Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Top Ten Books I Read in 2016 & Books for 2017

By Kit

Note: Feel free to post your own favorite books of 2016 and books you plan to read for 2017 in the comments.

These are the top 10 books I read in 2016. I repeat the title there because I think it needs to be emphasized that these are the books I read in 2016, not books that came out in 2016. Most came out a couple of years ago but a few are even older. One was written in 1894.

I'll also list some Honorable Mentions and some books I hope to read this year.

So here they are, in no real order:

(1) Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis: If you want a good primer on the Cold War I would recommend this book. It’s short (about 260 pages) while at the same time giving the reader a detailed and very contextualized look at how the Cold War started, how it progressed through the four decades, and how it ultimately ended. The Cold War was one of America's —and the West's— great victories but it's one that has sadly been much neglected.
Also recommended: Tom Nichols’ Winning the War (if you can find it).

(2) Parliament of Whores by P.J. O'Rourke: This classic libertarian book begins like your typical drain-the-swamp screed against federal excess but that is just part of the book. It is only when you finish the last chapter detailing a town hall vote in an American-as-apple pie small Vermont town, after spending the entire book railing against the disgusting and, well, prostituted nature of the bureaucrats, politicians, and special interests groups that run our country, that he hits you with his true message: “Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.”

(3) Too Dumb to Fail by Matt K. Lewis: While his main prediction, that the current anti-intellectualism by the Right would result in continued electoral defeats, was proven wrong (at least in the short-term) with Donald Trump’s stunning 2016 landslide, his points about how it hurts conservatism are relevant, especially when one considers how un-conservative Donald Trump is in certain areas.
I highly recommend reading Arthur Brooks’ The Conservative Heart in conjunction with this book for an illustration as to how the pro-limited government, pro-free market intellectual wing of the Right often fails to connect to voters.

(4) Beauty by Roger Scruton: Scruton compares beauty to “truth and goodness” as things whose appreciation and creation make life worth living and examines its various facets in the natural and man-made worlds such as art and architecture in an age of relativism and post-modernism where beauty is devalued. This is not an easy read and Scruton’s writing style can be very dense, which is why I highly recommend watching his documentary based on the book, Why Beauty Matters before trying to read the book.

(5) Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark: Social scientist Rodney Stark examines the first 300 years of Christian history from the crucifixion/resurrection to Constantine. He shows that the religion was primarily an urban phenomenon and spread mostly first among Middle-Class Greek Jews before moving to pagans. He also points out that Christianity’s unique emphases on a paradisal afterlife for those who believed in the faith, charity towards the sick and dying, and family, with its rejections of male promiscuity and female infanticide, helped it grow.

(6) Romancing the Opiates by Theodore Dalrymple: Former prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple’s book on heroin addiction is eye-opening. He tears apart myth after myth about heroin pointing out that heroin addiction is a choice. You choose to start using the drug, well aware of the dangers, and you continually choose not to quit. The ironic thing is that despite the author being very much in favor of laws against drug use, after reading the book I became more open to drug legalization.
A caveat: The book was written over 10 years ago and is about the issues of heroin addiction in the United Kingdom. So it does not entirely apply to the US.
Also recommended: His book, Life at the Bottom

(7) Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis: Lewis makes on of the best arguments in favor of natural law (called here “The Tao”) and against the dangers of Post-modernism and moral relativism, well before either had really seeped into the public consciousness. There is not much I can say here that hasn’t already been said. One of his best. Check it out.

(8) Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray: Great little book I recommend for anyone under 30. Charles Murray gives lots of excellent advice for young people entering the work force. It’s honest, straightforward, and humble. I wish I read this book 10 years ago (though I probably would have ignored its advice).

(9) A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry: This 300-page French bestseller recently translated into English guides the reader through the history of Western philosophy from the Stoics of Ancient Greece through the Christian Middle Ages and finally to the Post-modernists of the 20th century. For the most part, the book is lucid and easy-to-read though the parts on modern philosophy can be a chore to read, which may be more the fault of modern philosophy than Luc Ferry. Also, though he is never hostile to Christianity, as Timothy Keller pointed out, "his expression of Christian doctrine is often garbled."
Still, this is a fascinating book and a great layman's introduction to Western philosophy.

(10) The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen: Stephen King called this novella “one of the best horror stories ever written” and he’s right. It’s not perfect with chapters that bounce around in time, often relying on a tell-don’t-show method of relaying the story, and a plot so all over the map that it is almost impossible to describe, it involves a mysterious series of events associated with a beautiful woman. But, in a way, all these things work to its advantage. Stephen King also noted, it “surmounts its rather clumsy prose and works its way relentlessly into the reader's terror-zone.”

Honorable Mentions:

Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller’s Meaning of Marriage and Prayer. Grimnoir Chronicles: Warbound (3rd in a trilogy) and Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia, My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse.

To-Read List of 2017: These are books I hope to read this year. I probably won't finish half of them but hope dies last —or on December 31st at 11:59pm.

Bad Religion by Ross Douthat: Working on this now. Ross Douthat explores the decline of traditional Christianity and the rise of modern heresies and new age religions.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler: Been reading this one off and on for the past few months. It’s what it sounds like, a guide for reading a book well and comprehending what it is saying.

Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin: A critique of Baby Boomers’ “politics of nostalgia” where both parties look back fondly to the midcentury both economically and culturally. The writing of the book began before Trump was in the race and, if the index is any clue, the book doesn’t even mention him.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: This memoir about the author’s upbringing in Appalachia was published in the summer of 2016 and quickly sky-rocketed as a best-seller.

The Happiness Hypothesis/The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt: These two books explore, first, the various philosophies in history on how to be happy while the latter explores what the author thinks are the worldviews that cause political disagreements.

Witness by Whittaker Chambers: This memoir, famous among Cold War-era American conservatives, detailed Chambers membership in the Communist Party, conversion to Christianity, and actions to reveal Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy. Codex Alera series: Having finished both the Grimnoir and Monster Hunter books of Larry Correia, I figure I need something to hold me until Monster Hunter Siege is released in August and I figure Jim Butcher’s 6-book epic fantasy series should do the trick.

Any suggestions?


ScottDS said...

#1 sounds interesting, especially since I could use a good primer on the Cold War. :-)

4. Despite having taken art history, Post-Modernism is beyond my pay grade. Hell, most of these labels come across as arbitrary to me much of the time, especially when they’re applied after the fact and seemingly at random.

I like Ross Douthat, even though I may not always agree with him. All these companies that are pulling out of advertising on Breitbart should just sponsor his column instead. You could never accuse them of political bias!

Hillbilly Elegy - I read a little bit about this one. What surprised me is that there has always been a white underclass in this country. Rednecks, hillbillies, etc. Anyone considered “undesirable.” I can’t do it justice and I can’t remember the article I read. It was most likely a review of the book. Fascinating stuff.

As for me, I read Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control about our nuclear program and the guys who man the missile silos. It’s an excellent read. And it’s amazing that all it takes to cause a disaster is someone dropping a wrench!

tryanmax said...

I think it's past time for me to read Jung. That's apparently going to open a rabbit hole, so I'll see where that takes me.

AndrewPrice said...

I just read "Red Storm Rising" and now I'm reading "Howl's Moving Castle." I'm planning to get started on my books to film series at the film site.

BevfromNYC said...

I finished "Inferno"...if you like Dan Brown, you love this one. Started "Mere Christianity" - C.S. Lewis a few months ago which will lead to reading more of his work. Still working on it. Also "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough, my all-time favorite historian/biographer. Highly recommend it.

Btw, I have a goal to read 50 books by Dec. 31, 2017. And since I finished started both in 2016, but will finish them in 2017, I am now 1 1/2 books down, 58 1/2 to go!

ArgentGale said...

Those sound like some pretty intense books, Kit. Sad to say the only ones on your list that I read this year were the Larry Correia books. Well, not that sad considering how fun they were. I always have wanted to read Wodehouse, though, and the Stark, Keller, and Douthat books sound like they'd be worthwhile. I've always wanted to read Witness as well.

My to-read list is already backed up like crazy... Like you I have almost all the Codex Alera books on deck as well as the The Aeronaut's Windlass. I'm waiting on the next Dresden Files as much as I am Monster Hunter Siege so they seemed like good choices! I've also got the John Ringo Monster Hunter prequels in the backlog with the third Soul Cycle book, and the first few Witcher short story collections and books on their way. It's a lot, but it'll be worth it!

- Daniel

Kit said...

Scott, the Cold War book is definitely worth a read.

Kit said...

Scott, ARgentGale,

The Ross Douthat book, Bad Religion: How America Became a Nation of Heretics, is definitely worth reading for a look into the state of not just modern Christianity but spirituality in America. He looks at the past fifty years and the decline of conservative Christianity an the rise of various movements such as Mainline Liberalism, Prosperity Theology, and the Oprah/Elizabeth Gilbert "God in me" spirituality.

Kit said...


On Hillbilly Elegy I would also recommend, Life at the Bottom, which I mention above, for a look at the British urban white underclass. Very depressing stuff.

I've also heard Albion's Seed gives a decent history of the Scotch-Irish demographic that makes up much of Appalachia and Charles Murray's Coming Apart is supposed to be a very good book about America's white underclass.

Kit said...


I listened to the first Dresden Files novel on audiobook and it was fun, got the second, both narrated by James Marston (Spike on Buffy).

ArgentGale said...

The Douthat book is definitely going on the list, then, and definitely a good choice to narrate! The Dresden Files books are a lot of fun; I checked them out just because they sounded interesting several years back and got hooked on them. It took longer to pick up the Codex Alera and Cinder Spires, though. Let us know how you enjoy the rest of Jim Butcher's books!

- Daniel

Kit said...

Btw, I want to state, this is NO POLITICS ZONE. No discussing anything that might have happened News-wise in the last 24 hours in regards to Obama, Trump, Russia, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Syria, or any alleged acts of freaky-deaky sex.


We can do that tomorrow.

Kit said...

As you were.

AndrewPrice said...

OT: O-M-G! Did any see the alleged acts of freaky-deaky Russian sex Obama and Trump did with Rex Sessions in Syria last week?! ;-)

Kit said...


Be careful. This is a No politics zone.

Kit said...


Have you seen the movie Howl's Moving Castle? I heard it's good.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I own it. In my opinion, it's the best Studio Ghibli film. It's definitely better than the book.

Kit said...

I'll look into it. I plan to watch Grave of the Fireflies, which is supposed to be Ghibli's most depressing movie.

AndrewPrice said...

I should add that I've also been reading Lovecraft, which has left me unimpressed. And by a long overdue recommendation from a visitor to the site, I've started reading "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester. So far, I'm finding that to be rather excellent.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, As a general rule, I love Ghibli films, but I haven't seen many of the newest ones not done by Hayao Miyazaki.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Kurosawa was a huge fan of miyazaki's films and called studio ghibli after watching grave of the fireflies in tears

Anonymous said...

Rodney Stark's book God's Battalions is a wonderful and engaging read on the history of the crusades. He debunks many many falsehoods that are now accepted as a given about the crusades

Rolando Gallgoes said...

Three books I can recommend:
1. "The Train to Crystal City" by by Jan Jarboe Russell. The story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II. Those interned at the camp were US citizens of not just Japanese descent but also German and Italian. In the end they traded with Japan and Germany for US servicemen who were POW's during WW II. It is an incredible book.
2. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand: The movie by Angelina Jolie was good but the book is incredible. The story of Louie Zamperini--a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. It is the best book I have read in years.
3. Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold: A pulp book that is plain fun. An incredible tale of Charles Carter--a.k.a. Carter the Great--a young master performer whose skill as an illusionist exceeded even that of the great Houdini. It was a wonderful and fun book that will put a smile on your face.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks, Anon! I just bought "God's Battalions." I'm curious to see the counter-history because the "official" history has always seemed a little too PC.

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