[Note: Since this post was originally published, I’ve created an account at Goodreads, which is where I shall maintain such lists.]
My late uncle once asked me what I enjoyed reading. I responded that I quite liked most non-fiction including science (cosmology was especially fascinating to me at the time), philosophy (I’d read almost everything Ayn Rand had published, although I had by this time long since repudiated my earlier attraction to Objectivism), etc. but that I didn’t really take to fictional novels at all, as they seemed rather pointless to me — an opinion I’ve since recanted with respect to classic literature — and science fiction seemed more interesting, as it allows broad stage for thought experiments, especially into questions of ethics and morality. I’ve always been a goal-oriented concrete thinker and I wasn’t sure what purpose fiction served other than as a distraction from life, which seemed kind of antithetical to the way I wanted to live mine. I now know that fiction, classic literature in particular, provides a way to explore what it means to be human. When he asked whether I had considered reading history, I think the only books that I’d read which might qualify were Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, both brilliant works. Although I have fond memories of chatting with my mother about history as a kid, I think the subject was killed for me by my high school history teacher who appeared as though she had lived through most of it and had sadly reduced it to a litany of names and dates.
My uncle lent me a copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamatous 14th Century, a brilliant tour de force of historical literature that explored the human dimension of society at that time, not just a recitation of mundane facts. Tuchman considered herself a writer first; history was her subject. I was hooked, becoming a voracious reader of anything I could find by Tuchman: (Pulitzer prize-winning) The Guns of August; The Zimmermann Telegram; The Proud Tower; Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour; The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam; and Practicing History: Selected Essays. She opened my eyes to a wealth of history that I had never before fully appreciated and did so with such eloquence and wit as to keep me hanging on every word.
Looking back, that conversation with my uncle was a seminal moment in my life. Since then I’ve read many other great books concerning history (among others and in no certain order): Frances Gile’s The Knight in History; Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Medieval Myths; Trevor Royle’s Civil War (of 17th C. England); T. M. Devine’s The Scottish Nation and Scotlands’ Empire; Arthur Hermann’s How the Scots Invented The Modern World; Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought; John Keegan’s A History of Warfare and Intelligence in War; Alex de Toqueville’s The Old Regime and The French Revolution; Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon; Gwynne Dyer’s Future Tense and The Mess They Made; Howard Zinn’s Original Zinn and A People’s History of The United States; Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa; Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse; Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress; and Clive Ponting’s A New Green History of The World — the book that re-kindled my concern for the environment and issues of sustainable living.
Many of the sociopolitical and ecological issues explored in these historical books prompted me to expand my reading horizons. I also read (again, not in any particular order): Sun Tzu’s The Art of War; Carl von Clauswitz’s On War; Niccolo Macchiveli’s The Prince; Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, and The Unconscious Civilization; Voltaire’s Candide; Noam Chomsky’s Language and Politics, Pirates and Emperors: Old and New, 9-11 plus other writings and interviews; Robert D. Kaplan’s An Empire Wilderness and The Coming Anarchy; Niall Ferguson’s Colossus; Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myths, Myths to Live By and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space; Homer’s The Iliad; Camille Paglia’s Sex, Art and American Culture; Northrop Frye’s Words With Power; Martin Heidegger’s An Introduction to Metaphysics; Albert Camus’ The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel; Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’ The Communist Manifesto; Alexander Berkman’s What is Anarchism; Jane Jacob’s The Nature of Economies and Dark Age Ahead; John Stackhouse’s Out of Poverty; Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea; Jeffery Sach’s The End of Poverty; Muhammad Yunus’ Creating a World Without Poverty; C. Ford Runge et al.’s Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime; Amartya Sen’s Development As Freedom and Identity and Violence; Naomi Klein’s No Logo; George Monbiot’s Bring On The Apocalypse; Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy; Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars; Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto; Lester R. Brown’s Plan B 4.0; Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid; and Derrick Jensen’s subversive Endgame: Volume I – The Problem of Civilization & Volume II – Resistance.
For a more complete catalogue of books I’ve read and want to read, visit my LivingSocialGoodreads profile. I may periodically update this post.