Off and on since I’ve been doing this blog, people have contacted me wanting to know what I’m reading, and do I have any recommendations for them. I resisted for a time, thinking that foisting my opinions about books on my readers would be somewhat arrogant. Then I reminded myself that my opinions about books are pretty much the only opinions I haven’t foisted upon my readers.
So, loosely clumped together by category, here are some quality purchases, library checkouts, or downloads.
What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis
The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis
The Family by Jeff Sharlet
Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal
Bernard Lewis is one of the world’s foremost Islamic historians, and the two books here offer short, but thorough (each is only about 170 pages long) histories of the Islamic world. The first from the rise of Muhammad through to the 20th Century, and the second is a look at the Islamic world, post-9/11. The books by Sharlet (he broke the C-Street scandal a few years back) and Blumenthal, examine fundamentalism among American Christians. Both are scarier than any speculative fiction I’ve found lately.
Read all four and ask yourself if there is a single shred of difference between Islamic fundamentalist dingbats and Christian fundamentalist dingbats. Their world-views are frighteningly similar. The Islamic fundamentalists have already given us graphic examples of what a world ruled by religion is like. The American version hasn’t flown any planes into buildings (yet), but they have given us glimpses into their way of thinking. Among their many ugly notions: they have devised plans to firebomb opposition think-tanks (Chuck Colson), advocated child abuse (James Dobson), called for the death penalty for abortion providers (Sam Brownback), for adultery (Ralph Reed) and for unruly children (R.J. Rushdoony).
Scary stuff, and required reading for anyone interested in liberty and democracy.
General Non-Fiction & Essays
Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
This final collection of essays by the late, great Christopher Hitchens is astonishing for several reasons. First, he was a fantastic writer. Second, he never lost his focus. And third, the sheer depth of his thinking and and scope of his interests boggle the mind.
The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
The Better Angels of Our Natures by Steven Pinker
The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond
Here are three books by three of my intellectual heroes. Dawkins, with his customary wit and erudition, takes us on a tour of the wonders of evolution. Pinker makes a compelling case for the idea that we are living in far less violent times than at any point in our history. And Diamond, well, what can I say? Another assumptions-shattering treatise from one of our greatest public intellectuals.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Decades ago I tried Anna Karenina but didn’t get much out of it. Thought I’d give it another shot after seeing the most recent movie version. Got a lot out of it, this time. The psychological depth of Tolstoy’s characters is glorious. I recommend the translation by Richard Pevear and Alissa Volokhonsky.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
All I knew about Waugh was Brideshead Revisited, but got turned on to Scoop from one of Hitchens’ essays in the above collection. Numerous critics have called it the best book about journalism ever written. I don’t know if that’s true, but Scoop is a funny and smart-alecky good time from start to finish.
Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey
When a new Dorsey novel comes out, I’m the first guy in line. Nobody does funny quite like he does. We can live vicariously through his two main characters, the spree-killer/historian Serge A. Storms and his always-chemically-altered sidekick, Coleman. Visiting their Florida is demented awesomeness.
But, Please Avoid…
Rewritten supernatural classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Android Karenina, Tom Sawyer and the Undead, Jane Slayre, The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies. And bullshit like Sense and Sensibility: the Wild and Wanton Edition, that add all the graphic sex that were apparently missing from the classics. I truly despise this current fad. These hacks should be ashamed of themselves, not only for standing on the shoulders of giants, but for cornholing them to boot.
So, there you go. A few humble endorsements from your humble Wine God. Happy reading.