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THE WORLD IN BOOKS by Kenneth C. Davis


52 Works of Great Short Nonfiction

by Kenneth C. Davis

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2024
ISBN: 9781668015599
Publisher: Scribner

In an age of screens, AI, and shrinking attention spans, a good book is more important and valuable than ever.

For the bibliophiles among us, the recurring question is: What should I read next? Davis, a prolific writer and author of Great Short Books: A Year of Reading—Briefly, is ready with some 52 recommendations. His list stretches from The Epic of Gilgamesh to the current day, and it includes the seminal works of every major faith. Each entry includes an excerpt from the work, a biographical note on the author, and a discussion on its particular value. Davis also provides a recommendation on what to read next, which might be further writing by the same author or material in a related genre. His focus is on short books and essays; wherever possible, he places the piece within the author’s larger output. He casts a wide net, from Plato, Sun Tzu, Sappho, and Aristotle to Dante, Machiavelli, Marx, Voltaire, and others. Davis makes a point of including authors of color, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. Du Bois, and James Baldwin, as well as key feminist writers like Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and bell hooks. Elie Wiesel, Christopher Hitchens, Joan Didion, and Toni Morrison each find a place on the list. Davis admits that his collection is necessarily arbitrary, and he provides a short afterword to explain the reasons for his selections, as well as an appendix of other choices. One appendix, “My Ten Favorite Great Short Nonfiction Books,” includes work by Sappho, Douglass, Thoreau, Orwell, Didion, and Elizabeth Kolbert, in addition to John Hersey’s landmark Hiroshima. “I hope I have provided a rich reservoir of contemplation, insight, inspiration, and resistance, and perhaps even a glimmer of truth,” Davis writes. In that, he has succeeded.

A wealth of succinct, entertaining advice.