A nice book site

Matthew Cobb pointed me to an interesting site for picking up tips on books. It’s called Five Books, and the schtick is this: an expert in a field is asked to choose five books on a topic related to her work.  An interview goes with the recommendations. (Don’t be put off by this week’s New-Agey home page.)

Science, especially biology, is not this site’s strong suit, but you can still find Walter Isaacson on “Einstein” Lewis Wolpert on “Science” , David Brooks on “Neuroscience“, Steven Gubser on “String Theory,” and Jeremy Mynott on “Birdwatching.”  I was pleased to see that Mynott’s first choice was one of the books I recommended so highly here: The Peregrine, by J. A. Baker.  He says this about it:

This book caught my imagination when I first read it, which was in the late 1960s. It’s a book about one man’s obsession with a particular bird. He was fascinated with a peregrine that he found locally, and he stalked it for a whole year. He tried to follow it in all its movements and get the bird used to him so that he could approach it more closely than a peregrine would normally allow. It’s the story of this pursuit of the bird and how he came to feel a kind of affinity with it, and how he uses the bird as a symbol for the things he feels, or wants to feel, about the natural world. The writing in the book is really rather extraordinary – it’s a very lyrical, very elevated kind of prose that could completely fail, or become too lush or rich or something. He just about teeters on the brink the whole time, and you think, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s overdone it now!’ and then he gets away with it. I think it’s a magnificent piece of writing that I find very moving.

Spot on!

But who said we always have to read about science? Mary Warnock has some interesting recommendations for “Godless Morality,” and for footy you can find Rob Hughes on “Football” and Simon Kuper on “The Best Football Books in English“.  Madhur Jaffrey selects five “Wonderful Cookbooks” while David Bellos chooses “Great French Novels” (en français).  Finally (and I’ve omitted tons of categories), Allen MacDuffie has eight selections for “The Comic Novel.”

If you’re casting about for something to read, you could do worse than start here.


  1. Tim Harris
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Incidentally, when you get round to reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes, do not read the blurb first (or if you have read it, try to forget it) – it’s a bit of a spoiler.

  2. Graham
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Shame that first up is Radio 2’s Queen of Woo – Janey Lee Grace.


    “they loan FIR machines to their patients and they are just amazing for helping to shrink tumours and you just plug it in and lie under it.”

  3. Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Ooh, very nice site. Appiah on honour – terrific.


  4. Pete Moulton
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Well, naturally I had to check Mynott’s list of books on birds, and was dismayed to find no mention of Peter Matthiessen’s lovely “The Wind Birds.” For shame, Jeremy Mynott!

  5. stvs
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Five history books for atheists about the foundations of the monotheistic worlds of Christendom and Islam, focusing on the Mediterranean.

    1. Byzantium (3 volumes, although there is an abridged single volume), by John Julius Norwich.

    Of special interest for atheists: everything to do with early church heresies, the challenge of Islam, and the Fourth Crusade.

    2. Venice, by John Julius Norwich.

    Of special interest for atheists: La Serenissima’s pragmatic military and political strategy especially in competition with Rome, the challenge of Islam, and the Fourth Crusade.

    3. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf.

    Of special interest for atheists: the pragmatic military and political strategies of both the Crusader and Arab states in competition with each other and themselves. Bonus atheist quote: 

    The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts:
    Those with brains, but no religion,
    And those with religion, but no brains.
    —Abu’l-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri

    4. Ottoman Centuries, by Lord Kinross.

    Of special interest for atheists: The challenge of the post-Enlightenment West.

    5. Atatürk, by Andrew Mango.

    Bonus atheist quote: 

    I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men. —Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    • Dominic
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      Atatürk, hasn’t he been turned into something of a cult in Turkey? For a history of the crusades Runciman – he was a terrific writer I think. Have you read him?

      • Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

        Ataturk is like George Washington to modern Turkey, only more so.

  6. Diane G.
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Super–just in time for Xmas…er, Solstice shopping!

    Much enjoyed the interview with Mynott, & pondering his recommendations.

    I wonder if his musings about why people especially like to watch birds include the theory of an old prof of mine; he felt it was because both taxa (humans & birds) tend to be so visually oriented. “After all,” he continued, “we don’t go out in the field and smell mammals…”

  7. Wayne Robinson
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a good site for me NOT to look at. Being a book addict, I can’t afford to buy any more books, until I clear the backlog of books I haven’t read yet …

    • Dominic
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:13 am | Permalink

      You are shaming me – I know I will look but like you I have already more books than I can read. (“Between age and death, occasion waits.”) 😦

  8. Smith Powell
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks for recommending this site. I see that I have friends here that also have more books than they can read!

  9. neil
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    You should add “A Wicked Company: The Forgotton Radicalism of the European Enlightenment”, and read about the strident new atheists of the 18th century.

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