Chosen by Daniel Libeskind
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (seven volumes, 1913–1927). Proust’s great novel is really a book of reflections about how architecture—our living spaces—creates a blueprint for our dreams, our desires, our emotions, and our memories. Where we have lived, what we have eaten, what kind of cups we use—all of those aspects are examined here in minute, revealing detail.
Herbarium by Emily Dickinson (2006). From childhood onward, Dickinson collected, pressed, and classified the plants she grew in her garden in Amherst. Though the images in this book, you can see how her poetry—all her symbols, all her metaphors, the colors she mentions—mirrors nature. You don’t even have to read her poetry to see what a great artist she was.
Ulysses by James Joyce (1922). Joyce once said that if Dublin were destroyed, you could recreate the entire city from this novel. You can’t do urban planning without Ulysses because it is a labyrinth you can never leave. It’s also, despite its reputation, a very accessible, easy-to-read book that reveals the divinity of every city.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004). Roth’s novel is not just an alternative history. It is also a novel analysis of what the dark winds of fascism and anti-Semitism, unleashed, would do to the America we know. It reveals the vulnerability of a democracy. Democracies are very delicate and can easily drift toward something unwholesome and oppressive.
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (1914). In his letters to his brother Theo, van Gogh—who had once studied to be a priest—essentially laid out a theology of art, explaining his struggle to understand the beauty and the meaning of the world. This is a fantastically inspiring book—an adventure of the soul.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll. I love Lewis Carroll; he’s a total genius. His two classic works are children’s books for grown-ups because they reveal aspects of the creative mind that we all have but seldom use in adulthood. Inspired by Carroll, I make a habit of trying to learn seven amazing things before breakfast. ■