Notable Books We Read in 2013

Here they are -- our favorite books for 2013. As always, it's books we read this year -- not necessarily books that were published this year. They are listed below -- but not in any order of preference. Click the title to read an excerpt:


We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Cohen

A history of women in comedy over the last several decades -- from Phyllis Diller to such outstanding current comedians as Kristen Wiig. Filled with the recollections of their contemporaries and industry insiders, it is a pleasure to read but adds substantive insight into the nature of humor and society during this period.

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller

The lives of Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell. It's hard to remember how many barriers women faced in the 1960s and 1970s -- and it's a little embarrassing when we are reminded -- but you will encounter these barriers in these pages. Yet this book is really about the extraordinary triumphs of these three women, their enduring, extraordinary music, and the memories of that incredible era.


King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

The story of the devastation brought on by Belgium's King Leopold in the African Congo, and a telling portrait of Europe's global land grab in the late 1800s. Leopold, desperate to not be left behind by other European colonial powers and driven to increase his personal fortune, established a reign of terror that claimed as many as eight million African lives. In these pages, you will encounter such legendary characters as Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Arthur Conan Doyle, the missionary David Livingston, and the explorer Henry Stanley. Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness -- referenced in the introduction to Eliot's Wasteland (The horror! The horror!), and a source for Coppola's Apocalypse Now -- was about Leopold's Congo.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

As we have often lamented, too much American history has been written about the Civil War and World War II, and far too little about so much of our other history. Candice Millard is one of our finest authors and one who helps fill the gaps. Her 2006 book on the later years of Teddy Roosevelt's life entitled The River of Doubt is a sterling example. In Destiny of the Republic, she tells of the exemplary life and all-too-brief presidency of James Garfield (who came right after Rutherford B. Hayes and right before Chester A. Arthur for those of you who are chronologists). But more importantly, it is a revealing portrait of a very different time in America and its profound differences from today.

Grover Cleveland by Henry F. Graff

Ditto for this one -- an overlooked patch of American history covering Cleveland, the first Democrat elected after the Civil War and the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. This book is part of Arthur Schlesinger's marvelous American Presidents series. Each book is short, but gives you a sense of the era and the man -- in this case, an underappreciated figure whose contributions as president hold up very well under history's scrutiny -- but one involved in personal scandals that are truly disturbing.


Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman

The brain used to be viewed as the seat of unemotional reason -- and "smart" usually referred to "egghead" types of intelligence. Yet neuroscience is increasingly demonstrating the greater importance of social intelligence. Lieberman's work is a superb contribution to that growing body of work.

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall

What subject could be more intriguing than sleep? Journalist David Randall delves into the science of sleep and constantly surprises -- covering a wide swath of topics from sleepwalking, murder during sleep, differences in the sleep habits of the sexes, the surprising fact of two sleeps, the importance of teenage sleep, and even Monday Night Football.

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date  by Samuel Arbesman

An exploration of the transient nature of truth. The explosion of knowledge and the pervasiveness of the internet have meant that so-called facts are overturned even more quickly. Arbesman, an expert in scientometrics, shows how quickly even the information we hold as true today will become obsolete - and how predictable that demise is.


Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin

A wonderful book for those interested in a view of economic theory from outside of the mainstream. The book is an important contributor to the debate on the definition and nature of money, and finds much of its grounding in the history of money and economies.

The Founders and Finance by Thomas K. McGraw

A book primarily about Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, our two most influential Treasury Secretaries and the only two men honored with statues outside the U.S. Treasury building, by Thomas McGraw, one of our most esteemed historians. McGraw is also a concise and gifted writer, and he provides remarkably clear insight into the foundation of America's economic systems, along with better insight into the calamities that faced America at its founding.


China in Ten Words by Yu Hua

This book will give you solid insight into contemporary China. The author, Yu Hua, is a Chinese novelist and essayist, and the first from China to win the James Joyce award. In the last generation, China has emerged from economic shambles to become the second largest economy in the world -- surpassing Japan and gaining fast on the U.S. This alone makes it worthy of attention. The author is a realist, with a clear-eyed memory of China's past, and this book is will give you balanced insight.

We hope this list helps — and we thank you as always for your interest in!
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