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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Seminal Books of the past - part II

Apparently I’m not alone in my interest in making a list of “the key books of the century”….I’ve just unearthed the first of what promises to be a series of posts on “the hundred most influential books since the war” – which appeared last month in the Time Literary Supplement and gave us 20 titles from the 1940s….It draws our attention to an interesting initiative of 1986 when
a diverse group of writers and scholars came together to try to assist independent East European writers and publishers both at home and in exile. The Chairman was Lord Dahrendorf, Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford (and prominent German politician!). Other members were the French historian Francois Furet; Raymond Georis, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam; Laurens van Krevelen of the Dutch publishing house Meulenhoff; the Swedish writer Per Waestberg, at the time President of International PEN; the European correspondent of the New Yorker, Jane Kramer; and the historian and commentator, Timothy Garton Ash.

The result, in 1995, was a book “Freedom for Publishing, Publishing for Freedom” which listed 100 key books, listed sequentially on the TLS blog. 

The very first book on the list for the 1940s is one I knew I had forgotten to put on my list – Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” (now rectified). 
I think I should also have included the writings of Max Weber and Raymond Aron……so reserve the right to produce a more definitive list which better reflects my particular criteria of impact, coherence and "sustainability" (ie "lasting power")

I have resisted the temptation to peek at the books the TLS blog gives for each of the following decades – until I have completed my own effort - and simply pass on this list of 20 key books for the 1950s. A few years ago, Time Magazine gave us an interesting annotated list of the 100 best nonfiction books

Of course all such lists are arbitrary – but the last post does give a good sense of the conflict and repression which was the European experience in the first half of the 20th century with the sense of liberation and assertiveness of the immediate post-war period – as well as the first warnings of the excesses of our way of life in the late 1960s.

I am having much more difficulty identifying “seminal books with a distinctive voice” for the last 40 years. I had little difficulty naming almost 40 books for the earlier 40-year period – but can find less than 20 so far for the period since 1973…..I can suggest at least two reasons for this deficiency -
-  First that the battle-lines on most disputes were drawn in the first part of the century – and we are now operating in the tracks made by more famous (and original) men and women…..
-   University growth, social science specialisation and bureaucratisation has killed off creativity….

Clearly such assertions need to be justified and I hope to post on this shortly.....

For the moment, let me simply list the books which came to mind as I tried to complete the list.....the Peters book is there not for its quality but simply because it reflected the "mood of the time". 
And, so far, I don't feel able to include a book covering the post 2001 anxieties about migration - although Chris Cauldwell's 2009 Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is a front-runner. Nor have I tried to touch the issues related to information and security........and the list does include some mavericks who are personal favourites (eg Kohr, Douthwaite, George, Quinn and Dorling)

So my tentative list for the post 1973 years includes -
Orientalism – Edward Said (1978)
The Breakdown of Nations – Leopold Kohr (1978)
The Culture of Narcissism – Christopher Lasch (1979)
In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters and Robert Waterman (1982)
Imagined Communities – Benedict Anderson (1983)
Casino Capitalism – Susan Strange (1986)
Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky (1988)
The End of History – Francis Fukuyama (1989)
Reinventing Government – David Osborne and Ted Gaebler (1992)
Everything for Sale – the virtues and limits of markets – Robert Kuttner (1996)
Short Circuit – strengthening local economies in an unstable world - Ronald Douthwaite (1996)
The Lugano Report: On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century – Susan George (1999)
Change the World - Robert Quinn (2000)
A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism – David Harvey (2005)

Then there are tens of thousands of volumes which management writers have given us – of which the better have been produced by people such as Henry Mintzberg,  Charles Handy and Ronald Dore

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