Notable Books We Read in 2017 -- 11/24/17

Here they are -- our favorite books for 2017. As always, they are books we read (or, for some of the lengthier tomes, finished reading) this year, but not necessarily books that were published this year. They are listed below, but not in any order of preference. If you wish to read an excerpt from any of the books mentioned, click on the title.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Seinfeldia
by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

OK, I admit it. I'm a "Seinfeld" fan. This book is a substantive look behind the scenes of the "show about nothing." It's all there -- and of particular interest is the detail about how script ideas were developed and the show's writers were utilized.

The Selling of the Babe
by Glenn Stout

In 1914, a new technology, electricity, led to more options for entertainment: dance halls, recorded music, nickelodeons and more -- and one consequence was the dwindling interest in baseball, which was replete with singles and bunts and pitchers' duels, but very few home runs. Then along came Babe Ruth, who revolutionized the way baseball was played by his willingness to strike out in his quest for a home run -- saving the New York Yankees and baseball along the way.

Never a Dull Moment
by David Hepworth

If, like me, you were in high school in 1971, this book will bring a flood of memories of the greatest rock groups of that era -- the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, CSNY and more. Even if you weren't, the insights into the cultural issues and classic albums of the era are worth it.

AMERICAN HISTORY

Birdmen
by Lawrence Goldstone

This is the story of the business of "flight." Though deified, the Wright brothers' innovation and engineering stagnated after their first few years of flight as they became preoccupied with defending their patents and thwarting the competition. That left others like Glenn Curtiss to swoop in and take the technological lead.

The Great Railroad Revolution
by Christian Wolmar

Railroads were the dominant business of the 1800s, towering over the economic landscape like none since. In 1900, railroads constituted 60 percent of the value of the New York Stock Exchange. Today, no sector comprises more than 20 percent. So large that they often owned the coal and telegraph companies that served them, railroads completely transformed business, politics, society, time and war in a way not matched since.

The Accidental Super Power
by Peter Zeihan

This author argues that the geography of the United States -- its river systems, arable land, coast lines, resources and natural defenses -- are so extraordinary that it was inevitable that it would become the world's dominant economy. So dominant, in fact, that post-World War II it was able to dictate an economic world order at Bretton Woods -- one that allowed the world to freely trade with global military protection provided by America. This order is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

Cattle Kingdom
by Christopher Knowlton

In the mid-1800s, the large-scale cattle business -- with cattle drives in Texas and meat packing and shipping in Chicago -- was briefly one of America's largest industries. Like the tobacco industry before it, the cattle industry benefited from early investment by Scottish and English speculators. This book covers the history of that industry, including the true story of those cowboys lionized in popular culture, with lives more interesting yet less violent than Hollywood would lead us to believe.

American Sphinx
by Joseph J. Ellis

Thomas Jefferson -- author of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father, president, slave owner, debtor -- fully embodies the contradictions of the American psyche. Joseph Ellis gives us a robust portrait of Jefferson, one that celebrates his fallibility as well as his genius.

Divided Highways
by Tom Lewis

A comprehensive history of the Interstate Highway System, the largest public works project in the world. A masterwork on politics and legislation, this book explores the way this system has altered American life for both good and bad.

WORLD HISTORY

1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire
by Rebecca Rideal

Three dramatic events converged in England in 1666: the Anglo-Dutch Wars, which tipped the balance of global power away from the Dutch and toward England; the Great Plague, which devastated England's population; and the Great Fire of London, which necessitated the complete replanning and rebuilding of London. Rebecca Rideal chronicles pivotal moments in science, the arts and warfare that changed the course of English history.

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
by Stephen R. Platt

Though you may have never heard of it, the Chinese civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion, which occurred at the same time as the American Civil War, was the bloodiest in history. According to conservative estimates, 20 million people may have died in this conflict, but the number may have been several times higher. It likely prevented the British from interfering in the American conflict on the side of the Confederate states, and it set the stage for China's 20th century upheavals under Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.

Coal: A Human History
by Barbara Freese

"Coal" is a compelling narrative of the symbiotic and still-controversial relationship between coal and human progress, which have been intertwined for a millennium. The Industrial Revolution was built on coal, and this book chronicles both the triumph and heartbreak that came from it.

SCIENCE

How Emotions Are Made
by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Though most scientists have long believed emotions are hardwired into the brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett's theory of constructed emotions argues that emotions may not be triggered, but created. Her research represents the first broad, systematic study of emotions, and the implications of her work are that individuals have a greater level of control and responsibility in their own emotional lives than generally thought.


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