Every Book I Read in 2015  

Posted by T. Greer in

The library I brought with me when I moved to Taipei in November. This and a kindle.

A new year has arrived, and that means it is time to post my annual list of every book I have finished since the last new year's day. I have kept a list of every book I have read, along with a few short comments summarizing and casting judgment on each title, since 2010 (you can see my lists for 2013 and 2014 here and here). As in past years I have bolded and linked to the Amazon page of the ten best titles of the year. Only books that I read for the first time in 2015 qualify for inclusion in this category.

As is often the case, my reading list is closely connected with what I have written for the Stage, and careful readers of the blog can probably piece together when I read many of these books by looking at the blog posts published throughout the year. I will forgo the usual attempt to place a link to the individual posts related to the readings next to the book that inspired them, for several of these posts (especially "Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe," and "The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program") drew on a dozen or more of the books included here. It would be impractical to place a link next to every title.

I began bolding my ten favorite books of the year with the hope that it would stop readers from asking me what the "best" book of the year was--when you are reading between 65-80 books a year choosing just one really is an impossible task. 2015 is different. This year has a clear winner. I found the story of this book I read so arresting that I read all five of its volumes twice. Had I copy with me here in Taiwan I would not hesitate to reread it all again. Never has a book jumped so fast to Quantum Library status.

This book is Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, translated by David Hawkes and John Minford with its alternate title, The Story of the Stone. Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the "Four Great Classic Novels" of Chinese literature, and is almost universally described as the best of the four--and by extension, the best novel of Chinese history. I have been making my way through the classic novels through the last few years, but I gave priority to marshal epics like Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh (Water Margin) over Dream, whose story centers around forlorn love and domestic squabbles. This was a mistake. Dream is just as good as the critics claim, and is in contention not just for the title of "best novel ever written in Chinese history," but "best novel written in human history." It is a book I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

With that said, it is not a book for everyone. If you have no patience with the carefully constructed prose and clever ripostes of, say, a Jane Austen novel, then you might find Dream unfit for your tastes. Like Austen, Cao Xueqin is fascinated with the manners and mores of the aristocratic class, and he finds nothing more interesting than the inner lives of women. He is also just as discerning a wit. But where Austen's books all end on happy note, Cao Xueqin's story is one of bitter tragedy. One might call this tragedy Shakespearean in scope, but this is not quite right, for Cao Xueqin lets you into the head of his characters in a way that Shakespeare never did--tragedy as told by Dostoevsky or Conrad, with all of their psychological realism, is a better comparison. What is Shakespearean about Dream is its scope. There are hundreds of characters in this novel, ranging from fantastically rich aristocrats to their servants in the kitchen. Shakespeare was one of the few authors who could see the world through a dozen different social ranks and a hundred different ideologies. Cao Xueqin was another.

I include all these references to Western authors to give you a sense for just how compelling Dream of the Red Chamber is. But Cao Xueqin was not a Westerner, and his book, written when the Qing Dynasty was at its height, is very much a part of the Chinese tradition. Cao Xueqin alludes to, quotes, and occasionally outright refutes poets, historians, philosophers, playwrights, and thinkers from across the 2,000 years of Chinese history that preceded him. His novel is in many ways the culmination of an entire civilization's heritage--the last great hurrah of Chinese thought before the West came in and broke it all down. You don't need to understand or catch all of these references to enjoy Dream, but a working knowledge of Daoism, Confucianism, and so forth will increase your appreciation for it's intellectual depth. However, it's prose (and here Minford and Hawkes' superb translation skills must be credited) will draw anyone in, regardless of their familiarity with traditional China. Indeed, Dream works as well as any book I know as an introduction to late imperial China, a society alien to modern Westerners and Chinese alike. Cao Xueqin paints a beautiful portrait of his time; if you want to understand what it felt like to live in the China at its zenith there is no better starting place than Dream of the Red Chamber. 

Well, that's enough of all that. As a primary source Dream of the Red Chamber is priceless, as an intellectual statement it captivating, and as a work of literature it is heart-rending. If all of this has not been enough to convince you to buy the book, nothing I could write ever will be.

The other bolded books always have my strongest recommendation.

What were the best books you read this year? 

EVERY BOOK I READ IN 2015

Plato, The Republic, trans. Alan Bloom, 2nd ed (New York: Basic Books, 1991) 

Streich, Philip, “The Failure of Balance of Power in Warring States Japan, 1467-1590” (PhD diss., Rutgers, 2010). 


Strayer, Joseph, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). 


Ferejohn, John and Frances Rosenbluth, War and State Building in Medieval Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010). 


Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 900-1992 (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1992). 


Hui, Victoria Tinbor, War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). 


Conlan, Thomas Donald, State of War: The Violent Order of Fourteenth Century Japan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).  


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol I: The Golden Days, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974) 


Li Feng, Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou, 1045-771 BC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 


Wu Cheng-En, Monkey: A Folk Novel of China, trans. Arthur Waley (New York: Grove Press, or. ed. 1941). 


Souyri, Pierre, The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society, trans. Kathe Rothe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). 


Pomeranz, Kenneth, The Great Divergence China, Europe, and the Making of the World Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000):  


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol II: The Crab Flower Club, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974). 


Duffy, Eamon, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 


Lamers, Jeroen, Japonius Tyrannus: The Japanese Warlord Oda Nobunaga Reconsidered (Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2000). 


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol III: The Warning Voice, trans David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1981).           


Chiang Chi Lu, “The Scale of War in the Warring States Period” (PhD Dissertation. Columbia University, 2005).          


Rogers, Clifford, eds. The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe  (Boulder, CO; Westview Press, 1995). 


Mann, Charles, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2012). 


Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol IV: the Debt of Tears, trans. John Minford (New York: Penguin Books, 1982). 


Ertman, Thomas,  Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).     


Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol V: The Dreamer Wakes (New York: Penguins Books, 1986).       


Hall, Jon. W. and Toyoda Takeshi, eds. Japan in the Muromachi Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) 


Schwartz, Stuart B,  All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance in the Iberian Atlantic World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).    


 Hall, John. W.,  Nagahar Keiji, and Yamamura Kozo, eds. Japan Before Tokugawa: Political Consolidation and Economic Growth, 1500 to 1600 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).   


Schell, Orville, and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the 21st Century (New York: Random House, 2014).  


Addison, Joseph. Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays, ed. Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).  


Shakespeare, William. Othello. In Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works Annotated. ( New York: Greenwhich House Publishing, 1984).  


Mahnken, Thomas. Secrecy and Stratagem: Understanding Chinese Strategic Culture. (Syndney: Lowy Institute For International Policy, 2011) 


Krepenivich, Andrew. Maritime Competition in a Mature Precision Strike Regime. (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, 2015). 


Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 2014). 


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol I: The Golden Days, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974) .


Tacitus. Annals. in Complete Works of Tacitus,.Moses Hadas, ed. and introduction, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans. (New York: Random House, 1942), 3-339. 


Tacitus. Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricoloa. in Complete Works of Tacitus, Moses Hadas, ed. and introduction, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans. (New York: Random House, 1942), 677-709. 


Tacitus. Germania. in Complete Works of Tacitus,.Moses Hadas, ed. and introduction, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans. (New York: Random House, 1942), 709-735. 


Stockman, Daniela, Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).  


Heather, Peter. The Fall of Rome: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or The Dream of the Red Chamber, vol II: The Crab Flower Club, trans. David Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1974). 


Mattern, Susan. Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999). 


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (New York: Scholastic Books, 1998). 


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (New York: Scholastic Books, 1999). 


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban (New York: Scholastic Books, 1999). 


Ward Perkins, Bryan, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). 


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (New York: Scholastic Books, 2000). 


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (New York Scholastic Books, 2003).  


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (New York Scholastic Books, 2005). .  


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (New York Scholastic Books, 2007).  


Luttwak, Edward, Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1987). 


Burns, Thomas, Rome and the Barbarians: 100 BC-AD 400 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003).  


Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol III: The Warning Voice, trans David 

Hawkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1981).   

Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol IV: the Debt of Tears, trans. John Minford (New York: Penguin Books, 1982). 


Schwartz, Benjamin, The World of Thought in Ancient China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1985). 


Cao Xueqin and Gao E, The Story of the Stone, or the Dream of the Red Chamber, vol V: The Dreamer Wakes (New York: Penguins Books, 1986).       


Macmullen, Ramsay. Corruption and the Decline of Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).           


Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. In Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works Annotated. (New York: Greenwhich House Publishing, 1984). 


Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. In Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works Annotated. (New York: Greenwhich House Publishing, 1984). 


Pye, Lucian. The Mandarin and the Cadre: China's Political Cultures. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988).  


Achebe, Chinua.Things Fall Apart. (New York: Anchor Books, 1994; or. ed. 1959)             


Hamilton, Sue. Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 


Tagore, Rabindranath. Home and the World. Translated by Surendranath Tagore. (London: Macmillan, 1915).  


Blackman, Caroline. Negotiating China: Case Studies and Strategies (Crows Nest, Australia: 1997). 


Mill, J.S.  On Liberty. (New York: Walter Scott and Publishing Co, 1903, or. ed. 1859). 


Achebe, Chinhua. Arrow of God (New York: Anchor Books, 1969). 


Mintzberg, Henry; Bruce Alhlstrand, and Joseph Lampell. Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management (New York: Free Press, 1998).  


Sun Bin, attr. Sun Bin’s Art of Warfare: A Translation of the Chinese Classic of Philosophy and Strategy, trans. D.C. Lau and Roger T. Ames (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).  


Hand, David. Statistics: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).  


Radhakrishnan, Sarvepali and Charles Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957). 


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, 50th anniversary ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004). 


Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, e-book ed. (Gutenberg, 2008).


Moore, David S. The Basic Practice of Statistics. (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2010). 


Harmsen, Peter. Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013).  


Mitter, Rana. Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). 


I also read substantial portions of, but did not finish (or am still reading), The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History; The Rise of Fiscal States in Europe, 1200-1815; War in Human Civilization; The Military Revolution; Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 3: Medieval Japan; Cambridge History of Ancient China; Evolutionary Biology; What It Takes to Win: Succeeding in 21st Century Battle Network Conditions; Records of the Grand Historian, Deciphering Sun-tzu; Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High End Conflict; the Edward Slingerand, Roger Ames, and James Legge translations of the Analects; The Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling; and The Rising Sun: Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire. 

This entry was posted on 31 December, 2015 at 11:08 PM and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

"Empires of the Silk Road" and "Lost Enlightenment" were two of my favorites from the year, which basically tells you that i was ignorant of Central Asia and have been introduced to it, at least at the popular history level :)
When I tried to think of my favorite book from 2015, I looked up my goodreads reviews to refresh my memory, but before that the first book that I remembered offhand was "Napoleon, a life" by Andrew Roberts. I dont think it was necessarily a "great" book, but it was great fun to read. Napoleon was a great favorite of a favorite uncle who was my main source of books when growing up, so the fascination has stuck.

January 2, 2016 at 10:35 AM
Anonymous  

War Comes to Garmser by Malkasian, The Wrong Enemy by Gall, The Unforgiven by Lemay and Lilies of the Field by Barrett

January 3, 2016 at 5:39 AM

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