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Ranking the Classics: Week Two of the 60 in 60, with Swift in the Lead

When I'm not blogging for Omnivoracious, I'm primarily a fiction writer and anthology editor. This year, with an incredibly busy schedule, I decided to more or less go offline for six months to finish my latest novel, Finch. No personal blogging at my Ecstatic Days site, just guest bloggers. For my return, I thought it might be nice to give myself a little challenge, so I wrote to my friend Colin Brush at Penguin Books UK and said, "If you'll send me the 60 books in your Great Ideas series, I'll review one a day for 60 days." These beautifully designed little books are usually abridgments of longer works. Authors include the likes of Edward Gibbon, Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf.

       Tubamazon_2       Socialamazon       Hatingamazon

Brush replied that he liked the idea and sent me the books. So for the past two weeks I've started in on what has been called by at least one friend "foolish" and by another "the endeavor of a madman." Penguin's own blog questioned my sanity. Yet, I have persevered to the end of the second week, and my 60 in 60 audacity has been rewarded by attention from, among others, the Guardian (as book site of the week) and the Harvard University Press, which urged its readers to emulate my craziness.

Every Saturday, then, I will report back to Omnivoracious readers on the prior week's reading, ranking each book I've read and turning a spotlight on the best. You can read the entire series of reviews on a special thread of my blog.

This week was a tough one, in terms of selecting a favorite. I liked pretty much everything I read. But Swift and Paine won out, one for his convoluted and hilarious satire and the other for his straightforward prose and precision.

1 - Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub - Swift weaves an extended satire of organized religion around a series of digressions brutally and brilliantly taking the piss out of critics, writers, pontificators, lecturers, and the like. (And what of the tub? Swift identifies it in his introduction as what sailors put out to distract the leviathan that may otherwise ram their ships.) Available from Amazon here.

2 - Thomas Paine's Common Sense - Thomas Paine’s classic call for independence is much more than a polemic against the English oppressor. Available from Amazon here.

3 - Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Appealing to both the heart and the head, A Vindication… is a stirring refutation of various rationales for inequality while putting forth the arguments for equality. Available from Amazon here.

4 - William Hazlitt's On the Pleasure of Hating - A series of strong, combative essays on subjects from boxing to modes of government. Available from Amazon here.

5 - Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract - An argument for individual liberty and for good government used since its publication as both a blueprint for political protest and democracy. Available from Amazon here.

6 - Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto - A slim book that has had a wide and deep effect: fomenting rebellion against dictatorship and oppression in the modern era, while ultimately inflicting upon the masses that which it sought to obliterate. This excellent edition also includes the prefaces to various foreign editions and “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (sections I and VII)”. Available from Amazon here.

7 - Edward Gibbon's The Christians and the Fall of Rome - An examination of the rise of Christianity during the fall of the Roman Empire. Available from Amazon here.

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