A couple weeks ago I was challenged by a friend to list a number of books that I’ve read that I liked or thought may have had an influence on my life. I was away from home and begged off for a while but here is a list. I’ve done this before and the list was different so I guess these things change based on our perspective. There are books that are not listed…the Bible for example…but I count that as a given. The Oregon Trail (Francis Parkman) and Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek (Annie Dillard) are two others. The books are not listed in any particular order.
Young Stalin – by Simon Sebag Montefiore
This is a fascinating biography of Josef Stalin…maybe one of the best biographies I’ve read on any person. The national archives of Georgia were recently opened and revealed new information on Stalin’s younger years. He was a poet and a pirate and studied to be a priest but ended up being a major revolutionary and fund raiser (by various means) for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. One crazy factoid from the book…Vladimir Putin’s grandfather was the cook for Rasputin, Lenin and Stalin.
The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events – edited by Bernard Grun
This is a helpful resource and reference book that outlines events happening all over the world at the same time. It gives a reader a great perspective on historical events and achievements in several different categories.
To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee
Of course. This is a classic that reveals small town life in the rural south….and the racial injustice and superstition that was part of that existence.
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 – by Shelby Foote, AND The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863 – by Shelby Foote
Shelby Foote wrote a huge multi-volume history of the Civil War in great detail. If you can’t read that set, read at least one of Foote’s smaller books that focus on Vicksburg or Gettysburg. Shelby Foote is dead now but if you saw the Ken Burns’ Civil War series you will hear Foote’s voice as you read these books.
Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician – by Anthony Everitt
This is another good biography of a Roman statesman, politician and writer. It would be a good background to reading his various works. The workings of the Roman Senate is interesting.
The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America – by Russell Shorto
My ancestors were Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam and the Hudson River Valley. This book provides a view of what it was like before the English and Americans took over. The Dutch were a tolerant and commercially focused group. Much of that stayed as part of the make-up of Manhattan’s future.
Snow Falling on Cedars – by David Guterson
This book focused on injustice and prejudice directed toward Japanese Americans….something that I knew little about. It takes place in the Puget Sound area in the early 1950s and involves the death of a fisherman and the prosecution of a Japanese-American war veteran.
The Nigger of the Narcissus / Lord Jim/ Heart of Darkness – by Joseph Conrad
Pick one…I admit that I’m a sucker for Josef Conrad. I like the time period his books cover and the dark characters. Just pick one and read it.
The Snow Leopard – by Peter Matthiessen
I am also a sucker for Peter Matthiessen and have read several that I like (there are more on this list). This is an account of Matthiessen’s trek through the Himalayas in search of a Snow Leopard….but there’s more. He was also on the journey trying to cope with the grief from his wife’s recent death. I read this book a long time ago but I can relate somewhat.
Life on the Mississippi – by Mark Twain
Okay — I can’t think of a book by Mark Twain that I haven’t enjoyed. I could have listed any of them but this one is more of a memoir and, since I was born in St. Louis…on the Mississippi…I was fascinated by what the “Golden Age” of river travel was like….at least from Twain’s perspective.
The Coffee Trader – by David Liss
Coffee beans were very exotic and forbidden in 17th century Amsterdam. Miguel Lienzo, a Jewish refugee from Portugal, becomes involved in the secretive coffee trade….before people really knew what to do with it. A good read if you like historical fiction.
Killing Mister Watson / Lost Man’s River / Bone by Bone (a trilogy) – by Peter Matthiessen,
Matthiessen’s trilogy of the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands is published in one shortened volume as Shadow Country but I struggled through the three earlier books from the 1990s. It is an interesting story about the murder of a land owner who terrified the local settlers and storekeepers. There wasn’t much law in the Everglades in 1910 and these three books show different sides and differing accounts of the events of that time.
The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy – by Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, Jay Tolson (editor)
Wow — people used to write letters and sometimes folks saved the letters and then, years later, somebody else came along and read them. Foote and Percy were childhood friends and both grew up to be authors in Mississippi and New Orleans and other places. A good deal of the material in the letters is about the process of writing and publishing along with family stories, births and marriages.
All the Strange Hours – by Loren Eisley
I think I read most of Loren Eisley’s books back in my twenties. I get them confused so this is more of a place holder for all of his books not just one. I suspect they are no longer in print but there was a dark and earthy feel to his writings and his observations and they had an impact on me.
The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West & Fails Everywhere Else – by Hernando DeSoto
This is by the economist, not the explorer. De Soto, a Peruvian economist, explains why there is such a struggle in third-world countries. Nobody really owns — has legal title — to what they possess because the system of ownership hasn’t evolved to the point that someone can use property as collateral. He worked hard to try to fix the problems in several countries. The Marxist rebels in Peru thought he was so dangerous that they put a price on De Soto’s head.
Quest In The Desert – by Roy Chapman Andrews
This guy was the real Indiana Jones and I remember getting this book off the library bookmobile in grade school. I was hooked from the start. He had dinosaurs named after him!
If I do this again in a couple years the list will be different.