1. Brent Tarter, Virginians and Their Histories. The best book I have read on the history of Virginia, by an order of magnitude. And in turn that makes it an excellent book on race as well, and also on broader American history. If I have to spend the whole year in this state, I might as well read about it. I learned also that 21,172 Virginians have identified themselves as American Indians, and that this movement is more active than I had realized.
2. Diary of Anne Frank. It seems inappropriate to call this a “good” or even “great” book. I had not read it since high school, I will just say it deserves its enduring status, and the reread was much more rewarding and interesting than what I was expecting.
3. Howard Brotz, editor, African-American Social & Political Thought 1850-1920. A fascinating selection from the debates of the time, reprinting Douglass, Booker T., Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Delany, and others. Douglass holds up best, including his critique of colonialism. The weakest argument in the volume was “Haiti is working out fine, so Liberia will succeed as well.” Of greatest interest to me was the extent to which the African-American debates of that time overlapped with opinions about Africa and the Caribbean. Recommended, and excellent background for many of the current disputes.
4. Simone Weil: An Anthology, and Gravity and Grace. Gravity and Grace is the early work. Its ten best pages are superb, but reading it is mostly a frustrating experience, due to the diffuse nature of the presentation (to be clear, overall I consider that a relatively high reward ratio). The former collection is the best place to start, noting again there is a certain degree of diffuseness, but as with Žižek there are insights you just don’t get anywhere else. A good question for any talent selection algorithm is whether it would pick out the teenage Weil and give her a grant to pursue her writing projects. Sadly she died at age 34 in 1943.