Lately I’ve been looking back at boyhood books, which now seem filled with lessons for statecraft and strategy that I missed when I first read them. Here are some, in chronological order:
Wu Ch’eng-en, “Journey to the West” (aka “Monkey”). A preposterous traveller’s tale of grand strategic significance. The 6th Century pilgrimage of a Chinese monk to India to get the Buddhist scriptures.
Daniel Defoe, “Robinson Crusoe”. Once Friday arrives, and his father and a Spanish deserter as well, they begin to form a state, committed to the international system.
Sir Walter Scott, “Ivanhoe”. Richard the Lionhearted returns to England like Odysseus, in disguise. Robin Hood, the disinherited Ivanhoe, and the incomparable Rebecca in the reclaimation of a usurped kingdom.
James Fenimore Cooper, “The Last of the Mohicans”. Not even awful prose can mar this parable of the costs of civilization and the nobility of Hawkeye’s self-reliance.
Henry David Thoreau, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”. Rowing on an elegiac provincial journey, myths, chronicles, literatures from every part of the world are involved. The little New England rivers seem like the Nile and Ganges.
Joel Chandler Harris, “Tales of Uncle Remus”. A flawed but significant attempt to capture the wisdom and wit — and strategy — of African America, in brilliantly vivid rhetoric.
Mark Twain, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. After their experiences on the Mississippi, nothing that ever might happen again could surprise Huck or Jim. An odyssey toward freedom and brotherhood — then a steamboat smashes their raft, and illusions as well.
Rudyard Kipling, “Kim”. Espionage, imperialism, religion and intrigue on India’s Grand Trunk Road (and in “The Great Game”.) East and West at their rascally best.
T.H. White, “The Once and Future King. The inspiration for the musical “Camelot,” but far more entertaining and profound. You can grow up across its four books, from when Merlin turns you into a hawk to an adulthood of sin and war.
Richard Adams, “Watership Down”. A rabbit warren’s “March Up Country,” even more exciting than its model, Xenophon’s “Persian Expedition” (“The Anabasis”).