Political commentator and humorist P.J. O'Rourke chooses six of his favorite "unread" books ("unread by the general public rather than me"). He is the author, most recently, of The CEO of the Sofa (Atlantic Monthly Press, $17.50).
Shelley's Heart by Charles McCarry (Random House, out of print). People who know more about covert matters than they ought to say that McCarry knows too much. The premise here is that the U.S. is beleaguered by a conspiracy of nitwit Yalies. Considering that three presidents and one first lady have emerged from Yale during the past 13 years, McCarry… knows too much.
The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute (Queens House, out of print). Shute is known for On the Beach, the world's best novel in which everyone dies at the end. The Chequer Board, by contrast, is a story about race relations that can actually be read for pleasure. The plot turns upon, of all things, ordinary middle-class decency and nice manners, and includes a vigorous argument in favor of free trade and a subtle defense of the Pelagian heresy.
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New Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc (Duckworth, out of print). Ultramontane Catholic anti-disestablishmentarian troglodyte Belloc turned out to be the master of vers de société. Here he is on one Peter Goole, spendthrift scion of the upper class: "And even now, at 25 /He has to WORK to keep alive!/Yes! All day long from 10 to 4!/For half the year or even more."
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (Akadine Press, $19.95). The only mid-19th-century Boston transcendentalist not full of crap, Holmes had the common sense Emerson lacked, the sense of humor Thoreau was missing, and wasn't a windbag like Melville or a head case like Whitman.
My Talks with Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany (William Heinemann Ltd., out of print). The Irish dramatist and short-story writer was, most of the time, a bog-hopper's J.R.R. Tolkien. But here, Dunsany invents an Anglican clergyman who, under the influence of exactly the right amount of Tokay wine, recalls his previous incarnation as a pet spaniel. Thus Dunsany becomes Boswell to the whole Dr. Johnson of dogness.
'Genesis' (World Bible Publishers, $3.59). People do read Genesis, but they never seem to get as far as chapter 34, where the sons of Jacob trick the Hivites into circumcising themselves. Then, while the Hivites are still really sore, Jacob's sons rush in and kill them and plunder their city. This may shed some light on the Oslo peace process and the Camp David talks.
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