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James Meek's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books James Meek recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of James Meek's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Invisible Cities

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of... more
Recommended by Colin Thubron, James Meek, and 2 others.

Colin ThubronOh God. Well, officially it’s Marco Polo describing the cities of his travels to Kublai Khan. It’s been opined that every city he describes is a version of Venice, but I think that doesn’t really work. They seem to me to be marvellous imaginative fantasies, which sometimes reproduce states of mind. There are 40 or so cities described, all entirely imaginary I think, and that’s what’s so magical... (Source)

James MeekIt has different layers. The set-up is that Kublai Khan has conquered this vast empire; an empire so large that he, sitting at the centre of it, cannot know all the many parts of it. He can’t visit them, he can’t see them, and if he goes to one part all the other parts have changed. So he sits there at the centre of his empire and Marco Polo travels around and visits the various cities and comes... (Source)

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A sweeping, vivid history capturing the sudden end of Britain's empire and the moment when America became a world superpower.

Britain fought and sacrificed on a worldwide scale to defeat Hitler and his allies—and won. Yet less than three years after victory, the British Empire effectively ended, and the age of America as world superpower dawned. Peter Clarke's book is the first to analyze the abrupt transition from Rule Britannia to Pax Americana. His swiftly paced narrative offers vivid portraits of pivotal figures like Churchill, Gandhi, Truman, and Stalin....
Recommended by James Meek, and 1 others.

James MeekThe Last Thousand Days of the British Empire by Peter Clarke. Yes. A very explicit title. It begins in the middle of 1944 and ends with Indian independence. It’s a fascinating book if you’re British, American or Indian. It has to be said that it’s not always an easy read. Some of the blow-by-blow accounts of conferences can be dry. You feel, if only I knew where to skim. But on the whole it’s a... (Source)

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A Bright, Shining Lie

Outspoken, professional and fearless, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann went to Vietnam in 1962, full of confidence in America's might and right to prevail. He was soon appalled by the South Vietnamese troops' unwillingness to fight, by their random slaughter of civilians and by the arrogance and corruption of the US military. He flouted his supervisors and leaked his sharply pessimistic - and, as it turned out, accurate - assessments to the US press corps in Saigon. Among them was Sheehan, who became fascinated by the angry Vann, befriended him and followed his tragic and reckless career.
Recommended by James Meek, and 1 others.

James MeekIt’s about the Vietnam war and it’s a masterpiece, a stone cold masterpiece. An amazing book. There’s this comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan that’s been made so much, but it’s apposite. For a start, I think there’s a lot to be said concerning parallels between modern western perceptions of Islam and past perceptions of Communism. (Source)

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The Radetzky March

The Radetzky March charts the history of the Trotta family through three generations spanning the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the Battle of Solferino, to the entombment of the last Hapsburg emperor, Roth's intelligent compassionate narrative illuminates the crumbling of a way of life. less
Recommended by Janine di Giovanni, James Meek, and 2 others.

Janine di GiovanniThe quintessential book about the end of the Habsburg empire and the preface to the First World War. (Source)

James MeekA lyrical summoning of a remarkable world, the Austro-Hungarian empire, a balance between multiple ethnoses. (Source)

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Recommended by John Lanchester, James Meek, and 2 others.

John LanchesterIt’s about our relationship with money, and money as one of humanity’s most amazing, extraordinary inventions: This thing which is so useful, and which is also a form of imagination, that frees us in so many ways, and at the same time enslaves us. (Source)

James MeekJames Buchan talks about what money is and its use. But he also adds this extra layer, which is his own experience of money. (Source)

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