2005 BOOK PICKS….Need some last minute gift ideas? How about a book for the political wonk in your life? Here’s my nonfiction Top Ten list for the year.

Note that this is not a list of books published in 2005, just a list of the best books I happen to have read in the past 12 months. With the exception of the first two books, which were the best I read all year, the list is in no special order:

  • The Assassins’ Gate, by George Packer
    The best book length examination we have about how we got into Iraq, how we screwed it up, and what the political prospects for Iraq’s future really look like. Must reading for liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. Additional posts about Assassins’ Gate are here, here, and here.

  • Before the Storm, by Rick Perlstein
    Stunningly good and well-written examination of the rise of movement conservatism from the 50s through the Goldwater campaign of 1964. Perlstein is not only thorough, but also evocative, capturing the feel of the conservative movement of the era better than any other book I’ve read. Mini-review here.

  • An Unfinished Life, by Robert Dallek
    Top notch biography of John F. Kennedy. Dallek tells the story straight, warts and all, and for my money Kennedy comes through it looking better than if Dallek had written a hagiography.

  • President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon
    This is not so much a biography of Ronald Reagan as it is a book length profile. The organization of the material is fascinating, neither chronological nor strictly by subject, and it works brilliantly. I came away admiring Reagan a bit more than I had before but simultaneously scared shitless of the man.

  • Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
    Great little book about how the Oakland A’s figured out a way to evaluate baseball players a little differently from every other team, and how they used that technique to build surprisingly good teams on a shoestring budget.

  • The Working Poor, by David Shipler
    A comprehensive and heartbreaking look at being poor in America. Shipler focuses equally on both instability and actual poverty as the biggest problems of the working poor. Mini-review here.

  • Perfectly Legal, by David Cay Johnston
    Eye-opening look at how our tax system increasingly punishes the poor and middle class and rewards the already rich. Blog readers know a lot of this story already, but Johnston puts it all together and makes it accessible in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else. Mini-review here.

  • Survivor, by John Harris
    A patchy but still worthwhile examination of Bill Clinton’s presidency by a reporter who covered him in real time.

  • Perfect Soldiers, by Terry McDermott
    A deeply reported book about the 9/11 hijackers: who they were, where they came from, and why they did what they did. Mini-review here.

  • A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin
    An excellent and comprehensive ? maybe too comprehensive ? history of the end of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, as well as the subsequent map drawing that created the countries that make up the modern Middle East. The book was written in 1989, but obviously has newfound relevance in the post-9/11 world.

  • Off Center, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
    A provocative book with a provocative contention: that the Republican Party has figured out a way to move far away from the center of American politics and yet continue to get elected anyway. I wasn’t completely convinced by Hacker and Pierson’s argument (as I noted here), but there’s plenty of stimulating material in Off Center and the book’s central thesis is worth grappling with.

    Chris Hayes’ review for the Washington Monthly is here. For more, click on the October 2005 archives and read Hacker and Pierson’s guest blogging starting on October 10.

If a book doesn’t show up on this list, you may be wondering if it’s because it didn’t make the top ten or because I just didn’t happen to read it. To help you out, my complete reading list for the year is below the fold.

I discovered an odd thing while compiling this list, too. Remember that I was whining a couple of weeks ago about not reading as much as I used to? It turns out that’s not true. The number of books I read this year is about the same as always.

Which just shifts the question. It’s no longer why I don’t read as much as I used to, it’s why I feel like I’m reading less even though I’m not. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.


  1. An Unfinished Life, by Robert Dallek

  2. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, by Ross King

  3. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon

  4. Collapse, by Jared Diamond

  5. The Oxford History of the American People, Volume 2, by Samuel Eliot Morison

  6. The Oxford History of the American People, Volume 3, by Samuel Eliot Morison

  7. The Cartoon History of the United States, by Larry Gonick

  8. A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin

  9. Twilight in the Desert, by Matthew Simmons

  10. The Pentagon’s New Map, by Thomas P.M. Barnett

  11. When Presidents Lie, by Eric Alterman

  12. Before the Storm, by Rick Perlstein

  13. Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

  14. The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman

  15. The Working Poor, by David Shipler

  16. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

  17. Perfectly Legal, by David Cay Johnston

  18. The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo, by Rick Perlstein

  19. The Law in Shambles, by Thomas Geoghegan

  20. The Plot Against Social Security, by Michael Hiltzik

  21. The Sling and the Stone, by Thomas X. Hammes

  22. The End of Equality, by Mickey Kaus

  23. Survivor, by John Harris

  24. America the Book, by Jon Stewart & Co.

  25. The Malpractice Myth, by Tom Baker

  26. The War for Muslim Minds, by Gilles Kepel

  27. Perfect Soldiers, by Terry McDermott

  28. The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

  29. The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil

  30. Off Center, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

  31. The Assassins’ Gate, by George Packer

  32. Our School, by Joanne Jacobs

  33. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss

  34. Night Draws Near, by Anthony Shadid


  1. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

  2. The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman

  3. The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman

  4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

  5. The Godfather Returns, by Mark Winegardner

  6. Notes from the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

  7. I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe

  8. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

  9. Shadow of the Giant, by Orson Scott Card

  10. Ordinary Heroes, by Scott Turow