Despite having a full-time job (and hence next to nil free time) I still managed over 100 books this year. Sure, many of them were re-reads, which is why you won't see any Flashman books on this list. And yeah, a handful of Goosebumps books pad out the list. So it's not like I'm reading Crime & Punishment 100 times. Still it's enough for a list.
Anyway, without further adieu:
Best Ten Books Read in 2012:
Groggy reads 99% percent history and other nonfiction these days. Back in college of course there was more time and hence more variety of subjects; now I have to be pickier. Nonetheless, even within this narrow confine I found a lot of worthwhile books this year, a few classics and a few recent volumes.
10. Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations - Georgina Howell
9. Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century - Mark Mazower
8. Bloom County: The Complete Collection, Vols. 1-2 - Berke Breathed
7. The White Nile - Alan Moorehead
6. A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 - James Barr
5. The October Country - Ray Bradbury
4. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery - Eric Foner
3. The Siege: The Full Horrifying Account of the Kut Disaster - Russell Braddon
2. The Destruction of Lord Raglan: A Tragedy of the Crimean War, 1854-1855 - Christopher Hibbert
For readers unwilling to slog through Kinglake's nine-volume history, this is the best popular account of the Crimean War. Hibbert gives a brilliant grunt's-eye view of the conflict, mixing blow-by-blow battle accounts with the terrifying monotony of life in the trenches. His main point, that Lord Raglan's been unfairly smeared from 1855 onwards, is highly debatable; Raglan still comes off as a decent man with no business leading an army. Contextualizing his performance amidst bureaucratic muddle, poor weather and a military completely unprepared for a major war makes it more understandable, and Raglan himself sympathetic.
1. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 - Gordon S. Wood
Honorable mentions: Glory Road (Catton), The Arab Awakening (Antonius), Quartered Safe out Here (Fraser), (Kabaservice), The Great Anglo-Boer War (Farwell), Founding Brothers (Ellis), The Fierce Pawns (Macrory), Rule & Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party (Kabaservice)
Worst Ten Books Read in 2012:
I also found time for some truly wretched works. Their sins range from sublimating history to a political agenda, to tackling an impossible subject, to intellectual laziness and sloppy construction, to just plain bad writing. And yes, there's an R.L. Stine book included.
10. Chitral Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Major General Charles Townshend - N.S. Nash
9. The Crimean War: A Reappraisal - Philip Warner
8. Three Empires on the Nile: The Victorian Jihad, 1869-1899 - Dominic Green
7. Military Blunders: The How and Why of Military Failure - Saul David
6. Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East - Karl E. Meyer & Shareen Blair Brysac
5. Planet of the Lawn Gnomes - R.L. Stine
4. The Meinertzhagen Mystery: The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud - Brian Garfield
3. American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies and More Dirty Lies that the Government Tells Us - Jesse Ventura
2. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire - H.W. Crocker III
1. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda and an Unnecessary War - Thomas DiLorenzo
An equivalent film-related list will come in the next week. There are still some year-end theatrical releases to catch so stay tuned!