Lawrence Wright's 6 favorite books

The New Yorker staff writer recommends works by Ben Hecht, John McPhee, and more

(Image credit: (Courtesy Kenny Braun, Book image )

The Earl of Louisiana by A.J. Liebling (Louisiana State Univ., $19). In 1959, Liebling, one of The New Yorker's greatest and most amusing writers, arrived in Baton Rouge to chronicle the campaign of Earl Long, Huey's younger brother. Earl, who had just checked out of a mental asylum in Texas to run for re-election as governor of Louisiana, was a great character, and Liebling made a full meal of him.

A Child of the Century by Ben Hecht (out of print). Hecht was one of our great playwrights and screenwriters, with The Front Page and Notorious among his credits. But it is his memoir that I treasure, particularly the stories of his newspaper days in Chicago in the early 20th century.

North Toward Home by Willie Morris (Vintage, $16). Another great memoir, North Toward Home traces Morris's career from Yazoo City, Mississippi, through Texas, and finally to the summit of the New York City publishing world. All of it is told in the rich and earthy tones of a natural storyteller.

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The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker (Free Press, $16). I've never spent so much time arguing with an author as I have with Ernest Becker in this quarrelsome masterpiece about the lengths to which man goes to defy mortality. You may remember it as the book that Woody Allen gives to his girlfriend in Annie Hall.

Levels of the Game by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). No journalist of my generation can ignore the influence of McPhee, the great structuralist. He famously profiled Atlantic City using the Monopoly board as his template. In this book, he writes about tennis legends Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner as they play a semifinal match at the 1968 U.S. Open, but he manages to make it about two Americas, one white and one black.

The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (out of print). His is the narrative voice I always return to when I'm looking for my own. The purity and integrity of his language are hard to match, but it's always worth trying.

Lawrence Wright is the author of The Looming Tower, a 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner. His new book is Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David.

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