Reading List

I’ve just finished Jon Meacham’s biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. I was struck by the incredible ‘right place, right time’ aspect of Jefferson’s life and came away with a powerful sense of gratitude.

I’m thankful he was here, in America, when he was. Our country might never had existed without him, and if it had gone on without his contributions, it might have been very different than it is today. His skill at drafting the Declaration of Independence, his diplomatic efforts in France, his steady hand at the helm during his presidency, his shrewd Louisiana Purchase, his founding of the University of Virginia, and his contribution of his own personal library to start the Library of Congress show an able politician and a profound thinker.

The thing I like best, however, is his reference to coffee as the favorite drink of the civilized world. 

As I enjoy a cup of my own at Le Procope, a local Parisian eatery established in 1686, I always sit street-side, under a brass plaque donated by a Virginia historical society of some sort, noting that Mr. Jefferson himself dined here during his days as a diplomat. As I sip (of course!) an Americano, I try to suck in some of his wisdom, with mixed results. The walls, cluttered with portraits of the great men and women who’ve dined and debated here, positively drip with history. I love it. (I think Keith, one of our regular readers and a fellow gentleman from Virginia, would enjoy it, too.)

I’m presently in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which chronicles his early days in Paris, hanging out with Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. The great writer’s sentences sometimes seem to be punched into the page with a staple gun, composed like a run-on ransom note with hardly a comma or adjective in sight. It’s an interesting style, but it gets old quickly. The fascinating part is reading how little some parts of Paris have changed, 100 years later.

On deck is Henry James’ The Ambassadors, supposedly one of his three great literary masterpieces, again set in Paris. We’ll see how that goes.

So give us a rundown of your latest literary adventures and, briefly, what you think of them. It’s always good to hear about what you’re reading. And I’m glad you’re reading.


  • BGT


28 thoughts on “Reading List

  1. Try Noah Feldman’s Three Lives of James Madison. It’s without question the most thorough biography of him written!

  2. I’m currently reading “A Gentleman in Moscow.” Excellent so far. I also recently finished “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which I also recommend.

  3. With it being Great Lent, I’m reading certain books geared in that particular direction. I’ve finished, Songs of Praise, A Devotional for Orthodox Women. I’m currently reading: Words of the Heart. It is the biography of Gerondissa Makrina Vassopoulou a nun who lived in Greece. Our parish also has a ladies’ group who gets together to read. We are at the tail end of reading; Living Without Hypocrisy. They are all excellent resources for living a Christian life albeit, at times difficult to read… sometimes it feels as if one is plodding through them rather than reading them. And of course, various prayer books, etc.

  4. I am teaching my 5 year old to read, so we enjoy a couple basic books each evening, and I read him “Henry and Mudge” books, by Cynthia Rylant. He enjoys tackling “hard” books and then relaxing while I read to him. I am also enjoying reading the classics with my 7 year old – E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Narnia books, etc. Reading with my children is my greatest joy in my every day life these days. And for me, as a teacher, Striving to Thriving, a book about teaching and encouraging new readers was a favorite lately. It’s my 1st year back at teaching in 6 years, so it’s been about 5 “how to teach” books the past 6 months.

  5. I recommend a remarkable travel journal, “Europe in the Looking Glass”, by Robert Byron. What a great adventure in 1920s Europe, and incredibly written by a 21 year old. It’s funny and hard to believe how much the world has changed in a relatively short time.

  6. I am reading a book called Once and Forever by Kenji Miyazawa with a cup of my favorite coffee made with a Chemex, with a bit of real cream from the farmers market and La Perruche sugar cubes.

  7. Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle. Amazing how it was written two thousand years ago, and has never been outdated.

    Jefferson read it. Unfortunately, the meaning of the Declaration no longer seems to be properly understood. For instance, happiness, in the Aristotelian sense, isn’t about satisfaction, but the result of good moral character.

    Today, emphasis is put on liberty, rather than on what we could (should?) achieve with it.
    We’re free not to pursue good moral character. We’re free to have children and not provide them proper education. We’re free to study and work hard, solely to achieve success.

    To quote Mortimer J. Adler:

    “Parents are largely at fault I think. The average American parent thinks he [sic] is doing a great thing by scrimping and saving to send his boy or girl to college. We’ve placed a high value on education. Then, if you ask the parent why he’s doing all that to send his son or daughter to college, he’ll give you the wrong answer. He’ll say: “To get a job, to get ahead in the world and make a lot of money”. I say that a young person who goes to college for the wrong reason, would have been better off not to have gone at all. And most young people go to college for the wrong reason or are sent there by their parents for the wrong reason”.

    (“Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: The Idea of The Great Ideas”)

  8. Interestingly, I’m reading Roger Knight’s biography, “The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson” — the other side of the gunport, so to speak, to your Thomas Jefferson I’m afraid!

    What I most enjoy about this kind of historical biography is that, even though the book is “about” one person, that person’s life in many ways acts a lens through which we can look at, and understand, a particular period in history.

    For example, the part I’m reading at the moment talks of how Nelson and his fellow captains in the West Indies would capture American merchant ships. It wasn’t about the prize money. There was a deep conviction, among Royal Navy captains, that since the American colonies turned their back on the Empire, they should no longer be able to profit by trading with its remaining colonies.

    Britain’s relationship with the United States is very different now, thank goodness, but it’s interesting to read of a period when we were hostile with one another.

    I recently read a two-volume history of the Rothschild family. Again, as fascinating as it was to read about that extraordinary family, what I found most enriching was learning about the struggles and balance of Europe’s five powers — and the role that the Rothschilds (Europe’s “sixth power”) played at critical junctures.

    My wife’s country was founded, literally, around a Rothschild dinner table after the Crimean War. As you might expect, they didn’t teach that in her history classes!

  9. Just finished Alienated America by Timothy Carney. Documents that it takes family, friends and meaningful connections to live the good life. About half way through Old Money, New Woman, How to Manage Your Money and Your Life.

  10. Because I have a sequencing form of dyslexia I do not read non-fiction books very often. Instead I watch documentaries or take trips. My family just returned from 9 days in Italy and the enormity of the Coliseum, the beautiful simplicity of the Basilica of St. Francis and the amazing preservation of Pompeii made history come to life for us. I stood in the ruins of Pompeii and wondered what the people were doing when Vesuvious exploded and what they would have changed if they’d known the end was near. We also visited the birthplace of my great-great grandfather, a small town on the island of Sicily which allowed me to see a glimpse of his life.

  11. “I read old books because I would rather learn from those who built civilisation than those who tore it down.”

  12. Just finished “The Prince” by Machiavelli. Great read and he is not as evil as his reputation. He actually just pragmatic. Before that I finished 577 pages of “Capital in the 21st Century.” By Thomas Pickety, a French economist. I found the work to be extremely insightful and one of the best reads of my life for the first two thirds. The last third was one of the worst reads of my life since his solutions to wealth/labor inequality requires very aggressive taxes on wealth which I find problematic for Old Money. Perhaps this economist should just explore more people to adopt old monied values and maybe it would level the playing field. Overall, I strongly recommend both books. Very good reads by brilliant men, even if I disagree at times. Currently reading “Pragmatic Capitalism” which good but nothing I didn’t already have a firm grasp of. I am also reading “Bonds: the unbeaten path to secure investment growth” by Hilda’s and Stan Richelson. Another excellent read even if you don’t believe everything they have to say.

  13. I read so many things at once but they all seem to get finished not too far down the line…

    Currently is How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan (the use of psychotherapy and psychedelic substances to ease and prepare the minds of the terminally ill among other populations that may see benefit from these things)

    At your recommendation I am about a quarter of the way through the The Art of Power by Meacham. It is absolutely incredible. This is especially true since I live in Virginia and many of the places mentioned are in my back yard.

    Finally Robert Greene’s latest work: The Laws of Human Nature. I always love his works and his method for writing books (which typically involves reading 200-300 books on the topic before even starting).

  14. Byron, we must have similar tastes! I think I mentioned when you first discussed the Thomas Jefferson biography that I enjoyed it too. More recently, I have also being trying to make my way through A Moveable Feast (your description of the experience is spot on).

    Like some others here, I have a few books on the go at the same time. Currently I’m reading and listening to (same time, with a purpose) a book of French Short Stories for Beginners. It’s humbling! I am enjoying the challenge; it’s mental exercise.

    I have the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo ready to go (I listen while driving to work) so was glad to see it recommended here.

    And like Janet, I’m somewhere in the middle of Old Money, New Woman. I raced ahead and read the parts that covered my favourite topics first and have now gone back to the beginning to read/reread again. Because the book addresses some topics chronologically, being a certain age means this involves considering some past decisions and trying not to wince at the memories! 😉

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