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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum
There’s no greater tribute to the pleasures of L. Frank Baum’s book than to say that the story is so good that it isn’t overwhelmed by the images from the wonderful Judy Garland movie. The story unfolds with a declarative matter-of-factness that puts no barrier between the real and the imagined; bec...show more
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The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir
By Simone de Beauvoir’s own account, Sartre had a critical role in the genesis of The Second Sex. When she told him that she was about to embark upon a memoir of her childhood, he suggested she consider how being a woman had shaped her upbringing and engagement with the world. After some resistance,...show more
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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Alison Bechdel
One might expect a graphic narrative to be lean, wry, linear. Yet the pioneering triumph of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is that it’s resonantly rich in thought and theme, nuanced in its framing and feeling, contrapuntal in its treatment of chronology, character, and incident. Bechdel imbues her story ...show more
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Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So reads the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece of love and society. Its juxtaposition of universal verity with particular insight sets the tone for the eight hundred pages that follow. Anna Karenina is intima...show more
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The Education of Henry Adams
Henry Adams
Surveying national events from his birth through the era of the Civil War and the subsequent economic expansion of the United States, Adams’s distinctive autobiography is also a brilliant work of historical acumen. It depicts, with imaginative aplomb, the cultural transformations set in motion as th...show more
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The Oresteia
Aeschylus
If you seek between covers an education in the trials and tribulations, the hopes and fears, the terrors and triumphs of the human spirit, the majestic tragedies of the ancient Greeks are the place to begin, and perhaps the place to end as well. In their beautiful, haunting, unsparing plays, Aeschyl...show more
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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee
At the outset of his long, ever-evolving career as a dramatist, Edward Albee was an American heir to the intellectual energies of the European Theater of the Absurd. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, first staged in 1962, Albee moved his ferocity out of the absurd into a more realistic setting, a ...show more
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Inferno: The Divine Comedy, Book 1
Dante Alighieri
From the dark wood of its beginning, down through the nine circles of hell, across the seven terraces of purgatory, and into the ten heavens of paradise, Dante’s medieval tour de force gives us, in T. S. Eliot’s estimation, the greatest altitude and the greatest depth of human passion any writer has...show more
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The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende
On January 8, 1981, journalist and former television host Isabel Allende, a Chilean political exile, sat down in Venezuela to write a letter to her nearly 100-year-old grandfather in an attempt to bridge the distance between her present and her family’s past. She began with an anecdote he had told h...show more
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Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Heinlein's most famous and influential work, albeit not his most brilliantly speculative, is surely Stranger in a Strange Land, a book whose questioning of social mores and religious certitude have made it as congenial to some readers as it has been controversial to others. Astonishingly ente...show more
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Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Is life unfair? Is circumstance fate? Can we ever take the law into our own hands to change it? Fyodor Dostoevsky’s first major novel poses these questions in the tale of a man who enacts brutal crimes in order to break the strictures of his social destiny. For Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the han...show more
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The Qur'an
As the fundamental text of Islam, the Qur’an (or Koran) holds a revered place in the religious life of nearly two billion people around the globe. It also occupies a place in the ideological tumult of our age, where its messages are often distorted by fear, false assumptions, and misbegotten advocac...show more
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Confessions
Saint Augustine
Of all the saints of the early Christian church, Saint Augustine of Hippo possesses, for the modern reader at least, the most interesting mind. His ideas on language, time, and the mysteries of personality, humanity, and divinity are still provocative—after sixteen centuries!—and his genius for expr...show more
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Meditations
Marcus Aurelius
Perhaps even more than the great Athenian statesman Pericles, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius fulfilled Plato’s notion of the philosopher-king. He was well trained for the role, having been handpicked by Hadrian at the age of eight to succeed that imperial luminary. The beneficiary of the finest e...show more
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Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle
Student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, founder of the Athenian Lyceum, Aristotle possessed a pedigree every bit as singular as his influence would prove to be. His ideas, instruments of investigation, and observations of nature both loom over and underlie much intellectual endeavor. His wor...show more
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The Birth of Tragedy
Friedrich Nietzsche
What makes for an exhilarating read? Usually a gripping plot, magnificent writing, and well-drawn characters. There are, however, a few special books that are exhilarating because the author captures brilliant ideas and unprecedented insights with such vividness and immediacy that the reader is equa...show more
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Bhagavad Gita
There is no certainty about who wrote the Gita, or when; scholars have dated it anywhere between the third century BC and the sixth century of the modern era. At some point, it was incorporated into Hinduism’s mammoth epic, the Mahabharata, but it appears to have been written later than the rest of ...show more
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Flatland
Edwin A. Abbott
A novel of mathematical whimsy, Flatland is set in the peculiar world that provides the book’s name and is home to its putative author, A. Square, a two-dimensional being in a world inhabited by lines, triangles, circles, and polygons. Ingeniously composed as a kind of dystopian memoir, Flatland is ...show more
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The Book of Job
As translated by Stephen Mitchell
Job’s tale is the Bible’s profound and unsettling meditation on suffering, justice, and the inscrutability of life. It begins in prose (as it will close), introducing the legend of the pious man from the land of Uz and revealing what Job himself never knows: that the miseries visited upon him result...show more
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Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Reminds me of the Beatles’ "He’s a real nowhere man..."
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