Ever since I was 11, I have been a bookworm. Naturally, I have read many books since then, but some have been better than others. Here are the five that I think are the best that I have read so far.
T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom
T.E. Lawrence – the Lawrence of Arabia legend – was one of the greatest writers. His Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a pillar of modernist writing; a nonfiction account of adventure, betrayal, raw violence, and shame. Lawrence led the tribes of Arabia to victory over the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, only to have the Imperialists snatch away its fruits. Lawrence was a rare writer who could express the most ruthless actions with the most sparse prose.
Winston Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times
Churchill is famous for many famous – and infamous – reasons, but as a writer, he is not. This is a shame. He was the greatest political biographer of the 20th Century; the only other two in his league being Robert Caro and Isaac Deutscher. Even then, Churchill’s Marlborough taught me a valuable lesson: no matter how beautiful your ideal, other people have other dreams. Politics can never truly be a science. As Aristotle noted long ago – and Churchill read Aristotle in his youth – politics has no ideal, and hence cannot be a science. It is my contention that this four-volume work of beautiful prose should be read by every philosophy and political science student.
Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
Under the guise of a travel book, Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a philosophical, historical, and literary rumination about almost anything under the sun: life, western civilization, the idiocy of pacifism and appeasement, the brute force of fascism, the rather sadistic philosophy of Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the need to protect the offsprings of love against the spawns of hate. It is one of the greatest prose works of the 20th Century, and since I was 19, it has been one of my favourite books to read when no other book will do.
Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
Never before this novel had I read fiction that felt so real – indeed, spiritual. More than once I have come across a remark that the reading of Proust – himself not a particularly religious man – can be very much like a spiritual awakening. With an unforgettable cast of characters, and an equally unforgettable omnipotent narrator, this seven-volume novel is only repugnant to those who do not have good literary taste, are anti-French, or do not like to be challenged.
Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
I first read Gibbon when I was 18, and since then I have been a devotee. Gibbon is one of the funniest, most ironic, and witty writers of the English language. Regularly in the History, the reader will encounter pure gems such as “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.” This goes on for six volumes, around 500 pages each.