7. Earth: The Book – The Daily Show Staff: Quite frankly, this was an improvement over America: The Book, which I felt was funny in parts but too juvenile, even for me. The science jokes were very intelligent and definitely chuckle-worthy if you got the references. This one was funny almost the whole way through.
6. The Pluto Files – Neil deGrasse Tyson: A history of Pluto, including (and focusing on) Pluto’s “fall from grace,” the only reason this isn’t higher is the caliber of the books I read this year. I had wanted to read this since I saw the inimitable Mr. deGrasse Tyson appear on The Daily Show a few years ago, advertising it. What I never quite realized was how much NdGT had to do directly with Pluto’s seeming demotion. I, for one, agree, but then again, that man is so likeable he could lobby to eat a penguin alive and I’d probably agree. A very fascinating read.
5. Timeline – Michael Chrichton: I’ve read an awful lot of Chrichton since moving to Reno (thank you Grassroots Books!) and this was one of his best. Time travel stories always capture my fancy, and this one being so far in the past gave me a little something different. Again, his research that goes into his books never ceases to amaze me. I think the major detractor of this book was simply how many times the protagonists were in “well, we’re done now” situations only to be saved at the last possible moment. I had just wanted them to be killed just for difference sake. But really, this was a fun romp from start to finish.
4. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie: I liked this book far more than I thought I would. I had seen the movie version of it back in middle school or grade school, but remembered nothing about it. When I saw it for $1, I figured, why not? And it was just an enjoyable old-school caper. It’s actually a shame that this is the only pre-1940 book that made my best-of-list, but I imagine if this had been a Top 10 list instead, it might include Jules Verne’s “The Chase for the Golden Meteor” and H.G. Wells’ “Island of Dr. Moreau.” I’m just glad I didn’t try to figure it out on my own, because I would have been hopelessly wrong.
3. Bad Astronomy – Phil Plait: For the most part, I really like Phil Plait (and his Bad Astronomy blog), even if he didn’t respond to my repeated question I’ve emailed him about the Big Bang Theory. My only real gripes are that his skepticism shows a bit of favoritism. And while I agree with him about things like the anti-vax movement, he tends to be much less skeptical when a scientist or astronomer makes some new untested discovery than when something he doesn’t believe in makes a proclamation. Anyway, that aside, this book is great. It debunks common misconceptions about astronomy, a few of which I (an avid astronomy fan) even fell prey to. For instance, did you know you can stand eggs on their end any day of the year? Yup. I did it. Crazy. Anyway, read this book if you’re not knowledgeable about astronomy, or even if you think you might be. It might open up your eyes a bit.
2. Sphere – Michael Crichton: MC’s second entry this year, Sphere was one of the few books that genuinely creeped me out. I’ve read thrillers that are supposed to be scary, but really just leave me thinking, “If this were a movie, it’d probably be scary.” But [spoiler alert] when the crazy jellyfish start doing boring through the one scientist, and nobody had any real clue why, it really just sent a shiver through me. The movie does a decent job of relating to the book, but the book is definitely better (as just about every book is, except for Apollo 13 – just watch the movie.) This is my favorite MC book, though The Lost World would come close.
1. Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde: I’m going to be honest here: I have no real idea why this book is #1 on my list. I spent most of the book not having a clue what was going on. Fforde is great at setting up worlds that are similar to, but drastically different from, our own. And he states these differences up front to some degree. In the Thursday Next books, he lets you know that it’s a world where literature is next to godliness. In “Shades of Grey”, he puts you in a world of some crazy color heirarchy but never once explains any of it, except anecdotally throughout the book. He doesn’t explain why swans are so dangerous. He makes reference to things that seem commonplace, but without context (and he doesn’t give you any), you have no real understanding of how any of it ties together. Yet I found myself really digging what happens to the main characters, and really excited for the 2nd installment (it will be a 3-part series if the back cover is to be believed). So yeah, this is an excellent book, I am just not sure who I can recommend it to.