I traveled a lot in 2010, and so I feel more qualified than usual in coming up with my books of the year, having read a bazillion of them in the last twelve months. As always, there are only two — one fiction, and one non-fiction. Here you go: [-]
Sweeping, confident and Jared Diamond-esque in its mix of history and themes, this book by a Stanford history professor is a magnificent work of synthesis. It follows humans out of Africa, through Europe and into the East and West, tracing their rises and falls throughout, right up to the present day. He ties together all the big themes, energy intensity, economics, sociology and geography, in trying to show why the East and West have swapped developmental lead for thousands of years — and why the East is set to jump ahead again, even if we are also bumping against a development ceiling.
Imagine Cormac McCarthy writing a cyberpunk version of James Salter’s Light Years and you have something vaguely like the technology-charged, dystopian, smart, funny and, yes, sad Super Sad True Love Story. it is set in a near-future New York inside a U.S. in economic collapse, one where porn is the vernacular and people aspire to being Media or Retail; it is a place where the U.S. dollar is a laughing-stock, and where the Norwegians and the Chinese are taking over bits of the country, turning cities into shopping theme parks. In the midst of all of this is a remarkable May/December relationship between an adrift, middle-aged corporate sort and a young Korean girl, a relationship that feels painfully real and utterly bizarre.