This year saw a drop off in the number of books that I read, but it wasn’t from any lack of reading. In 2013, Dorinna and I undertook our great adventure of reading Ulysses simultaneously with The Odyssey. At year end, we’ve made it 45% of the way through that difficult work, so the trend of reading fewer books will no doubt continue into 2014.
On the other hand, I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce my magazine subscriptions, so there was a definite uptake in book reading towards the end of the year.
As with previous years, I mixed in a number of e-books. What I call an e-book is a shorter work, not just a regular book in electronic format. (I read most of my non-art books on a Kindle anyway).
If you skim through the list, you’ll see a number of art and photography books. I started the year with a resolution to read one photography book a month. This lasted until I ran out of interesting books at the local library.
Another thing you’ll notice is the dearth of fiction works. This is a little deceptive due to the Ulysses/Odyssey exercise, but I still plan on reading more fiction in 2014.
Without further ado, here’s my pick of the year and the full list…
Book of the Year
My favorite book of the year was La Place de la Concorde Suisse.
The Swiss have not fought a war for nearly five hundred years, and are determined to know how so as not to.
So starts John McPhee’s study of the Swiss Army and it’s role in Swiss society. Everyone knows that Switzerland is a neutral country, but most people don’t realize how it stayed that way through the turmoil of the twentieth century. Why didn’t Hitler invade, for example?
The answer is simple- because the country is a military death trap. Every mountain pass is guarded, every bridge and tunnel is rigged with charges and ready to blow with an hour’s notice, and the army can mobilize 650,000 soldiers in 48 hours.
To interrupt the utility of bridges, tunnels, highways, railroads, Switzerland has established three thousand points of demolition. That is the number officially printed. It has been suggested to me that to approximate a true figure a reader ought to multiply by two. Where a highway bridge crosses a railroad, a segment of the bridge is programmed to drop on the railroad. Primacord fuses are built into the bridge. Hidden artillery is in place on either side, set to prevent the enemy from clearing or repairing the damage. All purposes included, concealed and stationary artillery probably number upward of twelve thousand guns. The Porcupine Principle. Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them. There are weapons and soldiers under barns. There are cannons inside pretty houses. Where Swiss highways happen to run on narrow ground between the edges of lakes and the bottoms of cliffs, man-made rockslides are ready to slide.
Those who read McPhee know that he can write a 100-page book on paint drying and make it riveting. Here he starts with vastly more interesting source material. He describes the army, their training exercises, and the way that the army permeates everyday society and culture. He covers everything from how the country planned to respond to a nuclear attack to why the famous Swiss Army Knife has a corkscrew (for the French-speakers to open their lunchtime bottle of wine, naturally). This book is a utterly fascinating read.
My only complaint about the book is that it was published in 1983. While it’s easy to see the techniques described within crushing an invasion of German, Soviet, or American tanks, I wonder at its effectiveness in the age of smart missiles and stealth bombers. It might work just fine, but I don’t have John McPhee to tell me so, and that makes me sad.
Switzerland does not have an army, Switzerland is an army
The Complete List
- The Grand Canyon and the Southwest
- Web Application Architecture
- Clyfford Still Museum
- Beginning iPhone 4 Development
- I Am My Family
- Travels in the Interior of Africa
- Idaho: Portrait of a State
- Irish Blessings: A Photographic Celebration
- Stupid History
- Aachen City and Cathedral Guide
- How Rome Fell
- La Place de la Concorde Suisse
- Big Nerd Ranch Guide to iOS Programming (3rd ed.)
- Head First HTML and CSS
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You
- CSS Pocket Reference
- Working Smarter with Evernote
- A Deeper Frame
- A Sense of Place
- The Inspired Eye, Volume 3
- Craft and Vision
- Making the Print
- Exposure for Outdoor Photography
- Up Close
- Finding Focus
- Mavericks: The Siracusa Review
- What is HTML5?
- Shoot & Share
- Yellow Submarine
- Omen (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi)
- The Treason of Isengard