I read a lot of good books in 2014, but as the year is draws to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of the best books I read this year. This article describes my five favorite nonfiction books that I read in 2014. The next article will describe my five favorites in the fiction category.
Without further ado, here are my five favorite nonfiction reads from 2014:
5. The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving by Leigh Gallagher
Reading like an update of Joel Garreau’s Edge City, Leigh Gallagher has written the latest chapter in the history of suburbanization in this book. Entertaining, quick and written in flowing prose, Gallagher charts the overarching trends that will prove to shape the American built environment for years to come.
4. Athens, Still Remains by Jacques Derrida
How do you view photographs? What are their philosophical implications? French philosopher, given the task of analyzing Jean-Francois Bonhomme’s photographs of Athens, transforms the assigned task into an earthshaking exploration of the meaning of photography. Essential reading, Athens, Still Remains will make you redefine your perception not just on photography, but other technologies we take for granted.
3. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck
Jeff Speck, the coauthor of New Urbanism treatise Suburban Nation, recently wrote this volume promoting “walkability” in urban planning. The result is a highly readable and informing book that is also hilarious, given Speck’s biting, sardonic tone. “Traffic studies are bullsh*t,” Speck writes. “They are bullish*t for three main reasons…” (p. 81). In this book, you will learn a lot about walkability, but also parking, traffic engineering, and much more, all through the guiding hand of Jeff Speck, who is sharp and gets straight to the point.
2. History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
Well, many would consider this book a work of fictionalized history, and the ancient Greek writer Thucydides would admit so much in regards to the speeches he wrote for the major historic figures for the book, though he boasted “my work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever.” Chronicling the conflict spanning three decades between the Athens and Sparta in a text written around 400 BC, Thucydides preserves knowledge of international incidents and puppet dictatorships that draw immediate parallels to the Cold War. Pericles’ funeral speech for the deceased Athenian troops has been emulated in almost every funerary speech since, while the Melian Dialogue between Imperial Athens and the besieged island of Melos is a contemporary dose of realpolitik. The History of the Peloponnesian War is astounding, poetic and haunting. As one of the first history books ever, it goes unsurpassed on many levels.
1. Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau
In 1990, a little book called Edge City was written, describing a phenomenon that was changing the way Americans “lived, worked, and played.” New urban cores defined by retail and office space built outside the old urban cores were being built all across America, and Garreau called them “edge cities.” Rather than condemning them as the ugly manifestations of urban sprawl, Garreau considered them products of American ingenuity. Garreau’s work, while dated today, lovingly crystallizes a phenomenon that touched all corners of the United States, starting in the office parks of New Jersey and culminating in the epic showdown over the fate of the Bull Run battlefield in Virginia in the face of the construction of a mall along the Capital Beltway. Glorious, exciting, and thoughtful, Edge City is a modern classic of urban studies.