This is and is not about me, since it is about me while it appeared on the the
about ME, where there also is
a thread about favourite (I learned to spell English, not American, so I am
regularly confused, but I do tend more to the King's Authorized English than
to American English pace Webster...) books, which I could not resist.
The original is
under this link, and the html-revised version is as follows:
Some Favourite Books & Authors
I have been hooked on books ever since I could read, and only
now the internet is a little replacing printed books as a source
of information and enjoyment. Here are two lists of favorite
writers & books I read the last 50 years (i.a.) mostly from the
top of my head, ordered in time and with links to brief numbered
notes on the right (*)
The above is reading for pleasure (all except Feynman's
Lectures on Physics, that is very pleasurable reading but
requires maths, while the rest doesn't).
O, and my general advice to younger people is this (which I
found out the hard way):
....for they have been sifted carefully.....
...and don't depend on fashion or ads.....
that is: the books that have survived 100 or more years of
readership and are still well-known as special. I
found them nearly always better & more worthwile than what the
20th C produced, that I read (and apart from science and
mathematics, but that is not my subject now).
And in particular, read from
- Everyman's Library
(the finest selection of books in one collection I
- Dover Books
(many classics in many fields)
I could comment on any or all of this list, if asked, and
suppose I will work it over and/or extend for my own website (www.maartensz.com).
O, and in case anyone might like to ask: I have no TV since 40
years, since it generally turned out a stupid and annoying waste
of time, while also I have a very good visual memory without
delete button. This also keeps me out of the movies, since I
prefer my own fantasies over those of others as prepared for
 Try more translations (especially if a classic
disappoints you: it may be not for you - yes Virginia: they really
thought in those long gone days! - but if you are intelligent and somewhat
educated it is quite possible you have run into an awful or mediocre
 The best Plato-translation (all known works) I know of
is by Benjamin Jowett. Theaetetus is listed because Plato disposed of
relativism and post-modernism already ca. 370 B.C.
 The Republic contains communism, fascism,
totalitarianism, all in nuce but clearly expounded, and is at times pure
Monthy Python (though Plato did not intend that!).
 The "inner chapters" are the chapters that are supposed
to be by Chuang Tzu (mosty) and not by later authors.
 Ecclesiastes is part of the Bible, and it is a near
miracle - at least! - that it is in that Book at all.
 See  and Lucretius has very many
translations. The one in the Loeb Classical Library is quite well done, but I
soon hope to have the proem-translation on line by way of my site that I read
first ca. 1972, and then lost, and now found again
 See : The editions in Penguin
Classics(that break up the original parallel lives) are quite good.
 The Penguin Classics is fine.
 See 
 See 
 Say what you will about Augustine: He could write!
 See 
 & : The Discourses are longer,
more serious and give more of Machiavelli's real thought than The Prince.
 Explains - by implication - much about human history.
And De la Boétie was Montaigne's friend.
 I have seen many awful editions and translations of
Shakespeare. The best I saw is one in three fairly large paperback volumesn in
Penguin, with a good glossary on the page.
 Long very satirical poem by a poor but very smart
 Quite amazing texts by a 17th C mystic, communist and
 Hobbes had a very clear mind and a very fine style and
was, since Classical Antiquity, one of the first in the West to outline a
 Actually, I read Molière in French, but can't find my
edition - and I guess he is better in French than in other languages.
is on my site
in full with
 Defoe's other books are also interesting, and he seems
- Two of the finest, most savoury & delectable
satires ever written:
I have been assured by a very knowing
American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well
nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,
whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it
will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
 More excellent extra-ordinarily well written satire.
 Not an essay but an - essayistic, philosophical -
poem, somewhat overly optimistic, but fine poetry.
- Candide is one of Voltaire's fairly brief satires
of mankind; the Philosophical Dictionary is about philosophy and anything else
Voltaire wish to spoof.
 Fielding had a very sharp eye for hypocrisy and must
have been an amazing man. The edition of Tom Jones in Penguin Classics is
 Fielding's recording of his voyage to Lisbon while dying: humorous, stoic
- Dr. Johnson wrote far more than what's listed,
but this seems to me some of his best. Rasselas is - rather astonishingly -
much like Voltaire's Candide in its outlook on mankind as Dr. Johnson noted
himself, as he also noted, no doubt correctly, it cannot have been due to
plagiarizing by either, since the books were published around the same time.
Great minds think alike. The Rambler are Johnson's most serious essays and may
appear to be a bit too much on prosaic stilts - latinate style, rolling
periods - for some. The Lives of the Poets shows Dr. Johnson, late in life,
writing a more common style.
- Boswell's biography of Dr. Johnson has been often
described as the best biography ever. What's considerably less well know, and
was only discovered and printed in the 20th Century, were Boswell's diaries,
which he used as a source for his biography, but which contain much more. They
are great reading, and very informative about the 18th C in England, Scotland
 Gibbon is an amazing author it may take a little to
get used to, because of his ornate, polished, ironical style, which he adopted
in part to avoid problems with censors. If you like him, I recommend you read
all of him: There are good shorter editions of Decline and Fall, but the full
text has all of Gibbon's often satirical footnotes.
 Burke is often considered a conservative, which he no
doubt was in several senses, but which also does not do him full justice. What
he certainly was, was a very great writer, as e.g. Hazlitt testified, while he
was also, by Dr Johnson's admission, a very great conversationalist.
 Godwin's Enquiry is the first systematic exposition of
- a position much like - social anarchism. It delves considerably deeper than
most later anarchist texts and is what its title says it is.
 I like Chamfort very much, as did - e.g. - Hazlitt,
Mill and Nietzsche. Some think him cynical; I think he mostly spoke the truth
as he saw it, and that he saw very deeply.
 Lichtenberg is also an amazing aphorist, like
Chamfort, but more ironical. He is best read in his original German.
- Hazlitt is one of my most favourite writers, and
was an amazing essayist, who well deserves the title "England's Montaigne".
His work is well-edited and well-represented in the Everyman's Library, though
this lacks his Liber Amoris, which is the record of his mad passion for a much
younger woman. This caused a considerable scandal and did much to blacken his
reputation for over 100 years, but it is an impressive painting in words of
what real love may do to a man's mind.
- These texts comprise much - not all - of
Schopenhauer's published writings and I listed them not because I am a
Schopenhauerian, for I am not, but because he wrote a great German.
- Perhaps Thoreau was not a great writer, but he
was original and cared deeply for nature, honesty, individuality and freedom.
 Perhaps Whitman was not a great poet, but as for
Thoreau immediately above. (The full text is a lot of non-rhyming poetry, a
sort of exalted ecstatic rolling prose-poetry.)
- The great Swiss historian Burckhardt was also a
very fine writer.
- Multatuli is my favourite Dutch writer, who also
was an amazing man. I edited the 7 books of his Ideas for my
with my extensive Dutch comments.
 Nietzsche was a great writer and a fine but not so
great philosopher. This is his criticism of science and scientists, as often
with him in part true and in part hyperbolic, but all in a very fine German.
 Twain's best book, and very good it is.
 Great short essay on the virtue of proportionating the
strengths of one's beliefs to the quality of one's evidence of them by an
English mathematical genius, who was the only precursor Einstein had with the
general theory of relativity.
 Great satirical definitions by a great writer with a
very fine mind.
- I like verbal written and spoken wit, and Wilde
could write and speak it like very few.
- William James was not only a great psychologist
but also a great writer, and much better - by my reckoning - that way than his
brother Henry. He was not a bad philosopher, but here the palm must go, as he
himself would agree, to his friend C.S. Peirce, who was a truly great
philosopher, but not a great writer.
 Chechov was a medical doctor of great sensibility and
sensitivity. His stories are excellent as stories and as psychological
pen-portraits of human characters.
- Russell was not only a very fine philosopher and
logician, but also a very fine writer. The text listed are all worth reading
were it only for the qualities of his lucid, clear ironical style. And
Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy does contain nor
presuppose any real mathematics.
- Henry Miller seems to me to be one of the best
American prose writers of the 20th Century - George Orwell, who knew him also
personally, would have agreed - and it is a bit odd he is not seen as such but
rather as a pornographer - which by today's liberal standards he hardly was,
altough his books and essays were main forces to create today's liberal
- Orwell was a very fine very clear writer with a
very fine very clear mind. I like him very much, and agree with him that his
more literate early fiction is far less valuable than his essays and later
 Burnham supplements Orwell, who was inspired some by
him, and is an outstanding writer in his own right.
- Crossman these days is best remembers for The God
That Failed, about communism, published not long after WW II, but his Plato
Today, published in the wake of the economical crises, with the question "What
would Plato have taught of this" - the crisis, communism, fascism and more -
is also quite interesting.
 Céline was a medical doctor enlisted in WW I. His
Voyage is about it, and aabout man's inhumanity to man, in great
French. (There are good translations, that one needs if one's French is school
 Borgess wrote some very fine philosophical essays, and
they are collected in this book in what seems to be a good translation.
- Nabokov's best known books, both concerned -
among other things - with love for young girls. I like Ada better than Lolita,
for it contains some fairly good philosophy and is more witty.
- Kerouac gives a very good presentation of the
mood and mindset of an era, at least in America, in more or less literate
circles, namely the American literate bohemians in the fifties and the idem
hipsters in the sixties.
- The Perennial Philosophy is Huxley's take on
mysticism, which he was much concerned with and influenced by, with many fine
quotes, and Brave New World is (anti)-utopian novel.
 Watts was quite influential, especially in the US, in
popularizing Zen in the fifties and sixties. I never thought he got satori -
the Wikipedia turns out to support me in this - but he was fine writer who
knew much about his subject. This is his first book, and I think it is his
- Heller's Catch 22 is a great satire on war, based
on Heller's own WW II experiences. This his best book by far, but there other
nice ones too, such as Picture This.
 Another satire on war by an American who was in it.
- Sturgeon wrote mostly science-fiction, which I
mostly don't like, since much of it is not well-written and/or somewhat
whacky, but Sturgeon could really write and these are his two most famous
books, both concerned with being somewhat more than merely human or merely
normal and well-adjusted.
- Kesey was an American hipster, who got rather
(in)famous when trying to turn the world on with LSD. But he certainly could
write. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (about the insanity that governs
asylums for the - supposedly - insane) was made into a fine film and is a fine
book, but Sometimes A Great Notion (probably Kesey's attempt to write THE
Great American Novel) is even better (and considerably longer).
- These are both lavishy and well-illustrated
books about the arts, mostly paintings, and themes that relate to the
illusions, misrepresentations and trickery that art thrives on or uses.
- Feynman was a great character, a genuine
original in the best sense, and a great physicist. These are his best books
related to physics. They are very well-written but the mathematically innocent
or iliterate should be warned that the Lectures require some mathematics to
savour them fully (and are a lot of text).
BjØrneboe was a
Norwegian writer with a very fine lapidary style. The theme of the three books
listed, that form a series, is man's inhumanity to man, that drove
BjØrneboe in 1975 to
 Yawning Heights is a great satire by a Russian
logician and philosopher, who because of it was banned from the Soviet Union,
which the book satirizes - although one of the striking things is that what it
satirizes, viz. bureaucracy gone insane in totalitarian institutions, is not
at all llimited to the - late and unlamented - SU.
 Tuchmann was an American historian who wrote quite a
few books. This is her best one, and concerns the usual folly that leads to
war, and that seems repeated over and over again in human history.
 Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series (many books)
is the lightest reading on the list, but it is fine, witty prose.
 Jung Chang's book is part biography of her parents,
grandparents and herself (a very intelligent, very beautiful and very
determined woman), in China between 1920 and 1980. It is so true and
well-written that - in spite of international fame and China's supposed
liberation - is still forbidden in China, to the best of my knowledge.
- Martin Gardner has an excellent and original
mind and a fine clear style. These are three of his - many - books I like
- Raymond Smullyan is one of the greatest
mathematical logicians of the 20th Century. These are two of his very fine
books of logical puzzles, for which you need know nothing of logic or
mathematics: all that is required is a clear mind.
P.S. As I started by saying, I wrote this from the
top of my head on April 4, 2010. If I did the same on any other day, the
result would be different - but there would be a considerable overlap.
Also, the reader should note that I have avoided
listing books I enjoyed which involve mathematics or mathematical logic or
presuppose some scientific knowledge or are good but intricate philosophy.
If these were to be included, the list would be quite
(*) The links in this file are to relevant items on my site only. If you
are interested in any of the authors or books, try an internet-search by name and title.
There often are editions of the classical texts available on line, and there
may be several of anyone given text, in various qualities and styles (html,