This is what I'm reduced to reading at the moment:
I propose to write the history of England from the accession of King James the Second down to a time which is within the memory of men still living. I shall recount the errors which, in a few months, alienated a loyal gentry and priesthood from the House of Stuart. I shall trace the course of that revolution which terminated the long struggle between our sovereigns and their parliaments, and bound up together the rights of the people and the title of the reigning dynasty...
[The next sentence is a real corker]
... I shall relate how the new settlement was during many troubled years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how, under that settlement, the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among European powers; how her opulence and martial glory grew together; how, by wise and resolute good faith, was gradually established a public credit fruitful of marvels which to the statesmen of any former age would have seemed incredible; how a giant commerce gave birth to a maritime power, compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance; how Scotland, after ages of enmity, was at length united to England, not merely by legal bonds, but by indissoluble ties of interest and affection; how, in America, the British colonies rapidly became far mightier and wealthier than the realms which Cortes [sic] and Pizarro had added to the dominions of Charles the Fifth; how in Asia, British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid and more durable than that of Alexander.
(MacAulay, History of England, Chapter 1)
I'm about 30 pages into the first of four volumes - that takes you from Britain under the Romans to the Tudors. According to MacAulay this is a necessary preamble if his account of events from the accession of James II to his own day is to be understood. It's good rollicking, nation-building stuff - the sort of history quite a few people think we should have - but it's not exactly reliable on matters of fact. As MacAulay says in a footnote:
In this, and the next chapter, I have very seldom thought it necessary to cite authorities; for in these chapters I have not detailed events minutely, or used recondite materials; and the facts which I mention are for the most part such that a person tolerably well read in English history, if not already apprised of them, will at least know where to look for evidence of them. In the subsequent chapters I shall carefully indicate the sources of my information.
Well, it's good for the occasional giggle at any rate. Particularly when Lord Macka gets onto the subject of the Normans as the flower and epitome of chivalry, repeating the Norman propaganda that his far from recondite sources have swallowed wholesale. But right now there are a lot of books that I'd much rather be reading than mid-Victorian late night soporifics. Here are a few of them, in no particular order:
The Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape. I've cited reviews of this one occasionally in comment threads where the subject of suicide bombers has come up. It would be pleasant to have the book for the next time the subject comes up, so I'vegot more detail to call on. Not that it will make any difference - anyone who insists that suicide bombing is a uniquely Islamic phenomenon will ultimately retreat to the intellectual highground of rejecting Pape's findings, end of story.
The Thousand and One Nights. I came across the second volume of a complete Thousand and One Nights while I was browsing a second hand bookstore not far from Melbourne's Dental Hospital. I ask you - what kind of arsehole buys half of a two-volume set from a secondhand bookstore and leaves the other behind? The tales, as we all know, are pure fantasy but reading between the lines you get some idea of the attitudes of the author and his assumed readership, just as this little passage from The Knight's Tale tells you a lot about attitudes to war in 14th Century England:
Whan that this worthy duc, this Theseus,
Hath Creon slayn, and won Thebes thus,
Stille in that feeld he took al nyght his reste,
And dide with al the contree as hym leste.
To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede,
Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede,
The pilours diden bisynesse and cure
After the bataille and disconfiture.
That fat-arsed two volume history of the Hundred Years War, published by Faber.
Froissart's Chronicles. It used to be available in Penguin Classics - I've yet to come across a copy second-hand. Often hilariously funny as Froissart tries to put a noble, chivalrous spin on acts of outright brutality or conspicuous cowardice.
Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft. "My" copy has to go back to the library before it starts accumulating overdue fines, which makes it useless for ready reference.
Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. "My" copy - the one where someone had torn off the corners of several pages to light cigarettes from the gas heater, or something similar, had disappeared from the library stacks last time I tried to borrow it. Oh, and it wasn't me who tore off those page corners, OK?
If This is a Man, The Truce and The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. Don't ask why - it's too complicated.
The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull. Another book that's likely to disappear from the library stacks between now and the next time I decide I need to refer to a copy.
Feudal Societies by Marc Bloch. Also stacked.
Helga and Berndt Demonstrate Love Positions. I actually know where I could lay my hands on a copy of this sixties classic, if I had a set of housebreaking tools. The book is actually German - I've translated the title. It features Helga, decorously clad in a flourescent pink leotard, and Berndt, in a black leotard, demonstrating various forms of sexual gymnastics. At the very least, someone might care to scan a few of the choicer images and post them on the web.
That's probably enough to be going on with right now so let's get down to brass tacks. You might have an unwanted copy of one of these books sitting on a bookshelf somewhere, gathering dust. If so, why not drop me a line, and we'll work out a way for you to get it to me. That's probably going to involve you shelling out some money for postage but when it comes down to it, that's not much different to hitting a Paypal button and kicking in to the operating costs of a blog you like. And while money might be an issue, there's no way in all conscience that I can ask you to kick in for server rent I don't pay. Especially as I don't have a credit card account to pick up the paypal bucks and I don't plan to get a credit card just for that purpose.
On the other hand, I'm not too proud to ask you guys to kick in with a bit of interesting reading matter that won't bore me witless. Because when I read stuff that bores me witless, I often end up writing stuff that bores you witless and none of us want that, do we?
Incidentally, your contributions won't benefit me alone - Zeppo Bakunin has dibs on all the stamps.