Top 10 Books of 2005

In 2005, I had about as much spare time to read as I had spare hair follicles to donate to the bald and needy. Which is to say, my “top 10” list reads suspiciously like my “only 10” list. I did omit a couple of duds, though, those chick lit books that I attempt to read to get a better insight into my wife’s inpenetrable psyche. Next time I’ll just read Cosmo.

At any rate, here are my faves. First I thought I’d skip over “A Treasure’s Trove,” seeing as how I’ve already spilled so much virtual ink about the book already. But … naah, that would just be silly.

ATT1. “A Treasure’s Trove,” by Michael Stadther: The single most satisfying and engrossing extra-curricular part of my last year. Searching Washington Square Park, Clark Park, a hundred assorted trees between Philly and Vermont, and the infamous James Baird State Park was the best time I’ve wasted in years. It brought me closer to my brother, friend Andy, and a half-dozen internet pals who I dropped the second it was over. Can’t wait until the follow up, “The Secrets of the Alchemist Dar.”

ATT Companion2. “100 Puzzles, Clues, Maps, Tantalizing Tales, and Stories of Real Treasure,” by Michael Stadther: It was probably this book, as much as the actual main illustrated treasure hunt tome, that got me excited about searching for bejeweled broaches. All the insights into codes, codebreaking, and hidden treasure info (maps, messagest, etc.) in literature (Poe, Doyle, etc.) was just plain fascinating. It even got me reading other armchair treasure hunt books (Maze, Masquerade, etc.) and code-breaking how-tos.

Freakonomics3. “Freakonomics,” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: The best non-ATT book I read all year. Besides the much-quoted passages about how realtors don’t have a financial incentive to sell your house for the highest price (yes, mom, that’s right!), I really liked the section about how people choose baby names–so much so that I went and named a few babies Henrietta, just for giggles.

Secret Man4. “The Secret Man,” by Bob Woodward: A pretty fascinating account of how Deep Throat, Woodward’s source at the FBI during the Watergate crisis, was assistant director W. Mark Felt. Just as interesting as all the steps they took communicate during Woodward and Bernstein’s historic articles during the Nixon downfall was Felt’s post-resignation reluctance to step foreward. While the story doesn’t have all the meat of Woodward’s other recent books about the Bush administration, it was far more engrossing to me because of the tense personal drama between Woodward and Felt.

Blink5. “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell: Anything by Malcolm Gladwell is just plain genius, in my humble opinion. Granted, this one isn’t nearly as good as “The Tipping Point”–and I’m already more intrigued about his coming book on precociousness than I was about “Blink”–but the sections on the Pentagon’s war-gaming and doctors’ snap decisions are well worth the paperback price.

Vowell6. “Assassination Vacation,” by Sarah Vowell: Like the Malcolm Gladwell book, this one wasn’t nearly as good as the author’s last — “The Partly Cloudy Patriot.” But the audio version that I listened to–with people like Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and Stephan King bringing Vowell’s memoir-tinged stories of Presidential assassination obsessions to life–elevated the so-so stories to poetic brilliance.

14917. “1491,” by Charles C. Mann: As I posted to Audible, the book “shows how the Amazon is largely the artifact of human engineering, with giant earthworks (canals, island mounds, fishing arteries) that prove the area is far from the pristine wilderness that environmentalists make it out to be. The revelations about terra preta — dark earth that was, by all accounts, engineered by the Amazonians with a microorganism to make it super-fertilized — isn’t just fascinating history, but could be a breakthrough discovery for present-day third-world agriculture.” Oh, and the author is also my cousin, so obviously his brilliant prose is a god-given, genetic gift that can’t be denied.

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8. “Collapse,” by Jared Diamond: Sort of like Cam’s book, only much more of a glass-is-half-full take on things. Actually, they’re both pretty pessimistic, but Diamond ain’t no cousin of mine, so he get the number eight slot. Mwa-ha.

RHWE9. “Red Herrings And White Elephants: The Origins Of The Phrases We Use Every Day,” by Albert Jack and Ama Page: Another late addition to the list, I just got this book for Xmas, but an already engrossed with its explanations for how we got so many of the nonsensical expressions we now think of as cliches. For example, did you know that drinking the “hair of the dog” means you’re following the advice of medieval English doctors, who recommended rubbing the hair of a dog into the wound left by the animal’s bite?

ATT Solution10. “Official Solution Book to A Treasure’s Trove,” by who else? Michael Stadther: Thought I was all done with the treasure-hunt books, eh?! I just got this one as a belated Xmas gift from my brother- and sister-in-law. I didn’t expect much, having already interviewed Stadther about the aftermath of the hunt, and thought I’d already learned everything there was to learn about the solutions from the various authoritative websites (ATT Solution, Tweleve) out there already. I was wrong. Not only does he answer all the unanswered questions I forgot to ask, but he also walks readers through how he actually hid the tokens in the first place.

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