Looking back at a year of reading is always fun and instructive, sort of like scouting yourself. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite books of 2015:
*Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
Another fab novel by America’s great chronicler of Congregationalism and the Midwest. Channels her inner Reinhold Niebuhr via a minister and a homeless woman. Wonderful writer.
*All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr:
Insightful World War II story focused on a blind French girl and a radio-gadget addicted German youth during the era of Hitler’s Reich and French government collapse. Doerr has a delicious grasp of detail and metaphor. Couldn’t put this one down.
*Purity by Jonathan Franzen.
Some critics have panned this effort, saying it doesn’t stand up against Franzen’s earlier work. While there may be some truth in all that, this book is well worth it. The author’s embrace of the Zeitgeist, satire and his insights on our Internet and WikiLeaks era are terrific.
*A Scourge of Vipers by Bruce DeSilva.
Another in his Liam Mulligan mystery series, DeSilva shows once again that he is to Rhode Island what James Lee Burke is to Louisiana.
*Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert:
Masterful history of cotton, the first global product, by a Harvard historian. Very well researched work that moves the reader from the slave American South to the weavers of Manchester and the cotton fields of Eqypt.
*Believer by David Axelrod:
The evolution of Barack Obama’s political guru from political reporter covering Chicago’s raffish City Hall to the White House. Very well-written with insights on Patrick Kennedy’s 1994 race for Congress from R.I. by the man who was PJK’s media consultant.
*A Common Struggle by Patrick Kennedy:
A brutally honest memoir of addiction and his famous father’s struggles by the former R.I. Congressman. Kennedy details how sobriety, marriage and family have focused his campaign to remove the stigma from mental illness treatment.
*Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner:
A nuanced history of the Underground Railroad that shows this movement was far more than William Garrison Lloyd and abolitionist Protestant ministers. Punctures some hoary myths.
The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Pearlstein. I didn’t get around to this 2014 history until this year. It was worth the wait. Pearlstein is very good at connecting historical dots and has a convincing window into the times of Nixon and Reagan.
Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy by Edward Miler: The title is from President John F. Kennedy’s quip to his wife on the day of his 1963 murder, when he told her they were entering Nut Country. A well-researched book on how the mix of John Birchers, a right-wing newspaper (The Dallas Morning News), racism, oil money and Protestant fundamentalism set the template for switching the South from Democratic to Republican.
*Negroland by Margo Jefferson:
An insightful memoir of life in an elite Chicago black family in the 20th Century by the celebrated New York Times Pulitzer winning critic. Evocative and sometimes painful.
* The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward:
Woodward reveals the story of Alexander Butterfield, the Richard Nixon aide who disclosed the secret White House taping system that triggered Nixon’s downfall during Watergate. Nixon junkies and 1970s history buffs alike will devour this short book that shows yet another dimension to both the genius and weirdness of Nixon.
*This Old Man: All In Pieces by Roger Angell:
Lovely rumination on his life and times by the ninety-something New Yorker fixture who was also one of his era's great baseball writers. We won't see his like again.
*All Eyes Are Upon Us: Race and politics from Boston to Brooklyn by Jason Sokol:
A revealing look at the conflicted policies of the northeast on race and politics. Liberalism, idealism and pragmatism clash with residential segregation and hypocrisy as the northeast struggles to live up to the region’s professed belief in equality.
*Katrina by Gary Rivlin: The best exegesis of post-hurricane New Orleans that has been done. Shows how the revival of the city of jazz, food and culture was riven by this unique city's racial and class divides.
*Providence Noir edited by Ann Hood:
This is a non-fiction add-on to promote R.I. writers. A uneven yet fun look at the underside of Providence by a group of writers of vastly different talents. Takes Rhode Islanders on a tour of such familiar venues as WaterFire, Trinity Rep and Brown University.