Review by Bill Doughty
The trouble with a book that recommends 1,000 books for your bucket-list is this: What prism is the editor/compiler looking through.
"A Thousand Books to Read Before You Die" (Workman Publishing, 2018, New York, NY) is a beautiful book offering an impressive spectrum of colorful titles and great authors.
You'll find great writers and thinkers like Isaac Asimov, Ulysses S. Grant, Maya Angelou, Stephen J. Gould, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Oliver Sacks, Homer, Dorothy Parker, D.H. Lawrence, J.K. Rowling, Jon Krakauer and Agatha Christie.
There are a relative handful of selected books that would appeal to Navy readers, including Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October," Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," Shelby Foote's "The Civil War," Robert Hughes's "The Fatal Shore," William Manchester's "Goodbye Darkness," John Keegan's "The Face of Battle," David McCullough's "Truman," David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest," Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," Joseph's Heller's "Catch-22" and Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game":
"...Just try to put it down. Tracing Ender's path to Battle School – a space center in which the best and the brightest children are trained for high-tech war – and, ultimately, to Command School, on the edge of the interstellar front lines. Orson Scott Card's novel is riveting... Ender's fierce initiation reveals his unparalleled gifts for warfare. As the stakes mount, the simulated battles he dominates are transformed from complex and dangerous games into sinister – and spectacular – realities."Author James Mustich features his one thousand books, mentions many others and merely names a slew of extras. In other words, there are thousands of books discussed in this readable, interesting and hefty offering: a beautiful book about books.
So, what's the problem?
|BM3 Ivan Naranjo reads aboard USS Anchorage (LPD 23), 2018. Photo by MC3 Ryan M. Breeden|
I mean, Anne Rice? Moss Hart's show business autobiography? Richard Ford's adventures in making artisan bread and pizza? "Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France"? "When French Women Cook"? "Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris"? "The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth"?
Mustich, a New York bookseller with an apparent deep love of fashion, fine dining, Broadway, the Big Apple, Provence and France, all but admits his bias and certainly is upfront about his selections not being perfect. "Hot dogs to haute cuisine," as he says. But if comfort foods of literature are allowed, where are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mario Puzo, Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey?
Stephen King gets "Carrie" and "11/22/1963," but where are "The Stand," "The Shining" and "Cujo"?
Overall, Mustich does a pretty good job of ensuring diversity, including different age groups and interests – both fiction and non-fiction; poetry and philosophy; youth and adult; U.S. and international; escapist and pay-attention-this-is-important.
The Bhagavad Gita, Bible and The Book of Job find themselves co-located, thanks to alphabetical listings, as are Plato, Pliny the Younger and Plutarch. Shakespeare is the overall winner in number of works listed, with 13 titles.
Nice surprises include personal favorites such as Gould's "The Panda's Thumb," Loren Eiseley's "The Immense Journey," Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," Richard Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene," "Portable Dorothy Parker," Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters," "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," Carl Sagan's "Dragons of Eden," Edward O. Wilson's "The Naturalist," and Charles Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle."
Thankfully there's a heavy helping of science, including Thomas's wonderful collection of essays, "The Lives of a Cell":
"Every genre has its native charms, and the allure of the essay is its easy way with rumination. In the best examples of the form, the essayist communicates not just learning, but thinking, inviting the reader to share the satisfactions of a mind at play on a field of observation or experience. When an essay's author is as masterful as Lewis Thomas, it can shine like a jewel, glittering with truths small and large."But where are shining lights by Christopher Hitchens, Steven Covey, Desmond Morris ("The Naked Ape"), John Hersey ("Hiroshima"), Thomas Paine ("The Age of Reason"), Steven Pinker, William Zinsser, Mary Roach, Craig Symonds, Jared Diamond, Nathaniel Philbrick, Erik Larson, James D. Hornfischer, Hector Hugh Munro a.k.a. Saki, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Friedman, Noah Yuval Harari and Stephen Hawking?
It's a tragedy that Mary Roach and Hope Jahren ("Lab Girl") are missing.
So many great authors are left on forgotten shelves, so many books. It can be difficult to choose any individual one. That's where a book like this can help. Perhaps there will be more versions of "1,000 Books to Read" – even someday "1,000 Navy Books to Read."
|Bazelon, Richardson and Plotz of Slate's Political Gabfest.|
Plotz said this about editor Mustich: "He's a reader of such joy and bouyancy. ... He has a real knack for recognizing what in a book is wonderful ... He's a spirit you'll want to spend time with."
And Plotz said this about the book itself: "Over 948 magnificent pages, well-illustrated. The familiar and the highly unfamiliar ... It's so much fun."
Gabfest's John Dickerson said, "So, does that make it a thousand and one?"
The best endorsement may be through the prism of writer, historian, producer Ken Burns: "If you've ever doubted that books were the greatest invention of all time, and that they carry within them our collective memories and dreams as well as any semblance of intelligence we have as a species, pick up this book and start reading."