Sunday, September 16, 2012

Downsizing the Compulsion to be Aimless

Dear Readers,


In the last month I've had to move to a house with about half the space and very little in the way of book shelve space.  For the moment, 80 percent of my library is boxed and stored in the attic until I either build an addition on the house for the books or go up to the attic and visit them box by box.  This has put a serious crimp in my posting new lists.  I'm determined to continue adding more lists but it may be some time before I can get at them.  Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the existing lists.   

I'll be back.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Books Upon Books

One sign of bibliomania is buying books about books.  I've always been conflicted about this.  I'd rather be reading actual books themselves than spending time reading about reading.  Here's my list of meta-books.

1.  A Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Lore, and Lists on Collecting , Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for and Appreciating Books (1999).  The subtitle says it all.  Bought used at Valley Books, Amherst, MA. 


2.  The List of Books, A Library of over 3,000 works, Frederick Raphael and Kenneth McLeish (1981).  One of the most thoughtful list of books assembled.  Lists by category, best books of the decade.  Specific symbols denoting books of special interest.  Birthday gift 1981. 

3.  The Lifetime Reading Plan, Clifton Fadiman (1960).  Fadiman outlines a plan for reading your way through the great minds of Western civilization.  Bought used somewhere.  

4.  Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Anne Fadiman (1998).  Daughter of Clifton Fadiman (above) presents a series of well-crafted essays about her lifetime around books.  Favorite essay is about how she and her husband combined their libraries--by size or alphabetized by author.  I won't give away the ending.  Birthday gift 2001.

5.  How to Read a Book: A Guide to Reading the Great Books..., Mortimer Adler (1966).  Adler sets out responsibilities for the reader when they pick up a book.  He provides a master reading plan at the end designed to cover the great books of Western civilization.  Bought used. but forgot where. 

6.  Living with Books: The Art of Book Selection, Helen Haines (1935).  Intended audience was librarians, "reader's advisers" and leaders of discussion groups--Haines presents a full discussion of book discussion, values and appraisals,  and reviews of book categories.  Birthday figt 1992. 

7.  The Magic of Books: An Anthology for Book Week, compiled by Sanford and Schauffler (1929).  Created for "Book Week" (now faded into obscurity), a series of essays on books, libraries, and reading.  Bought used somewhere.  

8.  The World's Greatest Books: Travel and Adventure, Edited by Northcliffe and McClure (1910).  Part of a series of books published by S.S. McClure Company.  Bought used somewhere. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eclectic Travel Part II

Part two of the Eclectic travel collection.

1.  Once Around Lightly, Robert St. John (1969).  St, John was a radio broadcaster from the 1940s.  He travels from Japan to southern Asia, Indonesia, India, through the Khyber pass into Afghanistan ending in Iran.   Bought used at the State Department bookstore.

2.  Whereabouts: Notes on Being A Foreigner, Alastair Reid (1987).  Are you a foreigner by necessity, accident, or choice?  Reid explores the aspects of what is like to be an outsider.  He travelers to places of his past looking for lost connections but finds himself a stranger.  Bought used somewhere. 

3.  Urbane Travellers 1591-1635, Boies Penrose (1942).   Sketches of English travelers.   Traces the beginnings of English travel.  Bought used somewhere.

4.  Places, James Morris (1972).   Morris writes about American cities and remote islands.  Illustrated with Morris's photographs. 

5.  Travel Sketches of Today, Ed. Charles Lane Hanson (1929).  A former school textbook with excerpts from 22 travel books profiling geographies around the world.  Bought used somewhere. 

6.  Tropical Classical, Pico Iyer (1997).   Brilliant travel writer with essays about places but also people and books.  Bought used at B.J.s Books in Warrenton. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Small, Strange Collection

This may be one of the most strange and eclectic book lists.  The only thing these books have in common is that they were purchased for one dollar or less and are small in size.  Have a look.

1.  Happiness is a Dry Martini, Johnny Carson (1965).  Very much a 60's "Mad Men" period piece.  Illustrated by Playboy cartoonist Whitney Darrow, Jr.   One-page variations of Happiness is...recognizing your new secretary from an old Playboy Magazine.   Bought used somewhere.

2.  The Heroic Korean People, Chinese Foreign Language Press  (1972).  Full of color pictures, a piece of North Korean propaganda.  With a forward, "May the blood=cemented militant friendship between our two peoples remain forever green!"   Pictures showing soldiers with rocket launchers with captions like, "Korean People's Army fighters practice shooting with deep hatred for the U.S. aggressors."  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.

3.  Overseas Orders: A Handbook for OSS Armed Forces Personnel About to Go Overseas, Prepared by the Transportation Branch of OSS  (1944).  Marked "Restricted."  A practical guide for the forerunner of the CIA.  Would have been used in WWII.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.

4.  The Green Book, Mummar Al Qathafi, 10th Ed. (1987).  Provides solutions to the problems of Democracy, Socialism and provides a Third Universal Theory.  With an inscription, "Dear Susie, With my best regards and best wishes, Abdelmagid Bashi Eluahmadi, January 1, 1993."  Bought used at State Department Bookstore.

5.  The Observors Book of Aircraft, William Green with silhouettes provided by Dennis Punnett (1977).  Pictures, silhouettes and specifications of 137 aircraft.  Bought used somewhere.

Clues to Lost America

Given the time, I would roam every back road of the America.  In planning for that day, I collected some references guides to take with me.  Here's a short list.  

1.  A Field Guide to America's History, Douglass L. Brownstone (1984).  A reference guide showing where to look at the land to find man-made footprints across America complete with a glossary and bibliography.  Bought used at BJ's Books, Warrenton, VA

2.  The Lost Towns & Roads of America: A Journey Revealing Early America Still Here Today, J.R. Humphreys (1961).  Humphries set out from the Atlantic Highlands of New Jersey westward across the country to following Indian and pioneer trails through the midwest and southwest all the way to Spanish settlements along the California coast.    Map of journey on inside boards.  Extensive black and white photos.  Bought used somewhere.

3.  America's Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America, Edited by Dell Upton (1986).   A reference guide published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation containing photos of dozens of ethnic architectural styles.  Tall and narrow, it was clearly designed for architectural fieldwork.    Bought used somewhere.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

If It's Not Scottish...

I've got some Scottish heritage.  One of my all time best trips was to Scotland.  And I like the accents. (burrs?)  It's a great place for romantic and stormy landscapes and getting away from it all.  And also sheep and short harry livestock.  Here's a short list of my books on Scotland.  

1.  Edinburgh Picturesque Notes, Robert Louis Stevenson (1900).   One of Scotland's treasured authors, notes on the ancient city.  Sketches and black and white photos.  The inscription runs two pages (back when they did inscriptions as part of book giving) telling the recipient that the book was purchased during "one of the most fascinating and interesting days" of his life, August 28, 1902.  Purchased for the inscription alone at an Amherst, MA book store.  Book seal William J. Hay, Bookseller, John Knox's House, Edinburgh. 

2.  The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell (1973).  Bought used at State Department bookstore.

3.  It's a Long Way to Muclke Flugga: Journeys in Norther Scotland, WR Mitchell (1991).   Mitchell goes Go Samuel Johnson one further.  Find the northern most islands of the Scotland, the Shetlands and find the northern most island and the northern most point--that's where Mitchell traveled and explored.  Bought used somewhere.

4.  Ancient Monuments Scotland, Illustrated Guide published by the H.M. Stationary Office (1961).  More like a guidebook with pictures and a glossary.   Part of an official series of guides to ancient monuments in Scotland, England and Wales.  Bought used but don't know where.  No book picture but I'll include this ancient monument.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sets of Geography

You may think sets of books boring.  Indeed, in a moment of twitter feeds, status updates and multimedia multitasking, the sustained concentration that is required to absorb a set of books may seem unimaginable.  In fact, I consigned my sets to the bottom shelves, obscured by bric-a-brac.   I've rediscovered them in here.  The theme--foreign lands of mystery and intrigue.  

1.  John L. Stoddard's Lectures: Illustrated and Embellished with Views of the World's Famous Places and People, Being the Identical Discourses Delivered During the Past Eighteen Years Under the Title of the Stoddard Lectures 10 Volumes (1903).  Travel narratives of Europe, Japan, China, the Middle East and the American West.  Illustrated with black and white photographs and sketches.  I bought online at the height of my travelogue mania.  Beautiful as works of art with their red leather binding and marbled boards. 

2.  The Burton Holmes Lectures with Illustrations from Photographs by the Author in ten volumes (1901).  Elias Burton Holmes was a junior partner and later rival to John Stoddard.  He traveled the world and documented his adventures in his books, lectures and even early films.  Bought used but can't remember where--still during my travelogue mania.  Pictures and sketches.  

3.  Lands and People, The Grollier Society, Seven Volumes  (1951).  The Grollier Society was an educational publisher that issued a seven volume series of the world with black and white and color pictures.  Beautiful heavy stock paper and sturdy bindings.  The way a book should feel.  Bought used at the State Department book store.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Spy vs. Spy

Mountains of books have been written on the spy business.  As long as there are secrets, there will be interest in the profession.  Here's a short list from my collection:

1.  Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Peter Wright (1987).
 Wright provides a rare first-hand account of Britain's MI5 including efforts to detect high level defectors, Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt.  British authorities went to great efforts to prevent publication.  Black and white photos of the main figures.  Bought used from a library sale (what library, remains a mystery). 


2.  Red Horizons, Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa (1987).  The most chilling accounts of the group.  Pacepa was the Romanian head of the intelligence service under Ceausecu.  Romanian society was under near total surveillance with public buildings bugged and nearly all government officials sex lives monitored by hidden camera.  Bought new through a book club membership.

3.  KGB: The Inside Story, Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky (1990).  Extensive history of the KGB's history from its forerunner of 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Based on archives of the Soviet Union following its collapse.   Extensive pictures.  Bought used at the State Department used book store.

4.  The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization (1982).  Considered the most definitive work on the NSA.  Bamford followed up several years later with an updated history, Shadow Factory.  Bought used somewhere (I really should have kept better records.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

PART 1: The Ecclectic Traveler

My preference is for travel books devoted to a single adventure.  I started to make an exception and buy collections of travels.  Some of the books are built around a theme--the most remote outposts or others simply write a series of eclectic adventures in one book.   Here's my collection.

1.  Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire, Simon Winchester (2004).  Winchester traveled over 100,000 miles to vestiges of the British Empire including Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands and the most remote island on earth, Ascension Island.  Bought new.

2.  The Offensive Traveler, V.S. Pritchett (1967).  Pritchertt says he is an offensive not in the sense that he travels in a state of arrogance or complaining but that he is always observing and watching the private lives of other people where he is an outsider.  Wonderful  essays on Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran and Spain.  Bought used but can't remember where.

3.  Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World, Pico Iyer (1994).  Iyer is considered by some as the best living travel writer.  He has a way of finding places that just don't fit in and an eye for the absurd.  Bought used somewhere.

4.  The ends of the Earth: A Jurney to the Frontiers of Anarchy, Robert Kaplan (1996).  Kaplan uses his political and historical acumen as he travels through chaotic or despotic regions of Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.  Bought used State Department Bookstore.

5.  Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist, Aldous Huxley (1925).  Huxley, best know for Brave New World, started his travel book with an essay asking what is the point to travel at all.  His essays are mostly about his sampling of art, music and settings around Europe.  Bought new.

6.  Far Horizons: The Travel Diary of an Engineer, Joseph Ehlers (1966).  Inscribed by the author, "Best Wishes."  A short series of travelogues by an Engineer who traveled Alaska, Asia and South America.  Bought at the State Department Bookstore.

7.  Adventures and Escapes, edited by E.W. Parker, part of Heritage of Literature Series (1953).   Very small book with short adventures in Africa, India and military adventures.  Owners stamp, "Stephen Straker, 5 Merrick Close, Tuckahoe, NY.  Bought used at a book sale but can't remember where.

 8.  All Over the Place: Fifty Thousand Miles by Sea, Air, Road and Rail, Compton MacKenzie (1948).  Covers Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.  Written in a logbook style with foldout maps.  Bought used somewhere.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ship Shape

Sailing has its own language, its own culture and its own traditions.  The combination makes for an entertaining collection of reference books.

1.   Naval Customs Tradition and Usage, Lt. Commander Leland Lovette (1939).  A perennial book updated every few years that includes Sea Manners, Shore Manners loaded with historical examples and illustrated with black and white photos and etchings.  Purchased at the State Department Bookstore.

2.  Bluejackets Manual (1946, 17th ed.).  The guidebook for the US Navy.  A practical guide written for new recruits to old salts.  Bought used somewhere.

3.  Naval Terms, Commander C. C Soule, USN (1926).  If you want to know how to define everything from Keep Her Full to Pinch Her, Naval Terms is your source.   Precise illustrations for all rigs, knots, fittings, compasses and boats.  Bought for a $1.50 somewhere.  There's a history through inscriptions inside this book:

Issued to D.A. Weaver 977

To My Good Friend Allie--CA Maass

Hamburg, July 13, 1953

Dear Charlie, If I were [indecipherable] and I had your mind.  I would want some one to give me this book.  Have fun Charlie.  Cordially yours, Capt Alfred T. Olivet, Commanding T.S. Empire State

4.  To Hell with Sailing, Doris Sawyer with Illustrations by Cliff Crawford (1958).  A little book with short, whimsical guidance for weekend sailors with illustrations.  Bought used with no idea where.

Friday, May 11, 2012

PART II: Life During Wartime

How would any of us act during the chaos of war?  Here's a small collection of books on the subject. 

1.  War, Sebastian Junger (2010),  Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, lived among soldiers in a remote fire base in eastern Afghanistan for 15 months.  Junger observes the experiences of the soldiers in Afghanistan in an effort to understand experiences of soldiers throughout history.  Bought new. 

2.  The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo & The Somme, John Keegan (1976).  Keegan is one of the foremost scholars on warfare made a study of battles fought 500 years apart.   Keegan profiles the histories from standpoint of the foot soldier.  Bought used from State Department bookstore.

3.  War and Intelligence, John Keegan (2004).  Keegan's scholarship on how intelligence has been used by Nelson seeking Napoleon's fleet, Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War, and the British cracking the Nazi's Ultra code during WWII.  Bought used at BJ's Books in Warrenton, VA.

Monday, April 23, 2012

China is a Big Country

In a moment that out did Yogi Berra, General De Gaul is quoted as saying, "China is a big country inhabited by many Chinese."  

I'll say the same with books-China is a big country with many books written about it.  I've mentioned books on China from my other lists (Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Ella Maillart and others) but this is a short list of  western writers and travelers who shared their insight and passion about the country.  

1.  River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler (2001).  Hessler is a gifted writer and patient observer--two qualities that were well suited to his two years in the Peace Corps in a backwater of China.  His travels and experiences teaching English literature in China are wonderful and rewarding.  Hessler has since gone onto write other books on China and pieces for The New Yorker.  Bought new.

2.  Frontier of Heaven, Stanley Stewart: A Journey to the End of China, Stanley Stewart (2004).  Stewart exits the civilized part of China to adventure into the remote western provinces of China to find lost cities of the Silk Road, Buddhist monasteries, and the legacy of Genghis Khan.  His narration is compelling, making his travels a page-turner.  Filled with black and white photos.  A gift from the author for inspiration when I was attempting my own book.  On a personal note, Mr. Stewart was one of those writers who was generous with his time and advice.  He he encouraged me to push on with my book on Turkmenistan.

3.  China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, Bob Gifford (2007).  Gifford, a correspondent for NPR, traveled China's National Route 312--the equivalent of our Route 66.  His journey from the innovative east to the rugged west shows the full spectrum of diversity in China.  What I learned from his book is that Americans and Chinese have two things in common--optimism about the future.  Bought new. 

4.  The Man Who Loved China: The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, Simon Winchester (2008).   The story of Joseph Needham, an English scientist who rediscovered the secrets of China.  He introduced many of the ideas we understand to be associated with China to the West.  The book describes his lifelong love affair with the country.  Audio book.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Two Views of Central Asian Journeys

For a while my obsession was collecting travel books about central Asia.  Rather than do one long list, I'm always looking for new categories.  Here's a new sub-sub category: One trip--two views. 

1.  News From Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir, Peter Flemming (1936; Library of Travel Classics).  One of the most difficult routes that can be taken, Flemming and his traveling companion Ella Maillart, a Swiss journalist traveled through western China over the Taklaman desert and the Himalayans.  Flemming was the brother of Ian Flemming, author of the 007 James Bond novels.   Bought used, State Department Book Store.

2.  Forbidden Journey, Ella Maillart (1937; The Century Travel Series).  Ella Maillart was told the journey she was about to undertake was impossible for a westerner and certainly impossible for a western woman. Maillart was instrumental in getting Flemming through with her amateur medical skills.  A remarkable explorer, she went on to be a great solo adventure in her own right.     Her contrasting views to Flemming, calling him erratic, make a great the two books great companions.  Bought used but cant' remember where.

3.  Turkestan Solo: One Woman's Expedition from the Tien Shan to the Kizil Kum, Ella Maillart(1934: Century Travelers).  Maillart travels alone through unknown areas of Central Asia. A great line, that adventure and romance have the same thing in common--the unknown.  Bought used but can't remember where.

  4.  Desert Road to Turkestan, Owen Lattimore (1929; Kodasnsha Globe Series).  A linguist, explorer and China scholar, Lattimore set off for the wilds of western China--known as Turkestan for his honeymoon.   Lattimore made extensive use of camel caravans.  Bought used State Department Book Store. 

5.  Turkestan Reunion, Eleanor Holgate Lattimore, (1934 Kodasnsha Globe Series). Wife of Owen, her book is a series of letters that serve as a softer counterpoint to the couple's travels across the deserts, steppes and mountains of Central Asia.  Bought used State Department Book Store.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Racing Madness

The biggest body of water I've every raced on was the Chesapeake.  Racing around the British Isles or around the world solo is another mater.   Sport quickly becomes a fight for life.  Two stories of that here.  

1.  Fastnet Force 10, John Rousmaniere (1979),  Force 10 is a mariner's scale to say a violent storm at sea.  In 1979, a force 10 storm ripped though a storm in the Irish Sea during the Fastnet race.  Forty foot waves damaged over half of the 300 boats.  Rousmaniere who was in the race, assembled the stories into a single riveting narrative.  Bought used at the State Department book store with a book plate from "Jane Murdoch."

2.  Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters, Derek Lundy (1999).  The world's most dangerous race is the Globe Vendee, a single-handed sailor around the world with no stops.  During the 1996 race, sailor Derek Lundy, a contender for the lead, turned his boat around and sailed hundreds of miles to rescue a fellow racer whose boat was broken and sinking.  Bought new.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Think Globally

Books on globalization aren't new.  There is just more of them.  Here's a few:

1.  The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington (1996).  Huntington analyzes the world through 9 civilizations. Bought new. 

2.  The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman (2005).  Friedman's examination of how technology is connecting the world.  Bought used somewhere.

3.  The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, Ian Bremmer (2006). Bremmer presents a helpful theory to understand how nations transition from totalitarian states to democracies.  Received from book signing.

4.  America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, Mark Steyn (2006).   Steyn sees Europe in decline from its falling birth rate and welfare state, and America still able to survive through its ideas but just barely. Bought new.

 5.  Democratic Ideals and Reality, Halford Mackinder (1919, reissued 1942).    Mackinder was an eminent British geographer who suggested that the control of Eastern Europe was vital to control of the world. He formulated his hypothesis as:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island
Who rules the World-Island commands the world

Influenced the Germans, Russians and Allies leading up to WWII.  Bought used

6.  East and West, C. Northcote Parkinson (1963).   Parkinson, (another English historian--who coined the phrase, "work expands to fill the amount of time you have to fulfill it") examines the back and forth of different civilizations and the reliance of one country on another for defense.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore.