Grouchy Historian's Favorite Books of 2015

So another year draws to a close, so in addition to eggnog, tinsel, and useless speeches from a lame duck President, it's time for the best books of the year from my extensive reading list.

This year I actually achieved my goal of 36 books a little early, thanks to a new and extended commute and the wonders of Books on CD....what a wonderful way to read (listen) to fiction.  Haven't really gotten into listening to non-fiction yet...a bit to OCD for that..I like to flip to maps and pictures too much.

I will say this was a particularly tough year to choose..there were so many good books, many of them gloriously sent by my very good comrades at the New York Journal of Books where I had another gratifying year of reviewing some really thoughtful books...some of which I will confess I am still finishing up.  I look forward to another awesome year of their professionalism and enthusiasm for all things bibliophile.

SO, my favorite non-fiction has to be...Ian Toll's two volumes on the Pacific War.  Mr. Toll is rapidly becoming to the Pacific War what Rick Atkinson is to the ETO--the author of the definitive trilogy on the conflict.  Like his counterpart, Mr. Toll has an excellent blend of narrative history, "you were there" stories, and historical analysis to make these really fine volumes.  There is a definite skill to blending the sweeping naval battles with the grinding island assaults and Mr. Toll does this very well...the section on the invasion of Tarawa in the Conquering Tide is nothing sort of magnificent.  He has one more volume in the works covering the final 2 years of the war...I look forward to it very much.

Two honorable mentions were 13 Hours which I listened too and was very hard to distinguish from a Tom Clancy's going to make an awesome movie.  AND...well, let's face I said, West Point can't play football, but they do awesome military history.  Their West Point History of World War II Volume 1 was a truly awesome work, made even better when you consider it's both a hardcover for us Luddites and a very cool interactive book for the twitchy generation of millennials now attending the service academies...which is ironic since the company making the interactive book is run by a Canoe U graduate.

Fiction...well that was a bit tougher, actually.  Ok, I'll admit it.  I picked a Nora Roberts book.  Hey, don't be a H8er..I am a huge fan of her JD Robb series and I blame my significant otter, who always wants to listen to one of these on a long car trip instead of Tom Clancy.  So I picked this from my library on Audio CD on her recommendation and it occupied almost an entire week of commuting.  The lady who reads them is awesome and as usual, Nora can take a pretty basic story like a treasure hunt combined with a murder mystery and hook you in with her usual excellent dialogue, sympathetic characters and awesome secondary players.  Hey, millions of chicks who buy her books can't be wrong, can they?  Literary masterpieces they aren't, but they are fun, engaging, and help you from wanting to run over the nitwit who cuts you off in traffic.  

The runner up was my old pal Harry Turtledove.  His new series (seriously, the guy only writes trilogies or trilogies of trilogies) of alternate history, one of my favorite fictional genres, goes off in an interesting direction--what if Truman had dropped the bomb on China during the Korean War?  In his usual fashion, Turtledove bounces around the globe, telling the story of a nuclear WWIII, but without ballistic missiles or thermonuclear weapons, and how ordinary people might have reacted to dozens of Hiroshimas around the globe.  A little pedestrian, but nonetheless interesting, and of course Turtledove has mastered the cliffhanger to keep you waiting in anticipation for the next book.