Now that I am home again (hence the two day gap in posting while we drove back to Lykesboro), I have located my list of books and am ready to make my choices. Here they are in no particular order:
1. The Late Roman Empire
by Ammianus Marcellinus. This is an abridged version of one of the greatest and most readable of the Roman historians. He is of special interest both because he was an army vet and wrote during the first century of the Christian
2. Ptolemy's Gate
by Jonathan Stroud. A wonderful fantasy adventure trilogy (this is the last volume) set in an alternate universe where magicians rule and carry on war and politics for purely selfish end (remember, it's an alternate universe). Has one of the best depictions of how a decent youngster loses his soul step by step and regains it - maybe. A great read for mature youngsters, in some ways the equal of the Harry Potter books. If you all know any kids with a taste for reading, rush to get them copies. After reading them yourselves, of course.
3. Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes, trans by Edith Grossman. Actually as great as its rep would have you believe.
4. Unfolding of Language
by Guy Deutscher. A fascinating intro to why and how languages change over time. Worth its price for explaining the development of Arabic verbs if for nothing else!
5. The Three Musketeers
by Alexander Dumas. THE adventure story of all time. And with the greatest villainess
6. All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren. A wonderfully evocative and human story of an American legend, for good and bad. And Penn Warren got both the good and the bad down perfectly.
7. The Excellent Empire
by Jarislav Pelikan. An extended conversation
between Pelikan and Edward Gibbon on the meaning of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire from a Christian perspective.
8. The Dark Tower VII
by Stephen King. Not great, but comes so close by showcasing some of King's great talent that all seven volumes are worth the read (or in my case, the listen).
9. The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and the Modern West
by Aldo Schiavone. This one surprized me. I am not generally impressed by the European style of historical interpretation, but this was simply splendid.
10. The Fall of Rome
by Peter Heather. I've written about this in several spots. I have loaned it to two of my colleagues, both of whom agree that it is a wonderfully written and compelling account of what went wrong for the Romans. In fact, the last guy won't return it!
11. Moby Dick
by Herman Melville. Another classic that deserves to be. It held my interest from start to finish which is no mean feat. It is a leviathan of a book!
12. Shadow of the Torturer
and Claw of the conciliator
by Gene Wolfe. The best thing I can say about this is that Mr Claw of the Conciliator himself was right about everything he said about it. The vocabulary alone is worth an essay (someday).
13. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
by J. K. Rawlings. Any work that can get eleven year olds to plow through 600 plus pages of prose and come back screaming for more has my vote! They are great fun, grand storytelling, and characters who can take you by surprise. I don't fully understand why some lovers of fantasy turn up their noses at them.
14. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History
by Michal Biran. A book that I was prepared to plow through for the sake of the history involved. I was taken by surprise at how well it read and the political lessons it teaches. Really good history about an obscure people in a place most Americans know nothing about.
15. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
by Edward Gibbon. I cannot say enough
about this work. For anyone who has read this blog over the last year I don't need to. This is the foundational work of Anglo-Saxon historical thinking on the subject. Almost every work in English on the fall of the Empire deals with it, in the case of Pelikan and Heather, quite clearly.
16. The Long Summer
by Brian Fagan. Part of a series Fagan, an archaeologist, has been doing about how changes in the weather has effected human history. Wonderfully thought provoking. Have I told you my new theory of the origins of the Proto-Indo-Europeans yet?
17. The Meaning of Hitler
by Sebastian Haffner. A German journalist tries to make sense of Hitler. Slim, a bit dated, and thin on new research, but a brilliant examination of what Hitler meant for Germany.
by Umberto Eco. I am not certain this book has not been seriously overrated, but I certainly got a kick out of reading about it. It tells the story of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders, and a kingdom filled with just about every crackpot myth in the Middle Ages. A good read.
19. Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
by Bart Ehrman. A clear and very readable intro to the textual history of the Bible and some of the implications to the reality of a Bible with no real definitive edition. And it doesn't even deal with the pitfalls of translation.
20. The Good Book
by Peter Gomes. After number 19 sends your head reeling with the impossibility of knowing exactly what the Good Book actually says, Gomes shows you a Christian, human, and rational way to get back to what is really important and worthwhile about the book in the first place.
That's it. I thought about including American Gods
by Neil Gaimon and the Ilium/Olympos
duo by Dan Simmons, but they occupy a different spot in my mind. And I have certainly written more than enough about Simmons to do for aught six and aught seven.
For some general comments about some of these, check here.
Happy New Year!
PS: I really liked this book too, but in the rush of the semester didn't finish it - and I read it mainly for a research project so I don't include it.The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: the Indo-Aryan Migration Debate
by Edwin Bryant. It's a good book from several standpoints. Bryant surveys the origin of the notion that the Aryans of India originated from outside India in some Proto-Indo-European homeland located close to Europe, if not actually in Europe. He then shows how this notion was used to shore up the British colonialist project in India and is now assumed to be, at least in the West, unassailable. But what is original and fascinating is that Bryant then goes on to look at the rejection of this narrative by Indian scholars and intellectuals and why they are so hostile to it. Unlike most western scholars, he is willing to look at their arguments in detail, noting carefully where they make good points. This is a contentious issue, and one that I would like to know more about while I work on my projected article on the origins of chariot warfare in the Bronze Age.