The best books about hubris

Many authors have picked their favorite books about hubris and why they recommend each book.

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Lord of the Flies

By William Golding,

Book cover of Lord of the Flies

Some of the most deep and memorable conversations I've had with my friends entailed "how do you recreate civilization after civilization collapses?" I found that Lord of the Flies humbled my utopian ideas as it presents some logical steps of social disintegration. What's great about this story is that it's not even set in a remnant of civilization, but drops us straight onto an island. The cast of characters is so perfectly written as we see children trying to not only survive but to create their own civilization on this island. I found these images to be vivid and perfectly chosen as it displays the wild and naive state of man when man’s hubris runs rampant. It’s a retelling of the Tower of Babel, of man’s proclivity for religion and hiearchy, and warns the reader of our own hubris when we attempt to redefine society.


Who am I?

Political sciences was always an exciting topic for me in college, and to this day I enjoy reading about failed states and tyrannical governments. And as someone who loves philosophy, I see something very important about reading the dystopian genre, as this breed of fiction constantly reminds me how utopia is unachievable on this earth, and that civility only resides in each human soul working out its own imperfections. Today, I see something important as different political factions strive to manage men, that it should not be a machine or faction that rules over a human’s heart, but a human that tames their own passions.


I wrote...

Masks: The Unmercenaries

By Konstantin Traumer, Lexie Takis,

Book cover of Masks: The Unmercenaries

What is my book about?

What happens when Halloween carries on a little too long? An entire city is threatened with being leveled.

Welcome to Nymphis, a city of Masks on the brink of destruction. Caped vigilantism and masked crime has spiraled out of control, one feeding the other, and resulted in the inception of urban legends known as Masks. Follow the Unmercenaries as they uncover a plot to level the entire city. Through the leadership of their insomniac hacker, Father, the Unmercenaries square off against their greatest foe yet: The Den, a masked cabal of thieves and murderers led by the cold giant, Silverback.

The Jaws Log

By Carl Gottlieb,

Book cover of The Jaws Log

In my book club I’m known as Second Carl, since Carl Gottlieb has been a member far longer than I. In fact, I was still a lawyer in Washington, D.C. secretly dreaming about Hollywood but never suspecting I’d someday myself work on a Spielberg TV series, when I read this short, fast, now revered account of the filming of Spielberg’s breakout film. It proved to be a deeply accurate and comprehensive description – and warning – about what life and work on location and in Hollywood itself would be like. It’s also so engagingly readable and relevant, a Broadway musical based on the book is in tryouts as I write these words.


Who am I?

Having been a Hollywood writer for thirty years, and now written a novel that although satirical still accurately describes the creation of a TV series, I’ve long been amazed at how many Hollywood stories – including films made in Hollywood – offer fantasies that have even less to do with the reality of love and work in film and television than Game of Thrones does with the real Middle Ages. I’ve written fantasy myself, but for people fascinated by Hollywood, or who want to work in film and TV, there’s a reason too to read books that capture the reality, especially when like the books listed here, they do so astonishingly well.


I wrote...

Monkey Business

By Carleton Eastlake,

Book cover of Monkey Business

What is my book about?

Monkey Business is a fast-moving Hollywood satirical adventure intertwined with a deeply revelatory love story that in passing gives a comprehensive look at how a TV series is really created and produced. It begins when a young TV writer on location in Florida becomes obsessed with a mysterious exotic dancer at a nightclub who may be crazy or may be wryly, insightfully brilliant, as she forces him to reexamine everything he thought he understood about life, limerence, bonded love, power, creativity, paintball combat, and human consciousness – while he desperately tries both to save his TV show and to discover who and what she really is so he can win her love before she vanishes forever.

Dirt & Deity

By Ian McIntyre,

Book cover of Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

This is an extensive biography of Scotland’s celebrated bard, Robert Burns, and includes a collection of unpublished letters. Scotland’s own “heaven taught ploughman,” gave life a run for its money, giving us in his few but fruitful years lines of poetry that match Shakespeare himself. 

Oh, would some 
Power the giftie
gie us
To see ourselves as
Others see us!

McIntyre gives Burns a good shot. No Scottish writer, including myself, could think of their career trajectory without Robert Burns standing out prominently along that line. He gave us the gift of hubris and the gift of the poetic gab. 

Who am I?

There is a saying that you can take the girl out of Scotland but not Scotland out of the girl. I am that girl. Born and raised in Scotland, I earned an MA from Edinburgh University and a M.Litt from Oxford. I met my husband during the summer at  Dartmouth College and the rest, as they say, is history. Or, at least it would be, except for the hankering back to Scotland that never leaves. My novel set in Scotland was published by Simon & Schuster.


I wrote...

Veil of Time

By Claire R. McDougall,

Book cover of Veil of Time

What is my book about?

A recent divorcee, Maggie Livingston, escapes from the city to rural Argyll to heal. Her rental cottage sits in the shadow of the famous hill of Dunadd, where the kings of Scotland were once crowned. Maggie’s epilepsy causes her perception of time to be distorted, and during one seizure she finds herself back in the pagan Dunadd of the 8th Century. It is here she slips into the compelling company of Fergus McBridghe, a royal in the line of the ancient Picts who once held court here.

Heart

By Sandeep Jauhar,

Book cover of Heart: A History

The amount of blood that passes through a human heart every week is enough to fill a swimming pool. That and facts like it saturate this book about our most essential organ, the heart. Jauhar weaves a dynamic science-based narrative with personal accounts that infuses the reader with love and reverence for the body part, the medical personnel, and the innovations that keep us all pumping.  


Who am I?

People, including me, can be so uptight about their bodies. Early on in my career, I found that writing about my shame (chin hair!) or embarrassment (dogs sniffing my crotch!) helped the stigma go away. Researching and learning about how amazing our bodies are helped empower me to feel confident and comfortable being fully myself. I think it can do the same for others, too. My takeaway: There is greatness in our grossness. 


I wrote...

Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front

By Mara Altman,

Book cover of Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front

What is my book about?

Mara Altman's volatile and apprehensive relationship with her body has led her to wonder about a lot of stuff over the years. Like, who decided that women shouldn't have body hair? And how sweaty is too sweaty? Also, why is breast cleavage sexy but camel toe revolting? Isn't it all just cleavage? These questions and others like them have led to the comforting and sometimes smelly revelations that constitute Gross Anatomy, an essay collection about what it's like to operate the bags of meat we call our bodies. 

Divided into two sections, "The Top Half" and "The Bottom Half", with cartoons scattered throughout, Altman's book takes the listener on a wild and relatable journey from head to toe - as she attempts to strike up a peace accord with our grody bits. 

The Wizard and the Prophet

By Charles C. Mann,

Book cover of The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World

Here is a double biography that every environmentalist should read. One of its subjects is William Vogt, a grim pessimist who thought the twentieth-century world was blundering toward self-destruction because of human industrial hubris. The other is Norman Borlaug, an optimistic plant scientist whose work with crop hybrids was central to the “green revolution” that massively increased world food supplies and diminished the danger of famine. Mann explains the internal logic of each man’s work, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and compels readers to question their own cherished assumptions about the environment, humanity, and the future.


Who am I?

I am a history professor at Emory University. I was born and raised in England and feel equally at home in Britain and America. I’ve written six books on religious, political, and environmental history and one on my life as a college professor. I’ve also made eleven recorded lecture series with The Great Courses, on a wide variety of topics, including a series on the History of the Industrial Revolution and a series titled The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales.


I wrote...

A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism

By Patrick N. Allitt,

Book cover of A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism

What is my book about?

The book is an intellectual history of American environmentalism since World War II. I argue that environmentalism arose as an organized political response to citizens’ concerns about pollution, resource depletion, overpopulation, and climate change. “Crisis” rhetoric often overstated the severity of these problems but was useful in provoking legislation and regulatory oversight, much of which has succeeded in mitigating the worst problems.

We live in a far cleaner and healthier environment than our parents and grandparents, enjoy better national parks, recreational opportunities, health, and longevity. Severe problems still confront us but our achievements over the last seventy years show that there’s as much cause for hope as for gloom.

The Spire

By William Golding,

Book cover of The Spire

Golding was living in Salisbury when he wrote The Lord of the Flies, and his day job as a teacher at a local boys' school left a clear imprint on his dystopic view of young men left to their own hierarchical devices. But the classroom also provided a very literal view of the inspiration for The Spire, a dense and disturbing parable in which rationality and physics crumble under evangelical mania and corporal lust. It is the story of Jocelin, Dean of a medieval cathedral, who, obsessed with a divine “vision in stone,” insists that the spire be raised to impossible heights. There is no happy ending in this cautionary tale of construction hubris, yet I return to it regularly in search of solace.

Who am I?

When I published Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn, in which Soviet-era psychological warfare plays a heavy role, I happily washed my hands of Russian intrigue and turned to more benign, pastoral inspirations – my life-long relationship with an idyllic cathedral town in Wiltshire, for example. Just days later, the world learned that a certain Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov shared my fondness for Salisbury’s “world-famous 123-metre spire,” the glories of which prompted their 72-hour visit from Moscow (and overlapped with the botched poisoning of a KGB defector living down the road). Since then, I find myself drawn to works that explore the interstices of morality, criminality, and great construction projects.


I wrote...

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

By Elizabeth Kiem,

Book cover of Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

What is my book about?

The first and the last story of The Bolshoi Saga trilogy stars Svetlana Dukovskaya as the matriarch of a three-generation blood feud within the Bolshoi Ballet. Suggested by The New York Times for readers "enamoured with the Russia of literature and film,” The Bolshoi Saga blends Cold War intrigue, the Russian mob, family secrets, and backstage vendettas from both sides of the Iron Curtain. 

Love

By Simon May,

Book cover of Love: A History

This astonishingly rich and beautifully written survey shows how deeply love is involved in what has always been one of my main philosophical preoccupations – the human search for meaning. Simon May reveals love as the ‘harbinger of the sacred,’ while at the same time warning of how often it bears the burden of unrealistic and misconceived expectations.


Who am I?

I have spent my career writing and teaching philosophy, working on early-modern philosophers, especially that most controversial and enigmatic figure, René Descartes. In recent years my main interest has been in the philosophy of religion, focusing on grand traditional questions about the meaning of life, and on the spiritual dimension of religious thought and practice. I have argued for a ‘humane’ turn in philosophy, meaning that philosophical inquiry should not confine itself to abstract intellectual argument alone, but should draw on a full range of resources, including literary, poetic, imaginative, and emotional modes of awareness, as we struggle to come to terms with the mystery of human existence. 


I wrote...

In Search of the Soul: A Philosophical Essay

By John Cottingham,

Book cover of In Search of the Soul: A Philosophical Essay

What is my book about?

What is the soul? Does the concept still have a place in our modern scientifically oriented world? I argue that the concept of the soul is one that has a claim to be central to our thinking about what it is to be human. We are all engaged in the task of trying to understand the experiencing subject, the core self that makes us what we are. In searching for the soul, we aim to realize our true selves and find meaning in our lives. Exploring the soul in its many dimensions, historical, moral, psychological, and spiritual, In Search of the Soul aims to show how strongly the concept of soul still resonates today when human beings speak about what matters most deeply to them.

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