Speaking personally, the current situation of life inside the house is somewhat akin to when I lived in eastern Ukraine in the early 1990s. Sources of entertainment were scarce for me in the pre-World Wide Web days.
That left me with the books I had brought. Big books I knew I was supposed to read but had been too intimidated to start. Had I not been entertainment-constrained, I might never have cracked any of them open. I am a better person for doing so.
Here are four big books I suggest trying to read in between binge-watching “Tiger King” or “Too Hot to Handle.”
Thucydides, “The History of the Peloponnesian War.”
No big whoop, just the urtext from which both the disciplines of history and international relations emerged. This is an intimidating text, and the Landmark edition has the advantage of adding maps that clarify Thucydides’ descriptions of battles and conferences. Parts to savor include Thucydides’ explanations for the cause of the war, his description of how the plague affected Athens and the slow, methodical, unrelenting effects of war on all of Greek society.
Adam Tooze, “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World.”
The best single volume to explain not just what happened in 2008 but what happened afterward. Tooze has a much more pessimistic take than I do on the system’s response to the Great Recession. But I enjoyed disagreeing with “Crashed” as I was reading it. Tooze draws a direct line between what happened in 2008 and what happened in 2016. One wonders who will write the equivalent book of the current crisis a decade from now.
Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States.”
Single-volume histories of the United States are rare these days. Popular historians write tomes about great Americans, and professional historians write about the country’s myriad flaws. What is impressive about Lepore’s book is how effortlessly she weaves both strands into a single compelling narrative. I finished this book with a more clear-eyed and yet more hopeful view of the United States.
Chuck Wendig, “Wanderers.”
An epic work of popular fiction about, well, a global pandemic. You should not read this book if you are already freaked out about the current unpleasantness. If you are leaning into the pandemic genre, however, this book is absorbing. The most riveting passages are in the book’s second half, once the pandemic has begun to affect society in a serious way.