Loose Canon Part 2


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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.