A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich, 1936
The book jacket describes Gombrich as a 26-year-old with "a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job" when he was asked by a friend in publishing to write a comprehensive book about history for youngsters. Gombrich complied and wrote this book in 6 weeks. It was an immediate success all across the Germanic lands of yore. Hitler didn't like it too much though because it didn't say bad things about the Jews.
The book is dated but amazing because of it. Gombrich loves everybody and tries to make every culture he writes about sound great. However, in doing so, he writes about people in a definitely 1936 kind of way - "You may have already guessed who these strange and powerless herdsmen were. They were the Jews." The book is best for an interested 12-year-old. It vividly sums up a lot of world history (heavy on Eurocentric stuff but what do you expect for 1936?) in less than 300 concise pages.
Gombrich recently updated the book with a chapter at the end titled "The Small Part of the History of the World Which I Have Lived Through Myself: Looking Back" He's so cute about it. He corrects what he had written about Woodrow Wilson in his first edition where he seemed to hint at Germany's raw deal because of Wilson's backstabbing. He writes, "Quite how serious and regrettable this error of mine has rapidly become apparent. For, although I did not foresee it, the fact that all thouse who had been defeated were convinced that their suffering wa the result of a gross deception was very easily exploited and transformed by ambitious and fanatical agitators into a raging thirst for vengeance. I am reluctant to name them, but everyone will know that the one I have most in mind is Adolf Hitler."
A recommended book even to those over the age of 12.
Fantasyland - by Sam Walker, 2006
Walker spent a year devoting himself to winning the top expert fantasy baseball league in the nation. He took a year off from work, hired help, and most interestingly, had access to players, general managers, and managers because of his day job as a sports writer. This is a book documenting his 2004 experiences. Some of this is interesting and it is a quick read, but close to 350 pages of this was a bit much. The best parts were the interactions with the baseball insiders to get their take on Walker's crazed dash to win (he didn't).
From Jacque Jones and his sensitive nature to David Ortiz (did Walker really need to quote him phonetically though?) and his jokes to Troy Percival's "Suck my dick" response, I could have read hundreds of pages of this stuff. But all the inner workings of his league just wasn't that interesting. Hell, Bart used to talk about making a documentary about our Brooklyn fantasy league which I used to think was a silly idea. But there was a hell of a lot more drama and intrigue to our 2004 fantasy season than the one described in this book. As Balgavy remarked (he lent me this book), this book is a good reminder that we're not really that bad on the nerd scale after you read about some of the characters in this book. Then again, all of the guys in the league in this book all make a living from their fantasy baseball insight. I simply spend too much time reading about their (and others like them) insights on the Internet.
Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan, 2004
I knew I would like this book but not quite as much as I did. His prose is downright hypnotic. The tone of the sections varies greatly depending on the time he is focusing in on. There are five main sections of the book. The first, seconds, and last sections are about the early 60's before he became famous. The third is after his motorcycle accident when hordes of hangers-on, freaks, and layabouts were deluging him on a constant basis. The fourth section is the only somewhat weak part of the book. The section is about the late 80's and how he almost retired but found inspiration again and Daniel Lanois kicked his butt. There were interesting parts to it but it was way too long.
He describes his influences and why they influenced him. He rambles poetically. He describes the scene in such vivid detail that there is no way he really remembers some of it. No matter. It's Dylan. The man is a genius and he can do whatever the hell he wants. And brilliantly. For example - he describes New Orleans in the late 80's: "There's something obscenely joyful behind every door, either that or somebody crying with their head in their hands. A lazy rhythm looms in the dreamy air and the atmosphere pulsates with bygone duels, past-life romance, comrades requesting comrades to aid them in some way. You can't see it, but you know it's here. Somebody is always sinking. Everyone seems to be from some very old Southern families. Either that or a foreigner. I like the way it is." Imagine 300 pages of that kind of writing.
American Tabloid by James Ellroy, 1995
This is one of the best books I've read in years. Chris Mooney had been telling me about this book for awhile. Before I went to Asia, he bought a copy and insisted that I read it on my trip. It was a perfect read during my travels and I implore other friends to buy books for me to read on my future journeys.
The first part of a planned trilogy (the third installment is still not out), this book blew me away. It is such a guy's book though. Not that women wouldn't like this book but I can't think of one I know that would love it and I can think of plenty of men that would. This is the part Ellroy book I've read and I'd like to read more. Ellroy is most well known for writing LA Confidential. His books all dwell on the seedy underworld, mostly in LA. This one is set all over the country and traces the rise of the Kennedys all the way to the events that led to JFK's assasination. Fictional characters (undoubtedly composites of real people) mingle with the likes of Jack Ruby, the Kennedys, Jimmy Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover, and Howard Hughes.
I hesitate to use the word tapestry but that is exactly what this book is. A brilliant bloody tapestry of whores, heroin, the mafia, and brain matter. Holy fuck, what a book. I can't believe that I haven't yet started the second part of the trilogy The Cold Six Thousand. The characters are amazing, the language is all tough guy noir, I can't say enough good things about this book.
Chris Mooney, I celebrate you.
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