Some Books I've Read Recently (in roughly reverse chronological order):

Title Author Category Description
Summer/Fall 2008
Just How Stupid Are We?  Facing the Truth About the American Voter Richard Shenkman Non-fiction.  Political.  Great election-time reading.  It is a fact that most American citizens are almost completely ignorant about our government, our economy, and world affairs.   Should they be trusted?  
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe Non-fiction.  Hippie.  Chronicle of the exploits of the Merry Pranksters and their charismatic leader, Ken Kesey.   '60s counter-culture at its best. 
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson Non-fiction.  Gonzo journalism. Thompson's self-consciously absurd take on journalism, American culture, and drugs.  
Naked Lunch William S. Burroughs Fiction. Beat.  Viewed as obscene when it was published in 1959 (because of descriptions of pedophilia).  The fact that you can read it all in the United States is due to 1960's Supreme Court rulings.   Those dang liberal judges. 
The Age of American Unreason Susan Jacoby Non-Fiction. Politics. Education. Explores the history of anti-intellectualism in the United States.  Asks the question why 2/3 of young adults could not find Iraq on a map in 2006 after three years of combat and 2,400 American deaths.  Unsettling indictment of our culture and our future.  
Fall 2006 -Spring 2008 (It's been a while since I updated)
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions Karen Armstrong Non-Fiction. Religion. History. Armstrong follows the development of axial age religious evolution in Greece, India, China, and Israel.  A rich, dense tort.
The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness Karen Armstrong Non-Fiction. Memoir. Armstrong's compelling personal coming-of-age tale from her late adolescent years in a convent through being an academic scholar, a girl's academy teacher, a memoirist, and finally an international star (of sorts). Listened to this one on CD.   
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West Cormac McCarthy Fiction. Western. Beautiful, complex prose melded with grotesque characters, horrifying atrocities and a nihilistic world view.  Sound like your cup of tea? 
The Road Cormac McCarthy Fiction. Apocalyptic. A straightforward fable of the apocalypse.  More accessible than Blood Meridian but less rich. 
All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy Fiction. Western. Luxuriant descriptions of natural beauty punctuated by savage violence and a noble hero. Listened to this abridged on CD. 
No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy Fiction. Western. Crime. Riveting plot, beautiful language, made me a fan of McCarthy.
The Cyberiad Stanislaw Lem Science fiction. Short stories. Incredibly witty, technically imaginative moral fables.
Solaris Stanislaw Lem Science fiction. A haunting plot helps keep the reading moving through this intellectually challenging novel.  
His Master's Voice Stanislaw Lem Science fiction. I loved the conceit of this book: humans intercept a message from outer space.  Now, what do we do with it?   Fun cryptography too!
Fiasco Stanislaw Lem Science fiction. The folly of attempting to ascribe human qualities to extraterrestrials.  The folly of humans in general. 
The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy Stanislaw Lem Science fiction. How can you not love a book that makes fun of  academic conferences? 
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar ...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes Thomas Cathcart, Daniel Klein Non-Fiction.  Philosophy. A self-consciously light discussion of various philosophical schools.  Not particularly illuminating for those who aren't already familiar with those schools; mildly amusing for those who are. 
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection Michael Chabon. Fiction. Crime. Slim tale with a gimmick that either works or it doesn't depending on your taste.  Didn't work for me.
Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories Elmore Leonard Fiction. Short stories.  Western. Short western tales about tough times, tough guys, tough women, and tough love.  
The Constant Gardener John Le Carre Fiction. Spy. Better than expected story with enough surprises to keep you interested.  Good summer read. Listened to this one on CD. 
Fahrenheit 451 Ray  Bradbury Science fiction. My son was reading this for school.  Provocative and imaginative elements that have become cultural icons, but tedious prose.  Listened to this one on CD. 
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche Haruki Murakami Non-Fiction.  History. Memories of some survivors of the sarin gas release in multiple subway systems in 1995.  Painful to read in places.    
After Dark Haruki Murakami Fiction. One of my favorite Murakami novels, but quite different in style.  More spartan prose, but still haunting. 
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel Haruki Murakami Fiction. Considered by some to be his masterpiece, this epic novel has many layers of complexity.  I began to feel somewhat distant from the main character.
Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami Fiction. The best of Murakami's novels -- no question.  Beautiful, savage, haunting, redemptive.
A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel Haruki Murakami Fiction. A good ride through familiar territory if you've read other Murakami novels.    
Dance Dance Dance Haruki Murakami Fiction. A sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, perhaps even better.  
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World Haruki Murakami Fiction. The first book of Murakami's I read.  Got me completely hooked.  Brilliantly fun take on hardboiled detective fiction. 
Double Indemnity James Cain Fiction.  Terrific noir novella with classic themes and surprising wrinkles. Listened to this one on CD.    
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 Hunter S. Thompson Non-Fiction.  Memoir. Political. I read this during the election season of 2007 and suddenly it all made sense. Ok, not really, but at least it was more fun .   
The Final Days Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward Non-Fiction.  Political. After reading Hunter Thompson's account of 1972 presidential campaign, I became interested to find out more about what made Dick tick.   I'm not sure this book answered that question, but I got a better sense of how Nixon brought himself down.
The Talented Mr. Ripley Patricia Highsmith Fiction.  Crime. Deserved  reputation as a classic of crime fiction.  Ripley's character is amazingly drawn.  
Ripley Under Ground Patricia Highsmith Fiction.  Crime. Ripley's exploits continue with less menace than the first novel, but with tremendous suspense. 
Ripley's Game Patricia Highsmith Fiction.  Crime. Ripley toys with a man with lethal consequences.  
Strangers on a Train Patricia Highsmith Fiction.  Crime. Unnerving tale of another flawed hero.  Tremendous plot device.  
The Cry of the Owl Patricia Highsmith Fiction.  Crime. Another flawed hero who this time doesn't do the crime.  Perhaps that's what makes this story less interesting.  
The New York Trilogy Paul Auster Fiction.  Excellent, lyrical writing but the stories did not engage me.  
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Christopher Hitchens Non-Fiction.  Religion. Witty, erudite writer who actually tones down his usual sarcasm.  Less biting than Dawkin's The God Delusion, but, I'm afraid, there is also less new content.  
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins Non-Fiction. Religion.   Fierce, often bitter attack that at least has some substantial content to his arguments.   His tone often detracts from his arguments, but makes for an entertaining read. 
The Best American Crime Reporting 2007, 2008 Linda Fairstein, Otto Penzler, Thomas Cook Non-Fiction.  Crime. My wife and I became addicted to this series of books.   I guess Law & Order just isn't enough.
The Best American Crime Writing 2006, 2004, 2003 Mark Boden, James Ellroy, Otto Penzler, Thomas Cook Non-Fiction.   Crime. Ditto.
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro Fiction.  Disappointing.  He's a beautiful writer (see Remains of the Day), but the story isn't compelling, the characters are flat, and the wrap-up is silly.
Remainder Tom McCarthy Fiction. A fable/farce that is intriguing, amusing, but a bit empty.   
Operation Shylock: A Confession Philip Roth Fiction. Fun romp as Roth recounts how his identity was stolen by a man pretending to be him, so, in return, Roth pretends to be the man pretending to be him.   Written as memoir. 
The Post-Birthday World Lionel Shriver Fiction. Alternative reality tale that captures the lunacy, passion, banality, and above all us, humor of relationships.  
Spook Country William Gibson Fiction. Gibson has left the world of Neuromancer far behind in this novel of techno-intrigue.  We are as clueless as the main character as we venture forth, compelling us to read more. 
The Weight of Numbers Simon Ings Fiction. Densely packed with characters, plots, and locales -- a good summer read. 
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets Nassim Taleb Non-Fiction.  Excellent witty presentation of statistics and randomness as applied primarily to financial markets.  Basically, the author argues that people who have accurately predicted the markets have just been lucky.  
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov Fiction.  Banned during his life by Stalin and not published until 30 years after the author's death, this erudite and enormously entertaining farce brings the Devil to 1930s Moscow.
The City of Tiny Lights Patrick Neate Fiction. What if Phillip Marlowe were a Indian-Ugandan-Brit living in London?  Witty, almost-parody of Raymond Chandler.
Down and Out in Paris and London George Orwell Fiction. Memoir. Both. Prior to 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell lived among the wretchedly poor.   Grotesque. Funny. Disturbing.
Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages Richard E. Rubenstein Non-fiction. Aristotle incites one of the most significant revolutions in science, theology and philosophy when his "lost" works are translated into Latin in the Dark Ages.
The Kafka Effekt D. Harlan Wilson Fiction. Short stories. Punkish, cultish stuff.  44 stories that will blow your mind. 
Academic Year 2005-2006
Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, From Our Brains to Black Holes Charles Seife Non-fiction. Science. Traces the rise of information theory from code breaking, Claude Shannon, quantum physics, and genetics. 
Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature Dorothy Allison Non-fiction. Feminist. Reflections of a Southern lesbian woman born in abject poverty.   While it's tough being a woman in our society, and tougher still being homosexual, her most difficult struggles were with socioeconomic class (Author of Bastard Out of Carolina).   
A Long Way Down Nick Hornby Fiction.   Hornby, author of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch, is witty and clever as always.   The characters grow on you in the way family members do -- you don't always like them but you get attached anyway.   Listened to this one on CD.  
Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!  Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind Michael J. Bradley, Jay N. Giedd Non-fiction. Relationships. Reassuring to those of us trying to make sense of teen behavior -- it turns out that they actually don't make sense and that's ok.  
Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos Seth Lloyd Non-fiction. Science. Explores how quantum computers work and what they can do that traditional computers cannot.   Mentions my former colleague at Duke, Amr Fahmy.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon Fiction. Told in first person from the point of view of an autistic teenager.   Really gripping. 
The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi William J. Broad Non-fiction. History. If Socrates took the Oracle seriously, so should we. 
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick Fiction. My son and I have gone on a Philip K. Dick tear reading tons of his stuff.    The basis for the movie Blade Runner.  
Reinventing Womanhood Carolyn G. Heilbrun Non-fiction. Feminist. Amazingly (and therefore depressingly) current and relevant despite being first published in 1979.  
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer Neil Stephenson Fiction. Stephenson's Snow Crash is a geek classic.  This book is more epic and ambitious.   His vision of interactive fiction is worth the read.  
Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track:  The Letters of Richard P. Feynman Timothy Ferris, Richard Phillips Feynman, Michelle Feynman Non-fiction. The inspirational life of one of the world's greatest scientists told from the point of view of his letters.  Very moving.    Listened to this one on CD.  
The Golden Age Gore Vidal Fiction. Historical. Gore Vidal lived history and he allows us a glimpse of life among high society politics around the time of WWII.  Listened to this one on CD.  
The Grifters Jim Thompson Fiction. Mystery.  I love Jim Thompson and have read almost all of his writing.   Gritty crime noir.   The eponymously titled movie with John Cusack, Annette Bening, and Anjelica Huston is pretty good too.
Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought Pascal Boyer Non-fiction. Fascinating look at how certain commonly shared religious concepts might have evolved.   Boyer pays particular attention to what we Westerners might refer to as "primitive" religions.   
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Sam Harris Non-fiction. Depressing.   Frustrating.   A must-read.   Harris sees unconditional faith and the intolerance it breeds as a primary cause of strife in our modern world.
Satan Burger Carlton Mellick III Fiction. Punk fiction.   Some hard core stuff.   Don't read this if you're squeamish about sex, religion, and bodily functions. 
As She Climbed Across the Table Jonathan Lethem Fiction. This book is particularly amusing if you're in scientific academic circles.    A physicist creates a black hole in her laboratory and falls in love with it.   Her human lover is not pleased.   You have to read it to believe it.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell Non-fiction. Popular book describing how humans are incredibly good pattern recognition machines.      Almost all of our decisions are not "reasonable" as we aren't even consciously aware of the pattern matching mechanisms. 
The Plot Against America Philip Roth Fiction. Scary stuff.   Roth explores what might have happened had Charles Lindbergh, hugely popular in the 1930s, become President.  
The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Brian Greene Non-fiction. Science. You'll understand string theory much better after reading (or listening as I did) to this book.  
Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut Fiction. Horrifying personal account of the events leading up to the fire-bombing of Dresden.   Vonnegut was a POW imprisoned in Dresden at the time -- he was one of the few who survived because the prisoners were in an underground bunker at the slaughterhouses where they worked as slave labor. 
A Man Without a Country Kurt Vonnegut Non-fiction. Dissident essays.    You'll read these and nod your head in despair.   But you'll be laughing too.    How does he do that?  
Mother Night Kurt Vonnegut Fiction. Some of the same themes as Slaughterhouse-Five.  Explores personal responsibility, the invention of the self.    You are who you pretend to be.  
Saints and Villains Denise Giardina Fiction. Historical. This book introduced me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a real-life person, a German theologian who before WWII openly opposed Hitler.   After the war began, he was involved in plots to subvert the government, assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Reich.   He was arrested and ultimately murdered in a concentration camp days before the war ended.       
Letters and Papers From Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer Non-fiction.  After reading the above, I wanted to know more about the real person.   These are his letters while he was in prison within Germany during WWII.
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers David Edmonds, John Eidinow Non-fiction. Popper and Wittgenstein's philosophies spar.  In the end Wittgenstein became more famous, but Popper's philosophical insights seem to be the more lasting.
The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick Fiction. Arguably Dick's best book.    Speculative fiction with Japan and Germany winning WWII and carving up the U.S. between them.  
A New Kind of Science Stephen Wolfram Non-fiction. Science.  Wolfram, an infamous self-promoter, has actually done seminal science in the world of cellular automata.    If the universe is in fact a collection of cellular automata, then we should be able to model the universe quite easily using cellular automata.   A magnum opus at 1192 pages.
Ubik Philip K. Dick Fiction. Precognition, free will, determinism, the meaning of life and death.
Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris Non-fiction. Humor. Laugh out loud funny.   Raleigh, NC was his home and some of his anecdotes take place there.  
Valis Philip K. Dick Fiction. Valis, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer make up a trilogy exploring ideas related to gnosticism, Jewish mysticism, multiple personality disorder, totalitarianism, and technology.   Valis has a fair bit of autobiographical content. 
The Divine Invasion Philip K. Dick Fiction. See above.   The Savior is coming.   From another planet.   And it's not clear whether it's a "good" Savior or a "bad" Savior.   
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer Philip K. Dick Fiction. Less science fiction and more about human relationships.    An excellent end to the trilogy.
Isaac Newton James Gleick Non-fiction. Biography. Newton may be the greatest scientist ever.   How did a poor, small town boy who hardly ever left home do that?  He also became fabulously wealthy which is not typical of scientists. 
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald Fiction. The great American novel.   You are who you pretend to be.  
What Would Socrates Do? History of Moral Thought and Ethics Peter Kreeft Non-fiction. Philosophy. A lecture series chronicling various schools of moral and ethical philosophy.    An excellent overview (on CD).  
The Philip K. Dick Reader Philip K. Dick Fiction. Short Stories. A great collection ranging from his more pulpy magazine quality stories (the O. Henry-like silly Fair Game) to more substantial literary quality pieces like We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (the inspiration for Total Recall) and Minority Report.
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them Al Franken Non-fiction. Political.  Hilarious and intelligent.   He'll make a fine U.S. Senator.    I listened to this on CD.  
Savage Night Jim Thompson Fiction. Mystery. Thompson makes The Sopranos look like a daytime soap opera.  
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths Bruce Feiler Non-fiction. Muslim, Christian and Jew share this one hero and yet have differing interpretations of his story.    Feiler explores whether the common ground of Abraham might be a way to create a better dialogue among the faiths.  
Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories from a Decade Gone Mad Virginia Holman Non-fiction.  Memoir. A true story describing a family torn apart by mental illness.    The writing is superb, the tale is harrowing, and its message is one we all need to hear.  
Siddhartha Hermann Hesse Fiction. A much more straightforward tale than Hesse's Steppenwolf, this epic follows a man's path to enlightenment.   (Of course, it's the enigmatic and often inscrutable nature of Steppenwolf that gives its power).