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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 18:12 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 18:12 | SYDNEY

My books of 2011

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8 February 2012 15:19

Ed. note: this is Michael's belated but welcome addition to a series we ran in December.

My consumption of other people's books in the past year has been slowed somewhat by the fact that I'm writing one of my own.

Like Michael Wesley, I enjoyed Hellhound on his Trail, Hampton Sides' suspenseful account of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the hunt for his killer, James Earl Ray. 

However, my favourite history book of 2011 was Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, a pacy account of the Berlin adventures of William E Dodd, Franklin D Roosevelt's ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Dodd was an obscure and unassuming professor at the University of Chicago when Roosevelt tapped him for the Berlin embassy. He was an unlikely interlocutor for Adolf Hitler and his gangster regime. Dodd's daughter Martha was more comfortable in this sinister milieu, having love affairs with a Gestapo chief and a Soviet spy.

After lingering over the Dodd family's first year in Berlin, the book unaccountably spins through their remaining years in the capital at a breakneck pace. Still, it provides a remarkable view of the nest of vipers that was Hitler's Berlin. Highly recommended.

Marcus Aurelius' volume of Stoic philosophy, Meditations, may not sound like an easy read. But after years of good intentions, I finally pulled it out on the bus — and, to my surprise, enjoyed it. With its emphasis on the ephemeral nature of human existence and the need to live a good life, Meditations is a bracing corrective to the glitter and flim-flam of modern society. I'm bemused to find out that Bill Clinton reads this book every year. Clinton has many virtues, but I would not have thought a Stoic approach to life was one of them.

Next on my reading pile is Simon Sebag-Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography. Montefiore's books on Stalin are brilliant, and his deep family ties to the Holy City add extra interest to his latest book. After that, I'll want something to get the blood pumping — perhaps Robert Harris' new thriller The Fear Index.

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