Feature

John Cleese's 6 favorite books

The comedy icon and Monty Python co-founder shares some of his favorite reads

The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist (Yale, $30).

This is probably the most interesting, most important book I've ever read. McGilchrist is a quite extraordinary man. He taught English at Oxford but decided he didn't like the way people talked about poetry. So he became a psychiatrist, and worked on the neuro-imaging of the brain. His book is about the brain's distinct hemispheres. He believes that they have different ways of living, of being in life, and that, in our present civilization, they've fallen out of balance.

Popper by Bryan Magee (Fontana, $13).

To me, Karl Popper is the best philosopher of science of the last century. This little book taught me more about the philosophy of science than any other.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vintage, $20).

It's been many years since I read this one, but I can still remember certain sequences: men riding horseback into battle, and the way they try to distract themselves from the fact that they could be dead or wounded terribly in an hour's time.

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (Picador, $20).

Wolfe's big novel about 1980s New York City is an absolutely superb book. It delighted me, and told me so much about a certain part of American society.

Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky by Maurice Nicoll ($57).

Nicoll, a British psychiatrist, was a pupil of Armenian philosopher and mystic George Gurdjieff. His multi-volume book contains, I think, the best advice on understanding one's own psychology as looked at through the Esoteric Christian tradition.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (NYRB Classics, $15).

I met Amis once and liked him very much. He was rather sour, but he wrote beautifully, and he did really manage to describe certain personalities. His first novel is about a fellow called Dixon, a history lecturer at a minor university. Dixon has wonderfully funny fantasies, and Margaret, his sometime girlfriend, is one of the most awful human beings in fiction. I remember reading this by the side of a swimming pool in Spain, and I was really quite bothering the people around me because I kept bursting into hysterical laughter.

— Comedy icon John Cleese is an actor, producer, writer, one of the co-founders of Monty Python, and a man after whom scientists named a rare species of lemur in 2005. His memoir, So Anyway, was recently released in audiobook form.

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