain. I’m not sure how good it would be if you hadn’t played the games.

Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers – Wimsey novel. Lighter than most of them, and a quick read. Good. Lots of old gentlemen upset about the decline of the club, standards, etc.

The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski – Resolutely dedicated to its thesis: “Irritation is the mother of invention” for a certain class of person. Lots of history about a few common objects. Interesting enough, particularly if you self-categorize as one of that class of persons.

Surely You’re Joking, Mister Feynmann, Richard P. Feynmann. A classic in its field. Unfocused but entertaining. A quick read and certainly inspiring in that it shows how much you can do and how much you can be entertained by taking an interest and putting things together from different fields. (The more you learn, etc.)

A Good Home, Richard Manning. ~1990 story of building a sustainable, efficient house in Montana. A quick read, but not entirely to my taste. Much of the information regarding efficiency is surely out of date by now, and there is a bit too much agonizing over the trade-offs involved (i.e. killing trees for warmth) for my taste.

The Problem of the Wire Cage, John Dickson Carr – The alleged master of the locked room problem. This was a little too mannered (“the kind of [book] where people sit around in living rooms and snap cigarette lighters at each other”, per Chandler) and talky for my taste, but had a reasonably satisfying solution. I’ll have to try another of these to make a decision about Carr.

Catherine the Great, Robert Massie – As noted above, I very much like his work. Writing a big book in which the individual chapters do not feel small is an accomplishment. While I am less interested in this subject than his naval history, Massie made his bones writing about Russia, and this book shows it. I even managed to keep track of (most) of the Russian names and Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs that wander on and off stage. A good read, which is worthy of note in a 600-page biography.

Boneshaker, Cherie Priest – Good setup, but only so-so execution. Not sure why it didn’t grab me, given the era, etc.

Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson – 1st of the Baroque cycle – very good, and up to Stephenson’s quality. First of 3, and it isn’t immediately clear where the series is going, though the introduction of loads of characters and a few interesting hints at the end are promising.

The Alienist, Caleb Carr – an NYC gaslight-era adventure with a serial killer, gangsters, a psychologist, political corruption, and Teddy Roosevelt. Very much in love with NYC history.

Doc, Mary Doria Russell – a fictional biography of Doc Holliday up through the end of his time in Dodge City. Very very good and surprisingly touching. Everyone should have a book like this written about them.

Patton, A Genius for War, Carlo D’Este – long, full of facts, surprisingly short on personality.

Peter the Great, Robert Massie – as good as his other stuff. Peter might be an interesting dinner guest, though you’d have to kick him out early.

Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution, Nicholas Lambert – rediculously well-researched, arcane, proves a specific point I didn’t realize needs proving.

How Great Generals Win – Bevin Alexander – useful as a short campaign history, but not all that great. Liddell Hart had the same point and did it better. Don’t agree with some of his historical views, either.

The Limehouse Text, The Black Hand, The Hellfire Conspiracy, Will Thomas – Good. I’m not as excited about these as I was the first two, but they are still enjoyable. The first on the list is marred by an obvious firearms error that makes me wonder a little about the rest of the research.

Thomas Jefferson – The Art of Power, Jon Meacham – Solid, but not as enjoyable as McCullough’s stuff. Meacham likes to tell, not show.

The Confusion – Neal Stephenson – Sequel to Quicksilver. Twice as long, twice as many viewpoint characters, twice as many (potential) main plot lines. Need to read the next one to find out which was actually the main plot.

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