Picking three books that formed my thirties was harder than I thought it would be. I read a lot of great books. But I was able to narrow it down to three.
The Great War By Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk. I turned 30 when the GWOT was a year old. I was a political science major in college and had always been interested in history and specifically, the cold war and the middle east. This book sets out a complete history of western involvement in the middle east. This book is a monster (1,366 pages), but it is a comprehensive history of western involvement in the middle east.
Fisk writes chapters describing the all sorts of different events and places. Two that stuck with me was his description of the Algerian war for independence when the guerillas put the heads of French sympathizers on a pike. The other chapter was the chapter about the arms bazar and the arms dealers working in the world. I kept thinking that chapter would make a particularly good Cohen brothers movie.
Aside from that, the book is extremely well-written and Fisk pulls no punches in his criticism of how the west has dealt with the middle east and terrorists throughout history. “Who would ever say a word in favour of terrorists? What cause could justify terror? So our enemies are always ‘terrorists’. In the seventeenth century, governments used ‘heretic’ in much the same way, to end all dialogue, to prescribe obedience.” That is some pretty deep thinking. This book went a long way to form my world view about the middle east.
On Writing by Stephen King. I could have picked any number of writing guides. I could have picked legal ones. But, I chose this book because I think it’s the best book on writing I have read. Stephen King is a damn good writer, whether you like his subject matter, he writes well. His advice should be heeded. I recommend this book to my students because I think they need to broaden their horizons and good writing is a dying art.
Stephen King manages to discuss his life, but also the craft of writing in a way that is engaging and entertaining, but also educational.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Oh, man do I love this book. I went through a phase in my 30s where I read almost everything by Greene I could get my hands on. But this particular book resonates with me so much. The story of a young American CIA officer and an old British agent in Viet Nam prior to the U.S. war. It’s such a well-written and compelling story. I love this book so much. It’s another book I reread every so often because I always find a different perspective.
Graham Greene is an author who has a gift for using language to paint pictures. He is eloquent and literary, but accessible, a talent that not too many writers have. I love the story and I love the writing.
Tomorrow my little 3 books experiment comes to an end with 3 books 40s version. Keep in mind I’m only half-way into my 40s, but I have four books chosen. Two are the same topic, so I’m doing two. I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am.