June 15th, 2011

breaking bad


You may have seen the Guardian's list of 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books Ever. I think their only restriction is they have left out religious books, which I think is sensible, as that's too contentious (like, 'The books of your religion are fiction', 'No, yours.').

I have read something from a good many of these books, but I have only read a few of them completely cover to cover. The ones I have read every word of (I think) are:

Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Mythologies by Roland Barthes
Gaia: A new hypothesis by James Lovelock (the Guardian have shown the wrong title here, they say 'The Revenge of Gaia' which is a more recent book)
Dispatches by Michael Herr
Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
De Profundis by Oscar Wilde
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (not really non-fiction. I would substitute 'If this is a Man')
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I think I recommend every one of those books as worth a read, and none of them are that long or incomprehensible (actually Godel Escher Bach is long, but it's easy to read). It's hard to compile such a list, and hard for one person to criticise it. There are books I would have liked to see in there, but what would I drop to make room for them? Some of the non-fiction books I have enjoyed most are too specialist to go into a universal 100-book list.

Some additions I might argue for:

Anabasis by Xenophon
Philosophical Investigations by Wittgenstein
Urn Burial by Thomas Browne, because it is so beautifully written
Being and Time by Heidegger, even though he was a fascist
Of Grammatology by Derrida, even though I don't like it
Something by Jung, don't know what
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Father and Son by Edmund Gosse
Married Love by Marie Stopes
The Economic Consequences of the Peace by JM Keynes
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius by George Orwell
Notes on Nursing by Florence Nightingale
Mutual Aid by Piotr Kropotkin

I don't think the Dao De Jing is religious, but enough people would disagree that I'll leave it off.


I watched Idris Elba in Luther last night. Yes, it was all about women being murdered in horrid ways. Yes, it was prime quality tosh. What struck me most was that all the live women were stark raving mad. Oh, actually one seemed to be quite sane - the boring and aptly named Detective Constable 'Grey' - the others were like pale staring snakes. With the giggles. Even the woman who left a message on the answering machine (of another equally mad woman) sounded mad, screeching 'Did you carry out your instructions!' Your mad instructions.

The ratio of mad to sane women was so extraordinary that I actually enjoyed it. 'Let's interview the girlfriend of our chief suspect.' Yeah, wonder whether she's mad or not? Oh, what a surprise.

I could take offence at this, and I don't blame anyone who did, but I thought it was quite funny and ridiculous, and so far from any connection to reality I didn't mind. If it didn't have Elba and lovely Ruth Wilson (guess what her character is like?) in I would probably drop it, but as it is I will probably watch more episodes.