We are pleased to announce our annual selections for the best books we read this year. The Octavian Report reading list makes great year-end reading wherever you may be — and great gifts, if you are still looking.
Here is our list of essential reads for 2021 and beyond.
SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA, by James Shapiro
The pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar examines the history of the Bard in the United States -- from John Quincy Adams to Donald Trump -- and what it can tell us about politics and society in American in an age of polarization. Click here to read more.
RED DRESS IN BLACK AND WHITE, by Elliot Ackerman
The latest novel from National Book Award finalist and decorated veteran Ackerman (he is also a member of our foundation's board) deals with the intersection of love, jealousy, and geopolitics against the background of a politically turbulent Istanbul. Click here to read more.
LONG LIVE LATIN, by Nicola Gardini
Oxford professor Gardini makes a passionate, brilliant case for why the study of Latin -- seen by many as a sterile pursuit -- is in fact among the most intellectually vivifying you can undertake. (We suspect our namesake would have endorsed this view.)
SAY NOTHING, by Patrick Radden Keefe
New Yorker writer Radden Keefe's engrossing real-life murder mystery set against a humane and deeply researched history of the Troubles -- the state and paramilitary violence that plagued Northern Ireland from the late 1960's to the late 1990's -- plumbs new depths in a difficult subject and shows the human face and human costs of ideological and political conflicts.
THE VIRUS IN THE AGE OF MADNESS, by Bernard Henri-Lévy
Lévy's newest book details the shape of the world we now inhabit -- a world in which a pandemic has fundamentally reshaped society. That the world was already in the midst of serious social turbulence has only intensified and amplified that change. Lévy -- who serves on our editorial board -- brings his typical brilliance to bear on the subject. Click here to read more.
SOCRATES IN LOVE, by Armand d'Angour
Who was Socrates? What forces shaped his beliefs? We know very little about the man's private life and personal history. Armand d'Angour's daring and penetrating work couples social and intellectual history with deep textual knowledge to portray Socrates as a full-blooded, life-loving member of the Athenian elite and explores the love story that just might have been at the heart of his philosophy.
TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY, by Anne Applebaum
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and OR editorial board member Anne Applebaum has written a must-read about the political pathologies behind the rise of authoritarian politics around the world, focusing on the nations nearest to the author, including the United States. This book is an essential tool to understand the situation at home and abroad. Click here to read more.
THE BRIGHT BOOK OF LIFE, by Harold Bloom
This new, posthumous volume from America's most eminent literary critic explains the lasting power both of the novel and of the greatest examples of the form, and is a terrific reading list in its own right for anyone looking to better understand the human condition. Click here to read more.
STANLEY KUBRICK, by David Mikics
This new biography of Kubrick is part of the "Jewish Lives" series published by Yale University Press, and presents a fascinating and concise life of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The book takes in the whole of the master's career with the same eye for detail and the great auteur himself.
THE HIDDEN HABITS OF GENIUS, by Craig Wright
Wright is a musician and musicologist whose class on the subject of genius at Yale formed the basis for this excellent book, which seeks to explore the common themes of creative genius through anecdotes and stories illuminating the amazing diversity of world-historical talent. The lessons are applicable for anyone who has a creative streak. Click here for more.
FALLOUT, by Lesley MM Blume
Best-selling author Blume here takes the efforts by the United States government to suppress the truth about how devastating nuclear weapons are in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, and the heroic efforts of John Hersey and the New Yorker to reveal that truth. This book is an amazing testimony to the courage of Hersey and a stark reminder that anti-proliferation efforts remain necessary.
MORALITY, by Jonathan Sacks
Among the many tragedies of 2020 was the death of Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of England and a brilliant commentator on philosophy, religion and morality. His book makes the case, with examples drawn from across human history, that our political systems can only thrive in concert with our moral ones, and that to reclaim liberal democracy means to think hard about right and wrong and what we owe others.
OPEN STUDIO, by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley
This ingenious book by noted art expert Coplan Hurowitz and filmmaker Benchley takes you inside the studios of 17 contemporary masters to create DIY projects they have designed for the general reader. This meditation on craft and process reminds us that the journey is a key part of any artwork.
THE PEANUTS PAPERS, Andrew Blauner, ed.
Peanuts is the longest continuous narrative composed by a single author, and this amazing book lets writers explain how Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang influenced their art and their understanding of human nature. A must-read for Schulz fans -- and everyone else. Click here to read more.
RADICAL UNCERTAINTY, by Mervyn King and John Kay
This brilliant book upends our understanding of how valuable modelling is -- and takes on the idea that it is quite as useful as we seem to think by showing how it fails in extraordinary circumstances. King's book is a necessary companion in an age of ever-increasing uncertainty. Click here to read more.