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Most Necessary for (Wo)Men to Know.

So, back in the ninth century, having established himself as king of Wessex, Alfred the Great initiated a programme of education of his male aristocracy and oversaw the translation into Old English of a number of books he considered to be 'most necessary for men to know'. These were mainly religious, but also included Bede's A History of the English Church and Peoples, and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

What books would you recommend today, aside from sacred books and standard chestnuts like Shakespeare? Mine would be Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, which to my mind is the finest early history we possess and a textbook introduction into how we construct, create, manipulate and interpret the varied histories that make up our past; Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which despite dated sections is still a clear cold look at the intersection of greed for money and power, faith and modern society; and Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a masterclass in plotting, pace and colour by a mixed-race author who was always proud to be exactly who he was, and as a result wrote characters who stand up for their principles. (I love the Musketeers more; and his best female characters are Claire and Manon in The War of Women, but Monte Cristo is probably his strongest book).

Over to you.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2016 06:12 pm (UTC)
Was the word "were" (male) or "man (mann? I forget) (human being)?
Jul. 13th, 2016 06:44 pm (UTC)
It was 'monnum', plural of man.
"ða ðe niedbeðearfosta sien eallum monnum to wiotonne"
Jul. 13th, 2016 10:12 pm (UTC)
Definitely "human beings" in general rather than male humans. "People" would be a better translation than "men".
Jul. 13th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
It's the standard translation and context suggests that Alfred meant male persons, sadly.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 13th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, good picks!
Jul. 14th, 2016 06:07 am (UTC)
Wasn't thinking of non-fiction earlier, but Syme's Roman Revolution, Bennett's History Matters, The Second Sex...

Things Fall Apart...
Jul. 14th, 2016 09:31 am (UTC)
Michael Herr - Dispatches
& Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse Five
& Marge Piercy - Gone To Soldiers.

Joanna Russ - How to Suppress Women's Writing
& George Eliot - Middlemarch
& Doris Lessing - The Golden Notebooks.

A Choice of Kipling's Prose selected by Craig Raine.

That'll do for now.

Edited at 2016-07-14 11:08 am (UTC)
Jul. 14th, 2016 04:40 pm (UTC)
Probably Herodotos, Histories. Ibn Battuta - an abridgement of his Travels. A bunch of Audre Lorde and bell hooks. Virgil's Aeneid and Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia.
Jul. 14th, 2016 04:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, and James C. Scott's Seeing Like A State.
Jul. 14th, 2016 06:26 pm (UTC)
Three Men in a Boat - to remind us to never take ourselves too seriously.
Jul. 14th, 2016 07:11 pm (UTC)
Well I'd be with Alf on Boethius and I would probably add Marcus Aurelius. I find stoicism almost the only possible way of coping with an increasingly impossible world. I'd want a transcript of the Putney Debates and Marc Bloch's "Strange Defeat"; as good a description of a society willing its own destruction as any I know.
Jul. 15th, 2016 12:33 pm (UTC)
Those are all excellent choices. Bloch remains such a strong voice, despite movement on in theory.
Jul. 15th, 2016 06:35 am (UTC)
Thucydides - not that I particularly enjoyed reading him as a student, but his accounts of the Athenians and their struggles with empire are a primer of how not to manage stuff. The Sicilian expedition in particular often reminds me of current politics.
Jul. 15th, 2016 12:34 pm (UTC)
I must read more of him!
Jul. 25th, 2016 06:48 am (UTC)
I've been away, so I'm seeing this for the first time, sorry. My (many) suggestions:

Lord Chesterfield: Letters
Michel de Montaigne: Essays
Isaiah Berlin: "The Hedgehog and the Fox"
Daniel Kahneman: "Thinking Fast and Slow"
John Keegan: "The Mask of Command"
Niccolo Machiavelli: "The Discourses"; "The Prince"
Sun Zi: "The Art of War"
Helmut von Moltke: "The Art of War, selected writings"
Lee Kuan Yew: "The Singapore Story"; "From Third World To First"
Nassim Taleb: "Fooled By Randomness"
Epicurus: Writings
Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric
Eric Hoffer: The True Believer

Edited at 2016-07-25 06:48 am (UTC)
Jul. 25th, 2016 09:35 am (UTC)
Those are very interesting: thank you!
Jul. 26th, 2016 01:52 am (UTC)
I've been away, with not a lot of internet access, so they're a bit late, sorry.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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