Recently Tom McIntyre asked several of his friends to recommend books for a young woman who had not encountered them in college. My list follows.

I once said that in my school the curriculum would be Classics, poetry, history, evolutionary biology, and how to run a chainsaw…

Politics and philosophy. Sorta…..

John Gray: Straw Dogs, John is a calm erudite calm nihilist and perhaps the most original mind in England today. He wrote a book on atheism in which he held that faith is dumb, then proved atheism is at least as…

Michael Oakeshott: Rationalism in Politics (he’s agin it)
An immense detailed scholarly book that in the end shows that the best society was in the English countryside before WWI, and that all deliberate change however inevitable is bad, by an old English small l libertarian who lives in such a village and likes to swim naked.

Prince Peter Kropotkin: Mutual Aid . Mutual aid! As far as I am concerned all political wisdom resides in these books.

Art etc: Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae. Her later ones are pretty good but she gets caught up in her schtick

A couple of uncharitable (but funny) Catholic novelists; my favories among their books

Evelyn Waugh:
A Handful of Dust
Scoop (The Daily Beast!)
Black Mischief
– Redemption? Brideshead Revisited

Muriel Spark:
A far Cry from Kensington
Loitering with Intent — woops, an autobiography but still , “I went on my way rejoicing.”

A charitable Catholic (redneck academic): Mary Karr. The Liars Club, Lit: the one about writing biographies. I have it lent out to a cowboy right now — I can’t remember the name .It covers everybody from Nabokov to Frank Conroy ‘s Stop Time.

A little natural history — Ed Wilson‘s Biophilia; Berndt Heinrich‘s Mind of the Raven.

Ted Hughes: The Collected Poetry — accessible, memorable, mostly nature poetry that stays in your head.

Possibly, the LOA edition(s ) of Nabokov. One contains Lolita (the ultimate motel road novel), Pale Fire and Pnin . Another contains Speak Memor and the good butterfly stuff ((see my next book).

Imperialism: nothing better than Heaven’s Command, Jan (James) Morris‘ trilogy about the British Empire, also containing Pax Britannica, and Farewell the Trumpets

Two great books of American History: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne and Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. The first is more or less about the Comanche Empire, which actually was one. The second is about Kit Carson. Both are full of blood and guts and heroism; neither have easy villains.

Can you bring yourself to read someone as unpopular as Kipling? Every sentence in every one of his books, especially when he gets on his feet and gets going (which happens remarkably early –HENRY JAMES was calling him a genius at 20 I think) contains its opposite, as only happens in the greatest art. The Jungle Books are kids’ books. Sure. I read them when I was four and have read them every year since. They contain the world. Kim is the best adventure story ever told with its utterly ambiguous boy hero, and Tom; Libby sat on the great guns Zim Zimmah!

If you enjoy these kind of things — I do very much — you will doubtless enjoy Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. But there are twelve frickin’ volumes and I doubt there’s enough time in a lifetime to read them twice. So why not read instead his autobiography? The four titles tell it all: Messengers of Day; Infants of the Spring; The Strangers are all Gone; and Faces in My Time (“I have seen better faces in my time/Than stands on any shoulder that I see/Before me at this instance”– Lear). They are short enough that you can read all of them every year. And they contain everybody that was anybody in British literature for fifty years.

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13 thoughts on “BOOK SUGGESTIONS”

  1. Steve,
    Very good to see a new post! I made an immediate trip to the bookstore of course….

    And I was delighted to see Kropotkin on your list. I work as an editor/publisher for a small press and we’re actually doing a new edition of Mutual Aid. I’m wondering if I can get you to blurb the book? Just the usual short sentence or two? This edition is fully illustrated by an artist from Oregon. I can send you a Pdf if you’d like a sneak peak (and a finished copy when it goes to print)….


    ~Joey Paxman

  2. Didn’t realize you had such catholic taste. Gonna need to make time to read some of this, esp the less familiar Brits. Agree re Kipling.
    Carol Sussman

    • Enjoy!

      I really don’t have the hang of this yet, Trying to answer another ol friend, Suzanne Belluardo, above, I accidentally erased her. (Luckily i think I have email).And to the Wodehouse fan: I agree, especially since I heard he once said the autdhor’s job was “To fill the customers with pity and terror?” Plum Wodehouse!pe

    • Carol, We were talking about you just the other while talking about the denizens of the Arlington house — a married pair of anarchists, an astronomer, a Brooks Brothers Maoist, Jody Bol, and me; and some people from MIT who lived across Mass Ave from it. Are you still in New Jersey? I’d love to stay in touch with you. My address is PO Box 709, Magdalena, NM 87825; my email

  3. Great list. Thanks for posting, but no P.G. Wodehouse? Love that you recommend Waugh. I would put his Sword of Honour trilogy on any list including his works.

  4. Steve – Hope you’re still, as some say, Fighting the good fight. Still a nihilist? I think I know why I’m still here after my seventieth. But as yet don’t quite know how to celebrate it. So I keep writing & training horses. Hope you feel the same. And happy birthday. Around this time, I think?
    And the other Southwest one is where?

    • It has certainly beenn a long time. Are you still in New England?

      Not a nihilist exactly: more like an unfulfilled Catholic, or a dissatisfied Buddhist. Most of my reading and studying remains there (and my stepson’s family is devout Eastern Orthodox, more Russian than Greek). Although I do enjoy the description of Brit philosopher John Gray as a cheerful Taoist- nihilist, I cant comfortably BE one. So i keep writing (seen my Amazon page)and training hawks and dogs as Parkinson’s permits. Stay in touch> I am returning to bloggig despIte the physical difficulties ie, I CAN’T TYPE— and have yr email now.

      Yes — 70th March 4


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