The History of the Peloponnesian War c. 433-411 BC
It's a wonderful read, densely packed with too much information and strangely modern insights into the roots of war, the selfish motivations of all involved, the difficulty of maintaining honor under any circumstances and how much more difficult it is under the pressures and deceits of war. That's just to scratch the surface.
I'd been warned off of Thucydides back when I was a student, can only recall reading what seemed to be a totally opaque excerpt in a
Well. This 1954 translation by Rex Warner is nothing short of magical. The work strikes me much as reading the Ancient Greek playwrights did somewhat later in my education. It's like opening a window, breathing a fresh or noxious breeze, but whatever the case, facing something true about the universal human condition.
Two thumbs up, but be prepared to spend lots of time...
Jean H. Mariéjol
Philip II -- the First Modern King, 1933
I picked this one out of a used book bin a couple of years ago. It's a first edition that had belonged to a professor at UC Berkeley. His notes and marginalia, written in a tiny, beautiful hand, mostly in brown ink, some written in Arabic, add to the remarkable nature of the work itself.
What's remarkable about it, in part, is its perspective on the Philip and events in Europe during his reign. What we Anglo-Americans "know" about Philip and that entire period of history is almost entirely filtered through an English prism. Philip was married to Mary Tudor, aka "Bloody Mary", who tried to reimpose Papism on Britain after she ascended the throne following the deaths of her father Henry VIII and her half-brother Edward VI. She would die as Queen of England, etc., while married to Philip II, who was at the time styled King of both England and Spain. Though you wouldn't know that from most of the history books. Then Philip would send the Armada against Mary's successor Elizabeth and face utter defeat. Thus, Spain's power was broken, and Elizabeth Regina sat unchallenged atop the mountain, Shakespeare wrote some plays, and All's Well That Ends Well. Exeuent stage right.
Mariéjol looks at the picture from a distinctly Continental point of view, barely acknowledging the English episodes in Philip's reign, and explores in enormous and often bloody detail the situation on the Continent -- in Spain, Portugal, France, Austria, the Low Countries, the Papal States, and details endlessly complex dealings with the Ottomans and North Africa.
Looked at from perspective of the whole scope of Philip's duties, authority, and reign, the English episodes are for all intents and purposes a sideshow.
And the story of what was going on in Europe, much of it the consequence of dynastic interrelations between the Hapsburgs of Austria and everyone else, is a tale of almost inconceivable destruction and bloodshed, monstrous cruelty exercised on behalf of privilege, religion, and pride.
Bad as things were under Spanish rule in the Americas, it was no better, and arguably worse, in Europe.
And this was the "first modern king?" Oh my god.
Fascinating for the insight and perspective it brings to the history of the 16th Century, and for what insight that history can shed on our own struggles.
Two thumbs up but be prepared for the worst that humans can conceive of.
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung -- aka "The Little Red Book", Peking, 1967
In San Francisco back in those days, China Books and Periodicals over on 24th Street was a destination for all thinking radicals, and for some tourists, too, who wanted to "see for themselves" what the Great International Communist Conspiracy looked like. It was a remarkable place, bright and sunfilled, with extremely orderly displays of periodicals, shelves of books (not a lot of them, though, as I recall), in English, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and other languages, and a very... interesting... staff deeply committed to the Revolution (and at the time, the Cultural Revolution as well, also). I think you could even get "Mao Jackets" and caps at the store.
The shop was registered as a Foreign Agent, and I seem to recall a prominent notice to that effect greeting everyone who entered.
It is no doubt obvious that there isn't much Communist literature in my personal library. I have not studied Communist theory and I don't intend to. Oddly enough, The Little Red Book demonstrates why, as did some of the other things I picked up at China Books and Periodicals. I have some copies of "China Today", for example, the glossy magazine published by the People's Republic and distributed to English speaking lands and peoples, and like nearly all Communist propaganda at the time, it was ludicrous. On its face, it was utterly ludicrous, something that should have been obvious to anyone (much as, if the truth be known, "Life" and "Look" magazines were pretty ludicrous, too.) Communist theory had a certain appeal to those who were convinced a better collective future was possible, but the impact of the propaganda claiming it was "Here!" was just the opposite of the intent.
Mao's quotations, even in the context of the times, seem deeply naive on the one hand, and grossly anachronistic on the other. If they seemed that way then, just imagine how they seem now. It is little wonder China has all but abandoned Communism for a highly idiosyncratic nationalist version of Capitalism -- Usually With A Human Face, But Sometimes Not. Mao is revered as a Founder, but his thought, well, the less said about that the better, and China Books and Periodicals of (now South) San Francisco no longer sells "The Little Red Book" -- and the staff would probably feign ignorance if you asked after it.
Ché says read it anyway. You gots ta know.
Elsewhere I've posted about the seemingly limitless number of books I've collected and perversely hold on to. I haven't added any since Christmas when I used a Borders Gift Card to get me the one new book I was hankering after. I have never counted and have barely organized the books I have, but I estimate altogether around 12,000 volumes, some pretty old (the earliest are two volumes of the "Poetical Register" from 1801 and 1802), some said to be "valuable" (mostly illustrated children's volumes), some sets of encyclopedias from the 1920's, '30's and '40's, many books on art, some on the sciences, certain categories of literature and plays (Shakespeare, Hemingway, Williams and so forth), novels by selected contemporary writers, thousands of National Geographics dating back to around 1907, some religious tomes, including Holy Writ from Islam, Catholic and Protestant Xtianity, the Jooz, some Buddhist and Hindu stuff, the Dao, etc, etc, anthropology and archeology (primarily of the Americas -- though I've got a whole shelf of King Tut books), a smattering of sociology, history of all kinds, travel -- oh my god, the Travel Section! -- and cook books by the hundreds, lots of home improvement and how to books, and here and there a few political tracts and tomes. But not many of those. Too depressing.
Part of the reason for my bibliophilia is due to my sense that books -- as in physical volumes that you can hold and touch and read by flipping actual pages -- are disappearing. They are actual historical objects. And they contain the documentation of historical periods no matter what the ostensible topic is. This is why they are preserved, at least some of them, through all the ages since writing was first figured out. An electronic book is all well and good (and I have hundreds of those as well), but if we continue to revert as we seem to be doing, there will come a time when those electronic books are no longer accessible to the masses. Either the technology will fail (how many of us, for example, have documents on floppy disks that we can't access or read any more?) or restrictions on access will prevent more than a few Adepts from acquiring the Knowledge therein. So. I keep building my library. With the thought that one day, it will serve a greater purpose than my private interest and pleasure.