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Posted at 4:34 PM ET, 12/27/2010

The five best books I read this year

By Ezra Klein

’Tis the season for lists, it seems, so here are the five best books I read this year:

1) “The Master Switch,” by Tim Wu: The book is about the way information mediums begin as democratic lands populated by enthusiastic amateurs but eventually come to be dominated by monopolists or cartels. Good on both corporate ruthlessness and the way the government often allies itself with incumbent corporations. It wasn't about health care, but it convinced me that the Swiss and Dutch health-care systems, with their many semi-independent payers, are preferable to straightforward single-payer systems, where there’s just one payer. Longer review here.

2) “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabell Wilkerson: The story of the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. A much bigger and more important story than I realized before I read this book. Wilkerson weaves her history around the lives of three migrants, and yet she manages to keep one eye on the larger tale, which gets filled out both through vignettes and -- thankfully -- empirical data. More than 1,200 interviews went into this book, and it shows: Speaking as a professional journalist, the work Wilkerson put into this makes me feel very small.

3) “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” by Michael Chabon: I didn't say it had to be written this year, just that I had to have read it this year. And after letting this one languish on my shelf for a while, I took it to China. Loved it.

4) “Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager,” by N+1: My favorite book on the financial crisis, and perhaps on finance more generally. Worth reading even if you already know the basics, because you probably don't know how the basics looked to the people involved when they were happening. Convinced me that the interview format is underutilized in books.

5) “Scar Tissue,” by Anthony Kiedis: What? It's my list.

What were yours?

By Ezra Klein  | December 27, 2010; 4:34 PM ET
Categories:  Books  
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"Omnivores' Dilemma"
"The Last Samurai"
"The Good Thief"
"Great River: An Environmental History of The Upper Mississippi 1890-1950"
"The Lost City of Z"

Posted by: willows1 | December 27, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

My father is swearing by "Slavery by Another Name" by Douglas Blackmon as the non-fiction work of the year.
Some decent books on business management and philosophy, "Good to Great", "The Machine that Changed the World", etc.

Posted by: ctown_woody | December 27, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes

Posted by: mrowland1 | December 27, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Matt Ridley, "The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves"
Sam Harris, "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values"
Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't"
Doug Lemov, "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College"
Jason Fried, David Hannemier Hannson, "Rework"

Posted by: staticvars | December 27, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

The best book I've read this year:
"Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court
Justices" by Professor Noah Feldman.

Posted by: shavital | December 28, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

"To the End of the Land" by David Grossman.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.
"The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson.
"The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes.
"American Rust" by Phillip Meyer.

Posted by: silverhj | December 28, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Have read many excellent books this year, but two that stand out as being not only highly readable but highly important are
Schoenfeld's NECESSARY SECRETS: NATIONAL SECURITY, THE MEDIA AND THE RULE OF LAW, which gives a balanced view that is uniquely timely because of the Wikileaks cables,
and Col. Jack Jacobs' IF NOT NOW, WHEN? DUTY AND SACRIFICE IN AMERICA'S TIME OF NEED. The author, a Medal of Honor awardee, has cogent viewpoints that apply to the U.S. involvement in the Mideast wars.
Also recommended: ADMIRAL 'BULL' HALSEY. by John Wukovits, a biography that gives an excellent account of the naval war in the WW II Pacific
THE SUN CLIMBS SLOW: THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT AND THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE, by Erna Paris. When a historian writes a book about contemporary events, one always learns a lot, and this book is an excellent example.
THE PRESIDENT'S TEAM: THE 1963 ARMY-NAVY GAME AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK, by Michael Connelly. Either this book was not copyedited, or it was very poorly edited as it contains several factual errors; still, it is a worthwhile read for football bans, Navy fans and Kennedy fans. And I still think Stichweh could've won that game for Army if the referee hadn't goofed.

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Posted by: sdgashasdg | December 28, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Hi Ezra, would you please write an article explaining what exactly convinced you that the Swiss and Dutch health care systems were preferable to a Medicare style of single payer system? Could you also describe how much of the new law if any, followed this model as it's my understanding the new law was based on the MA example which was similar in many ways to the Swiss and Dutch models. Do you find this to be true?

Posted by: BGinOKC | December 28, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse


Your own extrapolation from Tim Wu's book that the Swiss and Dutch private insurance based systems are preferable to single payer systems seems to rely too narrowly on the theme of the book.

We have already conducted a massive and expensive experiment with your thesis. Our Medicare program has many more enrollees than the populations of Switzerland and Holland combined. We have been able to contrast the traditional Medicare program with the Medicare Advantage private health plans. No contest.

It was only because of the Republican conspiracy to infuse more of our tax funds into the private plans that they have been able to perform satisfactorily. Without those extra funds, the private plans cannot begin to compete with Medicare simply because of their profound administrative inefficiencies.

Although an improved Medicare for everyone would create a monopsony, that would actually be preferable when it operates for the public good. It would enable everyone to have health care, while ensuring optimal value.

Posted by: dmccanne | December 28, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry that Created the Nuclear Age

A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East--from the Cold War to the War on Terror

His Brother's Keeper: One Family's Journey to the Edge of Medicine

Posted by: charri68 | December 28, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

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