Monday, December 22, 2014

The Best of 2014

Top ten books of the year
As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best books that have appeared here at this blog over the past twelve months. These are books that I have read (or reread) and reviewed in the past calendar year. Of course, since this is Old Books by Dead Guys, many of these works were published decades ago, but some of them were new to me and may be new to you. Click on the titles below to read the full reviews.


Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo (1874)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
Hugo’s novel of the French Revolution (of 1793, hence the title) captures both the glory and the devastation of this epic conflict. It’s a monumental masterpiece of tragedy and triumph, starring an all-star cast of larger-than-life heroes.

The Great Shadow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
A lesser-known work by Conan Doyle, but undeserving of its obscurity. This excellent adventure novel tells a romantic tale of love, war, and intrigue set in the Napoleonic Era.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (1895)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature, Science Fiction
Wells’s groundbreaking sci-fi classic tells the story of a nameless English gentleman’s journey to the year 802,701, where he witnesses a wonderfully dark dystopian vision of mankind’s evolutionary and political future.

The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt (1900)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature
In this excellent work of social commentary, Chesnutt, an author of mixed race ancestry, paints a remarkably candid and enlighteningly detailed depiction of race relations in the American South during the years immediately following the Civil War.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature, Mystery
If you’re only going to read one Sherlock Holmes mystery in your life, this is the one. It’s the great detective’s quintessential case, packed with spooky gothic atmosphere, finely drawn characters, gripping suspense, and brilliant storytelling.

The Treasure by Selma Lagerlöf (1903)
Fiction (Novel), Classic Literature, Horror
In 16th-century Sweden, a quiet coastal village is shaken by violent crime and supernatural phenomena. This dark fable of love and loyalty by Nobel Prize winner Lagerlöf may be brief, but it packs a powerful punch.

Police Operation by H. Beam Piper (1948)
Fiction (Novella), Pulp Fiction, Science Fiction
I read several of Piper’s time-travel novellas this year, a few of which could merit a spot on this list, but I choose this one to represent them all. This novella lays the foundation for his Paratime series of stories about cops who patrol alternate timelines. It combines visionary science fiction with good ol’ fashioned pulp adventure.

Creation by Gore Vidal (1981)
Fiction (Novel), Modern Literature, Historical Fiction
Vidal’s masterpiece chronicles the adventures of a 5th-century-BC Persian diplomat who journeys to India, China, and Greece, interacting with famous political figures and debating the meaning of life with luminaries like Socrates, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and the Buddha. A must-read for anyone interested in the ancient world.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose (1997)
American History, Biography
Perhaps the best one-volume summary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Ambrose combines a biography of Lewis with a concise retelling of the Corps of Discovery’s cross-country trek. He also delves into the fascinating preparations for and aftermath of the epic journey. 

Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor (2013)
Biography, Classic Literature
The best biography ever written about London, one of America’s greatest authors, whose life was every bit as adventurous as the larger-than-life heroes of his stories.  


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