Karl's Reading ListSubscribe to Karl's Reading List
I made an all-too-hasty promise at the start of 2010 to list my reading and comment on the books as I made my way through the year. I failed, in large part, because my book tour (110 cities in 90 days) put me behind on my own reading and way behind on writing about it. While I did a little bit better in 2011, this year I’ll attempt to get my notes on books I’ve read done in a more timely fashion.
So here’s what I’ve knocked out so far, starting with the book I finished most recently and working back to 2010.
A collection of essays and lectures by one of America's great historians of the founding era and the early Republic. Wood wrote or delivered some of these pieces thirty years ago and his after-notes shed interesting light on changes in his thinking and in attitudes among other historians on these topics. Wonderfully written and well worth it for students of these periods.
It's another rock 'em, sock 'em adventure from a master of 21st century counter-terrorism thrillers, Chicagoan Brad Thor. His steely hero, former Navy SEAL Scot Harvath, confronts Islamic extremists from Uppsala to Los Angeles, but the puppet master of these terrorists is an even more dangerous foe and he is...well, you'll have to find it out yourself when you pick up this great beach read by an author who's clear minded about America's challenges, its strengths and its promise.
Got to re-read some of the classics every year. Was introduced to Milton by a professor at George Mason University and what a big favor that was. Best to read this to yourself out-loud. That way, you get Milton's rhythm and meaning better. If you're a Believer, don't do what I did by mistake at a London bookstore and pick up the Oxford University version with commentary by Phillip Pullman, the British atheist. While Pullman mocks the idea of Christ, you get the sense he does believe in Satan and just might be pulling for him.
This is one of Oxford University Press’s wonderful “Pivotal Moments in American History” series and its editors (Pulitzer Prize winners David Hackett Fischer and James M. McPherson) chose well in picking Professor Parsons for this book. It’s a lively, deeply-informed and fast paced look at a presidential election that changed America and American politics.
In this slim volume, the editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington charts the changing ways in which Americans have perceived the Father of Our Country, from a wave of myth-making in the early 1800s to a wave of debunkers in the last century. Lengel explores the waxing and waning and waxing again of Washington in the nation’s memory. It is an informative look, but uneven in quality: Lengel seems most animated when writing about his experience as an advisor to the producers and director making the new film for the Mount Vernon Visitor’s Center.
The enigmatic, complicated and compelling T.E. Lawrence comes fully alive in the well-informed, fair-minded and wonderfully written biography. I've read a lot on Lawrence of Arabia and yet almost of every page of Korda's great work offered new insights and keen observations, with a special focus on how Lawrence created a role necessary to lead the Arab Revolt in WWI that then trapped the role's player for the rest of his often-tortured life. A great read.
Okay, so we?re back to it with the Fargo?s, Cussler?s intrepid altruistic treasurer hunters. This one has a diabolical and unhinged Texas oil man with equally unattractive twin offspring, the ?missing link? and the ancient Kingdom of Mustang in Tibet and well, you get the idea. Just the kind of mindless escapism for a weekend read.
Serious book to follow.
This is a must read for fans of de Tocqueville?s DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. This collection draws from letters sent home to family and friends by de Tocqueville and his traveling companion during their trip in the 1830s to investigate America?s prisons. From this excursion came de Tocqueville?s majestic study of the rising new nation.
The letters show that from the trip?s first moments, the two Frenchmen were taken with the idea of more than just a formal report on America?s corrections system. For example, in a letter to his mother de Tocqueville writes of ?two slim notebooks? in which he has ?recorded verbatim the conversations I?ve had with America?s most remarkable men? from which he wants to use to write a broader study.
The collection shows his mind at work, mulling over what he?s seen and attempting to comprehend what he?s seen. He shares impressions and toys with lines of criticism, exposition and praise. The ?general ideas I?ve thus far expressed about this country,? he writes, ?are in letters t family and one or two French correspondents. Even they were formulated on the fly?Will I ever publish anything about America? The truth is, I don?t know.?
Thank god he did and this wonderful collection deepens our understanding of his masterpiece and the two young Frenchmen who held a mirror to our nation?s soul in its early days.
Written in the 1920s by a Russian naval architect exiled by the Bolsheviks, this is the one of the earliest dystopian sci-fi novels of the 20th century. Mankind ? reduced in a 200-year war to a mere 10 million people ? now lives a highly regimented and completely existence in a society where the Benefactor is regularly reelected with 100% and there are only numbers not names. Everyone lives in glass buildings so as to preclude privacy and their days are prescribed to the minute. Because of its mathematical precision, an ancient Railroad Time Table is revered. The Benefactors and his state security, the Guardians, mimic the document?s precision in the existence of every person held captive inside the Green Wall. The novel describes an attempted revolt. Don?t expect a happy ending.
Anything by the great British writer Paul Johnson is worthy ready. Anything. This is an idiosyncratic book about humor and those who made it in their books, speeches, appearance, films, and plays. You may wonder at his choices (or omissions) but you will find yourself alternately chuckling, giggling, guffawing, snorting and just plain laughing as Johnson recounts the humorous antics of his picks as history?s greatest wits.