What I Read in 2023Submitted by Moneywatch Advisors on December 19th, 2023
Some really good biographies, plenty of fun fiction and some favorite authors round out the reading year. Hope you find something interesting you’d like to try for yourself here:
- The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my life, by John le Carre, 342 pages. Short, personal stories of his life, particularly focusing on his experiences conducting background research for new books. Quick, fun read.
- The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson, 503 pages. Brilliant book about Churchill’s 1st year as prime minister during WW II that tells the personal stories of him and those around him along the timeline of the war. A wonderful history combined with people’s stories as they continued living their lives.
- Grant, by Ron Chernow, 959 pages. The author of Hamilton wrote the preeminent biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Making a biography and historical account read easily is a rare gift.
- The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles, 578 pages. Masterful novel that weaves a compelling coming of age story through many metaphors and mini life lessons. Quite enjoyable.
- American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis, by Adam Hochschild, 358 pages. A history of the repression of civil liberties to anyone who opposed America’s involvement in WW I. A hunt for German spies escalates to labor unions, blacks, Socialists then Communists during 1917-21 while Woodrow Wilson tacitly approved government’s crackdown before he succumbed to apathy after a stroke.
- An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, by Richard Norton Smith, 710 pages. A classic Eisenhower Republican who was fiscally conservative and socially moderate to even liberal, he supported the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He was a creature of his 25 years in Congress and was always seeking a place where he could get the most people to follow. An underrated president, mostly because he only served 29 months.
- The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell, 206 pages. An interesting, albeit overly simplified, look at a WW II-era Air Force team who viewed air warfare as a way to shorten wars and save lives. Precision bombing to take out strategic military installations rather than bombing civilians to erode public confidence in politicians’ decisions to engage in war was a way to end wars with fewer casualties and in a shorter amount of time. One may look no further than Ukraine or Gaza to see civilians, despite leaps in technological advancements, still bear much harm during wars.
- MBS, by Ben Hubbard, 284 pages. The story of the rise of Mohammad bin Salman to Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. As his father, the king, is quite old, MBS is essentially the No 1 and No 2 in the country. He has championed a vast social and economic overhaul in tandem with an extreme concentration of authoritarian power. Women can drive and obtain passports with the permission of a male relative. But people are jailed for uttering statements against the kingdom - even princes, his own mother, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, the list goes on. Good read.
- The Untouchable, by John Banville, 368 pages. Banville is a terrific novelist in the vein of John LeCarre with great stories told with insightful observations of his characters’ worlds. This book is an historical novel about an Irishman living in posh London as a spy for Russia.
- The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin, 340 pages. I never thought I’d read a book about the Supreme Court but this was quite good. Published in 2007, it shows how many of the issues of then - states’ rights, abortion, affirmative action - are pertinent today. He also concludes that, despite arguments of originalism or modern day interpretations of the Constitution, ideology of the justices themselves trumps everything. So, presidential elections matter.
- A Perfect Spy, John le Carre, 590 pages. A British spy becomes a double agent when drawn to the father figure he never had more than any ideological passion. A bit tedious and long-winded, if I’m completely candid.
- The Collector, by Daniel Silva, 393 pages. Easy vacation read about stolen art and espionage with Silvia’s favorite protagonist Gabriel Allon as the star.
- G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, by Beverly Gage, 732 pages. Hoover was a preachy demagogue and quite racist but tried to run the FBI for 5 decades as a professional, non-partisan federal agency. Hard to believe now but he once had a 98% national approval rating until, after his death, the Church Committee and others revealed his extensive violations of civil liberties and basic decency by spying, wire-tapping, planting false evidence, writing fake letters, leaking false info to the press on groups he didn’t like or was afraid of. It wasn’t all him as Congress and several presidents enabled his behavior but he bears the brunt of the credit.
- Crook Manifesto, by Colson Whitehead, 319 pages. Fabulous novel that follows some of the main characters from his Harlem Shuffle, including Harlem itself that is truly the main character.
- The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, 323 pages. First novel by this former journalist and it’s good, with fairly sparse prose. Set outside London the story takes place in three characters’ memories and slowly reveals the murderous truth.
- The Lock-Up, by John Banville, 323 pages. Banville is quickly becoming my favorite author with novels set mainly in post-WW II Ireland that delve into characters and their complexities at least as much as the murders in the stories.
- The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben Macintyre, 325 pages. History of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent turned spy for the Bristish in the ‘70s and ‘80s, what impact he had on Soviet and Western relations and his daring escape from Russia after he was betrayed by Aldrich Ames of the CIA. Reads like a novel.
- King, by Jonathan Eig, 557 pages. Fresh biography of MLK, Jr. While King is, and should be, remembered for his stand for civil rights, he also advocated for programs to help eradicate poverty and against the Vietnam War. What makes this book particularly compelling is the newly declassified documents that enhance what we know about both MLK and J. Edgar Hoover and how their lives intersected. Hoover viewed King, and virtually everyone, as a communist - he wasn’t.
Steve Byars, CFP