Best Books (that I read) 2008

December 30, 2008

My “Best Books of 2008” is misleading, I’ll inform you up front. I was able to make such a list in regards to music and comics, my film list noted the few exceptions and kept the ordering out of it until a later date, but as for books, this time around it’s far too difficult for me to rank the best print had to offer in 2008. Ideally, I would list from 10 to 1 the best in fiction and the best in nonfiction. Well, although I did a lot of reading this year I can count on two hands the great fiction books I read (and on one hand the ones of those that were actually first published this year). In nonfiction, quite a few of my favorites were published this year, but towards the end of the year I began reading in depth in a few certain areas and most of those books weren’t published in 2008. So, what follows here are a few of the notable books I read and recommend from the 2008 publishing year, and the rest are books I read that were published in years past that I read for the first time this year and also recommend.

So, presenting the best books (that I personally read in) 2008 (unranked and in no particular order):

* Case of a Lifetime: A Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Story by Abbe Smith
I think for every reader that has treaded through “Gideon’s Trumpet” as an assignment in a journalism or law class should follow it up with “Case of a Lifetime.” “Trumpet” is a wealth of knowledge concerning the workings of the Supreme Court, trials and trial lawyers but it’s also dry and a bit plodding in narrative structure. Smith doesn’t produce anything startlingly ground-breaking with “Case of a Lifetime” but it is very engagingly written and it’s highly informative concerning what makes a good trial lawyer, the typical cases and daily work such a lawyer is apt to face, and it’s also a heartbreaking study in the ways in which the system is apt to fail and let people down. A phrase like “Case of a Lifetime” evokes an image of once in a lifetime, make or break success. Smith flips that on its head and uses is very literally–in this book it’s a case she spent her entire career working on in one form or another. It’s an approachable work that is told from someone who knows what they’re talking about, and for anyone who wants a non-fiction yet readable account of the legal system a typical worker is likely to face, I’m sure you could do much worse than this one.

*Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power by Marcus Reeves
Reeves, a lifelong music journalist, released one of the best hip hop history books of all time this year with “Somebody Scream…” Each chapter is an essay on a specific group or artist that best defined and excelled at a particular time. The first chapter covers the early days, followed by a Run DMC chapter leading all the way through to an Eminem chapter at the end of the book. Reeves focuses each essay most heavily on the artists earliest and most important work, thus progressing the book chronologically, but each chapter does cover each artists full career as well. Reeves does a good job of balancing his work, neither going too easy on much of hip hop’s less positive aspects nor berating it too hard unnecessarily. This book makes me wish Reeves would delve deeper and release a weighty, genre defining tome for hip hop much the way Gioia did for Jazz and Guarlnick has done for roots, country and rock and roll.
* The Fall of the Evangelical Nation by Christine Wicker
Wicker has spent a  career covering religious issues for several newspapers. She grew up in an evangelical church and uses this book as a balanced exploration of the faith, what drives it, what it has to offer, and profiles many of the good hearted and well meaning members such faith contains, as well as what factors are not so great in the modern Evangelical church and how some of those factors are leading to a coming decline and/or “fall” of the large mega-churches.

*The Power of Progress: How America’s Progressives Can (Once Again) Save our Economy, our Climate and Our Country by John Podesta
Podesta, a Clinton cabinet member, early Hillary supporter and now Obama’s transition chief, released this book early this year detailing the history of progressive politics, his own family history with it and profiles of many leading progressives like both Roosevelts and Clinton.
* Money Shot by Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime is a book label that publishes out-of-print or hard to find 50s paperback novels as well as new noir tales written by new authors.  Christa Faust penned the best new noir novel Hard Case released this year with “Money Shot.” For 5.99 you get a nonstop thrilling suspense novel with a gritty pulp cover, that’s hard to beat.

* Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire by Rajmohan Gandhi
A dense, comprehensive tome. Granted, my brief library borrow only gave me time to grace the surface; it needs to be a book to own and spend time with to fully appreciate.

*Just Before Sunset by Stephen King
Just now picked up a copy, the first few tales show promise of yet another great King short story collection.

Other top rated books I’ve read this year, though not published in 2008:
*The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
“The Last Week” is a detailed account of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem from his arrival to his crucifixion. This was one of the most enlightening and inspiring theology books I read all year. By far the best historical Jesus overview I’ve read, and I read nearly a dozen along those lines this year.

*The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
Borg and Wright follow a point-counterpoint series of essays in which Wright presents a more traditional yet intelligent interpretation of Jesus while Borg presents a more revisionist, liberal and “modern” interpretation. Very insightful and entertaining.
*The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

Decades old yet still just as powerful. I just now read the book in its entirety for its first time this year, and the article it inspired is back a few pages on this site, “We Like Our Icons Clearly Defined.”


*20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
The best modern collection of short stories I’ve read in years, from terrifying to absurd, heartfelt to moving.

Well, those are just a few I recommend.


2 Responses to “Best Books (that I read) 2008”

  1. Hey,

    This is Marcus Reeves, author of Somebody Scream! Just shouting ya out to say thanks for the love and the good word on the book. Happy New Year.

    • dmhamby2 said

      Thanks for leaving me feedback! I did really enjoy your book and thank you for taking the time to thank me for my opinion!

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