Via @james3neal in my Twitter feed: The Guardian's list of 100 greatest non-fiction books. We love these lists, probably because they incite us to challenge them and think of the alternatives, and the Guardian at least is up front in encouraging us to do so:
but there's bound to be the odd omission.
Yikes... a bit of confident British understatement, that! Still... not many of us will read the comments proposing those alternatives (414 when I looked).
Such lists are also inclined to make us (well, me, anyway) feel ignorant, by virtue of the small number of items that I've actually read, even though I can see many on the list that have almost certainly had their influence. I took the smallest measure of consolation in at least recognizing the ironic error in the list -- McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage. Or perhaps they are toying with us?
My commentary on the ones that I have, or almost have, read:
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
This book actually marked my first real understanding of man as destroyer, and the foolishly optimistic notion that reason might be the antidote.
Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (1970)
I didn't actually read this, but I heard Terkel tell many stories from it on the radio.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
I think I read this, but I was stoned at the time.
The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976)
I didn't read this, but Marguerite did about the time that our children were enchantable, and spoke fluently of it.
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)
Like many, I read parts of this, and understood parts of it (I think). My first real engagement with recursion.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
FInally... one that I can say I read and remember with stunning clarity. And visiting the house in Amsterdam... goodness.
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)
In philosophy class. Water off a duck's back.
The Double Helix by James Watson (1968)
I'm so old, I actually knew someone who had a date with James Watson. I think the Life magazine redux of this theory was probably as influential as the Sputnik scare in promoting science education in America.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
OK, I think I read this, but I know I saw the movie. Sharon Nicholson wanted to see it, and I agreed against my better judgement. It contains the single most traumatic scene in my movie history, and I wish I'd never... yeah, I bet you know the one.
News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996)
I have no knowledge of this book at all, but Marquez is magical, and I learned from his autobiography (Living to Tell the Tale), that Love in the Time of Cholera, which I love, is actually about the love of his parents. Non fiction without excessive obeisance to facts.
Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000)
Wow... I don't even know this book, but I hoped to write it next year... or at least sail the route in my own boat. This goes to the head of the reading list.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962)
A huge impact, this one. Old theoreticians never change their minds... they just die.
A koi in a pond on the Izu Peninsula.