I read 66 books in 2015. As usual, most were non-fiction history, but there were some biographies and fiction as well, including some comic book trade paperbacks. Few of them were published for the first time in 2015, which is not unusual for me. I have always gotten most of my reading material from the public library and that often means getting books several years after publication. So this is not any attempt at a “best of 2015” and merely my desire to spotlight what I liked the best during the last year.
10. Overland Campaign series by Gordon Rhea
I’m going to cheat a little on a “Top 10” by lumping together a series of 4 books by the same author. Rhea’s books cover the Grant-Lee battles of 1864 at Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. They are all of the same style written chronologically in sequence so it’s rather difficult to pick a favorite, but I would give a slight nod to Cold Harbor simply because that is where the greatest common misconceptions are addressed. Must read series for any Civil War buff.
9. Hernando de Soto and the Indians of Florida by Jerald Milanich
A rather interesting narrative of the infamous De Soto expedition to Florida that is as interesting for the subject as it is for the way the author weaves together the different narratives of the expedition along with archaeological evidence.
8. Ditch of Dreams by Steven Noll
The Cross-Florida Barge Canal is probably not something most Floridians are familiar with, but if you’ve ever been to Ocala National Forest or heard of Marjorie Harris Carr you want to read this book and learn the story.
7. Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson
You’ve probably heard of the myth of Lawrence of Arabia, especially thanks to the famous Hollywood movie of the same name. This is a modern biography/history of Lawrence and some of his contemporaries in the Middle East.
6. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The lone fiction on this list. Fun dystopian sci-fi loaded with geek references and 80s nostalgia. This book is being made into a movie.
5. A Short Bright Flash by Theresa Levitt
If you’re interested in lighthouses or science then you’ll be interested in this biography Augustin Fresnel which doubles as a history of the development and implementation of his eponymous lighthouse optic.
4. American Warlords by Jonathan Jordan
If you liked Doris Keane Goodwin’s Team of Rivals then you’ll like this treatment of FDR’s top military advisers in World War II.
3. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The ideas presented in this book may not be groundbreaking, but their synthesis is monumental. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand some of the broad patterns of world history. Environmental determinism isn’t a two word explanation for all pre-colonial history, but it’s a significant factor that needs to be understood by everyone.
2. The Men Who Lost America by Andrew O’Shaughnessy
Americans too often see the American Revolution from the American perspective. This outstanding book looks at the British leaders, both military and political, and the role each played in Britain’s defeat.
1. The Swamp by Michael Grunwald
Excellent history of the Florida Everglades that should be read by anyone who lives in South Florida and anyone else who wants to know more about them (or have an opinion on what should be done about it). The Everglades have been in the news regularly as long as I have lived in Florida.
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