Editor's Choices

• The Age of Reason, by Harold Nicholson

An entertaining survey of 18th Century history through profiles of such figures as Saint-Simon, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Paine.

Augustus Carp, Esq., by Henry Howarth Bashford

The mock autobiography of a Victorian prig and one of the funniest books ever written.

The Barkeep of Blemont, by Marcel Ayme

A clear-eyed but warm-hearted picture of a town in France dealing with the wounds of life after the Occupation.

Brewster’s Millions, by George McCutcheon

The source of the much-filmed story of a man who inherits a fortune–but has to spend it all within 30 days.

Caspar Hauser, by Jakob Wassermann

A remarkably sensitive and accurate account of the mysterious figure who appeared on the streets of Nürnberg, Germany in 1828.

David Hume, by J.Y.T. Greig

A lively, irreverent, and unabashedly opinionated biography of the great Scottish philosopher.

The Death of the Detective, by Mark Smith

Depending on your perspective, an over-written mess or one of the most amazing American novels of the last forty years.

De Vriendt Goes Home, by Arnold Zweig

A Jewish intellectual is murdered in Palestine in the early 1930s. Is it for love, honor, revenge, or politics? A story still resonant over 70 years later.

The Eighth Day, by Thornton Wilder

Wilder’s most ambitious novel, at once both a detailed account of American life at the turn of the century and a meditation on the spirituality of man.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Stefan Zweig

A portrait of the first great European, by one of the great Europeans of the 20th century. Its words carry added weight when you realize that Zweig committed suicide in 1942 in despair for the civilization he loved and celebrated.

The Gay Place, by Billy Lee Brammer

The best American political novel–the only one to take a balanced view of the true art involved in the art of compromise.

Heaven’s My Destination, by Thornton Wilder

A wonderful and sorely neglected comic gem about a man who would be a saint–if only other people would let him.

History in English Words, by Owen Barfield

Barfield succeeds in convincing us that the etymology of a word like “electricity” or “town” can allow us to glimpse the world through the eyes of people from centuries ago. One of the most mind-opening books I’ve ever read.

Jew Suss, by Lion Feuchtwanger

A terrific story of politics, money, power, and racism that’s been woefully neglected, due it part to its misuse as the basis for one of the most notorious propaganda films to come out of Nazi Germany.

The Last of Philip Banter, by John Franklin Bardin

One of a remarkable trilogy of psychological thrillers from the late 1940s.

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossmann

THE great Russian novel of World War Two–a powerful, dramatic, and profoundly moving work whose title and author should be as recognizable as War and Peace and Solzhenitzen.

Money, by Emile Zola

100 years before Enron, Zola portrays the boom and bust of a speculative business empire at the height of Napoleon III’s reign.

Mortal Leap, by MacDonald Harris

Harris’ second novel, a classic story of one man taking over another’s identity. On the surface, it’s a fine mystery; but more than that, it’s an illustration of how one’s identity is as much dependent upon the collaboration of others as on one’s own work.

Murphy’s Romance, by Max Schott

Made into a decent movie starring James Garner and Sally Field back in the mid-1980s, this novel is far better: wise, funny, gentle, and written in a fine, terse Western style. The movie is available on DVD: the book is scarce and commands $40 and up for a good copy. Yet another thing that ain’t right with the world.

Nightmares and Geezenstacks, by Frederic Brown

A collection of comic horror tales, in the vein of John Collier and Roald Dahl

Other Ranks, by W.V. Tilsley

One of the finest novels of the First World War–perhaps the most truthful account available of trench life and warfare as seen by an ordinary soldier.

Proud Destiny, by Lion Feuchtwanger

A long and rich tapestry of characters in this account of how royalist France came to underwrite the American Revolution.

Quin’s Shanghai Tapestry, by Edward Whittemore

Whittemore packs the world’s largest collection of pornography, a one-eyed Japanese intelligence chief, an American innocent, and the rape of Nanking into wild carnival of a novel.

Reach to the Stars, by Calder Willingham

A precursor of the black humor wave of the 1960s, an account of a Hollywood hotel in the mid-1940s, interspersed with bits of science fiction. Odd, perhaps unsuccessful, but fun.

Repent in Haste, by John P. Marquand

Marquand’s slightest serious novel, dismissed by most critics–but for me, an accurate and underestimated depiction of an average young man and how he deals with the experience of service and combat.

The Secret House, by David Bodanis

A day in the life of an ordinary house–at the microscopic level. After reading this, you will never exercise the 5-second rule again.

The Sunday of Life, Raymond Queneau

“… the Sunday of life when man in humility renounces himself …”–Hegel. Wordplay, comedy, a bit of philosophy snuck into the margins, and a deep-seated love of man in all his faults. A sublime novel.

Sweet Dreams, by Michael Frayn

Truly a heavenly novel. Almost mathematical in its elegance and perfection, yet warm, comic, and tolerant of human frailties. My favorite novel.

A Very Short History of the World, by Geoffrey Blainey

A tour de force that manages to cram six millenia into a few hundred pages without a single wasted word. A marvelous piece of work.

Working with Roosevelt, by Samuel Rosenman

A fascinating account, written by FDR’s chief speechwriting helper, of the painstaking process by which Roosevelt crafted his speeches to communicate with the public and build support for his policies and legislation. Should be required reading for all Presidential candidates.

Winds of Morning, by H.L. Davis

A rich and wise book about the fading of the Old West that manages to blend mystery, romance, Bildungsroman, and nature and yet result in something much greater than any of these ingredients alone.

Young Woman of 1914, by Arnold Zweig

Two young lovers in Germany in the early years of the First World War. Notable for one of the very earliest and most realistic accounts of abortion to be found in fiction. The relationship survives it and no one goes to hell.

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