Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Best and Brightest book list - Part II

Here is part II of my favorite book list. I was happy to see that a few people commented, but I have to say that I found it interesting (sir) that one would attack someones personal preference - I'm highly offended. I'm just joking, of course, and to be honest I actually really like that different people's favorites differ so much, and can actually create friendly banter due to the personal nature of each individuals choice.
Sorry for the fluffy intro, that's not usually my style, but I'm feeling a little light today. But whatever, onto the entree.


A People's History of the United States (Howard Zinn) - This is quite possibly the greatest history book every written, and easily my favorite. Zinn explores history not from the typical standpoint of the "winners", and instead attempts to present an unbiased insight into what actually happened. In the modern world, history has become so tainted by bias and supersaturation, that it's hard to know the reality of what happened yesterday, let alone in times past. From the landing of Columbus and his interaction with the natives, to the modern day, Zinn explores the United States and our many transgressions. This is a must read for anyone interesting in knowing the "real" (or people's) history of the United States. (Another book to check out, in the same vein, is Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America.

Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy) - It would be hard for me to have a favorite book list without including at least one from Cormac McCarthy. The question is not whether McCarthy would be added to the list, the question is which book to choose. The reason that I would go with Blood Meridian over some of his other books is that I think this book best evinces his style. The characters in this book are incredibly complex, though we barely know their names or histories. The landscape is so stark and barren, and yet serves the story so well, almost as another character. The often chunky dialogue glints with such reality that it's easy to imagine sitting next to a fire listening to these men talk. The subject matter is also an interesting one, and lets the reader delve into an existence that seems so foreign and harsh without passing judgment on the characters or their actions. The characters are who they are, and we accept them for that.

The Power Broker (Robert Caro) - This is the first book I've read by Caro, but I can assure you it will not be my last (Caro is responsible for the three volume political masterpiece, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, which politicians - including our current president - have raved about for years). If you're into Biography's, Caro is a master. This biography of Robert Moses is so lengthy and in-depth, that it's almost surprising Carol is able to fit it into the 1,200+ pages. The book explores the life of Robert Moses both from the perspective of his formative years; essentially looking at how and why he became the hard-nosed many that he was, and also from the perspective of the seemingly infinite power he had on the shaping of New York City and surrounding areas. In learning about Moses, you will learn a lot about the history of New York City, and how the city came to be the way it is today. This book is less of an exploration than (to steal a music term) a character piece, which presents a man whose power led to obstinance, but also his own downfall.

A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway) - The book that made me want to live in Paris as a young man. Hemingway's autobiographical recounting of his time living in Paris with his other "lost generation" compatriots (or more aptly, expatriates) is so full of zest and good cheer, that despite the fact that he and Hadley were struggling financially throughout the book, it was still easy to envy the somewhat monastic existence that he lived as a writer while he was there. The friends of the Hemingway's were all well-known (or would become well-known) literary figures of the first half of the century, and he describes the peculiarities of of all of them throughout the book. The book is also very good at giving a glimpse of what Paris was like in the 1920s; Hem walks the streets of the city and describes the different neighborhoods and their intricacies. This book has less travel and excitement that The Sun Also Rises, but carries the same perspective with more humility.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown) - To describe this book from a common history perspective would be to say that it was about Westward expansion and "manifest destiny". However, both of those concepts are so complex and the words so loaded - pejorative, in fact - that to describe this book as anything but a recollection of genocide would be untrue. The book basically follows the "white man", led by the U.S. Army across the continent, slaughtering and cheating native bands all along the way. The recollection of the U.S. Army signing one bad treaty after another, followed by annihilation if the tribes actually expected the U.S. government to keep their end of the bargain, or decided to fight back. This book is not light-hearted, and it certainly is not uplifting, but should be required reading for anyone who wants to know the reality of what actually happened in the development of the United States.

The Razor's Edge (W. Somerset Maugham) - This book is about a young man who is traumatized by his experiences in WWII, and therefore disappears in search of the meaning of life. I think that for anyone in their teens up to their mid-thirties will find this book incredibly insightful. It's not that it wouldn't be relevant to someone outside of those ages, but I think that the central character's search for meaning and spirituality - in essense, "life" - is much more significant to people who fall between those ages, because that is most often when we in the real world often experience these existential quests. The character reappears throughout the book without warning, and often does so to highlight the banal nature of the life that his friend has chosen, but in doing so also highlights the irrationality of his own existence, and thereby puts into question the true meaning of life; leading one to surmise that the true meaning of life is different to each individual, and the question for meaning should maybe simply be a quest for happiness.

There you have it. That is a highly abridged version of my favorite books lists (in two parts), and has [already] and will change as I continue to devour the literary smorgasbord that is available to me.


Naomi said...

How did you feel about "Invisible Man"? A little surprised it didn't make the list.

Crystal Marie said...

I'm a fan of Zinn. Have you read Lies My Teacher Told Me? It's amazing!

mpm210 said...

"Invisible Man" was an amazing book, and it would definitely be in my top 20.

I have not read "Lies My Teacher Told Me", but I've definitely seen it in the bookstore. Is it in the same vein as "A People's History..."?

Crystal Marie said...

yes, very similar.

I wish you had a subscribe link so i could get an email whenever you post! I use feedburner.com for my subscription list.