Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Jacobs turns urban planning on its head by explaining how small things -- corner shops, people on the sidewalk -- make a neighborhood vital. Christopher Alexander et al.: A Pattern Language (1977). In this design manual, Alexander lays out 253 elements -- from small window panes to sidewalks wide enough for promenading -- that add up to good houses, good neighborhoods, and good cities.
Fran*ois Truffaut: Jules and Jim (1961). Everybody's favorite m*nage-?-trois movie follows the story of three bohemian friends in World War I-era France. Swift changes of tone from sadness to whimsy keep you guessing -- and remind you what life is really like. Jean-Luc Godard: Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). Godard's deadpan mock-documentary about a prostitute is full of ironies that stand for the deeper disorders of modern life.
Rachel Carson: Silent Spring (1962). The famous wakeup call about the dangers of pesticides. What makes the book still compelling is the clarity of Carson's ecological vision and her ominous warnings about unchecked corporate power. Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan: What Is Life? (1995). This beautiful large-format book uses design and image as well as language to show how biological cooperation works alongside competition in the process of evolution.
Thelonious Monk: Monk's Dream (1962). Monk is one of the masters of modern composition and, in the words of critic Martin Williams, 'a virtuoso of the basic materials of jazz: time, meter, accent, space.' Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959). Davis is the Chartres cathedral of jazz improvisation, or maybe Chartres is the Miles Davis of Gothic architecture.
Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn made paradigm into almost a household word, and he brings a new understanding of the dynamics of intellectual development in science -- and, by implication, all other fields of knowledge. James Gleick: Chaos (1987). Charting the seeming randomness of weather patterns and traffic jams, chaos theory reminds us that the universe does not behave according to our best calculations; something more complicated and interesting is at work.
Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel (1965). The elder statesman of the Beat Generation vividly narrates wild tales of his bawdy, boho youth in jazz-age Chicago. Harvey Pekar: New American Splendor Anthology (1991). The real world that you never see on TV. An engrossing comic book series about the everyday life of a working-class comic book writer in Cleveland.
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965). 'How does it feel?' Dylan sang -- and pop music (and numerous other things) would never be the same again. Iris DeMent: The Way I Should (1996). A honky-tonk singer-songwriter, full of rollicking good-time rhythms and twanging hard-luck stories, but also outrage at America's escalating injustice.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Garcia Marquez' saga of a Colombian family introduced something new to the modern novel: a fusion of political concern, exquisitely inventive fantasy, and a sense of the immortality of human desire. Tony Kushner: Angels in America (1993). In this magical multilayered play about a gay man dying of AIDS, Kushner widens the American mind and heart.
Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul: The Very Best Vols. 1 & 2 (1960s-1990s). Franklin's ecstatic renderings brought the sweet soul of gospel music into R&B. Marion Williams: Surely God Is Able (1989). This superb gospel singer -- called 'America's greatest living singer' by rock critic Dave Marsh -- gives a powerful, rollicking voice to the Holy Spirit.
Michael Murphy: Golf in the Kingdom (1972). Carlos Castaneda with a nine iron: a mystical fantasy of one man's quest for perfect golf -- and inner peace -- under the tutelage of Shivas Irons, the Don Juan of the driving range. Steve James, Fred Marx, & Peter Gilbert: Hoop Dreams (1994). Visions of NBA stardom and the realities of life in Chicago's inner city shape the lives of two black high school stars in this poignant documentary that raises serious questions about the American sports machine.
E.F. Schumacher: Small Is Beautiful (1973). A surprise best-seller from an English economist making the simple but exceedingly radical observation that large-scale projects tend to turn into disasters. Ivan Illich: Tools for Conviviality (1973). A maverick thinker takes aim at the institutions of modern technological society, from medicine to transportation, convincingly showing that most of them offer us far less than is commonly assumed.
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Dispossessed (1974). A science-fiction journey to an anarchist utopia filled with intriguing theories about society, science, and spirituality. Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993). A thought-provoking novel about an ecotopian society of the future forced to defend its green lands and gentle ways against an invading technofascist army.
Federico Fellini: Amarcord (1974). A bittersweet, slightly surreal, and altogether engaging comedy of Italian village life, focusing on a gang of schoolboys hungry to figure out the meaning of sex, religion, family, and politics. Edgar Reitz: Heimat (1984). The evolution of the modern world from World War I to the Cold War of the '80s as seen through the eyes of one German village -- a masterful, completely captivating 16-hour saga that makes most other films feel like mere anecdotes.
Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom (1960s - 1970s). Not just the giant of reggae but also a music master whose social commentary matches that of any of his rock 'n' roll peers. I.K. Dairo and His Bluespots: JuJu Master (1960s). One of the grandparents of today's world beat music, Dairo added electric guitar and accordion to traditional Nigerian rhythms, spawning the dazzling JuJu sound and setting the stage for the emergence of African pop.
Leslie Marmon Silko: Ceremony (1977). The odyssey of an American Indian World War II veteran from shell shock and drunken madness to redemption through the healing power of Native ritual. John G. Neihardt: Black Elk Speaks (1932). The profundity of a Lakota holy man's teachings, as revealed to a white writer, transformed the wider culture's image of Native spirituality.
Anaïs Nin: Delta of Venus (1977). Underrated as a fiction writer, the famous memoirist is also a splendid erotic writer whose lyrical turn-ons prove that there's as much sexual excitement in a perfectly shaped phrase as in a hot body part. Margo Anand: The Art of Sexual Ecstasy (1989). A Tantric sex manual showing how spiritual awareness can channel the body's pleasures to enlighten the heart and build mature love.
The Clash: London Calling (1979). Smarts, spunk, overflowing creativity, and a sharp political edge made these boyos into one of the greatest rock bands ever. The Pogues: If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988). Punk bumps into traditional Irish music late one night in a smoky pub, with utterly exhilarating results.
Dario Fo: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1980). A radical jester but nobody's fool, this Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright deploys comedy, absurdity, and slapstick sabotage to undermine authoritarian power. Caryl Churchill: Cloud Nine (1981). Merry mischief on stage as all the political and personal parameters surrounding sex, class, and the fall of the British Empire are turned upside down.
Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poems (1982). The great filmmaker is also a great poet: a singer of the forgotten poor on the dirty edges of Italy's postwar economic recovery, a stunning nature poet, and a relentless examiner of his own troubled life. Kenji Miyazawa: Spring and Asura (1924). Miyazawa is a rarity: a brilliant avant-garde poet who was also a dedicated helper of the poor. These poems from once-impoverished northern Japan crackle with visionary intensity and Buddhist clarity.
Riane Eisler: The Chalice and the Blade (1987). Eisler relates how critical the roles of cooperation and sexual equality have been in the evolution of human culture -- not only to correct the idea that might-makes-right makes history, but also to point out the direction humankind might follow from here. Susan Griffin: Woman and Nature (1978). A powerful exposition of how women and the natural world have been seen as versions of each other -- and violated in strangely similar ways.
Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987). An escaped slave murders her baby to save the child from being returned to bondage under the Fugitive Slave Act. From this terrifying true story Morrison fashions a lyrical, ghostly novel of love and remorse. Zora Neale Hurston: Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). The spirited autobiography of the Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist who enshrined the poetic genius of black folklife.
August Wilson: Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1987). A revealing portrait of the African American extended family and the role mystical belief plays in it -- not just as picturesque 'hoodoo,' but as a very real tool of survival in a world that often makes no sense. Anna Deavere Smith: Twilight, Los Angeles 1992 (1994). The pioneer of documentary theater, Deavere Smith interviewed 200 people involved in some way with the Rodney King case and incorporated their words into a riveting one-woman show.
Jamaica Kincaid: A Small Place (1988). Read this unrelenting essay on the psychological effects of Caribbean colonialism and tourism and you'll understand why the guy serving you rum punches in your favorite island paradise does not like you. Gloria Anzaldúa: Borderlands/La Frontera (1987). The Chicana poet and critic uses her own life as a springboard for a freewheeling, poem-enriched collage of reflections on being Latina, being queer, and the postmodernity of the Aztecs.
Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman: Manufacturing Consent (1988). An eye-opening account about why media propaganda is subtler yet more prevalent in America than in other nations. Rick Goldsmith: Tell the Truth and Run (1996). An entertaining documentary about George Seldes, a legendary foreign correspondent of the '20s and '30s who became the granddaddy of the alternative press.
Charlotte Joko Beck: Everyday Zen (1989). Zen never seemed less like an endurance contest and more like a path to genuine healing than in this down-to-earth, plainspoken guide. Sogyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1993). A Tibetan answer to The Divine Comedy complete with mind-boggling stories and the real deal on living your dying.
Matt Groening: The Simpsons (1989-). An 'anti-sitcom' that shishkabobs every shabby contemporary trend from infomercials to 'safe' nuclear power without a whisper of political correctness. Ernie Kovacs (1951-1962). This small-screen pioneer created a surreal world of sight and sound gags -- women disappear as they take off their clothes, hula hoops cut people in half, typewriters tap to music all by themselves -- that stretched and celebrated the new medium.
Viana La Place: Verdura -- Vegetables Italian-style (1991). Earthy recipes for fulfillment -- one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetarian cookbooks around. Erich Schiffmann: Yoga -- The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness (1996). A guide to inhabiting your body in new ways. This accessible, clearly written book opens a doorway to yoga for newcomers and jaded veterans alike.
Julia Cameron: The Artist's Way (1992). It's not about how to paint or write or dance -- it's about how to nurture the part of you that's afraid to paint or write or dance. Cameron's pathway to creativity is through health and fulfillment, not purgatorial pain. Brenda Ueland: If You Want to Write (1938). Shining with the visionary high-mindedness of the old American avant-garde, this classic on unblocking your inner writer recommends watchful laziness, cheerful egotism, and flat-out joy.
Dorothy Allison: Bastard out of Carolina (1992). In the turbulent Southern-poor-white world of this novel, incest isn't a joke -- it's a powerful, brutal family reality, movingly and convincingly portrayed. Sharon Olds: The Dead and the Living (1984). No-holds-barred poems about Olds' own abusive family risk self-indulgence in order to deliver a knockout emotional punch.
James Hillman & Michael Ventura: We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy -- and the World's Getting Worse (1993). Enlightening conversations on the nature -- and limitations -- of therapy, especially the danger of cordoning off psychology from the gritty world of civic and political life. Alice Miller: The Drama of the Gifted Child (1983). A bad title but a good book, which explores the hollowness within people whose parents instill in them an insistent and urgent expectation of success.
Rupert Sheldrake: Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1995). Empirically probing the mysteries of life that the scientific establishment refuses to acknowledge, the celebrated biologist invites us to share in the creation of a New Science. Wim Wenders: Wings of Desire (1987). A profound, non-sappy exploration of the interplay between the angelic realm and earthly desire.
Cesaria Evora: Cesaria Evora (1995). A barefoot diva who touches the whole world with her stirring interpretations of Cape Verde's melancholy morna music. Umm Kulthum: Al-Atlaal (1966). This beloved Egyptian singer sent audiences into frenzy with love songs that hover between despair and ecstasy.
David Abram: The Spell of the Sensuous (1996). There's far more to the world than science can measure, says anthropologist and magician Abram, proving his point with a rich helping of examples from indigenous cultures. Robert Flaherty: Nanook of the North (1922). A still-fascinating portrait of the life and traditions of the Itivimuit people of Hudson's Bay that helped launch documentary filmmaking.
Fritjof Capra: The Web of Life (1996). Challenging all who think the world functions like a machine, Capra examines the new science of life and explores possibilities for an emerging ecological politics. Paul Hawken: The Ecology of Commerce (1993). At last -- a business guru who talks about something other than fatter profits. A calm and illuminating discussion of how the economic order must adapt to environmental realities.
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