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July 09, 2009


John G. Lynch

I rediscovered Jacques Maritain's "Renaissance" which I hadn't looked at since the 60's. During his lifetime, he and his wife were regarded as popularizers and their Thomistic leanings decried. But I can tell you that the broad reach of his histories are rich if not primary sources. I commend the whole five volumes as perfect deckchair reading when accompanied by some shade and tart, crisply-cold lemonade.

Deborah Streeter

Great suggestions! I especially like turning "news" to "noise" in our thinking. A wonderful history book is No Ordinary Times, by Doris Kearnes Goodwin. It is a very readable and intriguing book, even for those of us who typically read fiction. Learning about the Roosevelts during that very particular time (war time) provided great insights and interesting things to ponder.

Lynn O'Connor

While I always enjoy your writing, this post brought on an uneasy feeling: When speaking about "good reading" for the summer --namely histories and biographies-- you proceed to recommend book after book after book, all containing the stories of men. This suggests that what you think we should read over the summer, is all about men. I wonder what I could relate to in this history of man after man. Your reading list is presented as possibly a superior type of summer reading. Is it really more enlightening, when it's men's history, men's experiences, mens' lives, men men and more men.

Men can relate to the histories you mention, because they can conceivably be the actors in the stories. Women, on the other hand, with few exceptions, will have little interest in this lineup. If I read your post correctly, there is only one woman author on your list (maybe I missed something, I hope so).

Perhaps for women, the "real" history lies in those "women's novels" that people tend to scorn. We know of the great English novelists (female), and I know of a few contemporary American female novelists. I even know of a few female Americans who write political commentary. Nevertheless, if we want to get stories equivalent to those you have recommended, we have to return to women's novels. History, social history, anthropological history, as they pertain to women, are described only in women's novels. The history and biography you refer us to, is the history of men. Just an opinion.

Lynn O'Connor

Steve Leveen

Dear Lynn,

Thank you for your intelligent perspective, and I have to admit I’m guilty of not even considering whether the books I’ve recommended are by or about women. Right or wrong, I feel women authors and actors proved their equality (if not superiority) to men so many decades ago that I consider it a non-issue. I realize that my opinion is not mainstream, but that’s okay with me. I welcome further discussion on this important topic.

All best,


Betsy Eubanks

Thank you for broaching the subject of the increasing siege of trivialism over more meaningful ways to occupy time. I have many colleagues who feel compelled to spend free time so that they maintain an electronic media presence, and to be current on the latest "news" stories, but it only seems to add to a frenetic pace of life, rather than adding substance or relaxation.

Lynnell Nixon-Knight

Well put! I read Carolly Erickson's "To the Scaffold," a biography of Marie Antoinette a couple of years ago. So readable and well-researched that my interest in the French Revolution was increased, and I followed it with "A Tale of Two Cities" by Dickens. (Read the former, listened to an unabridged audio copy of the latter.) Last year I picked up a copy of "The Duchess" by Amanda Foreman and was not only fascinated by the complex heroine, but delighted with all the historical cross references from my other reads.

I love historical fiction as well, and am currently reading "Oral History" by Lee Smith. Not quite as penetrating as Olive Ann Burns' "Cold Sassy Tree" but a pleasant snapshot of early 20th century Appalachian life. Have also begun reading "The Language of God" by Dr. Francis Collins, grand poobah of the Human Genome Project. (A man so smart he can mix oil and water?? An intriguing proposition. We'll see...) :-)


Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale first came out in 1980 but was reissued in 2007. Thought-provoking commentary about growth for the sake of growth.

Harry Ogden

I just completed American Lion by Jon Meacham, a splendid biography on our 7th president, Andrew Jackson. As a native Tennesseean, I have been a longtime fan (sometimes reluctantly in light of his treatment of native Americans and unflinching attitude toward slavery, neither of which is glossed over lightly by the author), but I never appreciated the political intrigue, campaigning, great oratory from this minimally educated backwoods sort of country lawyer or the great love of the country as one nation Jackson had. He was a survivor of the Revolutionary War and vehemently opposed to the growing sentiment for secession in South Carolina and elsewhere in the 1830s that ultimately led to the Civil War 30 years later. This was a great backdrop to our national epic. Thanks for your observations and comments - and for your great products.


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