100 Favorite Books of All Time (80-71)

The countdown continues.



80    How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart  Brand

A unique book that discusses what happens to buildings once the architect is finished.  Brand provides an interesting perspective of why some buildings fail and others succeed.  Also studies the lifecycle of buildings as they grow, change, and are readopted

79    The Guns of August by Barbara W.  Tuchman

Tuchman’s work is a much-praised historical account of the first month of the First World War.  I had high-expectations going into reading it and was still blown away by her powerful writing and research behind it.

78    The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City, 1763-1834 by Paul A. Gilje

I read this for a college course and found it unlike any history I’d ever read previously and very illuminating.  For one, I like any book that deflates the myth that society is degenerating and things were better in the good old days.  You can’t make that case when colonial and early Federal New Yorkers rioted on a regular basis.  Secondly, it was fascinating to learn that these riots were organized and seemingly were ‘democracy in action’ to enforce social change.  They even rioted to protect morality!

77    Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

It’s been a long time since I’ve read this novel, but I’m still can remember the powerful emotions I felt reading this story of a Polish survivor of the Holocaust and a young man from the South who befriend one another in Brooklyn in the late 1940’s.  It’s both laugh out loud funny and incredibly depressing, tragic yet inspiring.

76    Amphigorey & Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey

I’d like to think that I discovered Edward Gorey before he was fashionable, but it’s more like I discovered Gorey before I knew he was fashionable.  His macabre, surreal drawings and writings attracted my teenage self as I looked for something that stood out from the ordinary.  Oddly, I’ve been remiss in reading anything other than these Gorey collections.  Something I should address.

75    Silent Traveller in San Francisco by  Chiang Yee

Chiang Yee, a Chinese expatriate published a series of travel books from the 1930’s-1970’s from various locales including London, Dublin, Boston, and my personal favorite San Francisco.  As title states, Yee is not one of these extroverted travellers striking up conversations at will.  Instead he quietly and comprehensively observes and recounts in his poetic style.  Yee sees things the locals miss and writes in a positive and light-hearted manner.  If you plan to travel somewhere see if there’s a Silent Traveller account for that place for a unique perspective from a different time.

74    A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Terrific social history work which examines the life of a typical American woman in the early Federal period through her diary. Wonderfully written and illuminating this is a must-read for anyone interested in American history beyond the typical “great men” stories.

73    Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter

What sets human beings apart from other animals?  Not much.  Walter chips it down to 6 traits: Big toes, opposable thumbs, the pharynx, laughter, tears, and kissing.  Written in a fun and lively style, this is an engrossing read about what makes us human from an evolutionary perspective.

72    Dreamland by Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker specializes in historical fiction that appears to be written to appeal specifically to me.  Paradise Alley is about Five Points and the New York City Draft Riots.  Dreamland contains immigrant life in the Lower East Side, labor struggles, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and the golden age of Coney Island.  All of these elements of New York City history fascinate me and Baker incorporates them into his work in great detail, and yet the history does not weigh down the fiction with fully-realized characters and original plotlines.  This is the type of book I’d like to write.

71    Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike by Angus K. Gillespie

Travelling on the New Jersey Turnpike on family vacations as a child I was fascinated by it’s massiveness, it’s chaos, and it’s paradoxical structure.  As a result I found this book fascinating and times frightening. Who knew what control the turnpike authority had over the people who use the road? The turnpike itself is an engineering marvel, the triumph of function over form, and its route through the ugliest parts of the state encourage New Jersey’s bad reputation. Yet, the turnpike has also inspired poets, musicians, and artists.  Crazy, wonderful stuff.

Next Friday, ten more books!

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