I’m still trying to keep myself honest. For the second month in a row, we get swordfighting Lesbians (although they were funnier last time around):
- The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Pelopennesian War by Thucydides. This is the text of Thucydides’s classic history, with tons of explanatory extras–maps, cross-references, explanations, timelines, etc. The text is remarkably dense and hard to follow; I’m pretty sure that I would have found it unreadable without the Landmark edition. Except for the prose, which is atrocious, the book feels surprisingly modern. Lots of attention paid to alliances, propaganda, betrayals, logistics–and, of course, the plague that hit Athens. Recommended but only in this version. (Also, in candor, I did not read all the appendices and I skipped sections of the text that were not included in the St. Johns syllabus because holy hell you would understand if you tried to read it.)
- The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. A fantastic collection of essays that anecdotes to illustrate some basic principles about our relationship with money. If I had to distill a theme: Nobody’s crazy–we’re all viewing the world from different perspectives, with different goals in mind. Luck and risk are real, and results are not correlated with effort.
- How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life by Epictetus, translated by Anthony Long. Super accessible new translation of the Encheiridion and related reflections from the Discourses. I got more out of the latter than the former but ymmv.
- The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello by Anthony de Mello S.J. A thoughtful dispatch from somewhere around the intersection of Jesuit, Stoic, and Buddhist thought. De Mello presents some very challenging ideas, many of which I don’t agree with–I get the basic critique of attachments but I have a hard time applying it to, say, your spouse and kids. Still, plenty worth pondering in here.
- Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell. A fascinating book about a fascinating book. Churchwell interweaves four basic threads: (1) the story of the Fitzgeralds’ lives while Scott was writing Gatsby, (2) a chapter-by-chapter literary analysis of Gatsby, (3) a description of the United States in 1922 (the year Gatsby takes place), and (4) the story of a highly publicized double murder in New Jersey from 1922. Each thread comments on the others. Fitzgerald’s writing was so tied to the moment that some of the details and meanings have gotten lost. For example, when reading Gatsby, it’s very helpful to know what, say, a green light meant to a motorist in NYC or Long Island in 1922 (usually but not always go, resulting in fatal accidents!). And the details of the Fitzgeralds’ lives are really something. Dry February is looking better all the time.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. You don’t need me to tell you about this. One of my favorite books ever, and I couldn’t not read it after Careless People.
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Another re-read. This is a how-to meditation guide by the famous Buddhist monk and peace activist. Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.
As for online essays, I loved Ideas that Changed My Life by Morgan Housel. Also, The Friend by Matthew Teague (and let’s throw in Can You Say Hero? by Tom Junod from a month or two ago). Yes, I realize that the latter two are Esquire essays from a million years ago that have been turned into movies. But they’re good! And it’s hardly Tom Junod’s fault that I’m shallow and late to the party.