It was just this summer, you may recall, that the National Endowment for the Arts issued its solemn report "Reading at Risk," fuel for a thousand op-eds. (Surely with poet Dana Gioia in charge, the nea might have been expected to come up with a title less nanny-stateish, less patently bureaucratic.) Reading at risk? Well, we wouldn't know about that, would we now? A more apt title for our kind would be "The Risk of Reading," or maybe "Risks Associated with Excessive Reading: An Assessment."

Think what I might have accomplished this past year if I hadn't had my nose buried in Writings of the Luddites (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press), the collection of letters, proclamations, and other documents edited by Kevin Binfield, and who knows how many more heterogeneous volumes: novels and books of poetry, piles of books on Islam, little books (like Oxford's series on the Seven Deadly Sins: look for Jay Wood's review of Lust in our March/April issue) and big books (like the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains from University of Nebraska Press, edited by David Wishart—a review of that is coming too), books that made me furious and books that made me laugh. Books that accumulate, inexorably, in my office and at home, stacked by our bed in serried rows, stacked in my study, threatening to colonize any flat surface in the house.

My favorites from the year's crop, listed in alphabetical order:

1. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. Max Hastings (Knopf). Ranging from the high councils of the rival commanders—Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin—and their leading generals to the experience of ordinary soldiers and civilians, taking in not only the war in the west but also the much less familiar eastern front where the Germans ...

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December 2004

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