As mayhem continues in the Middle East, and Indians and Pakistanis face off over Kashmir, I’m finding it a fascinating exercise to read Fouad Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs at the same time as Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory.

The incredible complexity of history is so very daunting, but events can also be seen in a much more simple light: nations, communities, religions and individuals constantly falling back into the cesspool of revenge and greed, racism and intolerance of the stranger. Pundits and politicians of all stripes always seem to forget that all pain comes from breaking, well, the 10 Commandments. A good friend just emailed some notes about Tibet and China; one point was: “Under the Communists, man exploited man. With Capitalism, it’s the other way around.”

Same old shit, every generation. Historians and biographers want to discuss lofty and weighty issues in analyzing what is usually a terrible communal failure for men to manage their dicks, a subject discussed by my brother Sean in his unusual and seminal book How to Manage Your DICK.

I also recommend highly the following fiction accompaniments to Ajami’s and Fussell’s wonderful works of non-fiction:

For Ajami: read Naguib Mahfouz’s fabulous trilogy about an Egyptian family in the Cairo of the 20s:
The Cairo Trilogy : Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street

For Fussell: read Pat Barkers unforgettable trilogy about English soldiers in the Great War:
The Eye in the Door
The Ghost Road

You won’t regret reading any of these books; in fact they will take you down many roads of thought, sorrow, and wonder.

Books represent the finest technology we’ve come up with yet as a species: read a book and you have a direct neural link to the inner world of geniuses, to the finest thinking, feeling, and vision of our ancestors and our contemporaries. Books truly are the Treasure House of the Human Race. In them are stored wisdom, hope, truth, and love. Go get some for yourself—all for the price of a trade paperback.


About James’s Corner:
James O’Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers’ Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children’s art games at Birdcage Books.