Book me, Dano!

OK, it’s time to restock manhattan’s library. Since the intellectual firepower of the Board congregates here, I’ll ask here.

If you were stocking a personal library from scratch, what would be your top picks for books in:

Life Sciences
Political Thought
European History
Eastern History
Visual Arts
Indispensible books not in the other categories

Christmas is coming, and I’m getting books from and for just about everyone I know. Thanks for the suggestions.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Life Sciences
You need subscriptions here. The field is moving too fast for books.
Science although not specific to life sciences, and do get the online option.
Nature is a good choice.
NEJM and/or Lancet for Medicine.

Start with ** Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Newton (which will help fill your pholosophy shelf, too.) After all this is one of the founding books of western thought. It is surprisingly easy to understand, although tedious in parts. I haven’t read the original Latin, but I can’t think it lost that much in the translation.

After that, it gets fairly thick, fairly fast. Even the magazines are not quite up to date, since up to date is more a matter of theoretical preferences.

**Sky and Telescope **
OK, so I read mostly periodicals. Science is a moving target.

Political Thought

** The King James Version of the Bible**
Ok, it’s my artistic preference among Bible versions.
** The art of War** by Sun Tzu

** The Tao of Physics ** by Fritjof Capra

**A book of Five Rings ** by Miamoto Musashi

**Tao Te Ching ** by Lao Tsu

At least one good collection of Haiku.(see: Matsuo Basho)


The Prudent Investor Warren Buffett

Indispensable books not in the other categories
The art of Sensuous Massage by by Inkeles & Todris
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
The New York Public Library Desk Reference
The Oxford English Dictionary


I know not what I appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell, whilest the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
– Isaac Newton

A favorite of mine and a book I’d recommend to everyone is After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle. In the narrow sense it’s about how historians judge the value and veracity of evidence but I’ve found it insightful in my day-to-day life as well. There have been three revised editions and, as an indication of how highly I liked this book, I’ve read all three.

I’m assuming you have all of the Straight Dope canon. In a similar vein you might check out the works of William Poundstone (Big Secrets, Bigger Secrets, and Biggest Secrets) and Joel Achenbach (Why Things Are, Why Things Are: The Big Picture, and Why Things Are & Why Things Aren’t).

If you’re looking for some general works, check out The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch, which is a examination of the context of some biblical passages, or Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, a speculation on why some cultures prosper and others fail.

Anything by Issac Asimov. He has writen on all of the subjects above to my knowledge. And I’d never have to worry about realphabetizing my shelves! :slight_smile:

Yer pal,

Godel, Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Hofstadter, fulfils several of your categories.

manhattan, are we assuming a library built from scratch, or an existing library being brought up-to-date for the latest knowledge?

I think that would affect the suggestions.

A little of each, Arnold. I’m mostly looking for benchmark books like Capitalism and Freedom and books that make the incomprehensible a little more accessible, like A Brief History of Time. But to the extent there is a very recent book that breaks seriously new ground, that would be terrific too.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Sir Winston Churchill’s 6 volume “History Of the Second World War”

Eastern History-- “Japanese Inn” By Statler.

“Cartoon History Of The Universe” By Larry Gonick

“The Ancient Engineers” By L. Sprague DeCamp (This is especially good-debunks the pyramid/aliens turkeys & discusses the advancement of technology,. The author has a witty prose style)

“How To Make War” by Dunnigan (think of it as a do-it-yourself book for armchair generals. I suspect we gots lots o’ dem around THIS website…)

For quotations–“The Portable Curmudgeon”
Anything by Mark Twain. No, everything by Mark Twain.

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“Parliament Of Whores” by P.J. O’Rourke is a wonderful instruction on how our democracy actually works as opposed to how it theoretically works. A word of warning- it has been known to cause cynicism in those exposed to it.

Would agree with the Churchill History of WW2, and add the Durant’s volumes on The History of Civilization.


Life Sciences
“Origins” by Richard E. Leakey
(I have a great biography of Darwin around here somewhere but I can’t put my finger on it.)
“The Field Guide to Geology” by David Lambert.

“Einstein The Life and Times” by Ronald W. Clark
(and anythng under “Astronomy”

“A Brief History of Time” and anything else you can find by Stephen Hawking
“Black Holes & Time Warps” by Kip Thorne
“Coming of Age in the Milky Way” by Timothy Ferris

Political Thought
“The Federalist Papers” by James Madison et al
“Lincoln” by Carl Sandburg and Anything by Abe Lincoln
Wot the hell, get Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln” too. More practical politics in that than in Sandburg. Better jokes too.

“The Complete Works” by Plato (pack a lunch)

“The Peter Principle” by Laurence J. Peter

European History:
“A History of the English Speaking Peoples” by Winston Churchill

Eastern History:
Got me…everything I know about Eastern History I learned from James Clavell. :slight_smile:

Visual Arts:
“Mathew Brady” by James D. Horan

Indispensible books not in the other categories:
The complete “Straight Dope” canon, of course.
“The American Language” by H. L. Mencken
“The Hot Sauce Bible” by Dave DeWitt & Chuck Evans.
“The Warlock Chronicles” (3 novels) by Bernard Cornwell.
“Chaucer’s Poetry” E.T. Donaldson edition.
Every Dashiell Hammett work you can find. (Read the novels, then watch the movies again).
“The Complete Works of William Butler Yeats”.
The OED (buy the cheap one with the magnifying glass or the CD if yer rich).
“The Compete Sherlock Holmes” Doubleday edition.
“The Executioner’s Song” by Norman Mailer.
“Groucho” by Hector Arce and “Harpo Speaks” by Guess Who?
The Penguin Shakespeare.
“Why Buildings Stand Up” and “Why Buildings Fall Down” by Mario Salvadori.
That oughta hold you 'til Spring. :slight_smile:

Lex Non Favet Delicatorum Votis

Couple titles perking their respective categories in me library ? Perhaps not all benchmarks, but oughter be; original, interesting, thoughtful, accessible:

Life Sciences: Song of the Dodo, Quammen

Political Thought: Hardball, Matthews

Philosophy: The Golden Bough, Frazer

Eastern History: Sitting in Darkness, Bain

Anthropology: Cannibals & Kings, Harris; also Ethnomathematics, Ascher

Already mentioned: all Twain works, of course, unless you’re some kinda heathen…

You didn’t specifically mention American History, but this is a good study of the personalities and events of that little battle.

Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J. Langguth

And if you want a periodical, I always recommend The National Geographic.

“Some people are worried about the difference between right and wrong. I’m worried about the difference between wrong and fun.”
~P.J. O’Rourke~

Following up on JC’s suggestion of “Parliament of Whores”, add O’Roarke’s “Eat the Rich” and “All the Trouble inthe World”

In Economics, go to the source: “The Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith; also “Free to Choose” by Milton and Rose Friedman.

Complement “Art of War” and “5 Rings” with Clasewitz’ “On War”, and in a less philosophical vein “USMC Warfighting Manual.”

In Sciences “The True State of the Planet” takes an interesting look at enviromental issues, and I condsider James Gleick’s “Chaos” invaluable.

“The Little,Brown Book of Anecdotes” edited by Clifton Fadiman; entertaining and educational, and some of the best game show training you can do.8)

Last but not least, the biggest, best atlas you can afford.


That should, of course, be Clausewitz.


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We only need ONE BOOK ever.

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Yer pal,

“Henley’s Formula’s” and the “Foxfire” series for instructive Americana.

Best recent Science Fiction novel–“Forests Of The Night” by S. Andrew Swann

“The Chronicals Of Master Li And Number Ten Ox” By Hughart.

By the by-- I think Unca Cecil is DeCamp’s grandson or something. Read his stuff, & you’ll see what I mean…

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