Words in Boxes

Nouns, verbs, and occasionally adjectives.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What I’ve Been Reading, 18-month Edition


  1. Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker. A great, highly detailed book, even epic, book about Robert Moses and city government.

  2. John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain.

  3. Antony Beevor, The Second World War. Comprehensive history of the second world war. The one book to read about WWII.

  4. Paul Kennedy, Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War. A look at the logistical and engineering challenges behind the WWII.

  5. Ian W. Toll, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941–1942. From Pearl Harbor to Midway, how the unready US Navy learned how to fight:

    The interior of the Enterprise was a warren of metallic corridors connected by hatches, lit with harsh electric overhead lights and lined with cables, air ducts, and piping. Before December 7, most of those internal spaces had been painted white or gray, but now that the Japanese attack had dramatized the flammability of paint, working parties were put to the tedious work of chipping it all away, inch by square inch, with iron scrapers. They tore up the linoleum tiles and scraped smooth the steel underneath. They worked in the sweltering, airless heat— exacerbated by the wartime requirement of keeping the watertight doors and hatches dogged down— and found that they sweated through their uniforms so quickly they might as well strip them off and work in their underwear. It was brutal, hateful, thankless work—“ a labor of the damned,” one wrote.

  6. Greg Woolf, Rome: An Empire’s Story.

  7. Jonathan Steinberg, Bismark: A Life. Only read the first third - too dull even for me.


  1. Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son. By far the best book I’ve read this year, and deserved winner of the Tournament of Books.

  2. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl. A solid page turner. Also from the ToB.

  3. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. A very good YA novel that I only picked up because of its strong showing in the ToB.

  4. Iain M. Banks - Culture novels: Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, The Hydrogen Sonata, and The Player of Games. I had only recently heard of Iain M. Banks and the Culture novels. I started with Consider Phlebas, which is by far the weakest. Banks lets his tendency toward grotesquery for its own sake get away from him. If I hadn’t heard such universally great things about the rest, I would have stopped. I’m glad I didn’t. The Player of Games is excellent, and The Hydrogen Sonata is solid as well. I did not care for Use of Weapons - I couldn’t buy into the central conceit or the protagonist.

  5. John Scalzi - The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale. Quick, easy, and disposable science-fiction reads. Zoe’s Tale is especially forgettable - it’s a straight (and weak) retelling of The Last Colony, with only a few new scenes.

  6. James Clavell, Shogun.

  7. Frank Herbert, Dune. I finally read the classic. It’s earned its reputation.

  8. Stephen L. Carter, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. Despite the good press, I couldn’t get into it and stopped about a quarter of the way through.

  9. Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End. Strangely relevant given the recent revelations about the NSA.

  10. Audur Ava Olafsdottir, The Greenhouse.

  11. Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312. As a big fan of the Red Mars series, I was excited to read this sort-of-sequel. But the book coyly (and disappointingly) refuses to mention anything directly about them. Forgettable and poorly constructed.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.