We were finally able to announce that the company I work for is being acquired. Thanks to regulatory rules, the long nights and weekends I worked pre-acquisition are only a warm-up for the fresh hell of the next two months. Instead of a recap for the year I want to look at my recent discoveries that have my highest recommendation for your consideration, whether to give as gifts to or in planning for your reading next year.
I’ll start with a series of books instead of an author: The Landmark Ancient Histories. For anyone wishing to discover and explore ancient history writers, you won’t do much better than this series. Last year I re-read Herodotus’ The Histories, this year I tackled Thucydides and Arrian, and I plan to read Xenophon’s Hellenika soon. The series is remarkable, providing maps, annotations, and appendices that allow you to delve into as much detail as you’d like on any or all of the works. In a conference earlier this year, series editor Robert Strassler said the upcoming editions of Polybius, Julius Caesar, and Xenophon’s Anabasis may be in the works for a while but should be released fairly close to each other.
Joseph Roth: I don’t believe I can sing the praises of The Radetzky March enough. Its complex analysis of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is told in beautiful prose and wry humor. The Legend of the Holy Drinker is a fun read (and I recommend the movie version, too), and I look forward to exploring more of Roth’s sparkling work soon.
Vasily Grossman: Life and Fate is a sprawling look at good and evil within man and the choices he makes. Set during the Battle of Stalingrad, Grossman provides an unflinching appraisal of fascism and communism, their similarities in restricting man’s freedom and perverting his spirit. Even in such a bleak setting Grossman emphasizes hope as long as “what is human in human beings” exists, weakness as well as strength, is allowed to flourish. If you get a chance to listen to the BBC4 Radio dramatization of Life and Fate, do so—it’s a notable adaptation. It may be a while before I get to more of Grossman’s work but I definitely intend to explore.
Bohumil Hrabal: Too Loud a Solitude was a fun romp with plenty to chew on regarding the role of literature in life, censorship and its consequences, and the joy of subversion. Hrabal defies easy categorization because of the book’s uneasy ambivalence about the role of man in the future. I already have I Served the King of England on hold and plan on reading more of his work next year.
If you're looking for additional ideas on books or authors, feel free to scroll back for more of my recommendations or click the blog links in the sidebar (and don't forget their links)--you'll find plenty to choose from in many different styles, formats, and genres.