In the midst of struggles and crises all across our nation, our friends and colleagues share what they think we should be reading to understand this moment and to fortify ourselves against the influence of ideologues and the movements that would undermine a strong civil society. The third in a series.
Read the previous installments of our “Readings for Troubled Times” series here. This continues our effort to understand the times in which we live by recommending readings that are relevant to the strange moment in which we find ourselves.
What you should read: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
Why: Because it could be worse.
And every day recite a line of Walt Whitman’s that Edward Abbey was fond of quoting: “Resist much, obey little.”
Author, Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism
What you should read: The Omni-Americans, by Albert Murray.
Why: Especially in the book’s first section, Murray confronts the uniqueness and complexity of American identity and character, especially for black Americans. Murray had fascinating conversations with Ralph Ellison and Stanley Crouch. They (Ellison and Crouch) are also fascinating in their own letters and essays.
Murray was a cultural elitist—and loved the rich mixture of American culture. His critique of the Moynihan Report and shortcomings of social science provide an important resource for our own considerations of expertise and judgment. He was a career USAF officer before beginning a literary career.
Lynn Robinson works and lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
What you should read: The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides.
Why: Thomas Hobbes conceived his magnum opus Leviathan in the aftermath of the English Civil War when the old social contract seemed frayed beyond repair. Before writing that book, he was the first person to translate Thucydides’ history into English. Most of us read that history of the great war between Athens and Sparta as a template for understanding the enduring role of power in international relations. But it is so much more, including a deep meditation on the breakdown of political and social order, particularly through its account of the revolution and civil war in the city-state of Corcyra in 427 BCE.
Careful and repeated readings of Thucydides’ classic work always repay the effort, but Book III, chapters 69–85 seems particularly apt for our troubled times.
Brian and Jeannelle Brady Family Director of the Notre Dame International Security Center
What you should read: The Age of Selfies: Talking About Rights When the Stakes Are Personal, by Adam MacLeod.
Why: Before we even get to what we’re discussing with each other, we need to know how to talk to each other. These days, people often aren’t even listening to one another. Or, if they are, they’re usually talking past each other. We need to understand and renew the language of our public discourse. MacLeod’s book will help toward this end.
If we do find a way to talk to each other, then we have to work on what we’re talking about. So let me also suggest James Stoner and Harold James’s The Thriving Society: On the Social Conditions of Human Flourishing. I think the subtitle speaks for itself. To rebuild our civic life, we’re going to need a discussion about our competing views of the common good—what it is and how best to promote it.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Villanova University