“The Best Books You Haven’t Read,” from The American Conservative

November 14th, 2009

Source: “The Best Books You Haven’t Read,” from The American Conservative, 1 December 2009 issue (http://amconmag.com/article/2009/dec/01/00018//).

Kevin Michael Derby passed along the link to this article, in which 15 conservative writers, critics, and academics offer their nominations of worthy books their readers have probably overlooked. As seems to be typical of such efforts, there are intriguingly novel titles–and a few that leave any true fan of neglected books wondering if the nominator’s sole criterion is that the book’s not currently on an end cap display at Waldenbooks. How else could Jeffrey Hart suggest that Winesburg, Ohio is underappreciated?

Some of the more interesting titles and comments from the article:

Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945, 2nd Edition, by John Wheeler-Bennett

Nominated by Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons and a senior editor at The National Interest: “No doubt it’s been superseded in many areas by the latest scholarship. But what Wheeler-Bennett possesses, in contrast to many of his successors, is the ability to transform the corruption of the army by the Nazis into a beautifully written, tense drama, complete with majestic and convincing judgments about the individuals who speeded or tried to resist Germany’s descent into totalitarianism… Once opened, Wheeler-Bennett’s massive history is almost impossible to put down.”

Roger’s Profanisaurus, from the pages of Viz magazine

Nominated by Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn and author of Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family and The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War. “The Profanisaurus is essentially a dictionary of filthy words and idioms compiled with so much cleverness, wit, and complicated cross-referencing that the reader who consults it for one definition finds himself browsing indefinitely. Profanisaurus brings tears to my eyes and is honestly the funniest, most enlightening, and most enlightened book I know.” Viz, which makes Mad magazine look prim, is the most successful humor magazine in the U. K. (a sample from a recent issue: “A Kettering Man’s Appeal to Space Aliens: ‘Please Leave My Arse Alone!'”). Which is one reason why this volume is probably most often found in the one-seater library. U. K. readers may be happy to learn that a paperback version of the book has recently been released with the title, Magna Farta.

The American Beaver and His Works, by Lewis Henry Morgan

Nominated by Peter W. Wood, author of A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. “It is what it sounds like: detailed observations on a bucktoothed rodent that devotes itself to hydraulic engineering. The writing is anything but fanciful. Morgan was a serious man with a scientific purpose. But his book grows and grows from mere external characteristics of beavers to a fugue on beaver dams and lodges, culminating in a chapter on ‘manifestations of the animal mind.’ He ultimately sees the beaver not just as a creature of instinct but as a ‘reasoning’ animal.” You can purchase this book from several print-on-demand houses, but why not just download it yourself from the Internet Archive?

The London Dialogues, by David Hirst

Nominated by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Easily the rarest title on the list–unavailable from anyone but the author (David Hirst, 24 Kidmore Road, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, RG4 7LU, England). “About 30 years ago, I gave a rave review to a book called The London Dialogues, which, in spite of most profoundly and originally addressing all the important issues of this or any other age—love, property, beauty, art, science, sex, equality, populism, race—has scarcely been read at all. The trouble is that the author, David Hirst, did not so much contradict all the current intellectual fashions as rise above them, or rather look down upon them. The effect on me was like breathing fresh air—immensely bracing and refreshing if shockingly politically incorrect.” I’m assuming this is the same David Hirst who once wrote for the Guardian and published one of the best-regarded books on the politics of the Middle East, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East.

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