A book of Zen, in every respect: one of the great cross-cultural minds translates, and exemplifies, what is for me the most nourishing tradition of Asia.
I read this at a very traumatic point in my life, along with Kierkegaard's equally appropriate Fear and Trembling. Both, and The New Testament, taught me there are things you have to live with, and die with, and possibly transcend. Ironically, Becker, a professor at Simon Fraser University, died at 53. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and lives.
Less well-known than The Female Eunuch; more irascible, contentious, contestable; greater. Greer's witty scholarly treatise on "the politics of fertility" threw many of her followers for a loop; but it's what I read of her first, and it reassured me that being a feminist didn't necessarily mean being platitudinous and dull.
The book on Central America, and one of the essential human documents of the 20th century.
I love almost all Orwell - even the early minor novels; even the biographies that reveal what an odd sort he really was. This collection has an essay ("Shooting An Elephant") that you probably read in high school. It has a few others that are indispensable to the intellectual history of the twentieth century: "Politics and the English Language" supreme among them. Orwell said good prose should be like a windowpane; he taught me to polish. (Note: this volume is now out of print; the link above is to a broad collection of Orwell's essays which includes "Inside the Whale."
This is my friend John Margesson's favourite, too.
The fiery polemicist in the early years was matched by the rare craftsman of these "political and historical essays" (as the sub-title reads). Thirty years later they can be read for the pleasure of the language as well as for the purity of the polemic. Like Orwell, inspiring for the moral honesty and clarity that imbues every page; and as literature.
Together with Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle, Hirst's book aroused me to the atrocity that was the Israeli war in Lebanon (1982). Disillusioning, as all great books are, but also the work of a distinguished journalist who understands (as does David Shipler in Arab and Jew) that your convictions must never blind you.
Ruled my nightmares in the 1980s, and makes me wonder whether the breather I gave myself in the '90s was a cop-out.
A radiant little book, almost unknown today. Usefully read alongside Theodore M. Roszak, The Making of A Counter-Culture.
(Praeger, 1990). In which a consummately liberal professor of philosophy at the University of Alberta, with no personal interest in porn, chose to counter the prevailing fascist critique of the 1980s, and emerged with a crystalline 200-page essay, rigourously informed and written, which never attracted an iota of the attention paid to Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon. Read it before or after either of them, but read it. (Note: Unfortunately, you'll have to dig through libraries and used bookstores to find it.
Okay, a confession: I still haven't finished it. The indefatigable Camille needs to be sampled in short bursts, the way she talks; and if you've never read or seen what she's going on about, it can be exhausting. But the first hundred pages or so (of the 700-plus) are essential, and what greater pleasure with any intellectual than to sample selectively from the banquet that remains?
(All men, I see. Oh well.)
Created by Adam Jones, 1998. No copyright claimed for non-commercial use if source is acknowledged.
Last updated: 10 October 2000.