[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from George Cotkin, Professor of Postwar United States Intellectual and Cultural History, California Polytechnic State University. Enjoy! – TL]
How often are we both propelled and burdened by great works of cultural and intellectual history? They serve as our models; they sing with their insight, style, and grace.
On my desk I have arranged a lucky thirteen titles. They mock me often and they make me want to stop my own work and read them. They are books that I admire, that I wish I had written.
They all deal with topics in our field. Only one of them is a biography of a single figure. There are other titles, outside the field of intellectual history, I admire equally or that have influenced my life. E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class and Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll, come to mind immediately.
Do these volumes share anything in common? I think that all of them escape the confines of the pedestrian or academic. Many of them fail but in a heroic manner. All of them ooze sophistication and deep learning. And all of them, in my view, are written with verve.
Here are my baker’s dozen of books that I hold in awe (alphabetically, by author):
Rachel Cohen, A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967
Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties
Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s
Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age
Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage
Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia
Peter Gay, Education of the Senses: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud
Alexandra Harris, Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper
David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets
Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
Robert Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire
Carl Schorske, Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture
Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885-World War I
I am sure that you are bewitched by your own set of favorites. Care to share them?