Best books...chosen by Nick Harkaway
Nick Harkaway’s new 700-page novel, Gnomon, is set in a near-future Great Britain where all citizens are under constant surveillance. Below, the author of Tigerman and Angelmaker recommends six books of nonfiction that could easily inspire novels.
The Meadows of Gold by Masudi (Routledge, $48). This is a 10th-century collection of medieval Arab histories. Some are full-fledged and engrossing. Others are sketchy and tantalizing, such as the story of a thief who, challenged to steal something from a guarded house, pretends to be a divine messenger in order to steal the owner.
Among Warriors by Pamela Logan (Overlook, $15). So you’re an aerospace scientist and a mechanical engineer with a black belt in karate. What do you do? Obviously, you walk into Tibet to be among warriors. As a study of persons, Logan’s memoir is unmissable. What on earth drives anyone to walk, ride, bike, or paddle a yak-hide coracle into hard-to-reach places and uncertain welcomes? A wayward, occasionally uncomfortable story, and therefore utterly intriguing to me.
Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf (Harper Perennial, $16). A gorgeous meditation on the mind and the self. The text weaves effortlessly in and out of science and culture.
The Immediate Experience by Robert Warshow (Harvard, $32). Warshow himself is fascinating—a doomed, angry, forensic cultural critic—and his essays are even more so. From Born Yesterday to Shane by way of Arthur Miller, Warshow lends a subjective eye to the American quest for identity.
Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700 by Anthony Blunt (Yale, $40). Turn to the index and find someone with plenty of entries, follow that person through the book until he or she is no longer interesting, then follow someone else. That way, you experience history the way we live it: through people, connection, and interest. This particular book has another layer of intrigue: Its author is rather better known as one of the Cambridge Five, the Soviet spies who penetrated British intelligence and betrayed thousands of agents behind the Iron Curtain.
Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu (Omega, $18). Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi princess born in Moscow, was also the first female radio operator to be smuggled into occupied France during World War II. The details of Khan’s story—of identity, nationality, and courage—are those of a world history most people never hear about.