Books! I can't land on just one. Each of these has reoriented my perspective and expanded my capacity to think.
Joseph J. Ellis, First Family: Abigail and John Adams
For historians, anything by Joseph Ellis—he just released a new book on John and Abigail Adams.
Garry Wills, Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography
Garry Wills has a new edition, with copious notes, of St. Augustine's Confessions. I am sure it is brilliant—everything Wills produces is.
E. D. Hirsch, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools
Best and most lucid account of what our schools ought to be doing.
Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope
A progressive-pragmatist's handbook, John Dewey-style. One chapter, “Education as Socialization and Individualization,” is about the most brilliant and concise description I have ever read of what should happen K–12, then what should continue in college.
Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
One of the most exciting and thrilling books I have ever read. Not a new one. Anyone who has not read it should begin here. I think Menand puts to rest the question of whether or not a writer's or philosopher's life should be considered when examining his or her writings.
Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West
Religion and politics from Hobbes to the nineteenth century. Brilliantly written, easy to read, breathtakingly innovative in its treatment of old and familiar topics. His conclusion is both disturbing and stirring. I am happy I didn't sneak a peek at the last chapter before I got there.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt
I can't do much fiction these days—to read a novel, one needs extended time. My reading is in unpredictable snatches, followed by dry spells—great for philosophy or history, bad for fiction. But I read Dream of the Celt because Vargas Llosa got the Nobel, and I felt obligated to see what his latest novel is like. It is a wonderful book, beautifully written in Spanish, and I expect the translation is a good one. An historical novel about a man I had never heard of: Roger Casement. My ignorance. He was an important figure in the Anglo-Irish issue of the twentieth century, as well as the European penetration into the Congo.