It’s that time of year again, when Laura asks me to offer some suggestions to her loyal readers. These past few months I’ve strayed a bit from the historian’s path, but no harm in that; it probably isn’t healthy to be obsessed with Romans. We’ve some good ones this holiday season. The American Revolution, ancient and medieval warfare, modern warfare (sorry, I mean soccer), and our old friend Ignatius J. Reilly.
Bobrick, Benson. Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. I bought this one a long time ago, and it’s a favorite. Other books on the American Revolution I’ve read tend to focus upon the political developments. This one gives the military campaign equal time. The success of the American Revolution is truly an amazing thing. I can’t think of another fast-paced history of the American Revolution that’s well written, well researched, and is a good survey of the era. Not too heavy, not too light. Just right.
Carey, Brian Todd. Warfare in the Ancient World and Warfare in the Medieval World. Real tours-de-force, these two. How has the Western way of war evolved over the millennia? By taking the long view, this book is a good place to find out. Briskly paced, with plenty of crisp maps and clear descriptions, and nicely balanced between narratives of battle and explanations of their importance. Again, not to heavy, not too light.
McGinnis, Joe. The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy. Last summer I got totally obsessed with the World Cup. I obtained an awesome tournament-tracking spreadsheet from some Mexican friends and spent my days at work watching the play-by-play online (and I wasn’t alone; watching the Cup was tolerated firmwide). I also became a frequent reader of the TNR World Cup blog, and the TNR bloggers strongly recommended this book. Written by Sarah Palin’s next-door neighbor, this is the story of an unpretentious soccer team in a tiny town in Abruzzo that fought its way up the Italian league tables. McGinnis, a soccer fanatic, spent close to a year in Castel di Sangro, observed the team and participated in their daily routine. More than about soccer, this is a book about Italy from someone who deeply loves his subject, a love which in the end breaks his heart.
Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces . Over the past year the firm has been conducting work-related surveys: how many hours do you work, how often do you use your blackberry, what is the most important financial innovation, what was the most important event in the firm’s history, etc. Meh, I never participated. Ho hum! Perhaps many of my colleagues felt the same way, because lately the questions have become more light-hearted: What is your favorite movie? What is your favorite novel?
Which leads us to our next selection, a surprising option in the firmwide literary survey. Earning 208 votes (or .78% of total votes cast), it climbed the charts to an eyebrow-raising 38 out of 398. Apparently some of my colleagues aren’t all that they seem. (Numbers 1, 2, and 3, you ask? To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and Of Mice and Men. I work in a high school! Har har! But that’s another tale for another time.)
I can’t really describe this one, so I’ll let it speak for itself. Because, loyal readers, I know it will speak to you.
“When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.”
"You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him."
"I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
"Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today's employer is seeking."
"Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins."
"A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss."
"Canned food is a perversion. I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.”
And of course, "When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life."
I’ve read this one a couple times over the years and it never gets old. I am also certain that Ignatius on the spectrum; he is modeled on a college professor with whom Toole once worked. Furthermore, Ignatius would strongly support the repeal of DADT, although for reasons you and I wouldn’t immediately guess.
And so another year passes and a new one begins. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday, and in the coming year may Fortuna’s wheel raise you to great heights!