Uncivil Liberties By Calvin Trillin
I spent my college years deep into the great humorists: Benchley, Perelman, Woody Allen. Calvin Trillin is up there with any of them. This is a collection of funny, perfectly crafted columns with great opening sentences. For example: “I married Alice under the assumption she could spell ‘occurred.’” Or “With all of the talk recently about the property tax in California, I’m surprised nobody is discussing my suggestion that hot tubs be taxed at a higher rate than flower gardens.”
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism By Daniel Bell
There was a golden age of non-fiction, led by people who were higher than journalists but less specialized than today’s academics. It was led by people like Jane Jacobs and Digby Baltzell. Daniel Bell was in this group. I fundamentally disagree with this book’s thesis, that the culture of consumption undermines the discipline you need for capitalism, but it is a thrilling sweep through modern intellectual history.
The Gentleman in Trollope By Shirley Robin Letwin
This is a book I’m just discovering by a writer I’ve admired for a long time. It’s about how to define admirable moral conduct, as seen through the prism of Trollope’s novels. There used to be great books on the sorts of lives that should be emulated, by people like Plutarch and Castiglione. But no one seems to write them anymore.
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge By Edward O. Wilson
This is a justly famous book on how modern scientific advances reveal the essential unity of all knowledge. It sounds abstract and difficult, but it isn’t. And when you think about it, why should there be one field for psychology (the stuff inside us) and another field for sociology (the stuff outside us) when these two things are really the same set of information loops.