The Dream of Scipio. Iain Pears. This is a brilliantly conceived and magnificently executed novel, both an historical novel and a ethical and philosophical puzzle. It is also a gripping story. The action takes place in 3 historical periods, all of which are times of cultural dissolution: the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the Fifth Century, the time of the great plague in the Fourteenth Century, and Vichy France. Each story is interrelated by characters who, as scholars, have studied the other characters in the novel. Each character must face parallel ethical dilemmas. The book asks whether action in the world that is imbued with ethical wisdom makes a difference.
The Seven Ages of Paris. Alistair Horne. Alistair Horne is one of the great historians of France writing in the English language. For the past 25 years he has devoted himself to writing this book, a history of everyone’s favorite city, Paris, from the 12th century to its liberation in 1945. As in all of Horne’s books this work is imbued with a masterful narrative sweep.
Master of the Senate. Robert Caro. Caro’s Johnson is epic, larger than life, great in his flaws, endlessly fascinating. Just as the other great Johnson in literature was defined by the genius of his biographer, Boswell; so Lyndon Johnson will be remembered through the ages by this masterpiece of biography. This, the third volume in his story, takes us through the years in the Senate. It is as much a history of that great institution as it is of Johnson’s life. It is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History for 2002. Also read the equally spellbinding first two volumes: The Path to Power and Means of Ascent.
Hotel Honolulu. Paul Theroux. This is a funny, mesmerizing and touching collection of related stories about Hawaii. The author has created a character, a composite of himself and his imagination. The stories all center around a somewhat long at the tooth hotel off Waikiki Beach. Guests come and go. All seek a kind of paradise, but inevitably bring their own flawed existences with them.
War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy. This is arguably (unarguably) the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy’s epic of Russia during the Napoleanic Wars contains both grand historical sweep and minute psychological detail. The characters are so real and so compelling that they practically walk off the pages. It is both profound and accessible. When you have finished, read Tolstoy’s no less magnificent novel, Anna Karenina.
The Name of the Rose. Umberto Eco. The English friar, William of Baskerville (his name, a pun on the Conan Doyle tale), is called to a monastery to employ his mastery of Aristotelian logic to solve a number of perplexing murders. The brothers in the monastery represent the entire range of medieval thought. This book is a brilliant novel of ideas, a profound recreation of an historical epoch, and a superb who-dunnit.
Death Comes for the Archbishop. Willa Cather. This enduring masterpiece is Willa Cather’s greatest achievement. It is the story of the French cleric Father Latour, who is sent to convert the American Southwest to Catholicism. He eventually becomes Archbishop of Santa Fe. With elegant simplicity of prose, we follow the life of Father Latour for 40 years, during which time he struggles with derelict priests, a beautiful but forbidding land, and his own loneliness.
.A History of Warfare. John Keegan. In this time of war, we all seek to comprehend how the activity of war, which is at once so horrifying, can yet be so embedded in the human condition. The world’s preeminent military historian has written a masterpiece. There are no long and boring descriptions of battle tactics and no indecipherable maps with black and white squares. Instead, Keegan examines the role of warfare in all cultures from stone age to atomic age. He shows that the history of warfare is really the history of human nature’s darkest side. This book is an eloquent and absorbing work of cultural history.
A Thousand Acres. Jane Smiley. This book, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature of 1992, is Jane Smiley’s greatest work. It is the retelling of the King Lear legend transposed to a contemporary American family farm and told from the point of view of one of the older sisters. Smiley interweaves mythic themes with issues of family dysfunction. Throughout we are dazzled by the work of a master literary realist.
Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte. Is this literatures greatest love story? I think so. It is the tragic tale of timeless love between Cathy and the magnificent and mysterious Heathcliff. It is written with beautiful descriptive language of the moors on which the action takes place. The story builds slowly in momentum and volume of emotion until it reaches the climactic doom of Heathcliff. Be sure to keep some hankies at your side.
Gone to Soldier., Marge Percy. Marge Piercy has written a sweeping epic of the Second World War. It is not a blood and guts battle saga, but more a tale of the other war, the men and women who were not on the front lines but on the assembly lines, the food lines, and behind enemy lines.The Second World War gave birth to our own age. No book has demonstrated this so well as Gone To Soldiers.
Tags: alistair horne, anna karenina, CODY'S, death comes for the archbishop, dream of scipio, emily bronte, history of warfare, hotel honolulu, iain pears, jane smiley, john keegan, lev tolstoy, lyndon johnson, master of the senate, name of the rose, paul theroux, robert caro, seven ages of paris, thousand acres, umberto eco, war and peace, willa cather, wuthering heights