Results for “favorite writers”
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My favorite things Austrian, part I writers

Yes, I am in Vienna, but I will take this country in discrete chunks because the contributions are so significant.  Today is literature, here are a few remarks:

1. Thomas Bernhard.  One of the very best post-war writers, obsessive and funny and extremely neurotic.  The Loser [Der Untegeher] is the one that works best in English, though his unique style is not at its most fevered pitch.  Wittgensteins Neffe [Wittgenstein’s Nephew] is my favorite, one of the smartest and funniest novels I know, close to perfect.  Das Kalkwerk is entrancing, though I suspect unreadable in English.  He remains grossly underrated in the English-speaking world, mostly for linguistic reasons but also he is a rebellion against the idea of a culture of entertainment.  In my personal canon he is one of the more significant writers.

2. Hermann BrochDeath of Virgil is a 20th century classic, again much under-read amongst the American educated classes.  Die Schlafwandler [The Sleepwalkers] is impressive, and perhaps seen as his major work, but it is more uneven in quality and eventually it falls apart.

3. Robert Musil. There are wonderful and historically significant major passages in The Man Without Qualities, but the drama loses its interest, the loose ends are not tied up, and ultimately I will call him overrated, especially compared to Bernhard or Broch.

4. Peter Handke.  In German only, I say, and in any case not my taste.  He is serious about politics in exactly the wrong way, and I hope future generations reject him.

5. Elfriede Jelinek.  Many were surprised when she won the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature, and you are most likely to know her for writing the book behind the movie The Piano Teacher.  Like Wagner, you could say her work is “better than it sounds,” but still it doesn’t sound that good.  I find it irritating and offensive, plus she is a communist.  Nonetheless, irritating fiction is better than boring fiction, see “Günter Wilhelm Grass.

6. Karl Kraus.  I used to think his work would eventually “come together” for me, but the more of it I read, and the more I read about him, I conclude he is a figure of historic interest only, and a good aphorist, but not an enduring literary artist.  He was a keen satirist of the mores and totalitarian tendencies of his time, and that is to be appreciated.  But if you try reading the rambling 500-page The Last Days of Mankind, in either English or German, you will conclude it was a work of its time only.

7. Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo Hofmannstahl.  Both remain underrated, and don’t forget Hofmannstahl’s libretti for Richard Strauss, including Der Rosenkavalier.

8. Christoph Ransmayr.  He is popular in contemporary Austrian literature.  I was not convinced, but will try again, if you love The Last World let me know.

9. Heimito von Doderer — I have not yet read him but am hopeful.

9b. Ingeborg Bachmann.  I just bought some this morning.

10. Johann Nestroy.  From the Enlightenment, mostly a playwright, worth spending some time with to get a perspective on Austrian literature before the 20th century.

11. Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein are both often best read as literature.

12. Stefan Zweig. The World of Yesterday is a favorite, sad and bittersweet, and it treats the European civilization that was passing away at the time of the Second World War, still relevant.  Zweig committed suicide in Brazil, here is an excellent biography.  The rest of his fiction still is read around much of the world (not so much America, famously in Russia), but I find it pretty ordinary and of its time.

I’m not counting Canetti, Kafka, and the like, who are not properly Austrian, though they lived in the Empire.  Rilke does not count either, though he is one of the greatest of poets.  Joseph Roth was born in Galicia, yet I think of him as an Austrian rather than Polish writer, again still somewhat neglected in the English-speaking world.  Try Radetzky MarchFranz Werfel I find ordinary, though I have not yet read Forty Days of Musa Dagh, for some his masterpiece, I did buy a copy of that one recently.

The bottom line: There are amazing wonders here, and yes “weird stuff.”  Most of the educated people I know are not clued into them.

Favorite books by female authors

Elena Ferrante named her top forty, and I am not sure I approve of the exercise at all.  Still, here are my top twenty, in no particular order, fiction only, not counting poetry:

1.Lady Murasaki, Tale of Genji.

2. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.

3. Alice Munro, any and all.

4. Elena Ferrante, the Neapolitan quadrology.

5. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.

6. Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis trilogy.

7. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

8. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

9. Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter.

10. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

11. Virginia Woolf, many.

12. Willa Cather, My Antonia.

13. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

14. Jane Austen, Persuasion.

15. Anne Rice, The Witching Hour, and #2 in the vampire series.

16. Anaïs Nin? P.D.James? A general award to the mystery genre?

17. Christa Wolf, Cassandra.

18. Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian.

19. Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise.

20. Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Comments: No, I didn’t forget George Eliot, these are “my favorites,” not “the best.”  Maybe Edith Wharton would have made #21?  Or Byatt’s Possession?  The other marginal picks mostly would have come from the Anglosphere.  I learned my favorite Latin American writers are all male.

My favorite things Venice

1. Favorite playwright: Carlo Goldoni, eighteenth century, best if you can see one rather than try to read it.

2. Play, set in: William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice.  Read it carefully and repeatedly, it is far subtler on issues of racism and prejudice than you might have been expecting.

3. Opera, set in: Verdi’s Otello (James Levine recording).  Even as a dramatic work I (perhaps oddly) prefer this to Shakespeare’s play.

4. Memoir, set in: Casanova, though I suggest you read an abridged edition.  I strongly recommend reading Marco Polo as well, though I am not sure that counts as a “memoir.”

5. Short story, set in: Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice.”  But a close runner-up is Henry James, “The Aspern Papers.”

Are you getting the picture? Venice has inspired numerous major writers and artists.  However I don’t love John Ruskin on Venice.

6. Painting: Ah!  Where to start?  I’ll opt for Giorgione’s The Tempest, or any number of late Titian works.  And there are so many runners-up, starting with Veronese, Tintoretto, the Bellinis, and later Tiepolo.  Even a painter as good as Sebastiano del Piombo is pretty far down the list here.  Canaletto bores me, though the technique is impressive.

7. Sculptor: Antonio Canova was born in the Venetian Republic, and I believe he is now one of the most underrated of Western artists.  His greatest work is in Vienna.

8. Composer: I can’t quite bring myself to count Monteverdi as Venetian, so that leaves me with Luigi Nono and also Gabrieli and Albioni and Vivaldi, none of whom I enjoy listening to.

9. Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli.  I enjoy his Mahler and Strauss and Elgar, and his take on Verdi’s Aida was special as well.

10. Photographer of: Derek Parfit, here are some images.

11. Movie, set in: I can recall the fun Casino Royale James Bond scene, but surely there is a better selection attached to a better movie.  What might that be?

11. Maxim about: Pope Gregory XIII: “I am pope everywhere except in Venice.”

All in all, not bad for a city that nowadays has no more than 60,000 residents and was never especially large.

I’ll be there in a few days time.

My favorite things Nigeria

Yup, I’m here.  I made this list before setting off:

1. Popular music: Few from any country come close to Fela Kuti, the main question is how many you should buy, not which ones.  Most of them!  On the CD medium, that old series of “two albums on one CD” was the best way to consume Fela.  On streaming, you can probably just let it rip.  And rip.  And rip.  Other favorites are King Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo, I don’t love Fema Kuti.  You also might try Nigerian psychedelic funk rock from the late 60s and early 70s, for instance found here.  Most of all, there are thousands of wonderful local performers in Nigeria, you can watch a few of them on the Netflix documentary on the Nigerian music scene, titled Konkombe, recommended and only an hour long.

There is now a good deal of hit Nigerian and Nigerian-American music, such as Wizkid.  It is enjoyable but does not compare to Fela in terms of staying power.

2. Basketball player: The Dream is one of my three or four favorite players of all time.  My favorite Hakeem was watching him pick apart David Robinson play after play after play…see the final clip on the immediately preceding link.

3. Novel: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.  Honorable mentions go to Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, and my colleague Helon Habila.  There are also the Nigerian-American writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Teju Cole is worth reading, including his non-fiction.

4. Movie: Well, I’ve seen parts of some of them, and you should at least sample some Nollywood if you haven’t already.  It’s kinetic.  The documentary “Nollywood Babylon” (Netflix) gives you some background.  As for “Movie, set in,” I draw a blank.  “Album, set in and recorded in” would be Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings.

5. Actor: Chiwetal Ejiofor, he starred in “Twelve Years a Slave,” and is from a Nigerian family in Britain.

6. Presidential name: Goodluck Jonathan.

7. Artist: Prince Twins Seven Seven, or more formally Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki.  He received his nickname because he was the only surviving child from seven distinct sets of twins.


8. Food dish: At least for now I have to say jollof rice, a precursor dish to jambalaya, further reports to come however!

The bottom line: Lots of talent here, plenty more on the way.

Artists, writers, and academics on Brexit

That is a Mary Beard feature in the 3 June 2016 edition of the Times Literary Supplement.  Various luminaries were asked what they thought of Brexit.  My favorite answer came from Colm Tóibín:

The European Union, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, is a wholly rational institution.  Like most of us, it is in constant need of urgent reform and can handle anything except a crisis.  Even though it is deeply secular, the EU has performed miracles.  It has allowed France and Germany to move close to each other; it has allowed Irish and British ministers to meet as equals, which the Irish have enjoyed.   It can also make us laugh — the group photographs of the EU leaders after their meetings and the antics of the European Parliament are wholly ludicrous…

More brutal was Jan Morris:

Being politically in or out of Europe has had no impact at all on my own work, and I have no idea what it’s done for or to the cultural life of Britain.  For myself, I have long argued for a federal Britain within a federal Europe, but it was always a dream anyway, and I’ve woken up now.  If reasons you require, look around you!

Declan Kiberd had a good point:

They [the English] realized that in some ways England’s was an immensely stressed society, whose people had been so distracted by the British cultural project that they still faced an unresolved identity question of their own.  It’s a long time since Bernard Shaw described England as the last, most fully penetrated of the British colonies — which could be why its people feel such ambivalence about the more recent transnational scheme.

I do recommend that you all subscribe to the TLS.  If you would like yet another point of view, from Dissent, here is Richard Tuck with the Left case for Brexit.

My favorite things Idaho

OK, OK, I have decided Nebraska is not the most obscure state.  How about Idaho?  What can we can think of which is noteworthy from Idaho?  More than you might expect, here goes:

Author: A variety of writers have lived in or passed through the state for a few years’ time, including Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Rice BurroughsA few of Hemingway’s short stories I admire very much.

Poet: Ezra Pound, yes I know he left at age three.  Still, he was from Idaho.

Native American sage and explorer: Sacagewea.  Did you know that her portrait design on the dollar coin is not in the public domain?

Economist: Lant Pritchett was raised in Boise.

Popular music: Built to Spill.

Composer: La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano is one of the better pieces of contemporary classical music, still highly underrated.  Here is a two minute sample from what is more or less a five hour work.

Artist: Matthew Barney, twelve years in Idaho.  Here is an interview.


Director: David Lynch, who spent formative years in Boise.  Here is a good recent piece on how powerful Blue Velvet still is.  Is it fair to say this state has produced some pretty weird stuff?

Actress: Lana Turner, and Patty Duke just passed away.  Mariel and Margeaux Hemingway also have claims.

Movie, set in: The only one I can think of is…My Private Idaho.

Other notables: Philo T. Farnsworth invented television, more or less, and he also worked on nuclear fusion.

The bottom line: Per capita, this isn’t bad, even if not much of it is associated with Idaho.  I’ll have to look harder for the most obscure state.  It might be Idaho, but it doesn’t deserve to be Idaho.  So perhaps Delaware, Wyoming, and Rhode Island will come under the microscope soon.

I thank Roy LC, Marcus, and kb for essential pointers here.

My favorite non-fiction books of 2012

Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.

Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

David Hackett Fischer, Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States.

George Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe.

Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

Michael Dirda, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling.

James Fallows, China Airborne.

Greg Woolf, Rome: An Empire’s Story.

Odd Arne Westad, Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750.

Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography.

Barry Eichengreen, Dwight H. Perkins, and Khanho Shin, From Miracle to Maturity: The Growth of the Korean Economy.

I am sure I missed some, even of my own favorites!

My all-time favorite things Ontario

1. Short story author: Alice Munro I consider one of the very best writers ever, from anywhere or any period.  Read them all, and there is a new collection coming this November.  Here is one place to start.

2. Movie, set in: Dead Ringers, by David Cronenberg, one of my favorite films period.

3. Director: After Cronenberg there is James Cameron, hate me if you want but I find his movies splendid.  Sarah Polley remains underrated in the United States, start with Away From Her, another of my all-time favorites.

4. Novelist: Margaret Atwood, especially Cat’s Eye.  I used to like Robertson Davies, but somehow his novels have not stuck with me.

5. Pianist: I used to think that only half of Glenn Gould’s recordings were tolerable, but in the last five years I have come to see his Haydn and Brahms recordings as masterpieces.  Now it’s only the Mozart and Beethoven I can’t stand.  Don’t forget the Berg Sonata and of course the Bach and also his writings.

6. Architect: Frank Gehry comes to mind, though I do not like the new rendition of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

7. Alanis Morissette song: “Head Over Feet.”

8. Comedian: I love Mike Myers in “Wayne’s World” and Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura” and “The Cable Guy.”

9. Favorite Neil Young album: Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.

10. Blogger: AhemCory Doctorow deserves mention too.

We haven’t even touched the painters.

What strikes me is not only how strong this list is, but how little thought was required to compile it.

My favorite things Turkey

1. Novelist: Orhan Pamuk.  My favorite books by Pamuk are the ones rooted most firmly in Istanbul and Turkey, namely The Museum of Innocence and Istanbul and also Snow.  Those are some of my very favorite books, period.

2. Non-fiction book, set in: There is Runciman and Kinross and Stephen Kinzer.  Is the Osman book good?

3. Movie, set in: From Russia With Love and Topkapi come to mind; my knowledge of Turkish cinema is weak.

4. Opera, set in: The Abduction from the Seraglio, maybe the Beecham recording, or Krips, plus I like the overture of the Harnoncourt version, much more Turkish-sounding than the others.  And I don't have to tell you my favorite Rondo.

Uh-oh, suddenly there is too much Orientalism in this post.  Reverse course!

5. Favorite recording showing the unities behind Turkish and classical music: Istanbul, Dimitrie Cantemir, by Jordi Savall.  Quite the revelation and it makes you wonder how well we understand the true story of classical music.

6. Singer: Tarkan comes to mind and he is well represented on YouTube.  There is an entire strand of Turkish popular song, in the direction of Sezen Aksu, YouTube here.  But overall my pick is Edip Akbayram, imagine a Turkish version of Tropicalia.

7. Economist: Dani Rodrik, Daron Acemoglu, Timur Kuran, and Faruk Gul are the best-known Turkish economists I can think of.  I believe Nouriel Roubini was born in Turkey but I don't think he counts as Turkish.

8. Music mogul: Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records.

9. Classical pianist: I still have mixed feelings about Fazil Say, who is very subjective with the score.  Idil Biret has some good recordings of romantic music and piano transcriptions.

10. Cynic: Diogenes, who in a few ways was an early version of Robin Hanson, though I am not suggesting Robin is a cynic in the lower case sense.

The bottom line: Textiles and the decorative arts weigh in as strong additional positives, but I wish there were more Turkish writers I liked.  

My favorite things Sicily

1. Novel, set in: The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa.

2. Movie, set in: This is a tough one.  But I'll opt for Visconti's The Leopard (big screen required, don't bother with Netflix) over Coppola's Godfather sequence, not to mention La Terra Trema and L'avventura.  Wow.  Is there a Sicily scene in Patton?

3. Chess opening: 5…a6, the Najdorf.  Chess is a good example of the more general point that it takes a long time to discover which innovations turn out to be valuable and which not.  Thirty years ago, who would have thought that 6.Be3 would become the most common response?

4. Playwright: Luigi Pirandello, but I would call this a "favorite only because I can't think of anyone else."

5. Opera composer: Bellini, especially the first Act of Norma, sung by Maria Callas.  There is also Alessandro Scarlatti but I don't know his music well.

6. Musical arranger: Pete Rugulo, yes he was born in Sicily and later he arranged for Stan Kenton.  That music still sounds impressive to me.

7. Philosopher: Gorgias was smart but cynical (if we trust Plato).  Empedocles was sooner a natural scientist in my view.  Archimedes I would count as a mathematician.  

8. Painter: Antonello de Messina is a clear first choice, unless you count De Chirico as Sicilian.  Here is a very good Messina image.

9. Movie director: Frank Capra was born in Sicily; see my comments on Pirandello.  Note by the way that I am not considering Sicilian-Americans unless they were born in Sicily.

They have a bunch of accomplished writers and poets I'm not familiar with, other than Lampedusa, so I don't have a favorite there.

The bottom line: A nice, diverse list, with numerous surprises.

My favorite things Alabama

1. Popular music.  Emmylou Harris is from Birmingham and I like her albums with Gram Parsons.  "The New Soft Shoe" is an excellent song.  While I appreciate Nat King Cole in the abstract I never choose to put it on.  Lionel Richie has a nice voice but the sound is too bland for my taste.

2. Painter: The early Howard Finster is excellent, although he churned out weak material for a long time later on.

3. Jazz: Lionel Hampton is the obvious choice, but I will pick Sun Ra, who is a musical god of sorts for me.  Jazz in Silhouette is the best place to start, although it does not communicate the overall diversity of his work.  He remains an underrated musical figure.

4. Country music: Hank Williams.  Even if you hate country music you should buy the two CDs of his collected works.  I also love Shelby Lynne; start with I am Shelby Lynne.

5. Bluegrass: The Louvin Brothers.  Tragic Songs of Life is one of my favorite albums as it has a deeply scary and tragic feel; again you can love it even if you hate country and bluegrass.  Do you know the song "The Great Atomic Power"?

6. Writer: I can't make my way through To Kill a Mockingbird.  Who else is there?  Wasn't one of Charles Barkley's books funny?  I've never finished a Tobias Wolff novel, too stilted.  Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King were very good writers, though they don't quite fit the category.  Same for James Agee.  Truman Capote would be an easy pick except I don't enjoy his books.  Zora Neale Hurston was born in the state though I am inclined to classify her under "Florida."

7. Quilters: From Gee's Bend, Alabama, there is an entire tradition.  The traveling exhibits of these works are excellent.

8. Gospel: Blind Boys of Alabama.  They transfer better to disc than do a lot of gospel groups.

9. Song, about: Don't go there.

10. Movie, shot inClose Encounters of the Third Kind.  As for "Movie, set in" here is a worrying list.  Maybe I'll go with Fried Green Tomatoes, although the book is supposed to be better and more open about the sexuality of the main characters.

The bottom line: There are some major stars here and I haven't even mentioned the famous athletes.

My favorite things Puerto Rican

The list came out quite well:

1. Actress: Jennifer Lopez.  Seriously.  Out of Sight is quite good and the badly misunderstood The Cell makes perfect sense once you realize it is a retelling of parts of Sikh theology.  Rita Moreno gets honorable mention.

2. Cellist: Pablo Casals (his mother was Puerto Rican and he ended up living there).  His Bach Suites, while profound, are largely unlistenable due to the scratching and scraping.  Nonetheless there are still revelations to be found in the trio recordings, Schubert, bits of the Beethoven, etc.

3. Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Sneer if you wish, but his 1982-1984 period is very good, most of all the sketches.  There are many bad Basquiat works, however, and lots of fakes.

4. Economic historian and colleague: Carlos Ramirez.  Don't forget his paper on the bailout.

5. Poet: Juan Ramón Jiménez, who left Spain for Puerto Rico.  Here is his Platero y Yo.  Although he won a Nobel Prize in 1956, this very pure poet remains underrated in the United States.

6. Reggaeton song: Gasolina, by Daddy Yankee; note that reggaeton originated in Panama.

7. Guitarist: Jose Feliciano.  Here is his Star-Spangled Banner (excerpt) and here.  Here is Jose and Johnny Cash.

8. Musical, about: Paul Simon's The Caveman (not WSS, which I actively dislike).

9. Art museum: The two notable collections of pre-Raphelite art in this hemisphere are in Wilmington, Delaware and Ponce, Puerto Rico.  Each is worth a visit.

10. Building: Puerto Rico has many fine homes and a surprising amount of Art Deco, plus the colonial buildings and fortifications in San Juan.  Here is the over the top fire station in Ponce.  But overall I'll pick the metalwork on one of the country homes, somewhere between San Juan and Ponce.

The bottom line: The achievements are strong and varied, noting that I've used a looser notion of affiliation than in some comparisons past.

My Favorite Things Maine

I don’t know this state very well, so I fear that this list is not, in fact, my favorite things from Maine.  It is what I think are my favorite things from Maine:

1. Writer: The first five volumes of The Dark Tower are amazing plus I love The Stand and Misery and The Dead Zone.  He’s not as good as Melville or Faulkner but few other American writers beat him.

2. Painter of seascapes: He’s not from Maine, but surely he counts because he painted there.  Try this one, or this one.

3. Painter: Marsden Hartley, this one is atypical.  There is also Andrew Wyeth, do you know the old saying "As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between"?

4. Poets: There is Longfellow, E.A. Robinson, and Edna St. Vincent-Millay, none of whom I much relate to but nonetheless I am impressed in the aggregate.

5. Best writer about spiders and swans: Duh.

6. Movie director: John Ford, with Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as the classics.

7. Composer: Walter Piston is the only one I can think of, try this disc.

8. Beautiful woman: Liv Tyler.  Wasn’t she beautiful?  But when?  I can’t find any picture on Google to prove it…

The bottom line: For an isolated, underpopulated state, this is a pretty awesome line-up.  But hey, it’s cold up here!

My favorite things Floridian

I am in Palm Beach for a few days, so here goes:

Film: The classic is Key Largo; Bogie’s speech about Edward G. ("more, you want more…") is a (the?) classic statement of behavioral economics.  An honorable mention goes to Wild Things, a hot and underrated work of teen film noir.  Of course Body Heat was set in Florida as well.  As for comedy, Jim Carrey’s debut feature Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, set in Miami and environs, was made before his brilliant comic talents ossified. 

Literature: I’ll pick Zora Neale Hurston, with my favorite work as her memoir Their Eyes Were Watching God.  She is also quite a libertarian thinker in many ways.

Music: The Allman Brothers, Ray Charles, and Tom Petty are the only competitors I can think of.  They are all overrated, but I will opt for Charles’s "What’d I Say?"  Tampa Red was pretty good, but often he is attributed to Georgia.

Art: Many notable Americans painted Florida, but how about an artist who is truly of Florida?  I’ll opt for the Haitian Edouard Duval-Carrie, here are a few good paintings by him.  And here is Kevin Grier’s favorite Duval-Carrie, scroll down to the bottom.

The bottom line: I love Miami Art Deco and roadside architecture, but doesn’t Florida feel just a wee bit underrepresented on the lists of artistic greats?

Addendum: A number of readers argue persuasively that the Allman Brothers should belong to Georgia, not Florida. 

The Anarchy

William Dalrymple is one of my favorite writers of non-fiction. He burst upon the scene in 1989 as a precocious, if occasionally a bit snotty travel writer, with In Xanadu in which he traced the path of Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Xanadu in Inner Mongolia. He really hit stride, however, with City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, an essentially perfect example of the “Year in” genre that combines humor, history and analysis and remains to this day an excellent guide to historical Delhi. In From the Holy Mountain Dalrymple traveled from Greece to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to understand the ancient roots of the Christian populations in these countries. Sadly, Dalrymple’s trip has become in some respects a last document of cultures now disappearing under the stress of war, revolution and suppression. As Dalrymple aged he turned more and more to pure history. In The Last Mughal and Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, Dalyrmple gives what I think are the definitive accounts of the Indian mutiny of 1857 and the British invasion of Afghanistan of 1839-1842. Especially notable in both of these books is that Dalyrmple draws on previous ignored or underused Indian and Afghani accounts. There are other books, collections of journalistic essays, photographs and more but I will mention just one more, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, a beautiful and unforgettable account of nine people in modern India each walking a unique religious path.

In his latest book, The Anarchy, Dalrymple recounts the remarkable history of the East India Company from its founding in 1599 to 1803 when it commanded an army twice the size of the British Army and ruled over the Indian subcontinent. I review The Anarchy at Here’s one bit from my review:

The Mughal emperor Shah Alam, for example, had been forced to flee Delhi leaving it to be ruled by a succession of Persian, Afghani and Maratha warlords. But after wandering across eastern India for many years, he regathered his army, retook Delhi and almost restored Mughal power. At a key moment, however, he invited into the Red Fort with open arms his “adopted” son, Ghulam Qadir. Ghulam was the actual son of Zabita Khan who had been defeated by Shah Alam sixteen years earlier. Ghulam, at that time a young boy, had been taken hostage by Shah Alam and raised like a son, albeit a son whom Alam probably used as a catamite. Expecting gratitude, Shah Alam instead found Ghulam driven mad. Ghulam took over the Red Fort and cut out the eyes of the Mughal emperor, immediately calling for a painter to immortalize the event.

Read the whole review and buy the book. It’s a hell of a story.