Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:14 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:14 | SYDNEY

My books of the year


Michael Wesley


15 December 2011 10:04

I'm afraid not many of my best reads of 2011 were actually published in 2011, mainly because the backlog of books I simply must read lengthens with each passing year. I guess that's why they invented retirement. But enough preamble.

Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia, by Audrey and George Kahin provides a detailed account of US support to rebellions in different parts of Indonesia, a policy backed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. If you read one book into the psychology of Indonesian fears about dismemberment, this should be it.

Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the International Monetary System by Barry Eichengreen is a lively and accessible history of the US dollar as a global reserve currency, a sober assessment of the power benefits it has provided to the US, and a careful forecast of the future of the dollar and the global monetary system. The financial side of global power is not something many non-economists think much about; Exorbitant Privilege provides us with another history of the late 20th century.

The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier by Imtiaz Gul is a wonderfully written, deeply researched, but profoundly depressing book. Gul takes the time to explore in detail the social, historical, tribal and religious complexities of the Pakistan-Afghan border regions in ways that show why any and all attempts to impose external order are deeply futile. The Most Dangerous Place should give pause to optimistic scenarios that there will be stability and peace in that part of the world any time soon.

War by Sebastian Junger continues this depressing theme. An embedded journalist with an American forward-operating base in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, Junger writes an intensely human portrait of some of the soldiers at the cutting edge of this war. As only a writer of his imagination and ability can, Junger includes a riveting and haunting passage on the body's psycho-biological reaction to being shot at. War is a modern classic which deserves to be listed alongside A Homage to Catalonia and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr and the Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides is my favourite for the year. This is narrative non-fiction at its best — even better than In Cold Blood. The narrative traces the parallel paths of James Earl Ray and his victim to that fateful evening of 4 April 1968 (U2 got it wrong — its wasn't the early morning), powerfully evoking the social and political mood in the US between the fading hopes of the civil rights movement and the rising anger of the racist right. The man-hunt part is interesting, particularly the portrait of a conflicted FBI under Hoover — but nowhere near as riveting as the prelude to the assassination.

My book for the holidays? Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, a novel about gangsters in modern day Mumbai.