100 books like Cultural Amnesia

By Clive James,

Here are 100 books that Cultural Amnesia fans have personally recommended if you like Cultural Amnesia. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

Abby Smith Rumsey Author Of Memory, Edited: Taking Liberties with History

From my list on when history gets personal.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was in 1982, while a Fulbright scholar in the USSR researching my doctoral dissertation, that I realized my responsibility as a historian extended far beyond writing history books. I lived among Russians and saw up close how the Kremlin-controlled what citizens knew about their own past. The future was already determined—the end of class struggle. The past was merely a made-up prologue. As a consequence of that year, I focus on the creation, preservation, and accessibility of cultural knowledge. History clues us into where we come from. Like a DNA test, it reveals how our single life is intricately braided with people we will never meet.

Abby's book list on when history gets personal

Abby Smith Rumsey Why did Abby love this book?

Another first-person account of war, this time seen through the other end of the telescope: when the victorious Red Army occupied Berlin in 1945.

The order of the day was sadistic revenge meted out on the civilian population. As usual, women bore the worst of it. Regardless of age, each was raped and brutalized. After the war, none spoke of this for fear of being stigmatized. The author was an exception: she wrote matter-of-factly about what she experienced and witnessed, not trying to make sense of it.

She recorded the horrid reality in order to hold on to her sanity. She noted how scared and confused the Russians were, bewildered by the abundance of bourgeois life and embittered by their own poverty at home. 

By Anonymous, Philip Boehm (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Woman in Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. "With bald honesty and brutal lyricism" (Elle), the anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. "Spare and unpredictable, minutely observed and utterly free of self-pity" (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland), A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the…


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

Andy Merrills Author Of The Vandals

From my list on thinking about history in a different way.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andy Merrills teaches ancient and medieval history at the University of Leicester. He is a hopeless book addict, writes occasionally for work and for the whimsical periodical Slightly Foxed, and likes nothing so much as reading elegantly-composed works which completely change the way he thinks about everything. (This happens quite a lot). 

Andy's book list on thinking about history in a different way

Andy Merrills Why did Andy love this book?

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.

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.


Book cover of Daily Life in Late Antiquity

Andy Merrills Author Of The Vandals

From my list on thinking about history in a different way.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andy Merrills teaches ancient and medieval history at the University of Leicester. He is a hopeless book addict, writes occasionally for work and for the whimsical periodical Slightly Foxed, and likes nothing so much as reading elegantly-composed works which completely change the way he thinks about everything. (This happens quite a lot). 

Andy's book list on thinking about history in a different way

Andy Merrills Why did Andy love this book?

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…

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…


Book cover of Beards

Andy Merrills Author Of The Vandals

From my list on thinking about history in a different way.

Why am I passionate about this?

Andy Merrills teaches ancient and medieval history at the University of Leicester. He is a hopeless book addict, writes occasionally for work and for the whimsical periodical Slightly Foxed, and likes nothing so much as reading elegantly-composed works which completely change the way he thinks about everything. (This happens quite a lot). 

Andy's book list on thinking about history in a different way

Andy Merrills Why did Andy love this book?

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.  

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.


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

Roland Merullo Author Of Dessert with Buddha

From my list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

My twenty novels tend to focus on characters who face great challenges, and I have a particular appreciation for beautiful prose. I don’t read for distraction or entertainment, but to be enlightened, moved, and made more compassionate about different kinds of people in different environments.

Roland's book list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction

Roland Merullo Why did Roland love this book?

This is the story of a highly educated writer living with the poorest of the poor in the U.S. Agee was sent to live with Alabama sharecroppers during the Depression. His assignment was to write about them for a magazine, but he ended up making it into a magnificent memoir (Jimmy Carter’s favorite memoir) that is often paired with Walker Evans’ photos. They lived and worked as a team.

Agee is a well-educated, well-off writer, but manages to describe the lives of the poorest of the poor with great respect, artistic originality, and sincerity, and to give us a full, if painful, understanding of the lives of people who could not afford shoes and were worked to the bone by the landowners.

It’s a deeply spiritual work, artistically original in structure and language, a long, slow, magnificent read that has touched me deeply each time I’ve read it.

By James Agee, Walker Evans,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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.


Book cover of Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel

Abby Smith Rumsey Author Of Memory, Edited: Taking Liberties with History

From my list on when history gets personal.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was in 1982, while a Fulbright scholar in the USSR researching my doctoral dissertation, that I realized my responsibility as a historian extended far beyond writing history books. I lived among Russians and saw up close how the Kremlin-controlled what citizens knew about their own past. The future was already determined—the end of class struggle. The past was merely a made-up prologue. As a consequence of that year, I focus on the creation, preservation, and accessibility of cultural knowledge. History clues us into where we come from. Like a DNA test, it reveals how our single life is intricately braided with people we will never meet.

Abby's book list on when history gets personal

Abby Smith Rumsey Why did Abby love this book?

When I heard of the 2021 mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the fear of anti-Semitism became deeply personal.

I grew up just a few blocks from the synagogue. (I was raised Catholic.) In Kuznetsov’s “documentary novel” about Nazi-occupied Ukraine, the author recounts how, as an 8-year old, he witnessed the German army’s 1941 invasion of Kiev.

They set about massacring over 30,000 Jews within the first week of occupation. This happened in a large ravine only a stone’s throw from the boy’s home. This third edition of the book comprises the heavily censored published Soviet text, the uncensored text, and Kuznetsov’s added commentaries.

It is a palimpsest that lets us see past, present, and no doubt future ways that regimes use history to control what people know about their own past.

By Anatoly Kuznetsov, David Floyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The powerful rediscovered masterpiece of Kyiv during the Second World War, told by a young boy who saw it all.

'So here is my invitation: enter into my fate, imagine that you are twelve, that the world is at war and that nobody knows what is going to happen next...'

It was 1941 when the German army rolled into Kyiv. The young Anatoli was just twelve years old. This book is formed from his journals in which he documented what followed.

Many Ukrainians welcomed the invading army, hoping for liberation from Soviet rule. But within ten days the Nazis had…


Book cover of The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History

Geoffrey Roberts Author Of Stalin's Library: A Dictator and his Books

From my list on the history of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an award-winning historian, biographer, and political commentator. As a specialist in Soviet history, my books have been translated into many languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Finnish, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Geoffrey's book list on the history of the Russo-Ukrainian war

Geoffrey Roberts Why did Geoffrey love this book?

Plokhy is a renowned Ukrainian-American historian who makes no secret of where his sympathies lie. His partisan, pro-Ukraine narrative of the war and its origins is vigorous and informative.

Of particular value is his highly illuminating account of the triangular relationship between Russia, Ukraine, and the United States in the run-up to the war.

By Serhii Plokhy,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Russo-Ukrainian War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Despite repeated warnings from the White House, Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world. Why did Putin start the war-and why has it unfolded in previously unimaginable ways? Ukrainians have resisted a superior military; the West has united, while Russia grows increasingly isolated.

Serhii Plokhy, a leading historian of Ukraine and the Cold War, offers a definitive account of this conflict, its origins, course, and the already apparent and possible future consequences. Though the current war began eight years before the all-out assault-on February 27, 2014, when Russian armed forces seized the building of the Crimean parliament-the…


Book cover of My Dear Li: Correspondence, 1937-1946

Abby Smith Rumsey Author Of Memory, Edited: Taking Liberties with History

From my list on when history gets personal.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was in 1982, while a Fulbright scholar in the USSR researching my doctoral dissertation, that I realized my responsibility as a historian extended far beyond writing history books. I lived among Russians and saw up close how the Kremlin-controlled what citizens knew about their own past. The future was already determined—the end of class struggle. The past was merely a made-up prologue. As a consequence of that year, I focus on the creation, preservation, and accessibility of cultural knowledge. History clues us into where we come from. Like a DNA test, it reveals how our single life is intricately braided with people we will never meet.

Abby's book list on when history gets personal

Abby Smith Rumsey Why did Abby love this book?

I wrote my books to reveal how a government’s lies about the present and past corrupts not only public life, but reaches deep into the psyches of individuals.

The correspondence between the physicist Heisenberg, working in secret on the atomic bomb (notoriously unsuccessfully), and his wife safe in Bavaria provides an intimate glimpse of how deeply the Nazi regime penetrated family life and challenged the natural love of one’s homeland.

Heisenberg and his wife were very much in love, devoted to each other and their children. They had a true and equal partnership. Readers can enjoy the sweet irony of knowing how the war turned out, something the participants could not know.

Instead, they were occupied with worries about food, money, the children’s health, sadly aware that things could never go back to how they were.   

By Werner Heisenberg, Elisabeth Heisenberg, Irene Heisenberg (translator) , Anna Maria Hirsch-Heisenberg (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Personal letters reveal the quandary of a prominent German physicist during the Nazi years and the strength he shared with his loving wife

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg lived far from his wife, Elisabeth, during most of the Second World War. An eminent scientist, Werner headed Germany's national atomic research project in Berlin, while Elisabeth and their children lived more safely in Bavaria. This selection of more than 300 letters exchanged between husband and wife reveals the precarious nature of Werner's position in the Third Reich, Elisabeth's increasingly difficult everyday life as the war progressed, and the devoted relationship that…


Book cover of ...Or Not to Be: A Collection of Suicide Notes

Jane Marie Author Of Selling the Dream: The Billion-Dollar Industry Bankrupting Americans

From my list on encyclopedic books for cultural factoid nerds.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I was addicted to almanacs, encyclopedias, and atlases. I liked collecting facts and snooping around other people’s lives, and my family, including extended family, totally indulged me by gifting me their history or factoid book collections. I remember one set my Grandma Sally gave me: Time Library of Curious and Unusual Facts. I cannot find the complete set anywhere these days, but it’s where I learned about spontaneous combustion and wealthy hoarders. Who wouldn’t want to know that stuff!

Jane's book list on encyclopedic books for cultural factoid nerds

Jane Marie Why did Jane love this book?

My friend gave me this book during a pretty bad depressive episode I was having, and you know what? That friend really gets me!

It totally helped me feel less alone. I was surprised to learn that some suicide notes are really mean, and some are totally silly. I dunno; the book soothes me like the Wiki list of inventors killed by their inventions.

By Marc Etkind,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked ...Or Not to Be as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of suicide notes accompanied by a brief description of who the individual was, what their note meant, and the circumstances which led up to their suicide


Book cover of May it Please the Court

Jane Marie Author Of Selling the Dream: The Billion-Dollar Industry Bankrupting Americans

From my list on encyclopedic books for cultural factoid nerds.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I was addicted to almanacs, encyclopedias, and atlases. I liked collecting facts and snooping around other people’s lives, and my family, including extended family, totally indulged me by gifting me their history or factoid book collections. I remember one set my Grandma Sally gave me: Time Library of Curious and Unusual Facts. I cannot find the complete set anywhere these days, but it’s where I learned about spontaneous combustion and wealthy hoarders. Who wouldn’t want to know that stuff!

Jane's book list on encyclopedic books for cultural factoid nerds

Jane Marie Why did Jane love this book?

OMG, ok, so this book is just court transcripts from really huge Supreme Court cases and the opinions on those cases. That’s it! And it’s just absolutely bananas.

I love reading transcripts of real people talking about heavy shit. Before I found this book I was under the mistaken impression that those materials weren’t made public, but I guess I was wrong. 

By Peter H Irons (editor), Stephanie Guitton (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked May it Please the Court as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Until The New Press first published May It Please the Court in 1993, few Americans knew that every case argued before the Supreme Court since 1955 had been recorded. The original book-and-tape set was a revelation to readers and reviewers, quickly becoming a bestseller and garnering praise across the nation.


May It Please the Court includes both live recordings and transcripts of oral arguments in twenty-three of the most significant cases argued before the Supreme Court in the second half of the twentiethcentury. This edition makes the recordings available on an MP3 audio CD. Through the voices of some of…


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