Ten Books

Judging from our posts, I believe it is safe to say that Paul and I at Almost Chosen People are a bookish lot.  I think this applies also to most of our learned commenters.  I have always loved books, a trait I inherited from my sainted mother who had a deep passion for the printed page.  If I were not married to a fellow bibliophile, and a librarian of course !, I can imagine my love of books perhaps having been a sore point in my marriage.  “Another bookstore?”  “Can’t we go anyplace without you dragging me to a dull bookstore?”  “You paid what for that history of the Peninsular War!?!”  “The books are in the dumpster.  Say a word and you may end up there too!”   Instead, both I and my bride of 28 years view bookstores as homes away from home, to the vast amusement of our kids.

In this post I am going to list ten books I would recommend.  These ten books have all had some impact on my life.  I invite everyone who is interested to also give their book recommendations in the comments.

1.   The Bible-Since my parents gave me my first Bible, at my request, on Christmas Day 1970, I have attempted, and usually succeeded, in reading a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New each day.  The varied types of literature in the Bible I find endlessly fascinating:  novels, court chronicles, proverbs, otherworldly prophecies, military history, gospels, letters, an endless literary and intellectual feast.  Aside from the spiritual benefits of the Bible, which of course is the main reason for reading the Bible, no one in our civilization can be considered to be well-educated if they are bone ignorant of this book.

2.   Reflections on the Revolution in France-At the very beginning of the era of totalitarian regimes, Burke’s book stands as a warning and a prophecy. “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.” Before Burke I was a conservative of the heart, after Burke I was a conservative of the head.

3.   Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire-I am now about to embark on my third trek through this endless tome.  Gibbon hated Christianity in general and Catholicism, to which he had converted briefly in his youth, with a particular fury, and his thesis that the fall of Rome was due to the triumph of Christianity and barbarism I find completely laughable.  So why in the world do I recommend this work?  First his style.  Quite a few people hate it, I love it. “It has always been my practice to cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory, but to suspend the action of the pen till I had given the last polish to my work.” Then the dry as the Sahara wit which enlivens each page.   “My English text is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the decent obscurity of a learned language.” Finally the book is a tour de force of scholarship.  His footnotes are a treasure to read as we see him glean his facts from disparate sources, all of which he has mastered.  Of course there have been immense strides in our knowledge of the Roman Empire since Gibbon’s day, but we stand upon his shoulders.  Gibbon awakened in me a passion for ancient history, a curiosity to read Christian apologetics in order to combat the attacks of Gibbon on the faith and the realization that I could derive not only instruction but pleasure from reading an author I often violently disagree with.

4.   Wealth of Nations-Adam Smith’s tome, as an explanation of how economies actually work, has never been surpassed in my estimation.  It is a shame how few people actually read this masterpiece.  There is much in it that would surprise his critics and shock his defenders.  This book left me an adherent of free market capitalism, and so I remain.

5.    The Peloponnesian War-As Adam Smith teaches us how economies work, Thucydides instructs us on politics, war and diplomacy.  These lessons are usually sad ones, but necessary to learn.  A great way to read Thucydides is The Landmark Thucydides which has a plethora of notes, maps and essays which I think novices to ancient Greek history would find helpful.  For those seeking a more extensive guide Donald Kagan’s four volumes on the Peloponnesian War are unsurpassed.  Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other is probably the best one volume recent account in English. (more…)

Published in: on June 11, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)