T.L.o.I.B.

The List of Interesting Books

This page is an additional resource for students.

Gaining a worthwhile appreciation of politics means getting a better grip on the complexity of human life. That means – in particular – knowing about history, knowing about significant people, knowing about institutions, and ultimately knowing about the various ways of living and thinking that have prevailed in different times and places. In other words, going beyond the significant constraints of examination reading lists.

The idea behind this page is to provide a handy reference point for beginning to acquire some of that knowledge. None of what follows will neatly translate into a grade. But for those who really want to understand, it ought to help.

The List of Interesting Books will be periodically updated, as I remember old things and discover new things. I’ve divided it up into fiction and non-fiction. Both are important, for both can get at different things, or the same things differently. (Students wandering over here from my lectures for the philosophy tripos, and who have an interest in moral philosophy, are advised to pay particular attention to the recommended novels.)

Strongly-recommended works are starred.

Non-Fiction

  • Robert A. Caro – The Years of Lyndon Johnson, 4 Volumes [and counting…]*
  • Francis Fukuyama – The End of History and the Last Man
  • Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century
  • Bernardo Zacka – When the State Meets the Street*
  • Ian Kershaw – Hitler, 2 volumes
  • Simon Schama – Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
  • David Foster Wallace – A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again*, and Consider the Lobster*
  • Tony Judt – Postwar*, and Reappraisals.
  • Bernard Williams – Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002, and Shame and Necessity
  • Peter Pomerantsev – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible
  • Peter Mair – Ruling the Void*
  • David Runciman – Political Hypocrisy, and The Confidence Trap
  • Jonathan Lear – Radical Hope
  • James C. Scott – Seeing Like a State*, and Domination and the Arts of Resistance 
  • Charles Moore – Thatcher: The Authorised Biography
  • Ian Hacking – The Social Construction of What?
  • Robert Skidelsky – John Maynard Keynes: 1883-1946: Economist, Philosopher, Statesman, 3 Volumes.
  • Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind
  • George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia*
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago
  • Bill Bryson – America 1927
  • Primo Levi – If This is a Man
  • Lucy Hughes-Hallett – The Pike
  • Philip Zimbardo – The Lucifer Effect
  • David Simon – The Corner, and Homicide
  • Adam Hochschild – King Leopold’s Ghost
  • Tom Holland – Rubicon, and Persian Fire
  • Liaquat Ahamed – Lords of Finance
  • Sudhir Hazareesingh – How the French Think 
  • R.W. Connell – Gender
  • Bernard Suits – The Grasshopper: Life, Games, and Utopia*
  • Philip Mirowski – Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste
  • William Davies – The Limits of Neoliberalism 
  • Ray Monk – Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
  • Nick Clegg – Politics Between the Extremes
  • David Talbot – Season of the Witch

Fiction

  • Philip Roth – I Married a Communist*American Pastoral*, The Human Stain, and Nemesis
  • Zadie Smith – On Beauty*, and NW, and Swing Time
  • Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina*
  • John Williams – Stoner
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
  • Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’urbervilles*, and Jude the Obscure*
  • Philip Meyers – The Son*
  • Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad*
  • Dave Eggers – The Circle
  • Francis Spufford – Red Plenty
  • Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard
  • Dorris Lessing – The Golden Notebook*
  • Iain Pears – An Instance of the Fingerpost
  • Gore Vidal – Burr
  • Graham Swift – Waterland and Last Orders
  • Arundhati Roy – The God of the Small Things 
  • Jonathan Littell – The Kindly Ones
  • John Lanchester – Fragrant Harbour
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go*
  • William Shakespeare – Coriolanus [ideally, go and see it live]
  • Ernest Hemmingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls, and A Farewell to Arms
  • Joseph Heller – Catch 22*
  • Graham Greene – The Human Factor*, and The Power and the Glory, and The Quiet American*, and The End of the Affair
  • Patrick Gale – Notes on an Exhibition
  • J.G. Ballard – Empire of the Sun, and High-Rise
  • Jonathan Franzen – Freedom*
  • David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
  • David Szalay – Spring
  • Neal Stephenson – Seveneves
  • Norman Rush – Mating
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Time
  • Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • Takashi Hiraide – The Guest Cat
  • Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

Oh, and we also live in a golden age of television. I strongly recommend, for relaxation-but-learning purposes:

  • The Wire [if you watch only one thing on TV ever again, watch this]
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Sopranos
  • Battlestar Galactica [the reboot, not the original]
  • Generation Kill
  • Mad Men
  • Narcos
  • Vikings
  • Westworld
  • The Handmaid’s Tale

(Watch things like House of Cards, Borgen, Game of Thrones, The West Wing, and Homeland, for pure entertainment; they will teach you nothing about real politics.)

Finally, via the University of Cambridge you should be able to access the entire archives of the London Review of Books. There are some real gems in there. Start, for example, by aiming to read everything that David Runciman has written – then work outwards. Oh, and speaking of Runciman, you should all be listening to the weekly Taking Politics podcast, with David in the chairing role, and usually featuring people who give lectures in the Department. Subscribe here. Finally, the website AEON produces intelligent essays on a daily basis, many of them written by professional scholars. Here’s an example.

Happy Exploring.

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