Dave Eggers recommends 6 works of satire
The McSweeney's founder recommends works by Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, and more
Dave Eggers' new book is The Captain and the Glory, an illustrated novel about an unfit, buffoonish leader. Below, the McSweeney's founder and best-selling memoirist, novelist, and nonfiction writer recommends six other works of satire.
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (1921).
Any lover of Catch-22 should read this book, which does to World War I soldiering what Joseph Heller did to World War II. Hasek was a private in the Austro-Hungarian army, and if this novel is based at all on his own service, he was the worst soldier in the history of armed conflict. A very funny, perfectly absurd book for the most perfectly absurd of wars.
How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy (1886).
This short story is the greatest, most compact summary of the folly of material acquisition in the face of our inevitable deaths.
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis (1881).
The great Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis was openly influenced by Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in this faux memoir by an aristocrat named Brás Cubas. Speaking from beyond the grave, Brás/Machado lovingly skewers the customs and powers-that-be of 19th-century Brazil in roughly 160 short chapters. "The main defect of this book," Brás Cubas tells the reader, "is you."
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (1913).
For me, The Custom of the Country is the sharpest and by far the funniest Wharton novel, and nothing less than a masterpiece of social satire. A young social climber, Undine Spragg, claws her way up through New York and Parisian society during the Belle Époque. Every new peak she reaches soon becomes an insufferable plateau, and the climb begins again.
The King David Report by Stefan Heym (1972).
A great allegory of how history is revised to suit tyranny. Ethan the Scribe is hired by King Solomon to write a hagiography of his father, King David. Though Ethan considers the late king a liar, braggart, and philanderer, the report is pretitled The One and Only True and Authoritative, Historically Correct and Officially Approved Report on the Amazing Rise, God-fearing Life, Heroic Deeds and Wonderful Achievements of David, Son of Jesse.
This book was ghostwritten by Meredith McIver, our era's Ethan the Scribe.