Good Reads During 2021Submitted by Moneywatch Advisors on December 20th, 2021
The list of books I most enjoyed during the past year isn’t quite as anticipated as former President Obama’s or Time Magazine’s – but maybe it should be. My list, however, simply shares the books I enjoyed regardless of when they were published. I hope you find something interesting here too. They are listed in the order in which they were read, not by order of preference.
- The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James Baker, by Peter Baker (no relation) and Susan Glasser, 585 pages. This is an excellent biography of a man who was involved in the top levels of government for decades. Characterized as a survivor slightly more loyal to himself than to those he served, his biography is a fascinating window into the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
- Deacon King Kong, by James McBride, 370 pages. A beautifully written novel about the interaction of several characters, in both senses of the word, in a housing project in Brooklyn during the 1960’s. His use of language in dialogue is brilliant and the story has a wonderful twist at the end.
- Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith, 766 pages. Fascinating biography reminiscent of David McCullough’s biography of Truman. Interesting note: Truman and Eisenhower both openly floated the idea of health insurance for everyone in the country. Eisenhower thought all should receive the same kind of healthcare as those in the Army did. As a counter-proposal to Truman, Richard Nixon while in the Senate, offered a proposal for the federal government to subsidize private health insurance for all Americans. We now refer to that as Obamacare.
- April, 1865: The Month That Saved America, by Jay Winik, 388 pages. Lincoln’s assassination, Lee’s surrender, the succession to the presidency by Vice President Johnson, all happened during the course of this one month. Winik posits that, if these events occurred even slightly differently, they may have split the nation. Winik also believes the U.S. wasn’t truly a nation until then, just a group of states formed on an idea rather than a shared set of experiences.
- Chances Are…by Richard Russo, 302 pages. Brilliant, multi-layered novel about three college buddies revisiting a mystery from four decades ago. It is set on Martha’s Vineyard where I just happened to read it.
- In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, 365 pages. Extraordinarily well-researched novelistic history about U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, in the mid-1930’s and his early warnings of Hitler, authoritarianism, and the dangers of appeasement.
- The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro, 605 pages. Perhaps no biographer has chronicled a president more thoroughly than Caro has Johnson and this edition covers Johnson’s nomination to be Kennedy’s VP, his time in the hinterland that is the Vice Presidency, his actions after the assassination, and his legislative success enacting a comprehensive Civil Rights bill that Kennedy couldn’t.
- Kings of a Lonely Kingdom: Earth Day Essays, Poems, And Musings on Nature, by David C. Mahood. Written by a college buddy of mine, I read this while the United Nations Climate Change conference, COP26, was being held in Glasgow, Scotland. Dave’s reflections on the progress, and lack of progress, since the first Earth Day over 5 decades ago are both sobering and encouraging. Reading this and following the COP26 negotiations reinforced my opinion that real impact on climate change will only happen when the necessary changes are tied to people’s pocketbooks.
Steve Byars, CFP®