TPM’s Publisher Joe Ragazzo: Five Books That Changed How I Saw The World | Talking Points Memo

We’re asking our fellow TPMers to share their own personal reading recommendations: books they love or that have shaped their lives. Comment below with some of your favorites! Also: You can always purchase any of the books by visiting our TPM Bookshop profile page

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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No books written by women. That is disappointing to me as a woman. Same as it ever was as the Talking Heads say. However, there are some interesting one here that I think I will read. Thanks.


Andrea Wulf: “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” (puts the modern world and modern environmental movement in a very different light)

Rita Colwell “A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science” – tells how bad women had it in the 20th century and still have it in the professional dimension, with particular focus on universities and the government (even more than I was aware of.)

Samuel C Gwynne, “Empire of the summer moon : Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history” (paints both later day arrivals and especially the native tribes in a fuller, if not different light than is popular these days. Not for the weak of stomach)

Concerning the Russian Revolution and capitalism (don’t know about Figes, but Picketty about Capital is popular among liberals but not serious). Better to read the real sources:

  • Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (full version) & subsequent writings about the rise of Stalin and Stalinism (Trotsky’s History is considered one of the great works of history and the kind of work that rarely is one quite the same after)
  • Karl Marx, Capital (all three volumes), followed by Lenin’s “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism”

It’s not new (and it’s certainly Eurocentric) but I just got around to reading it during the past year, and thoroughly enjoyed it – especially the hilarious description of Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries, first humans to cross the English Channel by air, racing against time to avoid fatally smashing into French cliffs by first dumping their provisions over the side, then their clothes, and finally their…um…bodily contents.



Picked it up. Couldn’t set it down until I was finished.

Ben’s death still haunts.

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“These Truths” by Jill Lepore. Think that there’s no institutional racism in the United States? Jill Lepore sets that – and many more issues – straight. From our nation’s founding up to today, racism has been a contentious, divisive and corrosive cancer on our body politic.


Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’
London’s ‘Martin Eden’
Herr’s ‘Dispatches’
Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’
Isherwood’s ‘Down There On A Visit’
Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’


I had the exact same response. It’s 2021, ffs.

here goes (no particular order)

  1. Two Flags Flying- DJ Sobol

  2. The Pinball Effect-James Burke

  3. The Day The Universe Changed- James Burke

  4. Enchantment Of America: Michigan- Allan Carpenter

  5. X-Men #167- Claremont n Smith


Flogging your own work is completely allowed.


Though most people know Burke’s works (if they know them at all) as pre-Internet productions by the BBC, they’ve always been the product of a first-rate journalist and author, and this one — written with, among others, collaborators at Trinity College, Oxford — is no exception.

Its ending chapter, “Worlds Without End”, is actually a radical departure from his staid yet humorous narrative (normally all too easy to dismiss as the epitome of Anglo-Irish respectability) and is stunningly subversive, questioning even the biology-based sensory organs and cognitive machinery on which we’ve built our Global Civilization — and the tenuous threads that (so far) hold it together.


Man. These are all too intellectual for me, a state college alum. Personally, I have to laugh these days. Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen filled that need.


I was going to say the same thing for a particular reason, which is because that Knausgaard book is on there.
As for “sequence-novels” of the 21st Century, which is what Knausgaard writes, The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante is at least as good and in my opinion probably better.

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Silencing the Past:Power and the Production of History, by Trouillot. He uses the Haitian Revolution and some other examples to show how power influences history and how losers’ voices are silenced. Very useful for thinking about the history we “know”.

J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston in the 70s. This was a picture of differing groups’ attitudes towards bussing.

Piketty: Capital and Ideology. A dense tome with every detail carefully researched. Changing my mind on inequality and wealth taxes.

Lippman: Public Opinion. I don’t agree with his policy, but his analysis of how how public opinion is created is spot on. Because it was written in the 20s, the examples are free from modern politics.

Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl. Just how close the world was to a release of radiation that would have poisoned half of Europe. A fascinating study of the second-by-second details of the accident, then the hour-by-hour decisions of bureaucrats, and the day-by-day difficulties of the clean up.

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This was fun – Ragazzo & the replies got me thinking about what my own shortlist might look like (5 or 6 that were somehow pivotal). Man! Very tough! I’m a lifelong and serious reader since something like age 5 (and not from growing up in an intellectual household, but growing up in a world where libraries offered the cheapest way of getting out of the house & therefore parentally encouraged entertainment options). But how to come up with criteria for inclusion? Decided I’d go with this: the watershed, life-changing etc part of my life was a period between age 19 & 25; just a mass of discovery and horizon-expanding stuff; this is also a period when I cut the tethers of a fairly standard up-bringing in flyover country and began some real exploring. So, my criteria are connected to a surge of hitchhiking and back country wilderness travels from my base in North Dakota to as far away as Oaxaca, the whole west coast, and discovery of the Olympics, Rockies, and the like. Safe to say that without these few books I would not have gone on to graduate school, a PhD in Anthropology, and further watersheds. To qualify for my list, the books had to have lived in my backpack, been read multiple times, and been instrumental in enabling the many watersheds & pivots that followed. Bonus points if it got dropped in a puddle while being read on the side of the road…

Gary Snyder: Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems; The Back Country.
Louise Erdrich: Love Medicine
Peter Matthiessen: In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
Thomas McGrath: Letter to an Imaginary Friend
Denis Levertov: The Poet in the World

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Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul – Leslie Paul Thiele
A History of God – Karen Armstrong
Critique of Religion and Philosophy – Walter Kaufman

Sorry, this Kaufmann has 2 n’s; spellcheck “fixed” it to one.

I loved: A History of God – by Karen Armstrong
On the lighter side: The Mind-Body Problem – by Rebecca Goldstein
Recent good read: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood --by Janisse Ray

Here is a book by a woman, Rebecca Donner, about a most remarkable woman, an early resistor to Nazism, Mildred Harnack. She was from Wisconsin, met and married a German woman and they organized other concerned Germans to resist the encroachment of Nazism as led by Hitler with the aid of most every other country which was appeasing Hitler in the mistaken belief he’d eventually back off. It’s a must read.

@joeynostrils; @profc @heartflow


@irasdad FYI

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I very much enjoyed this book, anything that spoofs the trumpet and the over-the-top new rich in FL is ready made for me.

BTW, there was a trial in Annapolis and a man who shot up a newspaper office in that city in June 2018 and killed everyone was found guilty and will serve life sentences. Joe Hiaasen, brother to Carl, was one of the victims, so Carl was on my mind recently.