Books I read in January

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow ★★★☆☆

I read most of this biography in November and December, but didn’t finish it until January 1st. It’s a big book at over 800 pages, excluding footnotes. There’s plenty of interesting facts and stories about George Washington that make this book worth reading, but Chernow tends to fixate on a few things in his biographies and it can get repetitive and dry at times. In this case, there’s a lot about his dental problems, possible affairs with married women, and supposed moral beliefs against slavery that ring hollow (In Grant, which I read last year, Chernow similarly goes on and on about whether or not Grant had a drinking problem).

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid ★★★★☆

I quite enjoy reading oral histories of real bands and music scenes, like Meet Me in the Bathroom and Please Kill Me. Daisy Jones & The Six is an oral history of a fictional band and is equally enjoyable and enjoable as those books.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber ★★★★★

A great examination of why so many jobs are seemingly meaningless and of no benefit to anyone, even in the private sector where capitalism would presumably discourage such jobs.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell ★★☆☆☆

I first read this book last summer and didn’t find it to be very worthwhile. I wanted to give it another chance and re-read it after seeing it on a few “best of 2019” lists, but my opinion remains the same. People spend too much time on social media platforms, myself included, and we should spend less, but this is >200 pages of scattered-shot thoughts with little coherency and doesn’t suggest much useful except to spend more time outdoors without your phone.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood ★★★★☆

I’ve read and loved many of Atwood’s novels, but somehow have only just read this one until now. Based on real events, the novel concerns a servant woman convicted of killing her employer and his mistress in 1840s Canada. While her male conspirator is executed for his role in the murders, Grace Marks claims to have no memory of the event and is sentenced to life imprisonment. It’s an interesting look at mental health, the reliability of witness testimony, and the treatment of women, as Atwood does better than anyone else.

Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden ★★★★★

Recovery has become a major industry and Aschwanden looks into the science of whether or not ice baths, nutritional supplements, gadgets and other things marketed to athletes actually do anything to help them recover quicker and improve their performance. Turns out, most of these products don’t help and you should focus on getting adequate sleep, eat enough food, and take the occasional rest day.