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"I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world." - Eugene Debs

These are presented in the order in which John read them. This year’s reads included more Richard Powers, more science of various sorts, some excellent novels and Joe Bageant’s wonderful memoire plus analysis of a certain part of the USA.


Ali Shaw, “The girl with glass feet”

A slightly odd, but beautifully written and always fascinating first novel about, well, a girl with glass feet. The climax will take your breath away and the ending will leave you deeply moved and waiting impatiently for his next novel.

Richard Dawkins, “The greatest show on earth, the evidence for evolution”

Dawkins at his best doing what he was trained to do — studying and explaining natural selection. If you do not read any other book on the subject — except maybe the master’s (Darwin) himself — read this one. It is fascinating and beautifully illustrated.

David Wroblewski, “The story of Edgar Sawtelle”

Inspired by Hamlet, this tale of a boy and his dogs — some of whom (yes, whom, not which) are among the principal characters — in the north woods is a beautiful thriller, much better than the gory productions of so many thriller writers these days. It is also very, very moving

Driss Chraïbi,”La civilisation, ma mère !…”

If you can’t read french, look for this in english. The story of the mother of a Moroccan writer very much like Chraibi himself and of her entry into the modern world and … Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Short and funny and wonderful!

Vilayanur Ramachandran, “The emerging mind” and “Phantoms in the brain”

As good as any introduction to how the brain functions and why we are the way we are. Clear, understandable and — yes — funny!

Manjit Kumar, “Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the great debate about the nature of reality”

A wonderful way to get into the mystery of quantum mechanics, following the life stories of the men who invented and debated it. Also quite often funny.

Jane Austen, “Pride and prejudice”

I had never read it. What else is there to say? There is a reason it’s been a classic for so long.

Matthew B. Crawford,”Shop class as soulcraft, an inquiry into the value of work”

An analysis of the way work has been changed in our days to something soulless and utilitarian, something which is not really capable of giving much real pleasure. And suggestions for what to do about it. And it is never dry; indeed, it is sometimes quite funny. An important AND important book suggesting ways to take our work back

Richard Powers, “Galatea 2.2″

The Pygmalion story transferred to modern technology, where Galatea is virtual reality, a computer program. One of Powers’s most personal and moving novels — and that is saying something.

Pankaj Mishra, “The romantics”

The first novel by a young Indian writer and editorialist. Moving portrait of India and of European trans-patriots. Definitely for Varanasi lovers.

Salman Rushdie,” Luka and the Fire of Life” (sequel to “Haroun and the sea of stories”)

Rushdie the master takes on a whole slew of issues in this children’s (and adult’s) tale which makes Harry Potter look cheap and superficial (which he is). A really fun read.

Joe Bageant, “Rainbow pie, a memoir of redneck America”

Good ol’ Joe understands hillbillies (if I may employ the term) like nobody on earth and he loves them too. This book is part autobiographical memoire and part analysis of where these folks are at. A very moving book. A great book! (Update, Sep 2011: Joe succumbed to cancer on 26 March 2011. He was a great writer and a great man and will be sorely missed.)

Basharat Peer, “Curfewed night”

The story of Kashmir told by a Kashmiri, starting with reminiscences of how beautiful and wonderful it once was … and going on to how awful it now is and how it got that way. He does not hesitate to point the finger of accusation in more than one direction, starting with India and going on with Pakistan. A very moving book.

Rohinton Mistry, “A fine balance”

The big Indian novel about how India was during the Indira Gandhi emergency period (1975-7). A young student, two Dalit (untouchable) tailors and a young divorcee meet and eventually come to become wonderful friends in this extraordinarily moving but very cruel novel. Its message is that the line between joy and despair is a fine one. And Mistry walks right along it, looking to each side as he goes. Warning: Siv found this novel hard to take and much to depressing for her taste, showing that the balance is indeed fine.