The best things I read this year, in no particular order:
“Tree of Smoke: A Novel” (Denis Johnson) This is almost cheating, as I’m still in the midst of reading it. But it’d have to dive a long way in the last few pages to not stay on the list. I’ll be brave and leave it in. [Update: I fond this disappointing in the end; the last quarter did not sustain the apparent brilliance of the first half.
“The Goshawk (New York Review Books Classics)” (T. H. White). Before he wrote the incomparable <em>The Once and Future King</em>, T.H. White trained a goshawk, Gos, and wrote this entrancing book about it.
“A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” (Robert M. Sapolsky) Sapolsky’s near-cult status kept me from reading his popular works for a couple years. My loss. This account of his work with baboons in Africa has some of the delicious pleasures of both Farley Mowat and Peter Matthiessen. Wonderfully entertaining, full of insight, and a nice introduction to today’s robust ethology and primatology.
“On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not” (Robert Burton). To be published in February 2008. A favorite subject of mine — how we know what we know. Burton, a neurologist and novelist, looks at how and why certainty feels utterly the same whether we’re right or woefully wrong about the thing we’re so certain about. I got a pre-release copy of this (and many other books), and this one stood out. There are many books lately about fascinating neuroscience these days, but few are as fascinating as this one, which eloquently marshals a strong argument about something important on both personal and societal levels.
“The Things They Carried” (Tim O’Brien) Reads even better the second time.
“Rhythms of the Brain” (Gyorgy Buzsaki) At $69.50, not exactly popularly priced. Too bad, as this is one of the most stunning books about the brain I’ve ever read. I hope to write more on this one later.
“Saturday” (Ian McEwan) The neurologically self-conscious update to Mrs. Dalloway.