It’s been a bewildering year. Trying to make any sense of it has been almost impossible. As we end 2017 as a benchmark for bad behavior. Here are five books I found that helped me through.
- Strangers in There Own Land – sociologist Arlie Hochschild takes a fascinating trip into Louisiana bayou country – a stronghold of support for Donald Trump. Hochschild goes beyond the the tradition liberal argument that these are people who were conned into voting against their own interests. She provides a plausible explanation why the people who stand to gain most from a liberal government intervention stand on the ramparts against it.
- Democracy in Chains – author Nancy MacLean explores how America’s radical right has subverted the Republican party and American democracy. A handful of billionaires have used their influence to disempower the majority of Americans. MacLean shows how Nobel prize winner James McGill Buchanan provided the intellectual underpinnings to rationalize the rise a white power elite. Multibillionaire Charles Koch, has seized on Buchanan’s ideas in a vast, relentless, campaign to undermine unions, privatize everything from schools to health care and Social Security, and keep as many Americans as possible from voting.
- Red Notice – On December 29, 2017 a Russian court sentenced UK-based financier Bill Browder - a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin – to nine years’ jail in absentia — again. For those intrigued by the creep of Russian influence in American politics, Red Notice provides gripping insight in to Vladimir Putin’s reach and ambition. In it Browder chronicles how he became Putin’s enemy # 1 for taking on the Russian oligarchy in defense of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian prison for defending Browder’s interests. It is a searing indictment of Putin and the ruthlessness of the Russian regime.
- Sapiens – For the long view check out renowned historian Yuval Noah Harari‘s recreates the story of human evolution. In it he explores the way homo sapiens emerged as the only survivor of the human species one hundred thousand years ago. Along the way he describes how the explosion of human cognition put us out of sync with natural forces — and poses penetrating questions about what the future holds for us. Frightening in its pronouncements, Horari confronts the very essence of what it means to be human. If you read just one book in 2108, make it Sapiens.
- The Essex Serpent — If its all to much for you and you just want to put your head under the covers for a ripping read — my choice is Sarah Perry’s award winning novel. Strangely on theme with my last pic, this is a fascinating historical novel set set in late nineteenth-century England. An intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent come alive in this exploration of science and religion, skepticism and faith, independence and love. Perry channels nineteen century novelists Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens to create one of the best yarns of 2017.
As the New Year comes in like a lion, there is only one antidote — a roaring fire and a great book. I hope you enjoy these selections from the year that was.