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My Summer Reading List

June 21, 2011

My Summer Reading List 

It has been a weird year for weather. Even super sophisticated Tina Brown, of Newsweek, thinks the “rapture guy might just be right.”

Linda and I are headed for our one-month sabbatical in the cool and beautiful mountain oasis of Aspen. There is no place better in the world for reading — mornings outside in 50 degree weather next to the Roaring Fork River. Within walking distance, there are six four-star restaurants and just down the road is the Aspen Institute for our annual dose of pundits.

People often ask BJ and me “what should I be reading these days?” Here are my recommendations:


The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen (Kindle price: $3.99)

The most unbiased short, easy to understand common sense e-book on how we got into the current mess and what to expect for the foreseeable future.


Modern World History; The Rise and Fall of Empires 

Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson. Copyright 2011.

“Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.” – from the book jacket. I agree. Ferguson is my favorite Aspen Ideas Festival resource of the past five years.

Ferguson documents how often it is that once-great empires (British, Ottoman, Russian) decline and fall in as little as a decade. Read first his last chapter titled, “Conclusion,” for this historian‘s evaluation of the current prospects for the U.S. and Europe.


Philosophy of Life 

The Book of Ecclesiastes, by Solomon, son of David, King in Jerusalem. Solomon wrote three books in the Old Testament: Song of Solomon in his youth, Proverbs in midlife, and Ecclesiastes at the end of his life. For me, this is the best book of existential philosophy ever written – biblical or secular, ancient or modern. I read Ecclesiastes at least once a year as a personal review and discipline. Solomon indulges himself fully in every temptation known to man – riches, physical pleasure, power and celebrity – he was the rock star of his age. Only in the last two verses does he look back to sum up and tell us the secrets of a rich life. He begins “the conclusion when all has been heard is” _____ (I will let you, the reader, look it up!)



100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century. Mark Strand, editor.

My personal favorite anthology. If the purpose of a poem is to bring something more richly to mind, to describe a state of being, to reopen remembrance of an intimate moment, a shared experience, to carry you into multiple worlds, this is your book. My copy is filled with a sea of marginal “talk back” notes of reactions, disagreements and the sheer wonder of words to conjure emotions and experiences.


Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nutall

For me, hands down the most comprehensive understanding of human nature is Shakespeare. This book which I have been discussing with my literature maven, Dr. Larry Allums, for the last three months unfolds all manner of fresh and fascinating insights into Shakespeare’s unsurpassed plays.


Visual Arts 

Peter Drucker had an exquisite collection of Japanese painting and calligraphy on scrolls, many housed in museums. Peter took three scrolls out every month to display in his home. We used to stand in front of an ancient Japanese painting with Peter advising me in two words that the way to study art is to “Just Look.”

Twenty years ago, I began doing just that by purchasing used art books from Half Price Books and tearing out three pages every day to pin up on cork board in my walk-in closet where I dress each morning. You can do the same. Just find a used book store (The Strand in NYC) and start pinning up a few reproductions every day or so. Or you can buy a terrific and inexpensive book, titled A Year in Art, which has the great paintings with succinct commentaries. Tear ‘em out and “just look.” It is like a trip to The Met with no excess baggage fees.


Christian Calling 

The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The answer that changed my life and just might change the world., by Richard Stearns

The book all my Christian friends are reading today. This is the Halftime story, extremely well told, of a corporate CEO who faced his own struggle to answer God’s call on his life … at the cost of leaving his high paying, high power job as CEO of Lennox China.


Linda’s Favorite Morning start-the-day-right Book

When I asked about her favorite devotional, Linda said, “Whatever I’m reading now,” then she handed me Jesus by Beth Moore. Beth Moore is the writer and teacher of many Bible studies and best-selling books. She is attractive and accessible. This volume is an up-close-and intimate introduction to Jesus, served up in fifty 3-page one-a-day stories.


My Favorite CDs

Nighttimes in Aspen after dinner, I often sit outside in the moonlit dark. I put on my Bose headphones and listen to my favorite CDs (interesting local phenomenon: one night a brown bear passed about three feet in front of me. Neither of us disturbed one another’s evening.) My five favorite CDs are mostly live concerts:

Keith Jerrett Trio – Standards in Norway

The standards trio is stunning here. The sound on this record is among the greatest of all their recordings, live from Oslo Konserthus (Concert Hall).


Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

A studio album, it is said to be the best-selling jazz record of all time.


The Oscar Peterson Trio at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival

This CD contains what is considered by most listeners to be the finest recording of the Oscar Peterson-Herb Ellis-Ray Brown trio, a group that lasted from 1953-1958. Although the soloing was always quite passionate and spontaneous, the very complex arrangements are really what made this unit sound unique.


Dave Brubeck – Jazz Goes to College

Uniformly flawless, heavily improvised, memorable music


Kenny Loggins – Concert in the Red Woods

My favorite rock concert ever.


Parting Words 

I may write a little less often, but I will promise to tell you what emerges from the Aspen Ideas Festival. Have a good summer. Life is good.



One Comment leave one →
  1. John w. Smith permalink
    June 21, 2011 4:50 PM

    Another good one that just made my top ten is Linchpin by Seth Godin. Highly recommended. And another that I’ve just started: Generous Justice by Tim Kellar- promises to be as good- discusses the age old conflict of “word” vs “deed” in missions and evangelism.

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