1. “The Cyberiad” by Stanislaw Lem
Actually, “Solaris” would do just as well. He’s probably the best science-fiction writer of all time (though I also like Philip K. Dick). This is a book of fairy tales in which all the characters are robots. It has perhaps the best first line in all literature: “One day Trurl the Constructor put together a machine that could creating anything starting with the letter ‘n’.”
2. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I read this in Madagascar, along with a whole load of other Dostoevsky books — except “Crime and Punishment,” which I’ve never read for some reason, despite the fact that I loved the TV show “Columbo” (and you know Columbo was self-consciously modeled on “Crime & Punishment”).
3. “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves
This was my favorite book in junior high. It’s insane and silly but I still love it.
4. “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Best work of fiction about an anarchist I’m immediately aware of. The author is actually the daughter of the famous anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. With Lem and Dick, Guin is one of the triumvirate of sci-fi writers who are actually good.
5. “The Collected Essays of Edmund Leach”
My favorite anthropologist when I was discovering anthropology. I mean, what can you say about someone who writes essays with titles like “Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse”?
6. “Revolution of Everyday Life” by Raoul Vaneigem
This book is so great. It’s like if you take every impulse of outrage and resentment against middle-class life ever felt by a 16-year-old, and mix it up with high French theory, hilarious jokes and phrase-making, then — well, it’s much better than that, actually. This was the book that had the largest single influence on both the insurrection of May 1968 in Paris and on the entire punk-rock phenomenon. What more can you ask?
7. “Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today” by John Holloway
A brilliant work of Marxist theory — though it reads like something between Marxist theory and poetry — by a Scottish philosopher who is a major intellectual supporter of the Zapatistas in Mexico. It’s high theory, and quite brilliant, but while it’s hard to find an anarchist who hasn’t read it, it’s hard to find an academic who has.
8. “Tulips & Chimneys” by E.E. Cummings
This is just extremely good poetry. That’s all. Nothing more to really say.
9. “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon
Now we’re getting into real “Desert Island” literature. I loved this book as an undergraduate. Well, all his stuff, but this is the longest, so I guess that’s the one for the island.
10. “Oeuvres” by Marcel Mauss
This is more real “Desert Island” literature because it’s a huge three-volume tome. Mauss asked all the interesting questions in anthropology. Of course, to answer them will take a thousand years …
11. “A History of Islamic Philosophy” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman
Okay, this doesn’t really belong on the list. I haven’t even read more than 10 pages of it. But if I were really on a desert island I’d definitely bring this (and probably not really the ones I’d read already!) because it’s some 1,200 pages long and the topic seems interesting, even though I don’t know anything about it. So it’d give me something to do. I do have a copy. I just saw it on the shelf and it was so enormous and arcane and I thought “I’m a scholar! I’m supposed to have books like that!” If only I get the chance to read it!