Thursday, March 30, 2006

The National Review 100

"Earlier this year, Random House announced that it would release a list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. The publisher had enjoyed success (and controversy) with its 100 best novels; now it would do this. Here at National Review, we decided to get a jump on them by forming our own panel and offering our own list. Under the leadership of our reporter John J. Miller, we have done so. We have used a methodology that approaches the scientific. But-certainly beyond, say, the first 40 books-the fact of the books' presence on the list is far more important than their rankings. We offer a comment from a panelist after many of the books; but the panel overall, not the individual quoted, is responsible for the ranking. So, here is our list, for your enjoyment, mortification, and stimulation."


Richard Brookhiser, NR senior editor
David Brooks, senior editor of The Weekly Standard
Christopher Caldwell, senior writer at The Weekly Standard
Robert Conquest, historian
David Gelernter, writer and computer scientist
George Gilder, writer
Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School
Jeffrey Hart, NR senior editor
Mark Helprin, novelist
Arthur Herman, author of The Idea of Decline in Western History
John Keegan, military historian
Michael Kelly, editor of National Journal
Florence King, author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
Michael Lind, journalist and novelist
John Lukacs, historian
Adam Meyerson, vice president at the Heritage Foundation
Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things
John O'Sullivan, NR editor-at-large
Richard Pipes, historian
Abigail Thernstrom, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute
Stephan Thernstrom, historian
James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense.

1. Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War.
Brookhiser: "The big story of the century, told by its major hero."

2. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago.
Neuhaus: "Marked the absolute final turning point beyond which nobody could deny the evil of the Evil Empire."

3. Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia.
Herman: "Orwell's masterpiece -- far superior to Animal Farm and 1984. No education in the meaning of the 20th century is complete without it."

4. Hayek, F. A. von. The Road to Serfdom.
Helprin: "Shatters the myth that the totalitarianisms 'of the Left' and 'of the Right' stem from differing impulses."

5. Orwell, George. Collected Essays.
King: "Every conservative's favorite liberal and every liberal's favorite conservative. This book has no enemies."

6. Popper, Karl. The Open Society and Its Enemies.
Herman: "The best work on political philosophy in the 20th century. Exposes totalitarianism's roots in Plato, Hegel, and Marx."

7. Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man.
Brookhiser: "How modern philosophies drain meaning and the sacred from our lives."

8. Gasset, José Ortega y. Revolt of the Masses.
Gilder: "Prophesied the 20th century's debauchery of democracy and science, the barbarism of the specialist, and the inevitable fatuity of public opinion. Explained the genius of capitalist elites."

9. Hayek, F. A. von. The Constitution of Liberty.
O'Sullivan: "A great re-statement for this century of classical liberalism by its greatest modern exponent."

10. Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom.

11. Johnson, Paul. Modern Times.
Herman: "Huge impact outside the academy, dreaded and ignored inside it."

12. Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism in Politics.
Herman: "Oakeshott is the 20th century's Edmund Burke."

13. Schumpeter, Joseph A.. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.
Caldwell: "Locus classicus for the observation that democratic capitalism undermines itself through its very success."

14. Weber, Max. Economy and Society.
Lind: "Weber made permanent contributions to the understanding of society with his discussions of comparative religion, bureaucracy, charisma, and the distinctions among status, class, and party."

15. Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism.
Caldwell: "Through Nazism and Stalinism, looks at almost every pernicious trend in the last century's politics with stunning subtlety."

16. West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.
Kelly: "For its writing, not for its historical accuracy."

17. Wilson, Edward O. Sociobiology.
Lind: "Darwin put humanity in its proper place in the animal kingdom. Wilson put human society there, too."

18. II, Pope John Paul. Centissimus Annus.

19. Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium.
Neuhaus: "The authoritative refutation of utopianism of the left, right, and points undetermined."

20. Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl.
Helprin: "An innocent's account of the greatest evil imaginable. The most powerful book of the century. Others may not agree. No matter, I cast my lot with this child."
Caldwell: "If one didn't know her fate, one might read it as the reflections of any girl. That one does know her fate makes this as close to a holy book as the century produced."

21. Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror.
Herman: "Documented for the first time the real record of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. A genuine monument of historical research and reconstruction, a true epic of evil."

22. Muggeridge, Malcolm. Chronicles of Wasted Time.
Gilder: "The best autobiography, Christian confession, and historic meditation of the century."

23. Einstein, Albert. Relativity.
Lind: "The most important physicist since Newton."

24. Chambers, Whittaker. Witness.
Caldwell: "Confession, history, potboiler -- by a man who writes like the literary giant we would know him as, had not Communism got him first."

25. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

26. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity.
Neuhaus: "The most influential book of the most influential Christian apologist of the century."

27. Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community.

28. ed., 11th. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Helprin: "The infinite riches of the world, presented with elegance, confidence, and economy."

29. Mitchell, Joseph. Up in the Old Hotel.

30. Chesterton, G. K.. The Everlasting Man.
Lukacs: "A great carillonade of Christian verities."

31. Chesterton, G. K.. Orthodoxy.
O'Sullivan: "How to look at the Christian tradition with fresh eyes."

32. Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination.
Hart: "The popular form of liberalism tends to simplify and caricature when it attempts moral aspiration -- that is, it tends to 'Stalinism.'"

33. Watson, James D.. The Double Helix.
Herman: "Deeply hated by feminists because Watson dares to suggest that the male-female distinction originated in nature, in the DNA code itself."

34. Feynman, Richard Phillips. The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
Gelernter: "Outside of art (or maybe not), physics is mankind's most beautiful achievement; these three volumes are probably the most beautiful ever written about physics."

35. Wolfe, Tom. Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.
O'Sullivan: "Wolfe is our Juvenal."

36. Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays.

37. Banfield, Edward C.. The Unheavenly City.
Neuhaus: "The volume that began the debunking of New Deal socialism and its public-policy consequences."

38. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams.

39. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

40. Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man.

41. Becker, and Ethan. Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker.

42. Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform.
Herman: "The single best book on American history in this century, bar none."

43. Keynes, John Maynard. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.
Hart: "Influential in suggesting that the business cycle can be modified by government investment and manipulation of tax rates."

44. Jr., William F. Buckley. God & Man at Yale.
Gilder: "Still correct and prophetic. It defines the conservative revolt against socialism and atheism on campus and in the culture, and reconciles the alleged conflict between capitalist and religious conservatives."

45. Eliot, T. S.. Selected Essays.
Hart: "Shaped the literary taste of the mid-century."

46. Weaver, Richard M. Ideas Have Consequences.

47. Jacobs, Jane. The Economy of Cities.

48. Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind.

49. Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America.

50. Myrdal, Gunnar. An American Dilemma.

51. Freud, Sigmund. Three Case Histories.
Gelernter: "Beyond question Freud is history's most important philosopher of the mind, and he ranks alongside Eliot as the century's greatest literary critic. Modern intellectual life (left, right, and in-between) would be unthinkable without him."

52. Wilmot, Chester. The Struggle for Europe.

53. Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought.
King: "An immensely readable history of ideas and men. (Skip the fragmentary third volume-he died before finishing it.)"

54. Huzinga, Johann. The Waning of the Middle Ages.
Lukacs: "Probably the finest historian who lived in this century. "

55. Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology.
Neuhaus: "The best summary and reflection on Christianity's encounter with the Enlightenment project."

56. Tyng, Sewell. The Campaign of the Marne.
Keegan: "A forgotten American's masterly account of the First World War in the West."

57. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Hart: "A terse summation of the analytic method of the analytic school in philosophy, and a heroic leap beyond it."

58. Lonergan, Bernard. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding.
Glendon: "The Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century."

59. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time.
Hart: "A seminal thinker, notwithstanding his disgraceful error of equating National Socialism with the experience of 'Being.'"

60. Blake, Robert. Disraeli.
Keegan: "Political biography as it should be written."

61. Babbitt, Irving. Democracy and Leadership.
King: "A conservative literary critic describes what happens when humanitarianism over takes humanism."

62. White, William Strunk & E. B.. The Elements of Style.
A. Thernstrom: "If only every writer would remember just one of Strunk & White's wonderful injunctions: 'Omit needless words.' Omit needless words."

63. Burnham, James. The Machiavellians.
O'Sullivan: "Burnham is the greatest political analyst of our century and this is his best book."

64. Pobedonostsev, Konstantin P.. Reflections of a Russian Statesman.
King: "The 'culture war' as seen by the tutor to the last two czars. A Russian Pat Buchanan."

65. Berlin, Isaiah. The Hedgehog and the Fox.

66. Genovese, Eugene D.. Roll, Jordan, Roll.
Neuhaus: "The best account of American slavery and the moral and cultural forces that undid it."

67. Pound, Ezra. The ABC of Reading.
Brookhiser: "An epitome of the aging aesthetic movement that will be forever known as modernism."

68. Keegan, John. The Second World War.
Hart: "A masterly history in a single volume."

69. Parry, Milman. The Making of Homeric Verse.
Lind: "Genuine discoveries in literary study are rare. Parry's discovery of the oral formulaic basis of the Homeric epics, the founding texts of Western literature, was one of them."

70. Wilson, Angus. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling.
Keegan: "A life of a great author told through the transmutation of his experience into fictional form."

71. Leavis, F. R.. Scrutiny.
Hart: "Enormously important in education, especially in England. Leavis understood what one kind of 'living English' is."

72. Gaulle, Charles de. The Edge of the Sword.
Brookhiser: "A lesser figure than Churchill, but more philosophical (and hence, more problematic)."

73. Freeman, Douglas Southall. R. E. Lee.
Conquest: "The finest work on the Civil War."

74. Mises, Ludwig von. Bureaucracy.

75. Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain.
Neuhaus: "A classic conversion story of a modern urban sophisticate."

76. Zweig, Stefan. Balzac.
King: "On the joys of working one's self to death. The chapter 'Black Coffee' is a masterpiece of imaginative reconstruction."

77. Lippmann, Walter. The Good Society.
Gilder: "Written during the Great Depression. A corruscating defense of the morality of capitalism."

78. Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring.
Lind: "For all the excesses of the environmental movement, the realization that human technology can permanently damage the earth's environment marked a great advance in civilization. Carson's book, more than any other, publicized this message."

79. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition.
Neuhaus: "The century's most comprehensive account of Christian teaching from the second century on."

80. Bloch, Marc. Strange Defeat.
Herman: "A great historian's personal account of the fall of France in 1940."

81. Douglas, Norman. Looking Back.
Conquest: "Fascinating memoirs of a remarkable writer."

82. Adams, Henry. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres.

83. Jarrell, Randall. Poetry and the Age.
Caldwell: "The book for showing how 20th-century poets think, what their poetry does, and why it matters."

84. Rougemont, Denis de. Love in the Western World.
Brookhiser: "What has become of eros over the last seven centuries."

85. Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind.

86. Gilder, George. Wealth and Poverty.

87. McPherson, James M.. Battle Cry of Freedom.

88. Edel, Leon. Henry James.
King: "All the James you want without having to read him."

89. White, E. B.. Essays of E. B. White.
Gelernter: "White is the apotheosis of the American liberal now spurned and detested by the Left (and the cultural mainstream). His mesmerized devotion to the objects of his affection-his family, the female sex, his farm, the English language, Manhattan, the sea, America, Maine, and freedom, in descending order-is movingly absolute."

90. Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory.

91. Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

92. Behe, Michael J.. Darwin's Black Box.
Gilder: "Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning."

93. Foote, Shelby. The Civil War.

94. Wanniski, Jude. The Way the World Works.
Gilder: "The best book on economics. Shows fatuity of still-dominant demand-side model, with its silly preoccupation with accounting trivia, like the federal budget and trade balance and savings rates, in an economy with $40 trillion or so in assets that rise and fall weekly by trillions."

95. Wilson, Edmund. To the Finland Station.
Herman: "The best single book on Karl Marx and Marx's place in modern history."

96. Clark, Kenneth. Civilisation.

97. Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution.

98. Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History.

99. Manchester, William. The Last Lion.

100. Starr, Kenneth W. The Starr Report.
Hart: "A study in human depravity."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Books to Chew On

FOR certain voracious readers, April 1 has become a red-letter day: It's the one time of the year when they get to eat books. They won't eat just any book, only those prepared especially for the occasion, known as the Edible Books Festival and celebrated in libraries, bookstores, galleries and private homes around the world. Judith A. Hoffberg, a California librarian, came up with the concept over Thanksgiving dinner back in 1999 and decided it would be best observed on April Fools' Day, which also turns out to be the birthday of the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of "The Physiology of Taste" (1825). Hoffberg describes the festival as a low-key affair: "From 2 to 4 p.m., one looks at the books, and takes photographs, and oohs and aahs. And at 4, you serve tea and serve the books."

Now in its seventh year, the Edible Books Festival has spread to 28 states and 15 other countries. In past years, much of what's been served (pictures can be found at is book-shaped cake. Other edible books might not go so well with tea, but at least you can turn pages made of sliced bread, seaweed, cold cuts, pea pods or thinly sliced rutabaga. Every once in a while, edible books get political: one West Coast environmentalist incised earth-hugging quotations into leaves of heritage lettuce, and a women's collective from Chiapas used native dyes to write "hunger" on a bunch of tortillas. Most, however, respect the foolishness of the day. Last year, Carolyn Weigel, a librarian at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, arranged strips of bacon in the shape of France — a tribute to Francis Bacon, who wrote, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

Bacon wasn't actually telling his readers to eat books, any more than Weigel, Hoffberg or other librarians taking part in the festival would suggest a patron wolf down an item from their collection. As a metaphor, book-eating (or bibliophagy, to use the five-dollar word) has flourished over the centuries, invoked by everyone from Elizabeth I, who nourished her soul on "goodlie greene herbes" plucked from the New Testament, to the television chef Tyler Florence, who titled his latest cookbook "Eat This Book." It's an attention-grabbing title (and a popular one, shared by everything from a campy 1980's diet manual to a forthcoming dispatch from the competitive-eating circuit), but Florence lets his fans off the hook. "You don't actually have to eat this book," he writes in his introduction, a point I assumed would be obvious until I read the introduction to "Don't Eat This Book" (2005) by the director of "Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock: "We put so many things in our mouths, we constantly have to be reminded what not to eat." Fast food, sure, but books? People don't eat books — they're bland and dry, plus the cellulose fiber in paper is indigestible. Or do they?

There are two instances of bibliophagy in the Bible. The first comes in Ezekiel, when a heavenly hand offers the prophet a scroll covered on both sides with "lamentations, and moaning and woe." God commands Ezekiel to eat the scroll, and he reports that "it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." Revelation, Chapter 10, has a variation on this theme: an angel hands John a scroll to eat, telling him it will taste like honey but also "turn your stomach sour." According to the theologian Eugene H. Peterson, the author of yet another "Eat This Book" (2006), the scroll became the source of John's apocalyptic vision: "The book he ate was metabolized into the book he wrote." For Peterson, this episode illustrates lectio divina, a spiritual mode of reading "that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom."

Peterson stops short of telling Christians to snack on the Bible, and some ministers tell the cautionary (and spurious) tale of Menelik II, the Ethiopian king who supposedly self-medicated with a few pages of Scripture whenever he fell ill and eventually died from an overdose of I Kings. Some religions, meanwhile, do quite literally put words in their followers' mouths. Tibetans ingest printed or written mantras as a treatment for epilepsy, or as a preventive measure akin to a multivitamin. And when ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys are about to start school, they undergo a ritual in which the 3-year-old initiate licks honey off a slate showing the Hebrew alphabet, then eats a cake adorned with a quotation from Isaiah and a hard-boiled egg inscribed with the aforementioned verse from Ezekiel.

Of course, nobody needs to teach children how to eat books. "A young child's attitude toward a book is not unlike that of a cannibal toward a missionary," wrote A. S. W. Rosenbach, the noted book collector, who cited bibliophagy as one reason that so few first editions of early children's classics have survived. It's probably too early to tell whether my year-old son's propensity to gum the board books in his library will develop into a refined literary palate, but there's hope. Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald's former book critic, once recalled how as a child she had gobbled a few pages of "Johnny Had a Nickel" "because I became so absorbed in whether the hero was going to buy an ice cream cone," and Maurice Sendak remembers cutting his teeth on "The Prince and the Pauper." An "Eat This Book" for children appeared in 2002, with potato-starch pages and a food-coloring pen, but the paper has an unpleasant, artificial-vanilla flavor that lingers in the mouth. No wonder it's fallen out of print.

Bibliophagy seems to become less common after elementary school. A recent episode of "Grey's Anatomy" featured a frustrated novelist who ate an unpublished manuscript that had to be surgically removed. A layman's search of the medical literature, however, yielded only a solitary French article from 1951 that defined la bibilophagie as a psychological disorder that manifests itself by reading "anything, anywhere, anyhow." The British bibliophile Holbrook Jackson, in "The Anatomy of Bibliomania" (1930), says he searched in vain for "any serious study of the dietetics of literature, or any evidence of research into this curious subject."

But Jackson apparently never stumbled upon the work of Carlo Mascaretti (1855-1928), an Italian editor who wrote a column under the anagrammatic pseudonym Americo Scarlatti. He devoted an entire column to bibliophagy and provided several historical examples. The 17th century, in particular, seems to have been a golden age of coercive bibliophagy: the Danish author of a denunciation of Sweden staved off beheading by eating his book boiled in soup; the Duke of Saxony forced the satirist Isaac Volmar to eat his lampoon of the duke raw; the German jurist Philip Oldenburger suffered through a whipping that ended only when he had polished off every morsel of a pamphlet that offended a prince. Peter Greenaway presented a gory vision of this literal-minded punishment in "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," but if this form of torture persists today, it's not exactly a major concern for PEN or Amnesty International.

In 1966, John Latham, a British artist who often used books — intact, painted, cut-up, burned — as materials in his work, invited his art-school students to a happening called "Still and Chew." They chewed up pages of Clement Greenberg's "Art and Culture," taken from the school library, then spat his influential essays into a flask, where they were mixed with sulfuric acid, baking soda and yeast. Months later, when an overdue notice arrived, Latham turned in a glass vial filled with the fermented results. He lost his job, but the documentation of his experiment, from the Greenberg grappa to his letter of dismissal, is enshrined in the permanent collection at MoMA. And last month in Discover magazine, Homaro Cantu of the Chicago restaurant Moto — which prints its menus in soy ink on Parmesan-flecked rice paper — shared his vision of "dispensing vitamin-enriched edible books in regions where people suffer from malnutrition."

But for now, eating books remains a stunt, a punishment, an act of devotion, a habit of infants and other members of the animal kingdom — bookworms, rodents, goats and at least one fish, caught in 1626 off the coast of England. It had supposedly swallowed the writings of John Frith, a Protestant martyr, which were subsequently republished as "Vox Piscis, or the Book-Fish containing Three Treatises, which were found in the belly of a Cod-Fish in Cambridge Market on Midsummer Eve." Then there is "The Great Green Squishy Mean Bibliovore," a creature envisioned by the children's songwriter Monty Harper. The bibliovore — a cross between a dinosaur and a bookworm — invades a library, where a brave librarian domesticates him by teaching him to read. The bibliovore's fate? According to the lyrics, "Today he makes a living writing book reviews."

Blake Eskin is the author of "A Life in Pieces" and the editor of

Books to Chew On - New York Times

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