Academic bestsellers

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2005

David Greenberg had two “interesting”: “articles”: last week about the gap between academic and popular history, and how to bridge it. This suggests an interesting question. Which academic books are fit for human consumption? Or, to put it less polemically, which books written for academic purposes deserve, should find (or in some cases have found) a more general readership among intelligent people who are either (a) non-academics, or (b) aren’t academic specialists in the discipline that the book is written for. Nominations invited. To start the ball rolling, I’m listing three (fairly obvious imo) contenders myself.

bq. E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class. A classic, which reads more like a novel than a piece of academic history, rescuing organizers, sectaries, pamphleteers and gutter journalists “from the enormous condescension of posterity.” Moving, smart, and wonderfully written.

bq. Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty. A stunningly simple idea, worked out to its logical conclusions – it creates a new vocabulary for understanding how social institutions work.

bq. James Scott, Seeing Like A State. Libertarians will like the critique of state-led social engineering, but be discomfited by Scott’s account of the totalizing effects of markets. Traditional social democrats and socialists will have the opposite set of reactions. Both should read it (as should anyone else interested in the intersection between political theory and real life).



pedro 05.25.05 at 8:36 am

Seeing Like a State is absolutely wonderful (and, incidentally, Brad DeLong’s review of the book is very, very good). I think Imagined Communities is another wonderful academic bestseller.


jonathan 05.25.05 at 8:36 am

[url=]McNeill & McNeill – The Human Web[/url]. All hail the World History, this book gives you a general and comprehensive account of the world’s history with very little scholarship to worry about. It does enter into scholarly and academic debates but manages to reshape the commoners world-view, plus it is very entertaining.


des von bladet 05.25.05 at 8:46 am

I’ll second _Imagined Communities_ and tip my hat to Hobsbawn and Ranger (Eds.) _The Invention of Tradition_, which is often hilarious.


Eszter 05.25.05 at 8:57 am

A disclaimer is in order for my recommendation since I was the author’s student throughout much of the time he wrote this book. I think Paul Starr‘s Creation of the Media definitely deserves a mention here. It hasn’t been out long enough (for about a year) to have reached mass diffusion yet (for an academic manuscript that is), but I certainly hope over time more and more people will recognize its value. I assigned the intro to undergrads and they seemed to do just fine in understanding the main arguments of the book.


Robin 05.25.05 at 9:01 am

My principal nomination would be Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class. But here I’ll nominate:

Rayond Geuss’ The Idea of a Critical Theory (it doesn’t seem to have a single unnecessary word in it)

Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth and History

and Moore’s Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship.


Russell Arben Fox 05.25.05 at 9:29 am

Greenberg mentioned a couple of important examples of excellent, reader-friendly scholarship: Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution and Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. I would add: Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics; Rogers Smith, Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership; and, a classic, Michael Walzer’s The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics.


Harry 05.25.05 at 9:44 am

Fred Hirsch’s Social Limits to Growth is more timely today than when it was written (30 years ago). It is more referred to than read, I’d guess. Changed my approach to political philosophy completely, and my approach to living substantially.


marsha 05.25.05 at 10:18 am

as a non acedemic I thank you…my amazon wishlist is full.:)


catfish 05.25.05 at 10:23 am

Although _Making of the English Working Class_ is one of my favorite books, I’m not sure about it’s readability. Certainly, Thompson is entertaining, but the last time I read it I remember thinking–“much of this book is about historiography. Would someone not already invested in these sorts of issues care?” Not sure what I would propose in it’s place, perhaps Hobsbawm’s _Age of Revolution_. I’ld like to second the Genovese and Lasch recommendations. Like Thompson, you can read books by these author’s ten times and still learn interesting stuff. It doesn’t even matter if you agree with their conclusions or their premises–it’s enough to witness a broad and rigorous mind at work. Maybe I just have a thing for crusty old marxists. (I would include Lewis Mumford in this category too).


DT 05.25.05 at 10:32 am

Lots of good history books. I’d nominate:

The Roman Revolution by Ronald Syme. A well written history of one of the great stories in history.

Fernand Braudel’s 3-volume work on Civilization and Capitalism, for it’s breadth, insight, and it’s new way of looking at the world of the past.

And, to veer out of the humanities, The Theory of Island Biogeography
by MacAurthur and Wilson. A seminal work in modern biology/ecology, with an argument accessible to any non-expert that can read a graph.


Matt 05.25.05 at 10:40 am

I’d recommend Jo Wolff’s _Introduction to Political Philosophy_ and Ronald Dworkin’s _Life’s Dominion_. Both are very clearly written, well paced, and do excellent jobs of making difficult material clear. I’d recommend against including Putnam’s _Reason, Truth, and History_, even though I like it, since I think that most non-philosophers will find it very hard going (esp. the model-theoretic argument). Also, I don’t think that semantic anti-realism is really something that has much importance outside of philosophy.


Steve LaBonne 05.25.05 at 10:46 am

In philosophy of science- that old chestnut, Feyerabend’s _Against Method_, is as entertaining a read as anyone could ask for.


Ben Alpers 05.25.05 at 10:52 am

Some more nominees (off the top of my head…there are actually a lot of books that fit into this category):

Just about anything by Richard Hofstadter (though my least favorite thing by him, his essay on the “paranoid style,” is probably what’s most often read).

Michael Rogin’s Ronald Reagan: the Movie

Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws

Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions


Dennis Whitcomb 05.25.05 at 11:28 am

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars.


roger 05.25.05 at 11:30 am

I’d nominate Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People without History. Especially for those Jared Diamond fans out there.


Martin 05.25.05 at 11:43 am

Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change is one of the most intellectually exciting books I have ever read. (I am not a historian, though I was a history major and got into grad school in history, though I decided not to go, so my tastes may not be entirely lay.) Much of it is framed in terms of scholarly disputes (though not particularly arcane ones, e.g., was there a Renaissance and, if so, when) in ways that can be annoying, but not annoying enough to keep it from being a great book. I understand there is an abridged version with a slightly different title (and about 300 rather than 800 pages) which might be better as a book for non-scholars, but I haven’t looked at it.


John 05.25.05 at 12:15 pm

So many of my nominations are mentioned above; Thompson, Braudel, Wolf, Kuhn among others. My addition is David Fischer’s Albion’s Seed. If you want some historical insight into that red state, blue state divide, this is a good place to start.


pedro 05.25.05 at 12:17 pm

There is a model-theoretic argument in Putnam’s Reason, Truth, and History? Now I have to read it.


peggy 05.25.05 at 12:20 pm

Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions offers the best description of how science works- what Kuhn calls “normal” science. In this current faith-based era, Kuhn offers the humanties graduate insight into scientific practice, without taking all those nasty math and science courses.


Chris Martin 05.25.05 at 12:30 pm

The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson is very well written and can serve as a comprehensive introduction to social psychology. I have never come across an academic book that was such a pleasure to read.


Jacob T. Levy 05.25.05 at 12:31 pm

“should find” and “have found” are different. Many of the books that *have* found this market are more likely to mislead than otherwise, either because they’re intellectually simplistic or quirky and unorthodox in ways that the general reader doesn’t recognize, or because they’re so easy to misunderstand and misuse (Kuhn, for one).

In the should-find-*and*-have-found category:

Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars– and, really, most of Walzer, as well as most of Galston and lots of Isaiah Berlin

Mancur Olson, Logic of Collective Action

Shklar, Ordinary Vices

Ernest Gellner, ‘most anything


Uncle Kvetch 05.25.05 at 12:33 pm

The writers that spring to mind for me are Erving Goffman and Clifford Geertz, who provided more sheer reading pleasure than just about anyone I read in grad school. In Goffman’s case I would probably recommend The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Also, Deborah Cameron’s Verbal Hygiene is both an excellent analysis and a highly entertaining read, one that makes sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology accessible and relevant for lay readers.


DT 05.25.05 at 12:40 pm

Let me turn it around a bit and pick a book that became an academic best-seller, but after reading it I don’t think it deserved it: The Golden Bough by Fraser.

There was plenty of interesting stuff in there, but man was it dry. And repetitive. And repetitive. I think it took me 5 or 6 starts and stops before I finally plowed my way through the whole thing. At least, the whole of the abridged 1 volume version.


SamChevre 05.25.05 at 1:01 pm

I second Albion’s Seed–a very interesting and readable look at the different settlements in the Americas.

A list of (at least somewhat) academic books that I recommend to non-academics:

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism; from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse

John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State

Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions

William Manchester’s biographies of Churchill.


Jerry 05.25.05 at 1:04 pm

Academic historians are going to have to learn to write a whole lot better if they want popular success, otherwise their monographs will continue to fall soundlessly to the forest floor. Perhaps a way can be found to widen the number of people given assigned reading. The federal government is requiring that the Constitution be taught one day a year. Perhaps this is a model.


Steve LaBonne 05.25.05 at 1:15 pm

_Please_ spare me the humanities and social science types who _think_ they understand something about science because they’ve been seduced by Kuhn’s mystical yet meaningless verbiage. Feyerabend, despite his (quite worthy, in my opinion) aim of overthrowing scientism, had the great merit of emphasizing that if you want to know how science is done you should talk to scientists, not philosophers.


Chris Williams 05.25.05 at 1:28 pm

Funny you should mention this – the gap between academic and popular understanding of history is the underlying theme of the OU/BBC Radio 4 series ‘The Things We Forgot to Remember’, of which more here:
[Interest to declare – it’s my baby]

As for history books, I’d go for Hutton’s _The Restoration_, Edgerton’s _England and the Aeroplane_, Hobsbawm’s _Age of Extremes_, and a new entrant, Bickers’ _Empire Made Me_.


SamChevre 05.25.05 at 2:07 pm

One more I would add, which belongs at the top of my list.

Stephen Carter (Yale Law), The Culture of Disbelief; I think this is the best primer on government and religion, within the context of American history and law.


rented mule 05.25.05 at 2:27 pm

Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, by Bert States.

A really lovely book about phenomenology and the experience of watching plays.


Chris S 05.25.05 at 2:35 pm

Actually, if you want to know how science is done, you should look at what scientists do, rather than what they say, because they often misdescribe their own methods (e.g., “I’m relying on Popper’s falsifiability”, when they’re doing no such thing).

But I digress. In the philosophy of science, how about Kitcher’s book, Vaulting Ambition – its attack on sociobiology is probably even more relevant today…


Rebecca 05.25.05 at 2:50 pm

David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed is OK, but sloppy in places. I would suggest, in American History:

Alfred Young, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party
Laurel Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale
John Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard

All three are “microhistories” that make historiographical points that academic historians will pick up on, but are written so that non-specialists can read them, absorb them, and enjoy them.

I would add a non-American history book to my list, David Kertzer, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.


roger 05.25.05 at 3:16 pm

There’s a book debunking Kuhn that might well be read after SSR: Steve Fuller’s (a bit too gossipy) Thomas Kuhn, a philosophical history. And talking of Philosophy, nobody has mentioned either Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin’s Wittgenstein’s Vienna or Ian Hacking’s –well, almost anything. “The Emergence of Probability” is my favorite. I haven’t read Toulmin’s Cosmopolis, but that is on my to do list.


Steve LaBonne 05.25.05 at 3:25 pm

_Actually, if you want to know how science is done, you should look at what scientists do, rather than what they say, because they often misdescribe their own methods (e.g., “I’m relying on Popper’s falsifiability”, when they’re doing no such thing)._

Very good point; I should have phrased my comment better.

I second Hacking, definitely a philosopher who both writes very well and says things of interest to a general educated readership. I enjoyed _The Social Construction of What?_


David Salmanson 05.25.05 at 3:28 pm

You people are whacked. You would give a 3 volume Braudel to a Tony Hillerman reader you liked and expect them to talk to you again? Hobsbawm writes as good as a novelist? Maybe if the novel is Ulysses. I’ve got a simple test, I give the book to my mom (who has an MA and a law degree and, unlike me, read all of Ulysses) and if she likes them, it’s good.

Some mom faves:

Linda Gordon – The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction

Paul Johnson and Sean Wilentz – The Kingdom of Matthias (she was ready to hurt me for not telling her about the surprise ending)

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – A Midwife’s Tale

Pomerantz et. al. – The world that Trade Created (you could read it on a plane it’s so good).

Some I’m planning to give her:

The Organic Machine by Richard White

Changes in the Land by William Cronon (these two have proven to be very popular with undergrads, Nature’s Metropolis, although a bestseller for Cronon, made a lot of coffee table appearances without actually getting read).

I’ll second a vote for the McNeils (father and son) on The Human Web. That is a kick-ass book.

As much as I would like Jared Diamond fans to read Eric Wolf, most of them won’t make it out of the first chapter.

Mom made me read the Robert Caro biography of Robert Moses which was really good.

RE: the Scott “(as should anyone else interested in the intersection between political theory and real life).” The ones that don’t work in the academy? All five of them had dinner together last week. Charlie Rose really liked it, Jon Stewart hadn’t finished it and the other three hadn’t started.


des von bladet 05.25.05 at 4:05 pm

Uncle Kvetch: *Goffman*, of course Goffman. _The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life_ is wonderful – it was my holiday reading for a long weekend in Barcelona, and a fine fine choice.

Kuhn, I’ve only read from a scientist’s perspective on account of that being what I am/was/have been, but I liked it well enough.

And Hobsbawn is too a fine writer, but his _Age of …_ series is disqualified in having very clearly been written for a lay audience (as well).


Russell Arben Fox 05.25.05 at 4:19 pm

Dennis and Jacob: yes, definitely, in addition to Walzer’s Revolution of the Saints, Just and Unjust Wars belongs there, as does much else that he has written: Thick and Thin, for example. All solid books, smartly yet accessibly written.

David: Good one about Jon Stewart. Does E.J. Dionne make the fairly rarified cut?

Oh, and Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale is a great suggestion.


pedro 05.25.05 at 4:27 pm

Wonderful Wife endorses Goffman as well. I confess to being a bit more sympathetic to Lakatos than to Kuhn or Feyerabend, but I fully agree with des von bladet’s nomination of The Invention of Tradition.

Henry: this thread is fantastic. I’ve been beefing up my wish list. Speaking of social networks, it’s fun to see two people with whom I have a mere two degrees of separation appear on the list, one of them being my academic grandfather, the other being linked to me via two different people, one of them my father. That’s pretty cool, for someone who grew up in diminutive and invisible Third World country X.


eb 05.25.05 at 5:10 pm

Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis

Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett

Taylor, William Cooper’s Town

Faust, Mothers of Invention


cjohnson 05.25.05 at 5:56 pm

A strong second for Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.

I’ve recommended this book far and wide. Also of interest, Harold Berman: Law & Revolution, Law & Revolution II
These books are THE History of Western Law. Beautifully researched, well written. A true treasure for any historian.

Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies Vols 1&2
Not enough can be said about these books.

W W Bartley: The Retreat to Commitment
If you’ve read any Kuhn, Lakatos, Tarski or Feyerabend, you aren’t finished until you’ve read Bartley. Bartley answers Popper’s unanswered questions.


Alex Fradera 05.25.05 at 6:09 pm

I can certainly second Vaulting Ambition.


jason 05.25.05 at 7:06 pm

Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation


Uncle Kvetch 05.25.05 at 7:10 pm

Now that I’m home and have had a chance to peruse the bookcase:

Lila abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity

Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style

George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By


Barry Ross 05.25.05 at 7:19 pm

A strong vote for anything by Peter Brown, starting with his wonderful Augustine of Hippo, followed by The Body and Society. As a writer, he is nigh-on invisible, perceptible mainly through the generosity of his vision.


bza 05.25.05 at 9:29 pm

Hm. The recommendations thus far seem to scant literary studies and philosophy outside of philosophy of science, so I think the following could be added to the pile:

Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity. An account of the differences between the content and role of morality in the ancient and modern Western worlds. Slim and beautifully written.

John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. A humbling survey of moral thought in the modern period, focusing on Hume, Leibniz, and Kant. Whatever one thinks of A Theory of Justice, Rawls was awesomely learned, and these lectures are the product of several decades’ worth of reflection on the figures in question. It should also be noted that this book is quite a bite easier reading that ToJ.

and if we range a little further backward in time:

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis : The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity

Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment

A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being


Another Duncan 05.25.05 at 10:51 pm

Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini. It’s in its nth revision at this point, but it started out as the text book for a course on social psychology. The version I read had exercises and essay questions at the end of the chapter and was a gripping read.


floopmeister 05.26.05 at 1:25 am

A World Lit Only by Fire : The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance – Portrait of an Age by William Manchester

A brilliant non-academic, non-linear historical work, especially relevant to our world and the return of the medieval mind.

His Erasmus is a flawed hero to me. We need another like him now…


Helen 05.26.05 at 1:28 am

None of these titles include metaphor, Postmodernity, Subculture or Style, so you can tell I’m a bit past it.

Barbara Tuchman, A Distant mirror and The March of Folly

Not truly academic works, though…?

Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood

…Examples of some “paradigm shifts” with regard to thinking about children.


Chris 05.26.05 at 2:06 am

Kuhn had a Ph.D in physics. I’d say that qualifies him as a scientist.


Marc Mulholland 05.26.05 at 3:52 am

Hmm, let’s see:

Niall Ferguson’s ‘The Pity of War’ about the Great War is very readable and has an interesting thesis: Britain shouldn’t have joined in, in doing so it made the Age of Catastrophe.

A. J. P. Talor’s ‘England, 1914 – 45’ is fantastic: funnny and penetrating.

Carlo Ginzberg, ‘The Cheese and the Worms’ is gripping both as a tale and a methodologically brilliant approach to pre-modern peasant consciousness.


sharon 05.26.05 at 6:50 am

Will add to The Cheese and the Worms (which turned me onto early modern history as an undergraduate): Natalie Zemon Davis, Return of Martin Guerre. Again, these are microhistories, so let’s add Ladurie’s Montaillou while we’re at it. (But then, it ought to be easy to be interesting with microhistory). I think I’d also add Keith Thomas’s Religion and the decline of magic.


Wax Banks 05.26.05 at 7:59 am

I second the Carlo Ginzburg, the Clifford Geertz (The Interpretation of Cultures is priceless), the James Scott, the Hebdidge, the Auerbach (oh that astonishing chapter on Odysseus! One of the most impressive critical setpieces I’ve read, and through the wisdom of an undergrad mentor, one of the first. I was spoiled early by the best stuff). This thread is a treasure!

Maybe it’s cheating because he was my advisor, but Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers, his big early statement on science fiction fan culture, is both a rich synthesis of scholarly threads and a nonstop pleasure to read. Henry’s a real popularizer, and I think he always writes with as wide a readership in mind as possible, so Textual Poachers takes time to spell out at every step where his arguments are coming from – but it still makes what were, at the time (and still will be for the uninitiated), pretty radical claims about the richness of fan culture. The best recommendation I can give? Fans all over the place cite Henry and his book as necessary reading, and no scholar of fandom can write without it. (And for the record: he’s a jewel of a human being.)

There’s a book of articles from the first three issues of the journal Artificial Life journal, edited by Christopher Langton – the book’s just called Artificial Life: An Overview. The articles bring across a sense of excitement at the early stages of a field’s development, and though they’re scholarly articles there’s nothing too difficult for a bright layman in there.

Speaking of which, though: the best-written technical book in any field is Larry Wall’s ‘Camel Book’, Programming in Perl. The opening chapters are an object lesson in bringing across huge ideas with both style and seriousness. The back half is the standard Perl reference work. Even a non-programmer can gain a lot from the early matter, including a brief Perl tutorial.

And where’s the mention of Northrop Frye?


Darren 05.26.05 at 8:11 am

Someone mentioned Ernst Cassirer. I’d recommend his ‘Myth of the State’.

However, as I went through the list all I could think about was Nicolas Nassim Taleb’s answer to the question … What do you know but cannot prove? From ‘the edge’. His answer seems quite apt not only for this thread but for a large proportion of CT.


monboddo 05.26.05 at 10:05 am

Second William Cronon’s _Nature’s Metropolis_, which really is a wonderful book (I preferred it to his first book), and in the history arena I’d add Robert Gross’s _The Minutemen and Their World_.


Tom Beck 05.26.05 at 10:25 am

Not sure it qualifies as academic, since it wasn’t published by a university press, but Stephen Greenblatt’s Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare is terrific. It’s actually too speculative to fit the purely academic mode, but Greenblatt’s learning and erudition, as well as his ability to write, are impressive as anything.


Jenny D 05.26.05 at 11:13 am

Interesting lists. I’ll put in another vote for Goffman’s “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” And I’ll also nominate Raymond Williams, “The Country and the City.” And Thomas Nagel’s “Mortal Questions,” at least the essay on moral luck and a few others. And A. O. Hirschman’s “The Passions and the Interests.”


jean_zhane 05.26.05 at 12:17 pm

George Chauncey, Gay New York
Arlie Hochschild, anything


Jonathan 05.26.05 at 12:31 pm

Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by F.W.H Myers is a perennial classic.


Gloria Sampson 05.26.05 at 1:11 pm

Lingua ex Machina (Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain), MIT Press, 2000. A biologist (Calvin) and a linguist carry on a conversation about how language evolved. The glossary and clear explanations of the terms used in generative linguistics make the concept of Universal Grammar and its origin and evolution comprehensible and interesting to non-specialists.


vivian 05.26.05 at 7:46 pm

If you want Hilary Putnam in a more readable form, try his Pragmatism – wonderful book, shorter than RT&H and did I mention, wonderful?

I’ll support anything by AO Hirschman, and JK Galbraith too – there are many good novels that are not as enjoyable as anything Galbraith wrote.

Walzer is sometimes sloppy but always readable. In that vein, include Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish and the Intro to his History of Sexuality (yes, he disavowed it later in the series, but it’s really enjoyable nad thought-provoking, which are the criteria here, right?

And as mentioned in a thread a long time ago, Courtesans and Fishcakes can’t be beat.


djw 05.27.05 at 1:06 am

Some very good choices here–especially James Scott, William Cronin, and Wichael Walzer. I must insist we add Foucault’s two compulsively readable books, The History of Sexuality V1 and Discipline and Punish. I’m not sure about Madness and Civ. Also, two more obscure entries from recent political theory:

Bonnie Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner
Anne Phillips, Which Equalities Matter?
Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism adn the politics of recognition.

There’s more, but I can’t think of them now.


Guga 05.27.05 at 4:50 pm

Too much hard science stuff…

How about Edward Shorter’s history of the female body (gruesomely gripping), March Bloch’s The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France (just plain fun), or Propp’s Analysis of Folk Tales (the answer to sooo many questions!).


Nathaniel Smith 05.28.05 at 12:38 am

I admit to some trouble properly getting in the mindset of a non-academic reader, but I’d suggest Richard Feynman’s “The Character of Physical Law”, and Umberto Eco’s “The Search for the Perfect Language” as two gems.

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