bryn davies
v5. “sandedback”


☎ 0437 769 347

✈ brunswick, victoria, australia

the guardian 100 greatest non-fiction books:


This list was recently published, and being a great lover of non-fiction, I have decided to attempt to read all of it, including re-reading the (sadly few) titles that I have already gone over (marked with stars). I will be tracking my progress on this page, along with some comments if I feel moved to make them.

I have an Amazon wish-list reflecting the unread portion of the list, although the copies on the wish-list might not be the editions I eventually read. If you, for some reason, feel moved to buy me a book, it can be viewed here.

the list:

  1. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975)
    [Popular Penguins] Considering the long shadow cast by If This is a Man (1947) (and some foreshadowing in the prologue), I expected this book to deal with Levi's wartime experiences. While it does, to some extent (notably in "Vanadium", "Cerium"), the book is instead more akin to a set of detective stories about the natural world (Levi's coinage, which I cannot take credit for), drawing on his experiences as a working chemist. The war does seep in however, as backdrop - all of the storys of Levi's youth, of necessity, play out against a background of Italy's descent into the war in 1940, including the enactment of the Italian racial laws in 1938. It also includes two short pieces of fiction. Wikipedia tells me this work was voted the "best science book ever" by the Royal Institution of Great Britain (an organisation for the promotion of scientific education) in 2006. I am loathe to tread into the murky waters of "best evers," but it is a very worthy book.

  2. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (1963)
    [Kindle] Reading this book, I realised how little we had learned about the Holocaust in school, particularly the contribution of Jewish councils to the implementation of the Final Solution. While Arendt will be remembered for her contribution to the demythologisation of the Nazis, for me this was the most significant element in her account. Also not to be ignored was her incisive distinction between a "trial" and a theater for the victorious parties to tell their stories in. I can understand how controversial this book would have been in '63.

  3. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)
    [Secondhand copy from a garage sale.] I think, given Stein's reputation as a feminist thinker, there was probably no small amount of shock to be taken from reading this in 1933. For me, however, it seemed like a perfectly natural "living abroad" story that seemed just as fresh today in 2012. Wonderful to read the little sketches of the lives of the great artists of Paris from that period. Negatives: Stein, if I am remembering correctly, occasionally uses her mouthpiece of Toklas to heap praise upon herself (sneaky!) and the whole thing left me thinking "wouldn't it be nice if some rich family could bankroll me so I could just fuck off to Paris and work on my printmaking for years and not do any actual work." I mad.
  4. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990)
  5. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
  6. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
  7. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621)
  8. The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)
  9. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
  10. The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald (1995)
  11. Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński (1982)
  12. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (1941)
  13. Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988)
  14. Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (1970)
  15. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776)
  16. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
  17. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
  18. The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980)
  19. Venice by Jan Morris (1960)
  20. Phenomenology of Mind by GWF Hegel (1807)
  21. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
  22. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)
  23. The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781)
  24. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)
  25. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405)
  26. Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964)
  27. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941)
  28. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938)
  29. The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynmann (1965)
  30. The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (1979)
  31. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1779)
  32. The Symposium by Plato (c380 BC)
  33. The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DuBois (1903)
  34. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes by Philip Gourevitch (1999)
  35. The Man Died by Wole Soyinka (1971)
  36. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
  37. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (1922)
  38. Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550)
  39. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)
  40. The Double Helix by James Watson (1968)
  41. Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa (2002)
  42. The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950)
  43. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008)
  44. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
  45. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)
  46. Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734)
  47. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)
  48. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
  49. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)
  50. The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1848)
  51. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)
  52. Mythologies by Roland Barthes (1972)
  53. The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355)
  54. Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580)
  55. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)
  56. Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975)
  57. Suicide by Émile Durkheim (1897)
  58. An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe (1975)
  59. News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996)
  60. Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes (1641)
  61. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)
  62. China Along the Yellow River by Cao Jinqing (1995)
  63. The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen (1998)
  64. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
  65. The Histories by Herodotus (c400 BC)
  66. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899)
  67. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c180)
  68. Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
  69. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)
  70. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)
  71. The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825)
  72. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)
  73. In Praise of Folly by Erasmus (1511)
  74. Danube by Claudio Magris (1986)
  75. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
  76. Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
  77. The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (1994)
  78. Economy and Society by Max Weber (1922)
  79. The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon (1961)
  80. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (1791)
  81. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
  82. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)
  83. Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000)
  84. Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972)
  85. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
  86. Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)
  87. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
  88. The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976)
  89. The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi (1927)
  90. The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967)
  91. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)
  92. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (c500 BC)
  93. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962)
  94. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)
  95. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905) ✩
  96. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651) ✩
  97. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988) ✩
  98. The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890) ✩
  99. Walden by HD Thoreau (1854) ✩
  100. Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1883) ✩