Two books in particular were the stand outs of 2018. The first is F.W. Mote's Imperial China, 900-1800. I have owned this book for sometime, usually consulting it as sort of a reference whenever I was reading another book about one of the dynasties covered therein. After lugging it across Asia with me for several years, I decided this summer to finally read it cover to cover. I am glad I did so. I cannot speak words glad as this book deserves. With perhaps the exception of Daniel Walker Howe's What God Hath Wrought or William Freehling's Road to Disunion, I have never read any other history that so effectively traces the connections between social, cultural, and political history. But Howe and Freehling do this on a smaller scale, a few decades in time. Mote does it for a millennia of human history. Just as remarkable is Mote's ability manages to marry large-scale macro-historical analysis with personal (and often poignant) assessments of Chinese historical figures.
I really cannot recommend this book enough. If only get ten books on a deserted island, this is one of them.
The second book is Robert Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst. This book is only a hair short of a masterpiece. Sapolsky is a unique character: both a neuro-endocrinologist (that is, a scientist who studies how hormones affect the brain) and a primate ethnologist (a scientist who observes monkeys or apes in the wild), Sapolsky has a strong cross-disciplinary perspective on the topics he covers. Sapolsky is also a very gifted writer. In this book he takes a crack at the neuroscience, endocrinology, genetics, and evolutionary history of human social behavior.
The book is wide ranging. So wide ranging that it has a few rough patches that don't quite live up to the rest of the work's quality. The chapter on priming and behavior in particular is a bad pitch, relying as it does on work from social psych that has failed to replicate. But the first 200 pages or so, which describe the inner workings of the brain and the neuroscience of human decision making, are the most valuable 200 pages I have read all year.
I am also impressed with how Sapolsky frames the way the different systems studied in neuroscience, endocrinology, social psychology, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary anthropology overlap and intersect with each other. This framing is unique and powerful. My personal take is that anyone involved the behavioral or social sciences—that is, the sciences that study why humans do what they do—must read this book.
Also: As Sapolsky is something of a raging leftist hippie (and it quite open about this in the book), I have hope that Behave can be used to help those social scientists whose political commitments keep them suspicious of evolutionary takes on human behavior to reconsider these doubts. This is a book worth sharing.
EVERY BOOK I READ IN 2018
Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, upd. ed., (New York: Harpers, 2015).
Epictetus, Handbook, trans. George Long (London: Dover Thrift: 2006).
Honore Balzac, Old Man Goriot trans. Olivia McCannon (New York: Penguin, 2011).
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel, trans. Arthur Wesley Wheen (New York: Rando House, 2011).
Michael Howard, The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Caroline Alexander, trans., The Iliad: A New Translation (New York: Ecco Press, 2015).
Caroline Alexander, The War that Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War (New York: Penguin, 2009).
Nancy Sherman, Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Eva Brann, Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight When Reading the Odyssey and the Iliad (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2008).
Christopher Logue, War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016).
Earnst Junger, Storm of Steel, trans. Michael Hoffman (New York: Penguin Books, 2016).
Bela Zombory-Moldovan, The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914, trans. Peter Zombory-Moldovan (New York: New York Review Books, 2017).
James Stockdale, Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Washington DC: Hoover Institute, 1993).
Roger Scruton, Kant: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Robert Fagles, trans., The Iliad, (New York: Penguin Books, 1998).c
Neil Irving Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era (New York: W.W.W. Norton, 2018).
G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (London: Dover, 1905).
John Dryden, Fables Ancient and Modern in Delphi Complete Works of John Dryden (Delphi Classics, 2013).
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy (New York: Basic Books, 2009).
Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (Open Road Media, 2015).
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 (New York: Penguin, 2014).
Eric Rauchway, The Great Depression and New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 2017).
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel, trans. Arthur Wesley Wheen (New York: Rando House, 2011).
Honore Balzac, Old Man Goriot, trans. Olivia McCannon (New York: Penguin, 2011).
Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005).
John Hersey, Hiroshima (New York City: Vintage Books, 1989).
Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday trans., B. W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger (Plunkett Press, 2011).
Edward Bolland Osborn, eds., The Muse at War (London: Murray, 1917).
William Golding, Lord of the Flies (New York: Penguin Classics, 2006).
Antulio J Echevarria, Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
Michael O’Shea, The Brain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Richard Passignham, Cognitive Neuroscience: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Books, 2017).
Pascal Boyer, Minds Make Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).
Kenneth Payne, The Psychology of Strategy: Exploring Rationality in the Vietnam War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). [Book review here.]
Kenneth Payne, Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2018). [Book review here.]
Roberto Foa, “Ancient Polities, Modern States,” PhD diss (Harvard: 2016). [Related post here].
Peter England, The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, trans. Peter Graves. (Vintage, New York: 2011).
Christopher C. Rand, Military Thought in Early China (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017).
Moheb Costandi, Neuroplasticity (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 2016).
Cecilia Heyes, Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018). [Related tweet stream here].
David S. Moore, Basic Practice of Statistics, 5th ed. (New York: W.H. Freeman, 2009).
William Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew in Globe Illustrated Shakespeare (New York: Greenwhich House, 1983), pp.223-281.
Jared Rubin, Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not (Cambridge: Cabridge University Press, 2017). [Related post here].
Human Rights Watch, Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2018). [Related post here].
Zack Cooper, Understanding the Chinese Communist Party’s Approach to Cyber-Enhanced Economic Warfare (Washington DC: FDD Press, 2018).
ETS, Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Questions, Volume I, 2nd ed (New York City: McGraw Hill, 2017).
ETS, Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Questions, Volume 1, (New York City: McGraw Hill, 2017).
Office of Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2018 (Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2018)
Olivier Morin, How Traditions Live and Die. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Jeffrey Eggstrom, Systems Confrontation and Systems Destruction Warfare: How the Chinese’s Peoples Liberation Army Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare (Sant Monica: RAND Corp, 2018).
Thomas Mahnken, Ross Babbage, and Toshi Yoshihara, Countering Comprehensive Coercion: Competitive Strategies Against Authoritarian Political Warfare (Washington, DC: CSBA, 2018).
David A Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900 (New York: Routledge, 2002).
Manhattan Prep, 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems, 2nd ed (2017: Manhattan Prep Publishing, 2015).
Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015). [Related post here].
Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol I: The Golden Days, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974).
Nadege Rolland, China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (Washinton DC: National Bureau for Asian Research, 2016).
Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol II: The Crab Flower Club, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974).
Fyodor Dostoesky, Crime and Punishment, trans. Sydney Monas (New York: Penguin Books, 1968).
Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic, A Preliminary Study of PRC Political Influence and Interference in American Higher Education (Washington DC: Wilson Center, 2018).
Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol III: The Warning Voice, trans David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1981).
Jane Austin, Sense and Sensibility in Jane Austen: The Complete Novels (New York: Gramercy Books, 1981.)
Author whose name I cannot yet reveal, Unpublished book manuscript (hopefully 2019?).
Dan Sperber, Explaining Culture: A Naturalist Approach (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).
Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol IV: the Debt of Tears, trans. John Minford (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).
W. Michael Kelly, The Humongous Book of Algebra Problems 3rd ed, (Alpha: 2008).
Alex Rosenberg, How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of our Addition to Stories (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 40th anniversary ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol V: The Dreamer Wakes (New York: Penguins Books, 1986).
F.W. Mote, Imperial China, 900-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Shi Ji, 岳飞的故事 (Beijing: Sinolingua, 2017).
William Shakespeare, Poems in Globe Illustrated Shakespeare (New York: Greenwhich House, 1983), pp.2245-2323.
Books I Read a Significant Portion of, but Did Not Finish Completely:
Carles Boix, Political Order and Inequality: Their Foundations and their Consequences for Human Welfare; James C Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Peter Paret; Jaak Panksepp, The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions; Kosuke Imai, Quantitative Social Science: An Introduction; Andrie de Vries and Joris Meys, R For Dummies, 2nd ed; Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg, trans., The Zuo Tradition, vol II; Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning; Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics, 2nd ed; Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?; Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back; Philip Mansel, Paris Between Empire Emily Anhalt, Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths, James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom; Japan at War: An Oral History; The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology; Joseph Henrich et. al., Foundations of Human Sociality; Sanjit Dhami, The Foundations of Behavioral Economic Analysis; Paul Rouzer, A New Primer in Literary Chinese; Fang Xujun, 汉语相似词语区别与联系; Richard Elbreith and Robert Boyd, Mathmatical Models of Social Evolution; Patrick Juola and Stephen Ramsay, Mathmatics for the Humanist, Joe Stalworthy, ed, New Oxford Book of War Poetry.