Egads! Getting closer and closer to my favorite book of all time. So hard to rank these. It’s like picking among one’s children
40 The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg by Richard Handler
If you’ve never had the surreal experience of reading an anthropological study of culture of your workplace, you may not understand why I love this book. Excellent mix of criticism of how history as taught at CW, but also sympathetic to the challenges museum educators face.
39 Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney
The only work of poetry in this list is by my favorite contemporary poet. I particularly like the verses when he talks about playing with a bicycle wheel in a mud puddle.
38 Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
Mark Salzman came to speak at my high school and I was enraptured by his engaging speaking style and positive view of life. I immediately got this book and devoured it. It is a memoir of Salzman traveling to China to teach English and study martial arts. There is a lot of great insight about cultural differences and it is a funny and heartwarming story.
37 The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I enjoy the concept of time travel and this novel entertainingly takes on the paradox of time travel in the life of one man (a librarian no less) who has no control over when he jumps to a different time. This sci-fi trope is well-used in an excellent book about relationships between the time traveler and the woman he loves.
36 Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
A few days in the life of a London slacker named Jake and the eccentric people he meets in his travels about the city. It’s hilarious, bizarre, and apparently an exploration of existential philosophy, and an amazing bit of writing by Ms. Murdoch.
35 The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
This a life-changing book that makes me understand where food comes from and what is lost in the modern monoculture fostered by big agribusiness. In Defense of Food is an excellent follow-up with practical advice for taking back traditional food ways. I highly recommend these books for anyone who eats.
34 Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A beautiful novel that is part an adventure story about a boy on a boat with a tiger, and part an attempt to understand belief in God.
This is a moving and engaging history of the fall of the aboriginal tribes of the western United States. It’s a tragic story, but an inspiring one as well. One of the best history books I’ve ever read.
32 The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood
A well-researched and engaging historical work in which the great social revolutions (as opposed to the political one) of the American War for Independence are analyzed. The people of the time made some great lurches forward toward true democracy that in some sense has been lost and remains unrealized to this day.
31 The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
I love everything about the space program, and I love the movie that this book inspired. But for a real in-depth look into the lives of the first American astronauts, this book is the ultimate source.