Quarantine Book Recommendations

By Brandy Vencel

By Brandy Vencel

My new quarantine hobby is giving you all book recommendations. Actually, this is an old hobby. I'm just renaming it (and being more aggressive). 

The Pilgrim's Progress (Anniversary)

John Bunyan

$69.99 $62.99

The first time I read this book was when it was assigned in AmblesideOnline for second grade. I remember wondering if it'd be "too much" for a seven-year-old, but it turns out that if you read the King James version aloud to a child from the time he is little, and you never mention that some people think it is "hard," that child won't notice much of the language. Children love this book, though admittedly the moral conversations lose them. It captures their imaginations, which is probably why Louisa May Alcott showed the girls in Little Women playing at Pilgrim's Progress for fun. My own little guy wore an old backpack and asked me to make him a little roll to carry. The book wasn't written for children, though, and it captures the imagination of adults, too. Russell Kirk once wrote: "Being brought up on Bunyan was some protection against being swallowed by Hobbes’ Leviathan." This was true of Americans over a hundred years ago, but I think it's true now, too. One last thought: you don't have to understand the whole book to appreciate and enjoy it. I've read it five times, and it feels new each time.

Roots of American Order

Russell Kirk

$18.00 $16.56

Allow me to introduce you to Russell Kirk's Roots of American Order. This book is absolutely wonderful. If you want to understand why the government of the United States is what it is -- a representative republic that eschews direct democracy and guarantees each state a republican government -- you need to read this book. Kirk covers the four primary influences on our government: the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Christians. If you think England is missing from this list, think again. His chapter on the Anglican church and his application of Blackstone's Commentaries on English Law are brilliant. He explains it all with a delightful thoroughness. I think every American high schooler should read this before graduating.

The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a New Section: "on Robustness and Fragility"

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

$18.00 $16.56

This "unprecedented" lockdown thing we're going through is what some would call a Black Swan event. The whole concept that unexpected bad things DO happen (and there are ways you can prepare for them) is what The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb is all about. So here's the deal: if you weren't raised by a finance guy (like I was — thanks Dad), or you don't read a lot of economics books, you'll probably want to skip the optional chapters. You'll also have to put up with Taleb being pretentious. He's much more likeable in Antifragile (which is by far my favorite work of Taleb's) but I don't think Antifragile quite gives you what is handy in a time like this: the conception of how deeply flawed computer modeling is, and why. Taleb is fun to read because *he* reads broadly. So he'll quote you the scientists and the mathematicians, sure, but he'll also throw in your favorites from Greek and Roman mythology, fairy tales, fables from Aesop, and stories about his co-workers. He's an interesting and unpredictable writer, so in additional to being brimful of handy Stuff to Know, he's also fun. Or, at least, I thought so.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Oliver Sacks

$15.95 $14.67

If you ever watched the movie Awakenings, you already know who Oliver Sacks is. Uncle Tungsten is his scientific memoir, and it's amazing. His memories of surviving World War II as a child living in London (after being abused by his schoolmaster when he was sent away from his family for "safety") complement his boyhood love affair with chemistry. I read this alongside a standard high school chemistry text and felt like it helped me finally understand some things that had eluded me. But don't read it for the chemistry. The book reveals the heart of genius and its (sometimes unsettling) development. It's a beautifully told story that will disturb you in some parts (like when his surgeon mother flippantly performs an abortion) and amaze you in others.

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters

Mark Dunn

$15.95 $14.67