Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 22, 2004
POP CULTURE/HISTORY/BASEBALL, etc...: More From the Book Shelf
Following up on the Crank’s list of his favorite books, I thought I’d make a similar list. It turns out this is pretty hard to do – I’ve read, either by assignment or by choice, so many books over the years, that it’s not easy to remember them all and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few big ones. Very unsurprisingly, since the Crank and I have read many of the same books, there’s a lot of overlap between our lists; what may be more interesting is the differences (I think I read a little more history and war-related books, a little less baseball and politics). I tried to stick by the “one book per author” rule, yet I organized my list differently:
9. Charles Palliser, The Quincunx: This neo-Dickensian novel, which I picked up, appropriately enough, in London, is one of the more fiendish books I’ve ever read. The plot about five families fighting over a disputed will is frighteningly intricate and complicated and it was really only when I came to the end of the 1,200 page book that I realized I should’ve been paying closer attention, since the central mystery is not explicitly resolved and the narrator doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. That said, it’s a great puzzle and a very well-written book, highly evocative of 19th century London.
7. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange: This is probably the hardest book to read I’ve ever made it through. As you know if you’ve seen the Stanley Kubrick movie, the narrator here speaks a form of broken, futuristic slang which highly resembles, but isn’t quite, modern English. Once you get used to it, though, the book flies along. Many works of art have tried to argue that the only thing worse than criminal violence is the authoritarian government response it can engender - this is the most creative and thought-provoking such effort.
6. Tom Clancy, Patriot Games: Growing up, I loved reading Tom Clancy and devoured his books religiously. The first five or so were classic (the later ones have since seriously declined in quality - either that or I’m getting older and more critical). Anyway, this was the first one I read and, while it might not be Clancy’s best, it is the one which first piqued my interest in our national security establishment as well as in Northern Ireland.
5. Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal: The best thriller I’ve ever read. Knowing your history, you’re pretty sure Charles de Gaulle isn’t going to be assassinated, but you almost doubt it at some points.
4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: I take the convenient view that this is one long book, rather than three, but I otherwise agree with the Crank’s sentiments on this one.
3. Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities: Again, see the Crank’s comments. Wolfe has a very colorful writing style all his own. The Right Stuff and, to a lesser degree, A Man in Full are also well worth a read. For extra points, I also once read Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood, about how such a great book became such a bad film.
2. Herman Wouk, The Winds of War/War and Remembrance: These are two books, but one story. Taken together, these two capture the sweep and epic human drama of World War II better than anything I’ve ever read. From Pearl Harbor to the Russian front to graphic and terrifying scenes of the Holocaust, Wouk, through the eyes of an American naval family, captures the horrors and costs of the bloody conflagration, but also evokes the sense of romance and importance that one must have felt living through such great and terrible days. I read these when I was fairly young, but I think anyone would be moved by this World War II epic. In the 1980’s, these became two of the last great TV mini-series, each starring Robert Mitchum in the lead role.
1. Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels: The best war novel I’ve ever read is also the best novel I’ve ever read, period. The Battle of Gettysburg comes alive here like nowhere else. This book is unique in that it appeals to everyone from the anti-war reader to the Civil War buff. You get the sense here that war is wasteful, sickening and awful, yet important, not altogether pointless and sometimes even heroic. Historical figures comes alive, grand strategy mixes with intimate drama and you feel like you are right there on the fields of Pennsylvania in July 1863 - an unrivalled achievement.
MODERN FICTION: Fatherland by Robert Harris, Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, The Firm by John Grisham (still his best), The Godfather by Mario Puzo (I heard they made this one into a movie), An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (his best, also adapted into a small independent film, I hear), Absolute Power by David Baldacci (far better than the Clint Eastwood film) and The Shining by Stephen King (his best, although I’m also partial to The Stand).
8. Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: This real-life account of a daring American attempt to rescue Allied prisoners from a brutal Japanese prison camp in the Philippines is a great World War II story and would make a great movie. I think I literally read it in a day.
1. Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life: A stirring, objective one volume account of the greatest political leader in recent times. To read it is to stand in awe of how much can be accomplished in just one lifetime. You can read my full review here.
Runners-up (again, in no particular order):
RECENT HISTORY: Faith of My Fathers by John McCain, Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile (see here), The Brethren by Bob Woodward, Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow, Dead Ground by Raymond Gilmour (about infiltrating the IRA, see here), Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein by Peter Taylor and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America by Anonymous.
SPORTS: A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein (his The Last Amateurs is also a sentimental favorite), Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger, Beyond the Sixth Game by Peter Gammons and If At First… by Keith Hernandez.
Posted by The Mad Hibernian at 10:29 AM | Baseball 2004 | History | Pop Culture | The Mad Hibernian | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)