10 books like Cultural Amnesia

By Clive James,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Cultural Amnesia. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Danube

By Claudio Magris, Patrick Creagh (translator),

Book cover of Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea

On the face of it, this seems like a straightforward book. Magris traces the geography of the Danube from Furtwangen or Donauschingen in southern Germany to the Black Sea, and in so doing surveys the history of the regions through which it passes. That would be a bold enough project in its own right, but the book itself is so much more than this and is one that I’ve returned to many times since I first stumbled across it fifteen years ago. The riverine structure of the book sweeps the reader from prehistory to the twentieth century and back again, individual eddies linger on intriguing episodes – the building of the cathedral tower at Ulm, the significance of the Iron Gates – and then we’re off again on another evocative description of the river or aside on the forgotten history of Mitteleuropa. A terrific read.

Danube

By Claudio Magris, Patrick Creagh (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Danube as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A journey along this famous river described by the author, Claudio Magris, who unravels the amazing history of the many towns along its banks.


Daily Life in Late Antiquity

By Kristina Sessa,

Book cover of Daily Life in Late Antiquity

This is the only book on the list that relates directly to my main topic of research, but that is a strong recommendation in itself. In truth, there are lots of books about ‘late antiquity’ (or ‘the later Roman Empire’), and many of them are very good indeed. But they also tell a familiar story in familiar ways: they discuss politics, military actions, transforming towns, and (increasingly) plague and climate change. Sessa’s book deals with all of these themes in some way, but flips the whole thing on its head. This book looks at the period from the bottom up, thinking about the lived experiences of women and children, of country-dwellers, and those who inhabited the less glamorous corners of the empire. Reading this made me think again about lots of topics that I thought I knew well. It is also accessibly written and introduces a sometimes complex period very…

Daily Life in Late Antiquity

By Kristina Sessa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daily Life in Late Antiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Daily Life in Late Antiquity is the first comprehensive study of lived experience in the Late Roman Empire, from c.250-600 CE. Each of the six topical chapters highlight historical 'everyday' people, spaces, and objects, whose lives operate as windows into the late ancient economy, social relations, military service, religious systems, cultural habits, and the material environment. However, it is nevertheless grounded in late ancient primary sources - many of which are available in accessible English translations - and the most recent, cutting-edge scholarship by specialists in fields such as archaeology, social history, religious studies, and environmental history. From Manichean rituals…


Beards

By Reginald Reynolds,

Book cover of Beards

I came across this book unexpectedly in an American bookstore, and have since given it as a gift countless times. In essence, Reynolds provides a survey of human history through facial hair, creating a rambling, eccentric overview and proposing all sorts of improbable theories, many of which are probably right. The bookseller’s note on the back cover of my copy lists it as ‘History (?)’, which seems about right, but it has definitely made me think about history in a different way. I also now have a beard of my own (not connected).

Reynolds also wrote a similarly inspiring book about toilets.  

Beards

By Reginald Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beards as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

By James Agee, Walker Evans,

Book cover of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families

This isn’t really a history book, but it made me think about many aspects of society and writing in a wholly new way. In 1936, Fortune Magazine commissioned the writer James Agee and the photographer Walker Evans to produce an extended article on families in Alabama during the tail end of the Great Depression. The task proved to be impossible, not just because the topic was too vast to fit into a single article, but also because of the complex responses that both men felt towards the task at hand and the families with whom they worked. The result was the long study Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which is made up of Agee’s thoughts and reflections, and of Evans’s justly famous images. This is a tough read: not because the language is difficult (it isn’t), but because of the challenges of the theme, and of Agee’s struggles…

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

By James Agee, Walker Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1936, Agee and Evans set out on assignement for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event when in 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was first published to enourmous critical acclaim. This unspairing record of place, of the people who shaped the land, and of the rhythm of their lives today stands as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.


The Conquest of Happiness

By Bertrand Russell,

Book cover of The Conquest of Happiness

This is a self-help book with serious depth and substance. Although some of it is dated, the timeless reflections that Russell draws from the humanist tradition of which he was a part contain wisdom that can transform your life. He is strongest on the ingredients of happiness and the last chapter, on the happy person, is still a go-to for me to remind myself of what matters most. 

The Conquest of Happiness

By Bertrand Russell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Conquest of Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Conquest of Happiness is Bertrand Russell's recipe for good living. First published in 1930, it pre-dates the current obsession with self-help by decades. Leading the reader step by step through the causes of unhappiness and the personal choices, compromises and sacrifices that (may) lead to the final, affirmative conclusion of 'The Happy Man', this is popular philosophy, or even self-help, as it should be written.


Straw Dogs

By John Gray,

Book cover of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

A brilliant attack on a collection of human vanities, most importantly the idea of progress. The political left and right are united in the idea that history has a direction. Human societies gradually progress towards a perfect endpoint – an end of history – where no further improvement can be made. Left and right disagree on what this endpoint will look like, but they agree that there is one, and that one can, therefore, be on the right or wrong side of history. Not so fast, argues John Gray. History is a long time, and the idea of progress is an article of faith that does not survive careful examination. Brilliant engagement with the work of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer among others.

Straw Dogs

By John Gray,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Straw Dogs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A radical work of philosophy, which sets out to challenge our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. From Plato to Christianity, from the Enlightenment to Nietzsche and Marx, the Western tradition has been based on arrogant and erroneous beliefs about human beings and their place in the world. Philosophies such as liberalism and Marxism think of humankind as a species whose destiny is to transcend natural limits and conquer the Earth. Even in the present day, despite Darwin's discoveries, nearly all schools of thought take as their starting point the belief that humans are radically different…


Howards End

By E.M. Forster,

Book cover of Howards End

This is one of my favorite novels ever. Though it describes the author’s own society—Edwardian England—it tackles so many human subjects that will resonate for a modern reader. That a man was able to inhabit so many fully realized female characters is nothing short of miraculous. The plot concerns a social collision one can imagine happening today: two earnest, well-intentioned intellectual sisters in London meet a snobby upper-class family and, later, an impoverished bank clerk. While trying to help the clerk, the sisters create a crisis. How all these lives intertwine tells a story of marriage, betrayal, widowhood, forgiveness, and love. All roads lead to a house in the countryside called Howards End. The author’s famous epigraph says it all: “only connect.”

Howards End

By E.M. Forster,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Howards End as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Howards End" is E. M. Forster's classic story of the varying struggles of members of different strata of the English middle class. The story centers around three families; the Wilcoxes, who made their fortune in the American colonies; the Schlegels, three siblings who represent the intellectual bourgeoisie; and the Basts, a young struggling lower middle-class couple. "Howards End", one of Forster's greatest works, is a classic dramatization of the differences in life amongst the English middle class.


The Humanist Revolution

By Hector Hawton,

Book cover of The Humanist Revolution

Editor of the New Humanist magazine, Hawton was a leading humanist activist of the mid-twentieth century. But this book is not an activist work. The Humanist Revolution is more of a social and cultural history. It powerfully identifies the basics of a humanist approach to life but then illustrates how the ‘humanist turn’ is a central moment in western and global history. In a sense, there are two humanisms. There is the conscious humanism of the self-identifying humanist but there is also the bigger humanism, which is a set of implicit ideas in the western mind. This book is a good account of the latter.

The Humanist Revolution

By Hector Hawton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Humanist Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought

By Baldry,

Book cover of The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought

Today it has become quite fashionable for people (especially Conservative Christians) to claim that a lot of the ideas that humanists value have their origin in Christianity. There are many reasons why this is largely nonsense, but this old (and slightly academic) book by Baldry outlines one of my favourites, by telling the story of how the concept of universal humanity grew and developed in pre-Christian Hellenic civilisation. This book opens your mind to the long history of ideas and reminds you that there’s nothing new under the sun…

The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought

By Baldry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The idea of the unity of mankind did not come easily to the Greeks. Its eventual emergence has been ascribed to various sources, not least to Alexander the Great. Professor Baldry believes that it cannot be attributed to any single individual, but that the true picture is a long and complicated chain of development to which many contributed. In this book Professor Baldry describes this development from Homer to Cicero when, although the traditional divisions and prejudices still remained string, the idea of unity had become part of the outlook of civilised man. He discusses the contribution of thinkers such…


Enlightenment Now

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

I also wake up every morning, check the news and think that the world is falling apart. Because evolution in our dangerous pre-history often resulted in the survival of those who worried most. That is why we have to check the data and the long-term trends to correct for our exaggerated sense of drama, to understand where we are – in the period of time with the most wealth, best health, most literacy, and least poverty. There are other great books from rational optimists, like Matt Ridley, Hans Rosling, and Charles Kenny, but Steven Pinker’s is the one that covers most areas, and does it in a convincing and impassioned way. It is a wonderful book and one you should have on the bedside table, if only for a quick glance every time you get the impression the world is falling apart.

Enlightenment Now

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Enlightenment Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR

"My new favorite book of all time." --Bill Gates

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science. By the author of the new book, Rationality.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third…


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