What Were Your Favorite Books of 2014?

 

Back in early January, I was just about to publish a list of some of my favorite books of 2014 when the free speech world exploded due to the horrible murders in Paris. I wrote a little bit about my thoughts on the issue for The Huffington Post about a week later, pointing out that the decision not to publish the Mohammed cartoons almost a decade ago may have been a fateful error. I decided to put off my review of books 2014 until today.

As you can see, like I do all my book reviews, I try to focus on how the book’s arguments or findings relate to my work defending free speech on campus and in the larger world. In this case I focused on The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment. The book is fascinating, as it argues for the psychological benefits of “negative” emotional states. It took me 2000+ words to do the book justice, but I thought Ricochet readers might like this excerpt:

Campuses for most of my career have been signaling to students that you need a thorough college education to be able to effectively talk to people different than you. I’ve always rejected this. It’s elitist, for one, but further I find it classist in the same way the old Victorian censors were classist, seeming to think that the solution to “indecency” was for everyone to talk like the upper-class (or, more accurately, how the upper class likes to think it talks). It’s simply hard to imagine people communicating honestly and effectively with each other when there are so many rules–both overt and implicit–about what you can and can’t say.

I also discussed books by John Tierney, Steven Pinker, and several others as among my favorites.

As I am always looking for suggestions on what to read next, what were some of your favorite books of 2014?

There are 32 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    My favorite release of 2014 is actually a revision of a thirty-year-old novel. It is The Shadow of the Ship by Robert Wilfred Franson. I grew up reading science fiction, and I love it. The problem is that I became a writer, editor, and critic. Once one has developed one’s critical faculties, one may not be able to turn them off, as in my case. So, it is only very good storytellers who can engage my attention without having me yell at the book incessantly as I attempt to wade through it. I may have lifted an editor’s eyebrow once or twice while reading this revised version of an old favorite, but overall it’s a very good read for those who like science fiction.

    So, if you ever need to take a break from that nonfiction stuff, give it a try.

    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I had many favorites, but the book that most impressed me was “Is Administrative Law Unlawful,” by Philip Hamburger.  I have linked my review which appeared on Ricochet.

    Seawriter

    • #2
  3. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff
    @GregLukianoff

    Ah, yes, I should buy Hamburger’s book. As for fiction, Arahant, I used to read lots of it (and even write some, too) but I have gone off it for a long time now. Not sure if I will ever return.

    • #3
  4. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Mine was “Four Fires” by Bryce Courtney. This is a terrific novel about Australia set mostly during the 1950s. An inspiring and dramatic tale of a poor family struggling to make something of themselves against all sorts of societal constraints and prejudices. At times thrilling, funny, and informative, my interest never flagged during the 29 hours it took to listen to it on Audible. Great narration, too.

    • #4
  5. user_88846 Member
    user_88846
    @MikeHubbard

    The most interesting book I’ve read lately was David Willetts’s The Pinch.  It’s an interesting blend of political philosophy—how should different generations interact?—and public policy—how has government made things better or worse for different generations?

    Willetts is writing from an English perspective, but it’s impressive how wide a range of issues he covers.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @DanielWood

    Founder’s Son by Richard Brookhiser.  It’s a fascinating and fresh take on Lincoln (an impossible literary task one would think, with the massive catalogue of Lincoln tomes), yet not so huge that it takes a year to read.  As usual with Broohiser’s works, it is written with elegant concision.

    • #6
  7. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Very interesting writing style that works for some reason. The author uses no punctuation for the dialogue and it seemlessly and clearly interweaves with the story telling. But that’s a small point.

    The story takes place in western Australia and is about two families who find themselves living in the same large house. Tremendous characters in this book — I found it hard to put down and read it in a few days.

    This book was made into a very good mini-series from Australian TV.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Favourite book read in 2014, or favourite book published in 2014?

    The most recently published book I read in 2014 was Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, first published in 1988.

    My favourite book read in 2014 was probably The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World.

    • #8
  9. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    I’ll work both categories (1) books released in 2014 and (2) favorite books read in 2014:

    Books released in 2014:

    How to Be a Conservative by Roger Scruton.  Scruton is a conservative thinker who can write high-level philosophy and more practical (though no less thoughtful) ruminations like this one.  And also novels.  This book is short, beautifully written, and will cause the reader to reflect why they are (or are not) a conservative.

    America in Retreat by Bret Stephens.  A ringing defense of an active American foreign policy.  I doubt this would be one of Fred Cole’s favorites, but I found Stephens’ arguments compelling.

    The Great Debate by Yuval Levin.   A superb review of the intellectual tussles between two great figures of the late eighteenth century:  Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine (both of whom still matter).

    Books released earlier but read in 2014:

    The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  The most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize, this is a fascinating, and beautifully written book set in a during the NZ gold rush in a small city on NZ’s west coast.  Infinitely better than The Goldfinch (a truly disappointing read).

    The Horatio Hornblower books by C. S. Forester.  I’m a huge fan of Patrick O’Brian and have avoided the Hornblower books because I thought they’d pale in comparison.  They lack the subtle characterization of O’Brian’s books, but they’re wonderful nonetheless.  Hornblower is a complex character and the action scenes are simply wonderful. [P.S.  Read them chronologically as opposed to when they were written–he wrote the middle ones first, then doubled back].

    Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  One of the gems of English literature, featuring two of literature’s great hypocrites:  Obadiah Slope and Mrs. Proudie.  I read this every few years and it never fails to entertain.

    In the First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn:  This is the recently published unexpurgated version.  Some argue that Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize more for his political positions than his writing:  this great novel proves that to be a lie.

    • #9
  10. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    raycon and lindacon
    @rayconandlindacon

    I (Linda) am reading “The Last Lion Box Set” by Manchester.  It’s 3 books in one on my Kindle.  It’s about the life of the Winston Churchill family.

    Also, Ray and I love our 2 kindles reading the same book.  It’s like having our own personal book club instead of TV.

    Right now we are reading the three book set of Will Robie by David Baldacci– and many others like “Wish you Well” and “the Christmas Train. ”

    We also have read together almost all of Dean Koontz’s books and many from John Grisham–“Playing  for Pizza” and “the Testament.”

    • #10
  11. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    TR, I also loved Forester’s Hornblower series. I read them all before I knew about O’Brian. And you are right about the battles being quite riveting. I also read Alexander Kent’s Bolitho series. Great reads all. (But, O’Brian tops them all.)

    I remember reading years ago of William F. Buckley’s love of Trollope, so my wife and I started reading him after WFBs passing, starting with The Warden and then The Barchester Towers. I know you and I bring this up whenever we do these but it’s really one of the greatest of pleasures to read Trollope — the shearest pleasure.

    Also, let me mention the brilliant BBC series of these books: “The Barchester Chronicles”. The characters in the books spring to life with Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne and Alan Rickman (and so many other good ones).

    • #11
  12. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Linda, I absolutely love Manchester’s many books. These Churchills are the best of his work. I’m having a little trouble with the latest one but I will get through it. Reid is just different but I won’t say he is not as good. He does excellent work and I am forever grateful that he took up this noble effort. (You might like American Caeser about MacArthur — it’s superb, too.)

    • #12
  13. Raw Prawn Inactive
    Raw Prawn
    @RawPrawn

    Man With the Axe:Mine was “Four Fires” by Bryce Courtney. This is a terrific novel about Australia set mostly during the 1950s. An inspiring and dramatic tale of a poor family struggling to make something of themselves against all sorts of societal constraints and prejudices. At times thrilling, funny, and informative, my interest never flagged during the 29 hours it took to listen to it on Audible. Great narration, too.

    I will not read anything written by the creator of Louie the Fly.

    • #13
  14. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    I read Alan Furst book, Spies of the Balkans.

    He is a first rate story teller and really enjoy the details for pre-war Europe. This one deals with Greece and the Balkan countries.

    • #14
  15. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Larry Koler:Also, let me mention the brilliant BBC series of these books: “The Barchester Chronicles”. The characters in the books spring to life with Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne and Alan Rickman (and so many other good ones).

    Alan Rickman (Severus Snape to most of us) is the perfect Obadiah Slope.  A smarmy, fortune-hunting, power-hungry hypocrite.  The type of role perfect for Rickman.

    I’ll try the Kent books.  I’ve seen them, but haven’t dipped my toe in the water.  I have a couple of Hornblower books to go, so I’ll give them a try then.

    Which raises a question:  Is there a better setting for war/adventure stories than the Napoleonic Wars?  In addition to O’Brian, Forester, and Kent (who focus on the war at sea), Bernard Cornwell made his name with his wonderful Sharpe series, set mostly in the army in the Napoleonic Wars.  Maybe it’s perfect for series because it lasted to danged long.

    • #15
  16. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    tabula rasa: I’ll try the Kent books.  I’ve seen them, but haven’t dipped my toe in the water.  I have a couple of Hornblower books to go, so I’ll give them a try then.

    Which raises a question:  Is there a better setting for war/adventure stories than the Napoleonic Wars?  In addition to O’Brian, Forester, and Kent (who focus on the war at sea), Bernard Cornwell made his name with his wonderful Sharpe series, set mostly in the army in the Napoleonic Wars.  Maybe it’s perfect for series because it lasted to danged long.

    Kent is . . . okay.  His view of naval warfare in the Age of Fighting Sail is grossly anachronistic. Basically, he taken his experiences in the Royal Navy during WWII and transmogrifies them to the American Revolution/French Revolutionary period. (One example will do – a midshipman on a ship in which Bolitho is a post captain later reappears as Bolitho’s superior office.  Could Not Happen circa 1770-1820. (Theoretically possible in 1900-1940.)

    Also, ships blow up with startling regularity. Like two or three ships getting sunk in battle every book.  For grins, I added up all of the losses in the Bolitho series between 1793 and 1801 and discovered more ships under Bolitho’s command had been lost in combat than were lost to all causes during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  Like a lot more.

    I’d say look up Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie series or Dudley Pope’s Ramage books. (While Pope has Ramage capturing a ridiculous number of ships it is a better representation of life in the Royal Navy of the period than Kent.) Richard Woodman has a good series, too.

    Seawriter

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter:Also, ships blow up with startling regularity. Like two or three ships getting sunk in battle every book. For grins, I added up all of the losses in the Bolitho series between 1793 and 1801 and discovered more ships under Bolitho’s command had been lost in combat than were lost to all causes during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Like a lot more.

    Yes, but it will look great in the movie adaptation.

    On your point about the post-captain’s list leading to admiral ranks, the only exception I can think of would be if the younger man’s style was “Your Royal Highness.”

    • #17
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant: On your point about the post-captain’s list leading to admiral ranks, the only exception I can think of would be if the younger man’s style was “Your Royal Highness.”

    Nope.  And even Mr. Midshipman Prince William (the future King William IV) never outranked the captains senior to him as a Royal Navy officer — only as their monarch.

    The other amusing (to me) inaccuracy in Bolitho stories are the small size of the squadrons in the various novels.  The French sent out small (4-6) squadrons of ships-of-the-line.  Occasionally and generally after Trafalgar.  The Royal Navy very rarely dispatched less than 8 ships-of-the-line together.  They might send out one, but you almost never had an operational squadron of the size typically seen in Kent’s Bolitho novels.  On the other hand in WWII they regularly operated battleship squadrons of 4-6 ships.  Like I said.  Kent took his WWII experiences, threw in his yachting experiences, read a few histories of the period (mainly by John Maesfield I would guess), shook vigorously, and voila – Bolitho stories!

    Seawriter

    • #18
  19. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter:

    Nope. And even Mr. Midshipman Prince William (the future King William IV) never outranked the captains senior to him as a Royal Navy officer — only as their monarch.

    Maybe I am missing something here. According to what I see, William Henry was promoted to rear-admiral in 1789; whereas Nelson, eight years his senior on the list, became rear-admiral in 1797. I know that they had some appointed offices, such as Rear Admiral of Great Britain, but William Henry is not on that list. He was Lord High Admiral in 1827-8, of course, which was appointive. I believe one or two of his uncles were also made admirals out of sequence. Prince Henry had a ridiculously fast rise.

    Now, if you are saying they never directly commanded men who were senior to them on the list, I might accept that, but a rear-admiral definitely outranked a post-captain.

    • #19
  20. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    It’s been quite a while since I read the Kent books but I am not as discriminating as Seawriter. Seawriter is too smart, too well educated and too well read to enjoy just good novels, I guess. (But, we do love your contributions on all these subjects. We just wish you were more ignorant in general. It would help a lot.)

    But, after reading the O’Brian novels I probably would not enjoy the Kent novels as much in comparison to the master that O’Brian was on all aspects of the art — the history, the characters and the plots.

    • #20
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant: Maybe I am missing something here. According to what I see, William Henry was promoted to rear-admiral in 1789; whereas Nelson, eight years his senior on the list, became rear-admiral in 1797. I know that they had some appointed offices, such as Rear Admiral of Great Britain, but William Henry is not on that list. He was Lord High Admiral in 1827-8, of course, which was appointive. I believe one or two of his uncles were also made admirals out of sequence. Prince Henry had a ridiculously fast rise.

    I’d have to do some checking, but since he left the service in 1790 I suspect he was promoted to Admiral of the Yellow, which is pretty much an honorary position. (See O’Brian’s The Yellow Admiral for more on that rank.) Addition evidence it was an honorary rank is the admiral was given command of a ship (rather than a fleet), and the ship (HMS Valiant)  was under repair until July 1786 and was not recommissioned until May 1790 (under William Henry).   So, he did not command a ship at sea as an admiral, and his command was laid up for most of the time he commanded it.

    It sounds like an honor given a departing officer rather than a substantive rank.

    Seawriter

    • #21
  22. Big John Member
    Big John
    @AllanRutter

    My favorite fiction (sorry, Greg):  Missing You by Harlan Coben, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, and Moving On by Jonathan Stone.   I also enjoyed The Happiest Life by Hugh Hewitt.

    • #22
  23. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Larry Koler: But, after reading the O’Brian novels I probably would not enjoy the Kent novels as much in comparison to the master that O’Brian was

    Look up Lambdin.  I think you would like him.

    Seawriter

    • #23
  24. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Seawriter:

    Larry Koler: But, after reading the O’Brian novels I probably would not enjoy the Kent novels as much in comparison to the master that O’Brian was

    Look up Lambdin. I think you would like him.

    Seawriter

    OK, I just downloaded The King’s Coat for my Kindle. Thanks for the suggestion. I seldom re-read books like TR does so I’m so ready for this kind of book.

    I have to say that I will probably make an exception and re-read the O’Brian series in the near future just because his story telling is so compelling. I really think he’s as good (in his own way) as Austin or Trollope.

    • #24
  25. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    I recommend The Forgotten Revolution by Lucio Russo, even though it was not published in 2014 and I’m still reading it.

    Subtitled How Science Was Born in 300bc and why it had to be reborn this book makes the case that the scientific method was discovered by the Greeks, resulting in much more scientific and technological discovery than generally suspected.

    For example- and to stick with a nautical theme- the ancients were able to sail against the wind and navigate over open waters, abilities generally unsuspected- and also seem to have discovered America. Fascinating book.

    I also like Pterosaurs by Mark Witton. This is an up-to-date well-produced volume discussing the current state of knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of pterosaurs for the bargain price of only $23. Great value, in my opinion. Most books on this sort of topic are much more.

    • #25
  26. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff
    @GregLukianoff

    Thanks everyone. These are some great suggestions and many books I have never heard of. I am buying the Forgotten Revolution ASAP, btw.

    • #26
  27. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    My favorite novel I read last year that was published in 2014 was “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson (a sequel/prequel to her great work, “Gideon”.) I also enjoyed “Those Who Wish Me Dead” by Michael Koryta (I think Peter Robinson recommended it as an Audible pick) and “The Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff Vandermeer  (“Annihilation”, “Authority” and “Acceptance”.)

    For nonfiction published last year, my favorite was “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” by Mark Harris. I also enjoyed “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt” by Michael Lewis and “So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be” by Maureen Corrigan (in spite of the author’s nasty swipes at conservatives.)

    • #27
  28. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I keep a personal blog on what I read through the year.  It’s mostly literary and classics.  I don’t know if I have a favorite, but perhaps Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which surprised me at how good it was.  Here’s my summary of 2014, if anyone is interested:

    http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/2015/01/my-2014-reads.html

    • #28
  29. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Eustace C. Scrubb:My favorite novel I read last year that was published in 2014 was “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson (a sequel/prequel to her great work, “Gideon”.)

    I too enjoyed Lila.  It’s problem is that it’s impossible to compete with the earliest book in the trilogy, Gilead, which I think is a true masterpiece. There’s also another book, Home, which fleshes out the story.  Robinson is, in my opinion, the best current American fiction writer.

    • #29
  30. user_5186 Inactive
    user_5186
    @LarryKoler

    Manny:… I don’t know if I have a favorite, but perhaps Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which surprised me at how good it was….

    Interesting… OK, maybe I should reread that one.

    My favorite of hers is Persuasion. Great movie also with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root — who are simply wonderful and a great pleasure to watch as they and the director tease out each of the subtle strings of the heart’s lute.

    • #30

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