torsdag, juni 16, 2011

P 95/11: De 100 beste fagbøkene

Filed under: 1bib, lesing, litteratur — plinius @ 9:57 am

Sommeren har begynt. Nyhetsproduksjonen ebber ut. Det er tid for agurker, sommervikarer og dype tanker om struktureringen av det litterære feltet.

Litteraturbegrepet i Norge faller sammen med det som i andre land kalles den sosialpsykologiske romanen, sier professor Johannesen (1979). Det er en uting. Kvinner er også nordmenn. Sakprosa er også litteratur.

The Guardian har nettopp kåret verdens hundre beste fagbøker. Som ihuga leser av sakprosa synes jeg dette er gjevt. Debatten er selvsagt livlig. Her gjengir jeg selve listen.

Jeg har også god lyst til å diskutere utvalget. Men sommeren er lang. En kommentar under Matematikk får holde i denne runden:


  • Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550). Biography mixes with anecdote in this Florentine-inflected portrait of the painters and sculptors who shaped the Renaissance [Men lenken går til en fortsettelse av Vasari, by another hand …].
  • The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791). Boswell draws on his journals to create an affectionate portrait of the great lexicographer
  • The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825). «Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health,» begins this extraordinarily vivid diary of the Restoration period
  • Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918). Strachey set the template for modern biography, with this witty and irreverent account of four Victorian heroes
  • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929). Graves’ autobiography tells the story of his childhood and the early years of his marriage, but the core of the book is his account of the brutalities and banalities of the first world war
  • The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933). Stein’s groundbreaking biography, written in the guise of an autobiography, of her lover


  • The Symposium by Plato (c380 BC). A lively dinner-party debate on the nature of love
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c180). A series of personal reflections, advocating the preservation of calm in the face of conflict, and the cultivation of a cosmic perspective
  • Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580). Montaigne’s wise, amusing examination of himself, and of human nature, launched the essay as a literary form
  • The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621). Burton examines all human culture through the lens of melancholy
  • Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes (1641). Doubting everything but his own existence, Descartes tries to construct God and the universe
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1779)
    Hume puts his faith to the test with a conversation examining arguments for the existence of God
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781). If western philosophy is merely a footnote to Plato, then Kant’s attempt to unite reason with experience provides many of the subject headings
  • Phenomenology of Mind by GWF Hegel (1807). Hegel takes the reader through the evolution of consciousness
  • Walden by HD Thoreau (1854). An account of two years spent living in a log cabin, which examines ideas of independence and society
  • On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859). Mill argues that «the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others»
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1883). The invalid Nietzsche proclaims the death of God and the triumph of the Ubermensch
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962). A revolutionary theory about the nature of scientific progress



  • The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990). An examination of the moral dilemmas at the heart of the journalist’s trade
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968). The man in the white suit follows Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they drive across the US in a haze of LSD
  • Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977). A vivid account of Herr’s experiences of the Vietnam war


  • Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964).Sontag’s proposition that the modern sensibility has been shaped by Jewish ethics and homosexual aesthetics
  • Mythologies by Roland Barthes (1972). Barthes gets under the surface of the meanings of the things which surround us in these witty studies of contemporary myth-making
  • Orientalism by Edward Said (1978). Said argues that romanticised western representations of Arab culture are political and condescending


  • The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980). Hughes charts the story of modern art, from cubism to the avant garde
  • The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950). The most popular art book in history. Gombrich examines the technical and aesthetic problems confronted by artists since the dawn of time
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972). A study of the ways in which we look at art, which changed the terms of a generation’s engagement with visual culture


  • The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781). Biographical and critical studies of 18th-century poets, which cast a sceptical eye on their lives and works
  • An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe (1975). Achebe challenges western cultural imperialism in his argument that Heart of Darkness is a racist novel, which deprives its African characters of humanity
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976). Bettelheim argues that the darkness of fairy tales offers a means for children to grapple with their fears
  • Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa (2002). Vargas Llosa distils a lifetime of reading and writing into a manual of the writer’s craft


Avdelingen for matematikk omfatter bare en bok. Jeg aksepterer at Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach er den beste populærvitenskapelige boka om matematikk som noen gang er skrevet.  På nettsiden Matematikk for ungdom (2004) har jeg skrevet litt om Hofstafdter og andre populære bøker om matematikk. Denne listen over gode populærbøker om matematikk kan lett forlenges. Men når vi snakker om faglitteraturens klassikere, er det vanskelig å komme utenom Euklids Elementer. I Europa den ble brukt som lærebok (på latin) i to tusen år.

Det ideelle bibliotek – La bibliothèque idéale – heter en artig fransk bok om «verdens beste bøker».  Boka omfatter førtini kategorier, hver med sitt kapittel. I hver kategori er det en liste over førtini anbefalte bøker, med ganske grundig vurdering av hver enkelt. Matematikken har ikke et eget kapittel, men faller inn under naturvitenskapene (les sciences). Fire titler er nevnt (i franske utgaver):

  • Davis, Phillip J. og Reuben Hersh (1999). The Mathematical Experience (Am)
  • Hofstadter, Douglas (1999). Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Am)
  • Ifrah, Georges (2000). The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer (Am)
  • Mandelbrot, Benoit B. (1982). The Fractal Geometry of Nature (Am)

Jeg kan trygt anbefale de to første. Ifrah har jeg ikke lest, men kommentarene hos Amazon lover bra. Når det gjelder fraktaler, finnes det nok bedre bøker enn Mandelbrots egen presentasjon.


  • Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782). Rousseau establishes the template for modern autobiography with this intimate account of his own life
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845). This vivid first person account was one of the first times the voice of the slave was heard in mainstream society
  • De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905). Imprisoned in Reading Gaol, Wilde tells the story of his affair with Alfred Douglas and his spiritual development
  • The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (1922). A dashing account of Lawrence’s exploits during the revolt against the Ottoman empire
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi (1927). A classic of the confessional genre, Gandhi recounts early struggles and his passionate quest for self-knowledge
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938). Orwell’s clear-eyed account of his experiences in Spain offers a portrait of confusion and betrayal during the civil war
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947). Published by her father after the war, this account of the family’s hidden life helped to shape the post-war narrative of the Holocaust
  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951). Nabokov reflects on his life before moving to the US in 1940
  • The Man Died by Wole Soyinka (1971). A powerful autobiographical account of Soyinka’s experiences in prison during the Nigerian civil war
  • The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975). A vision of the author’s life, including his life in the concentration camps, as seen through the kaleidoscope of chemistry
  • Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000). Sage demolishes the fantasy of family as she tells how her relatives passed rage, grief and frustrated desire down the generations


  • The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen (1998). Rosen examines how 19th-century composers extended the boundaries of music, and their engagement with literature, landscape and the divine

Natur og miljø

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962). This account of the effects of pesticides on the environment launched the environmental movement in the US
  • The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (1979). Lovelock’s argument that once life is established on a planet, it engineers conditions for its continued survival, revolutionised our perception of our place in the scheme of things


  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859). Darwin’s account of the evolution of species by natural selection transformed biology and our place in the universe
  • The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynmann (1965). An elegant exploration of physical theories from one of the 20th century’s greatest theoreticians
  • The Double Helix by James Watson (1968). James Watson’s personal account of how he and Francis Crick cracked the structure of DNA
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976). Dawkins launches a revolution in biology with the suggestion that evolution is best seen from the perspective of the gene, rather than the organism
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988). A book owned by 10 million people, if understood by fewer, Hawking’s account of the origins of the universe became a publishing sensation


  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu (c500 BC). A study of warfare that stresses the importance of positioning and the ability to react to changing circumstances
  • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532). Machiavelli injects realism into the study of power, arguing that rulers should be prepared to abandon virtue to defend stability
  • Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651). Hobbes makes the case for absolute power, to prevent life from being «nasty, brutish and short»
  • The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (1791). A hugely influential defence of the French revolution, which points out the illegitimacy of governments that do not defend the rights of citizens
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792). Wollstonecraft argues that women should be afforded an education in order that they might contribute to society
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848). An analysis of society and politics in terms of class struggle, which launched a movement with the ringing declaration that «proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains»
  • The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DuBois (1903). A series of essays makes the case for equality in the American south
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949). De Beauvoir examines what it means to be a woman, and how female identity has been defined with reference to men throughout history
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon (1961). An exploration of the psychological impact of colonialisation
  • The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967). This bestselling graphic popularisation of McLuhan’s ideas about technology and culture was cocreated with Quentin Fiore
  • The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970). Greer argues that male society represses the sexuality of women
  • Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988). Chomsky argues that corporate media present a distorted picture of the world, so as to maximise their profits
  • Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008). A vibrant first history of the ongoing social media revolution


  • The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899). Freud’s argument that our experiences while dreaming hold the key to our psychological lives launched the discipline of psychoanalysis and transformed western culture


  • The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355). The Arab world’s greatest medieval traveller sets down his memories of journeys throughout the known world and beyond
  • Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869). Twain’s tongue-in-cheek account of his European adventures was an immediate bestseller
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941). A six-week trip to Yugoslavia provides the backbone for this monumental study of Balkan history
  • Venice by Jan Morris (1960). An eccentric but learned guide to the great city’s art, history, culture and people
  • A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977). The first volume of Leigh Fermor’s journey on foot through Europe – a glowing evocation of youth, memory and history
  • Danube by Claudio Magris (1986). Magris mixes travel, history, anecdote and literature as he tracks the Danube from its source to the sea
  • China Along the Yellow River by Cao Jinqing (1995). A pioneering work of Chinese sociology, exploring modern China with a modern face
  • The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald (1995). A walking tour in East Anglia becomes a melancholy meditation on transience and decay
  • Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000). Raban sets off in a 35ft ketch on a voyage from Seattle to Alaska, exploring Native American art, the Romantic imagination and his own disintegrating relationship along the way


  • The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890). An attempt to identify the shared elements of the world’s religions, which suggests that they originate from fertility cults
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)
    James argues that the value of religions should not be measured in terms of their origin or empirical accuracy


  • The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405). A defence of womankind in the form of an ideal city, populated by famous women from throughout history
  • Praise of Folly by Erasmus (1511). This satirical encomium to the foolishness of man helped spark the Reformation with its skewering of abuses and corruption in the Catholic church
  • Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734)
    Voltaire turns his keen eye on English society, comparing it affectionately with life on the other side of the English channel
  • Suicide by Émile Durkheim (1897). An investigation into protestant and catholic culture, which argues that the less vigilant social control within catholic societies lowers the rate of suicide
  • Economy and Society by Max Weber (1922). A thorough analysis of political, economic and religious mechanisms in modern society, which established the template for modern sociology
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929). Woolf’s extended essay argues for both a literal and metaphorical space for women writers within a male-dominated literary tradition
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (1941). Evans’s images and Agee’s words paint a stark picture of life among sharecroppers in the US South
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963). An exploration of the unhappiness felt by many housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, despite material comfort and stable family lives
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966). A novelistic account of a brutal murder in Kansas city, which propelled Capote to fame and fortune
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968). Didion evokes life in 1960s California in a series of sparkling essays
  • The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973). This analysis of incarceration in the Soviet Union, including the author’s own experiences as a zek, called into question the moral foundations of the USSR
  • Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975). Foucault examines the development of modern society’s systems of incarceration
  • News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996). Colombia’s greatest 20th-century writer tells the story of kidnappings carried out by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel


  • Bokklubben. Dette er Verdensbiblioteket.  100 fremstående forfattere fra mer en [sic] 50 land har på oppdrag fra De norske Bokklubbene kåret tidenes hundre beste bøker. Den eneste fagboka er Montaignes Les Essais.
  • Johannesen, Georg (1979). Perler i sakprosa. Basar, nr. 3. I  Johannesen, Georg. Om den norske skrivemåten. Eksempler og moteksempler til belysning av nyere norsk retorikk 1975-1980. Oslo: Cappelen, 2004 (1991), s. 74-80.
  • De 100 beste bøkene. Aftenposten. 15.09.2011.

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