Sunday, December 24, 2006

Year-end round-up and a merry ...

Random thoughts on the year's best books and movies ....

* Lawrence Wright's The Looming Towers: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is the best narrative history of the 9/11 attacks so far. It's tightly focused on the primary actors and shows you through personal vignettes how the attackers succeeded and how the defenders failed. For more background, see this posting. C-SPAN's BookTV interviewed Wright recently.

* The year's best political book is Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. We're living through an era of rapid geopolitical change, and unfortunately, our political elites mostly spent the post-Cold War period asleep, misunderstanding, or lost in absurd partisan follies. Steyn's book will get you thinking, get you infuriated, get you to agree or disagree - but most of all, it will get you to wake up, open your eyes, and pay attention. As a bonus, it features Steyn's trademark zany humor and wordplay. He's shamelessly promoting it over on his Web site (greedy bastards, these conservatives :).

In connection with the theme, consider Niall Ferguson's much larger tome, The War of the World: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West and this related posting.

* Another Big Book is Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation, released in paper this year, and the best one-volume history in a long time. It focuses mainly on the religious and social aspects of the Reformation, but also lays into the relief the unintended consequences: the simultaneous growth of religious freedom and oppression, the separation of religious authority and civil government, the divergent histories of western and central-eastern Europe, the rise of skepticism and the Enlightenment, and the rise of the nation-state. Useful for understanding the modern Western political system and to compare with the many-centuries decline of the Muslim world. (Don't let all that oil $$ fool you!) A tale both interesting in its own right and highly relevant to our current mess.

* For popular science, I've beaten the subject of string theory and its failure to death, but remember Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong and Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics.

On a more positive note, don't forget Nina Planck's Real Food, reviewed here. Related is The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I haven't read, but have heard good things about.

* It has nothing to do with 2006, but I rediscovered it this year, William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, a quintessentially American book about a quintessentially American thing, the road trip - in this case, around the US in 1978 in a van called Ghost Dancing. A good companion is another, rather different classic also based on a road trip, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the first book I read in college and never forgot.

Both books are sometimes compared to Kerouac, but either one is far better.

* The year's funniest movie is Little Miss Sunshine, a sweet, sharp barely-functional family comedy of mini-epic proportions, with an unforgettable ending.

* The year's sexiest movie: The Devil Wears Prada. It's really a chick flick, but no healthy male should pass up two hours with Anne Hathaway. Plus it has KT Tunstall's catchy theme song.

* NOT the year's funniest movie, but still worth watching for its bizarre scatology and unique "plot," is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen brings Ali G. and his questionable antics to America, to impress and awe the unwashed natives. The BBC was less impressed: see please here for BBC reviewing of Borat cinema.

* And don't forget United 93, a small gem of a movie that never got the attention it deserved. Democracy in action: airliner passengers don't wait for Homeland Security; they figure it out for themselves and act.
On Donner, on Blitzen ... on Donder, for purists ... oy ... and to all the nice goyim out there, merry Christmas and happy new year ... and to all, a gut yuntif :)

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