Herewith a list of 100 favorite books. It is nothing more than a sampling of what I enjoy reading. Non-fiction features prominently (I concur with Samuel Clemens), as do non-Western writers. I’ve attempted to avoid the core syllabus of Western lit since most people are already familiar with it. Manga are included because this genre is significant but often dismissed.
Harp of Burma and Fires on the Plain are unique in that Kon Ichikawa has made films of both — one ultimately uplifting, the other perhaps the most stark and unflinching examination of war ever made. This Scheming World is a comic look at the human condition in medieval Japan. The 47 Ronin is revenge served cold.
The Leopard and Midnight in Sicily should be read one after the other, as the former is referenced heavily in the latter, a compelling survey of contemporary Italian politics and, uniquely, cuisine.
David Maraniss is a superb writer. They Walked Into Sunlight juxtaposes a brutal battle in Vietnam against the seizing of the administration building at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) by protesters; the events happened simultaneously. Cheney was studying in Madison at the time, BTW. When Pride Still Mattered is about Vince Lombardi in all his strength, determination and frailty.
Halberstam — these are personal favorites. Summer of 49 because it’s the Yankees against the Red Sox, DiMaggio against Williams. (The Teammates is also great) The Fifties because the seeds of our current state of affairs were planted when America exchanged frightening reality for perverse fantasy.
Rankin’s Inspector Rebus books have the impact of a Glasgow Kiss but are immensely more enjoyable. Michael Dibdin’s Inspector Zen may never solve a crime, but that’s not really the point.
Jonathan Raban, British expat living in the US, prefers the seamier side of American life; Simon Kuper, Dutch expat living in Britain, the seamier side of football. Formerly of the Guardian, he now writes for the Financial Times.
Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe is history at its best. Had it not been for anti-Huguenot sentiment in Versailles, we’d all be speaking French today.
Morbo examines the bitter rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the roots of which are, of course, cultural and political. Brilliant Orange investigates the psychological impact on the Dutch of their loss to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup Final.
Two books about Primo Levi – one an examination of his death, the other his well-known affirmation of life.
Derek Robinson’s books strip the romance from the air war of WWI and the Battle of Britain. Barbara Tuchman was a housewife who decided she was an even better historian – an exceptional book about the defense of France in WWI.
Homecoming is about a Japanese survivor returning from war; Requiem, the story of a young female student living in Yokohama during wartime; Black Rain, fallout and prejudice in Hiroshima.
Sebald was the first German author to speak out about Dresden; Travers, the first woman in the French Foreign Legion.
Roth was an Austrian journalist/writer whose specialty was the feuillton; he drank himself to death as war approached.
Toland’s tome is perhaps the most balanced look into the causes and effects of the Pacific War I’ve read to date. If you’ve never read Bierce, here’s your chance. The Oath is about a Chechen doctor; if you watch ER, you know which character is modeled on his life. Savage War of Peace is out of print; it’s about the Algerian war.
Alan Furst takes Eric Ambler to a new level. Perez-Reverte is a master, a stunning wit.
Neal Stephenson gathers the minutiae of history and weaves them into rich tapestries.
The premise of Nakamura’s Saint Young Men is that Jesus and Buddha are a couple of twenty-somethings sharing an apartment in Tokyo; unfortunately, this manga is only in Japanese. Real is about wheelchair basketball, Vagabond about the lives of rival swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro – Inoue’s art is stunningly beautiful, his reinterpretation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s “Miyamoto Musashi” unique in that Kojiro is now deaf. Urasawa is arguably Japan’s best sci-fi storyteller (he’s also responsible for 20th Century Boys). Y: The Last Man is now being made into a live-action movie; screw the movie, read this series instead.
The rest, I think, are self-explanatory.
1. Harp of Burma – Michio Takeyama
2. Fires on the Plain – Shohei Ooka
3. This Scheming World – Ihara Saikaku
4. The 47 Ronin Story – John Allyn
5. The Leopard – Lampedusa
6. Midnight in Sicily – Peter Robb
7. They Walked into Sunlight – David Maraniss
8. When Pride Still Mattered – David Maraniss
9. Summer of ’49 – David Halberstam
10. The Fifties – David Halberstam
11. The Falls – Ian Rankin
12. Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin
13. Rat King – Michael Dibdin
14. Hunting Mr Heartbreak – Jonathan Raban
15. The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe
16. Montcalm and Wolfe – Francis Parkman
17. Football Against the Enemy – Simon Kuper
18. Morbo – Philip Ball
19. Brilliant Orange (The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football) – David Winner
20. The Double Bond (The Life of Primo Levi) – Carole Angier
21. If This is a Man – Primo Levi
22. The Forgotten Soldier – Guy Sajer
23. Piece of Cake – Derek Robinson
24. Goshawk Squadron – Derek Robinson
25. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War – Robert Coram
26. The Guns of August – Barbara Tuchman
27. Homecoming – Jiro Osaragi
28. Requiem – Shizuko Go
29. Black Rain – Masuji Ibuse
30. On the Natural History of Destruction – W.G. Sebald
31. Tomorrow to Be Brave – Susan Travers
32. Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939 – Joseph Roth
33. What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 – Joseph Roth
34. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 – John Toland
35. Tales of Soldiers and Civilians – Ambrose Bierce
36. The Oath – Khassan Baiev
37. Savage War of Peace – Alistair Horne
38. The Polish Officer – Alan Furst
39. The World at Night – Alan Furst
40. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
41. The Painter of Battles – Arturo Perez-Reverte
42. Captain Alatriste – Arturo Perez-Reverte
43. The Fencing Master – Arturo Perez-Reverte
44. Gates of Fire – Steven Pressman
45. Dracula – Bram Stoker
46. Books of Blood – Clive Barker
47. Dune – Frank Herbert
48. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
49. Foundation – Issac Asimov
50. Solaris – Stanislaus Lem
51. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
52. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K. Dick
53. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
54. Dancing Wu Li Masters – Gary Zukav
55. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
56. The Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson
57. Hard Times – Studs Terkel
58. The Good War – Studs Terkel
59. Studs Lonigan – James Farrell
60. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
61. The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in Shaping Modern America – Gus Russo
62. Boss – Mike Royko
63. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman – Richard Feynman
64. Gangs of New York – Herbert Asbury
65. The Murders in the Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe
66. Saint Young Men – Hikaru Nakamura
67. Real – Inoue Takehiko
68. Vagabond – Inoue Takehiko
69. Pluto – Urasawa Naoki
70. Monster – Urasawa Naoki
71. Akira – Otomo Katsuhiro
72. Buddha – Tezuka Osamu
73. Y: The Last Man – Vaughan and Guerra
74. The Watchmen – Alan Moore
75. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller
76. On Bullshit – Harry Frankfurt
77. In the Wake of the Plague – Norman Cantor
78. Orientalism – Edward Said
79. My Traitor’s Heart – Rian Malan
80. Life and Death in Shanghai – Nien Chang
81. Gulag: A History – Anne Applebaum
82. Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation – Joseph Hallinan
83. The Crucible – Arthur Miller
84. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything – Christopher Hitchens
85. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea – Charles Seife
86. Coal: A Human History – Barbara Freese
87. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World – Mark Kurlansky
88. Shadow Divers – Robert Kurson
89. Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
90. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby
91. Lost Horizon – James Hilton
92. The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific – Paul Theroux
93. Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
94. Glengarry Glen Ross – David Mamet
95. Things Change – David Mamet and Shel Silverstein
96. Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
97. On Writing Well – William Zinsser
98. The Art of Peace – Morihei Ueshiba
99. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
100. The Analects – Confucius