Leading Off 2019 With Some Tips On Good Reading

If you made any kind of New Year’s resolution about reading more, it always helps to jump start that new habit with hard-to-put-down books. Here’s what I was into this month, so far:

“The Negotiator” by Frederick Forsyth (1989) Even if Cold War-era espionage novels are dated, when you craft plots and characters as well as Forsyth, they’re still great reads. This is one of his best: a presidential family member is kidnapped, Texas oil tycoons plot a Saudi coup, and a reluctant hero named Quinn has to try and save the day, and figure out why he may not be able to.

“The Hanging Garden” by Ian Rankin (1998) If you like police mysteries, read the whole John Rebus series by Rankin, set in England and Scotland, in order. Rankin has become of my two or three favorite mystery writers, yet most American readers have never heard of him.

“Shotgun” by Ed McBain (1968) Back stateside for another 87th Precinct police mystery, with a twist you may figure out before the end. I still enjoyed getting there.

“The Mandarin Cypher” by Adam Hall (1975) Hall’s protagonist, Quiller, works for some kind of murky British spy agency. Published from the 1960s through the 1990s, they are always excellent, but also always very hard to find. I’m still trying to gather up the whole series. In “Mandarin Cypher”, Quiller thinks he’s in Hong Kong to get ready for a mission. Instead, a secretive widow with too much money and too many connections becomes the mission.

“Leadership in Turbulent Times” by Doris Kearns Goodwin  (2018) One of our greatest historians finds the leadership lessons in different phases of the public and private lives of Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and LBJ. She’s on her most familiar turf, and this book is flat-out sensational.

“The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony (2018). Mr. Hazony will be on our show January 23rd (and there will be a podcast on-demand). Acknowledging the bad rap the word is getting right now, this Israeli scholar makes the argument that the safest, stablest world is one of  sovereign nations. He’s persuasive in showing the reader how multi-national governments like the EU or UN (let alone hypothetical “world governments”) have the worst tendencies of imperial governments past and present.  Is nationalism perfect? No. Preferable to anything else man has come up with? Yes.

“Boston: A Topographical History” by Walter Muir Whitehead (1959) The writing is dry as a bone, but if you’re a history geek like me, you will enjoy reading about who built (and why) one of America’s most unique (and most engineered and land-managed) cities. Again, only if you are a hardcore history geek.

“The Glass Rainbow” by James Lee Burke (2010) Burke’s writing is always a love letter to his native Louisiana, reason enough to enjoy the ordeals of recovering alcoholic cop Dave Robicheaux, his best friend and unapologetic alcoholic Clete Purcel and the supporting cast. Burke novels are mysteries, poetry and ghost stories with a generous dose of conscience and heart.

“The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon (2007) Chabon is a big favorite of mine, but his best books were his Pulitzer-winning “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” and and his debut, “Mysteries of Pittsburgh”. Should you fall in love with him, and want to read them all, though, this one’s just ok: he imagines a world where Israel doesn’t exist and Jews have been uneasily settled in Sitka, Alaska. There, he sets a murder mystery and some truly bizarre characters.

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