Reviews | List of Hugh Hewitt’s most influential books
What I wouldn’t give to know what was on their shelves.
As for me, in this hot and worrying month of August, I listen to “The World Crisis” and “The Gathering Storm” by Winston Churchill, perfect accompaniments to the unpredictability of world conflicts.
My tastes have changed over time, but my favorite books over the years have a lot in common. From the first cycle, I read the “Confessions” of Augustin, “The Selfish Gene” of Richard Dawkins, “The Prince” of Machiavelli and the “Essays” of Montaigne. In my years of antics and detours: “Disraeli” by Robert Blake and “The Real War” by Richard M. Nixon. “War and Peace” and “Moby Dick” supported me through my third year of law school—commitments that anyone who has endured that experience will understand.
Thriller author Robert Ludlum arrived on my radar somewhere in his twenties and swallowed hours of my time thereafter. Just like John le Carré and anything by James Clavell. Later I went down a Larry McMurtry rabbit hole and barely escaped after reading “Lonesome Dove”; another discovery was Evelyn Waugh’s “The Sword of Honour” trilogy, which revolves around the moral complications of World War II.
Then, around 40, I read “History of the English-speaking Peoples” by Churchill , a book that is now leafed through in crumbled pages and glued bindings. I inhaled the first two volumes of William Manchester’s Churchill trilogy, “The Last Lion”, and somewhere in there slipped “Trinity” by Leon Uris to make me feel guilty for my admiration for all that is English.
But I went there. The taste for Charles Dickens came with middle age. “Bleak House” transported me so much that a quiet vacation has always included a Dickens book. There was also John Irving’s magnificent “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and his haunting “The Cider House Rules”. Along the way there was also plenty of John Steinbeck, whom I met first in print and then again on audiobooks on walks during the shutdown. Steinbeck could have made me a socialist if I had read it when I was younger.
The more than 20 Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell and the Jack Aubrey novels by Patrick O’Brian taught me the outlines of the Napoleonic wars. “Napoleon: A Life” by Andrew Roberts filled in the key facts. “The Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk which covers the European struggle for Central Asia, still resounds. Many sports contributed to changing the setting, including George F. Will’s magnificent “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred” and Mark Frost’s superb “Game Six”., about the 1975 World Series.
Forced to read Plutarch in high school, I came back to him after Colleen McCullough’s seven novels about the end of the Roman Republic. Same thing with “I, Claudius”. Much Closer to Home: Michael Shaara’s Gettysburg Historical Fiction, ‘The Killer Angels’ was the gateway drug to all of Bruce Catton’s Civil War non-fiction books; then “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James M. McPherson. I was very late to listen to Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, but better to have listened to her read it than to have read it myself.
All the praise to Jefferson, Lincoln said, but he could have added “and to the audible books” if he had known they were coming. They have made much more reading possible while we drive, walk and exercise. “The Once and Future King” is one joy among many. So did Rick Atkinson’s “The British Are Coming” and James Garfield’s tragedy of medical care in Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic.” I have a soft spot for popular stories of medical calamities such as Steven Johnson’s “The Ghost Map” (about cholera in England in the 1850s) and John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza” (about the flu pandemic of 1918 after the First World War). But they helped me keep a cool head during our own pandemic.
Fantasy epics such as Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” and the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson are lengthy explorations of political theory and archetypes; the memoirs of Dick Cheney (“In My Time”), William P. Barr (“One Damn Thing After Another”) and Donald H. Rumsfeld (“Known and Unknown”) tell the reality of art and governance.
Laugh? Bill Bryson of course, and his “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” – and effortlessly learn what I couldn’t grasp in high school: a bit of science via “A Brief History of Almost Everything.”
And the one book everyone should read that has lived through the last quarter century: Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower.”
My list isn’t for everyone, of course. But now, my grandchildren will no longer have to ask themselves the question like me.