Significant Books and Writers

A Select List of Books with Annotations

June 9, 2011, *recently added

*Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (1996).  Memoir of Irishman, Pulitzer Prize winner.  Sober, pretty gut-wrenching, but a magnificent book.  McCourt escapes Ireland finally and becomes a teacher in America.

*Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.  Memoir, autobiography.  Although I have listed Farewell to Arms as my favorite novel of Hemingway, this piece is about his writing and living in Paris.  It is as close to an autobiography as he ever wrote. A fairly short read.

*Glenn Tinder, Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions.  Politics, philosophy.  A listing and expostulation of questions and answers about political philosophy, history, the nature of government and man.  This has gone through several editions and is currently being used by Wiegand in his government classes.  I selected this book when I taught government at Amarillo College — the first edition — and have kept it close by ever since.  The answers are wide in scope, not polemical, and the short bibliography after each chapter is quite helpful in further reading.  The question and answer, “Can people change history?,” is highly valuable.

*Donald Worcester, A Visit From Father and Other Tales of the Mojave.

May 25, 2011, additions

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. I consider this one of the best pieces written as natural history and philosophizing about the impact of man on nature. On par with Thoreau and Dillard.

Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Mysticism and Logic. A required essay in the Introduction to Philosophy taught by Ginascol at UT-Austin, 1961. We had to write an essay in response to this essay of Russell. The essay, once read and thought about, begins to dislodge one from a lot of mystical-religious nonsense. Although I did not accept all of the premises and I come at his conclusions from a different angle, I find Russell’s essay spectacular and transformative. An essay in the Socratic tradition, but with punch and aggression that only a British mathematician and philosopher can deliver.

Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August. New York, 1962. One of the best histories of World War I and the opening months or decline of peace in Europe. This is a spellbinding narrative and is still listed in World Civilization bibliographies. This book prompted me to focus on European history rather than American history. It got me out of a kind of provincialism of central Texas. Since World War I is one of the three most impacting events in modern history, this is a good place to start. The other two are the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution.

Patricia Nelson Limerick, Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. 1987. Ground-breaking book that asserts that the West was “never won.” It still endures. Limerick is a professor up in Colorado and has a great reputation as a writer and analyst. I can’t find my copy, but I remember this book well.

Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Cannot know the sixties and civil rights without reading this. It is also quite telling about the change that came over him when he became a Muslim and traveled to Mecca. Illustrates how culture affects behavior and racial attitudes. Radical book in some ways, conservative in others.

John Graves, Goodbye to a River. 1959. Graves canoes down the Brazos River from west of Possum Kingdom southward. Good narrative of his three-week trip.

Arthur C. Lehmann and James E. Myers (eds.), Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study of the Supernatural. 4th ed., 1997. This is an anthology of articles concerning magic, witchcraft and religion that I used in teaching Anthropology and Religion at TCU. In teaching the course, I lectured from my cultural anthropology notes on religion and related subjects and used this as a basis for discussion and elaboration. The introduction to this text is Marvin Harris’s work on “Why We Became Religious.”

Colin M. Turnbull, The Mountain People. 1971. Turnbull is a field anthropologist who has completed intensive field work among the Ik of Africa. This book is not his extensive formal anthropological study of the Ik, but is a preeminent example of an anthropologist’s first-hand experiences in the field. Really well-written and like the Lakota in the U.S. that underwent cultural shock and change, the Ik survive. Different outcomes, but they survived. I required this book for my cultural anthropological students in Amarillo. There’s one scene that an old, starving matriarch is immobilized and cannot keep up with the band and all she asks is that they leave her facing the mountain that had forever framed her tribe’s experience. I’ll never forget that scene. I have thought the same about facing a river or Taos Mountain. The earth is a part of us; we are a part of the earth.

R. R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton University Press, 1941, reissued 1969. Palmer is one of the most outstanding historians of the French Rev. He has much larger works of the Rev, but this is quite accessible and focuses on the Year of Terror. This book was required when I audited the French Rev at TCU. Danton and Robespierre are among the twelve that ruled the Committee on Public Safety.

Owen Connelly, The French Revolution and Napoleonic Era. 2nd. ed. 1991. Another required book for the French Rev at TCU. This contains a beautifully-written narrative of the women’s walk to Versailles that I use in World Civilization class.

May 15, 2011, original compilation of “The Book List”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Meditative natural history. Pulitzer award.

Frank Waters, The Man Who Killed The Deer. Fiction.

John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Memoir of a medicine man. Custer’s Last Stand and Battle of Wounded Knee figure largely. A tremendous insight into Plains Indian culture in free fall.

Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall. Fiction. The first significant book of Harrison. Though Hollywood made a tremendous movie of this work, reading it is a must for it gives you a grasp of the epic story (some based on true happenings) of the American West. Hemingwayesque in writing at times. Sweeping, tragic. Horses seen in the downhill movie scene were Kim Elliott’s who now owns Sweet Hija and Hiway. I read this in the early 1970s when it first came out in Esquire magazine and knew then Harrison had it down.

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. A French psychiatrist writes of the French-Algerian war from a first-hand perspective. Tells a harsh and brutal story of the One and the Other, the colonizer and the oppressed. This was on the reading list of Prof. Bullock of University of Texas at Austin.

Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. An anthropologist writes about India’s sacred cows, pig avoidance, wars and witches from a naturalistic perspective. Shows the origin of cultural norms based on naturalism, not mysticism.

Marvin Harris, Cultural Anthropology. Harris’ textbook now coauthored with another anthropologist. I used this book exclusively in teaching cultural anthropology at Amarillo College and the Anthropology and Religion course at TCU. This textbook shows the categories of cultural anthropology: kinship, economics, religion, conflict, etc. within a post-structuralism framework. This is textbook and not a short digest. It is the source of the major conceptual framework of anthropology.

Ernest Hemingway, Farewell to Arms. Everyone has their favorite Hemingway. This one is mine. The passage, “We are stronger in broken places…,” is one of my favorite pieces of literature of all time. Tragic, moving. “Arms” has many connotations.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce is regarded at the greatest novelist in the English language by some with his Ulysses that I have read, but this work of his I find is broader and deeper in meaning from a social and psychological perspective. It is a transformation narrative that many men and women go through, or rather break out of. I required this work for a humanities honors course I once taught.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner was able to sustain a narrative of the post-Civil War South for volumes. He was recognized in Europe by the French as a great writer before here in the United States. This work has a first chapter that is half of the book, the Bengy chapter. Don’t give up on this book because of the first chapter. Do not read any notes or commentary about The Sound and the Fury until you have finished the book.

John Cheever’s short stories. There are several anthologies out there of his work. Urbane and sophisticated. True to life.

Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. Psychology, philosophy. The unbearable burden of freedom that each person promotes escapism in a variety of ways. Freedom is often given up for “certainties” in nation, religion, family, drugs, alcohol, sadism, etc. Yet, freedom allows musical expression, writing, personal relationship, travel, etc. Shows the dichotomy of freedom and its burden.

Julius Caesar, The Gallic War, translation by Carolyn Hammond, Oxford World’s Classics. I came to this within the last three years. Had heard of it always as good history but also the fact that Caesar knew how to write and write well. He does. Captivating. He is a great writer. No wonder they allowed him such latitude in Rome when he crossed the Rubicon.

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents. A short book much like Fromm, but written from a broader perspective. Freud is at his best here. He is of course somewhat out of favor with the more scientific community of psychiatry, but in this book his perspective is social, not intensely personal. I read this when at UT-Austin.

John Updike, Run, Rabbit, Run. Fiction. The Rabbit series is one of the best contemporary works on American society. Several books comprise the Rabbit series. Urbane, sensual, self-revealing, honest. I read one volume of Updike’s Rabbit and could not stop until I read all of them.

Monty Roberts, The Man Who Listens to Horses. The horse whisperer. I bought more horses after reading his autobiography. This is an intensely personal autobiography that shows how a young boy and man can survive abuse in a family through a joining up with horses. If there is ever a book that will transcend the gulf between humans and animals, and convince people it is possible, this is it. My mother first read this book and gave it to me. So much of my life in the last decade was built up around this book.

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex. A deep existential analysis of women in the family and society. De Beauvoir explores the position of women as a second-class citizen or person within culture. French analyst and companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. This book explored the deep contradictions of women’s behavior as the Other against the One. The “One” is the subject or power broker. The “Other” is the object in relationships. A book for emancipation, far, far beyond Betty Friedan’s work although Friedan is ground-breaking in her own way.

 

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