2006 BOOK PICKS….I’d sort of forgotten about this, but a reader emailed today to ask if I was going to post a list of book recommendations, as I did last year. Well, why not?

So here it is, my nonfiction Top Ten list for the year. Note that this is not a list of books published in 2006, just a list of the best books I happen to have read in the past 12 months. It’s in no special order.

  • The One Percent Doctrine, by Ron Suskind
    This is a terrific piece of reporting about the Bush White House and its inability to adapt as the contours of the war on terror became clearer after the initial shock of the 9/11 attacks. It relies heavily on sources from the intelligence community, but that’s mostly a strength rather than a weakness as long as you keep Suskind’s sympathies in mind. I posted about the book here.

  • Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt
    I’m cheating a bit since I’m only about a third of the way through this book, but so far it’s a great read: detailed, authoritative, insightful, and well written. A lot of people who have read the whole thing agree. An interview with Judt is here.

  • The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis
    A slim, accessible volume backed by a lifetime of scholarship. Gaddis has a point of view that you may or may not share, but this is a worthwhile and readable survey regardless. I posted about it here.

  • The Perfect Thing, by Steven Levy
    Is Apple’s iPod really the perfect thing? Levy thinks so. This is less a book than a collection of essays, but the essays are both fun and thought provoking, and Levy does a good job of digging into the iPod subculture. My review for the Monthly is here.

  • Blocking the Courthouse Door, by Stephanie Mencimer
    Demonizing trial lawyers is a twofer for the Republican Party: it’s a popular cause with the corporate interests that bankroll them, and it helps destroy a key funding source for the Democratic Party. But the GOP’s tort reform crusade is mostly built on myths about out-of-control lawsuits and skyrocketing legal costs that Mencimer punctures methodically and relentlessly. Well worth reading. I’ll have a review of the book in the January issue of the Monthly. Mencimer’s tort reform blog, The Tortellini, is here.

  • Five Days in Philadelphia, by Charles Peters
    Peters believes that the Republican Party’s nomination of Wendell Willkie in 1940 was the key event that allowed FDR to eventually lead the nation into WWII. I’m not sure I buy this, but it doesn’t matter: this is a very accessible book that brings its subject to life in a way that few works of history do. Whether you agree or disagree with Peters, this is outstanding narrative history written by a man who grew up during the events he’s writing about. Paul Glastris’s review for the Monthly is here.

  • The Primacy of Politics, by Sheri Berman
    This is a bit of an outlier for this list, more a scholarly monograph than a popular history. But the subject at hand is the rise of social democracy in Europe during the 20th century, and this turns out to contain a lot of interesting lessons (or warnings) for American liberalism in the 21st century. It’s also unusually lucid and clearly written. The Crooked Timber book event for Primacy of Politics is here.

  • Talking Right, by Geoffrey Nunberg
    This is a terrific, fun, and well-researched book about how conservatives have honed the use of language in politics over the past few decades. It features good writing and engaging insights, and manages to avoid the tendentious psychoanalyzing common to the genre. Even if you know the drill on Republicans and language, you’ll learn some new things from this book. I reviewed it for Mother Jones here.

  • Prisoner of Trebekistan, by Bob Harris
    This is a fun book written by a friend of mine. Bob has appeared on Jeopardy! five times and uses his experiences there to frame a book about life, the universe, and everything. But the answer isn’t 42. Or even the question. I posted about the book here. Bob’s blog is here.

  • The Great Risk Shift, by Jacob Hacker
    Everybody talks about income inequality (as they should), but in this book Jacob Hacker talks about something that may be equally important: the growing amount of risk borne by average families in America. Incomes are far more volatile than in the past, pensions and healthcare are more precarious, and many more people lead lives that can be ruined by a single stroke of bad luck. It’s important stuff, and this is the first book-length treatment of it. I posted about it here, and Jacob responded in a series of posts for the blog during October. You can find them by scrolling down here.

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. Probably the latter, but if you want to make sure, my complete reading list for the year is below the fold.


  1. Impostor, by Bruce Bartlett

  2. American Theocracy, by Kevin Phillips

  3. Killer Instinct, by Jane Hamsher

  4. The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan

  5. Five Days in Philadelphia, by Charles Peters

  6. Hiding in the Mirror, by Lawrence Krauss

  7. Lusitania, by Diana Preston

  8. The Cold War, by John Lewis Gaddis

  9. White Flight, by Kevin Kruse

  10. No Two Alike, by Judith Rich Harris

  11. An Army of Davids, by Glenn Reynolds

  12. The Good Fight, by Peter Beinart

  13. With All Our Might, edited by Will Marshall

  14. Lapdogs, by Eric Boehlert

  15. The Broken Branch, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein

  16. Whose Freedom?, by George Lakoff

  17. Talking Right, by Geoffrey Nunberg

  18. The Primacy of Politics, by Sheri Berman

  19. The One Percent Doctrine, by Ron Suskind

  20. The Perfect Thing, by Steven Levy

  21. Altered States, by Jeremy Black

  22. Prisoner of Trebekistan, by Bob Harris

  23. The Best of I.F. Stone, edited by Peter Osnos

  24. The Great Risk Shift, by Jacob Hacker

  25. The John W. Campbell Letters, edited by Perry Chapdelaine et. al.

  26. The Truth About Conservative Christians, by Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout

  27. Blocking the Courthouse Door, by Stephanie Mencimer

  28. The Best American Political Writing 2006, edited by Royce Flippin

  29. Postwar, by Tony Judt


  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

  2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

  3. A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby

  4. Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

  5. Silverlock, by John Myers Myers

  6. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

  7. Accelerando, by Charles Stross

  8. Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod

  9. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

  10. Ranbows End, by Vernor Vinge

  11. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

  12. The Algebraist, by Iain Banks

  13. When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger

  14. Red Lightning, by John Varley

  15. The Man Who Fought Alone, by Stephen Donaldson

  16. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon