Laziness in the Fertile Valley – Albert Cossery

Laziness in the Fertile Valley is the third novel by Albert Cossery and the fifth that I have read. Although living in France, all of Cossery’s novels are biting social satires set in twentieth-century Egypt, which gave him the nickname “Voltaire of the Nile.”

Laziness in the Fertile Valley is a traditional family drama. In a rural house in Egypt live five men: a widower patriarch, his once-wealthy brother, and his three grown sons all determined to, in their own ways, secure their inheritance. When the patriarch decides to remarry, it threatens the careful balance in his home. Then Cossery’s wickedly ironic sense of satire takes over. The patriarch has not left his room in ages, the house seems to emit powerful waves of lethargy, and the inheritance the brothers are seeking to preserve is the freedom to sleep. Galal, the eldest, has been sleeping for seven years, wrapping himself in darkness and silence and rising only to eat and relieve himself. Rafik, the middle son, is an ardent firebrand, but only when it comes to protecting the silence of the home, while the youngest, Serag, is fascinated by the promise of modernity represented by a never-completed factory and by the industry of a young homeless man, even though he can barely stay awake long enough to walk to the hulking ruins.

Work is an anathema to Cossery and the themes in this novel are reputedly stolen from his own experiences. This family uses work as a refuge: from school, from work, from society. Only the work of their housekeeper and cook, a female relative, is tolerated. They are also wealthy enough to do so, minimizing their costs through inactivity. Even as Serag is determined to get a job (he dreams of working in the factory, ignorant that it was never operational), he is cautioned away from it by the rest of the family, who tell him of its oppressive horrors, and the siren’s song of sleep catches back up.

Since Serag’s struggle to join the noise and bustle of the outside world is forever stunted, the main conflict in Laziness in the Fertile Valley comes from the intrusion of a go-between matchmaker in the community who is trying to find a new wife for Hafez (the patriarch). Rafik, in particular, sees this invasion as a threat of catastrophic proportions and makes ready disrupt the proceedings by any means necessary…except leaving the house.

Laziness in the Fertile Valley is my second favorite of Cossery’s novels, behind only The Jokers. Sloth and rest seem good to me right about now, but I also think that using humor as a reprieve from the violence and oppression of social forces is more potent than turning ones back on it. Similarly, there is a deep conservatism baked into Laziness, wherein the ambition is to reject all change. Traces of the same argument might be found in The Jokers, but it is not nearly so pronounced since the characters in that novel do have broader public ambitions. The latter option is a privilege most do not get to enjoy. There was a still an enormous amount of humor in this novel as Cossery subverts tropes of oriental laziness and generational family dramas, but it came up short of The Jokers in my estimation.

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I still have one more book to write about from my reading backlog, Henry de Montherlant’s Chaos and Night, an odd little riff on Don Quixote about a Spanish anarchist living in Paris for two decades after the Spanish Civil War, strangled by his memories and now forced to return to Madrid.This past month has been something of a struggle both in general and in terms of the time I have been able to dedicate to reading. I am persisting, though, and am currently reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s beautiful and deeply moving novel The End of Days.

Some thoughts on rereading

Once upon a time there was a young man who loved reading. he read all the time, including in trees and on buses and in chairs and one time was reprimanded in sixth grade math class for reading a book. Despite being a precocious reader, this young man once checked the same book on Sitting Bull out of his elementary school library thirteen consecutive times.* But each time he checked that book out, he read it at least once. He read all the time, but he had a lot of books that he was particularly fond of.** Then something happened: he all-but stopped rereading books, even particular favorites.

[*That young man would do worse during graduate school, but at least then he was working on a dissertation.]

[**That young man also had a curious habit of reading more than one or two books at a given time, at least until he burned himself out during college while trying to juggle close to twenty books at once.]

To no-one’s surprise, that young man is the author of this blog. I actually do quite a bit of rereading still, albeit usually for research purposes, but I hardly ever reread anything simply for pleasure even though I am still, at heart, a rereader.

So what is it that I like rereading books that I have read one, twice, or a half-dozen times before? First, I find a comfort in rereading books where I like the characters that is similar to meeting up again with old friends. Moreover, there is a comfort in this sort of safe-space where you already know what is going to happen. I also believe studies that suggest that “spoilers” generally don’t diminish enjoyment but give a pleasure of heightened anticipation. [On that issue, if the quality of a book or movie is premised on such an important twist, it is deeply flawed.] Finally, whether a book is part of a long-running and intricate series or is just a great piece of literature, there are layers to the story that will add to meaning in light of other information, whether from other books or from life experience.

Despite these pleasures of rereading, I don’t do it for the same reason that I don’t pester famous authors to finish their long-running series in a timely manner: there are too many amazing books out there are not enough time to read them all. I would like the pendulum to swing back the other direction a little bit because there are some all-time great books that I want to reread. In the meantime, though, I am comfortable allocating my limited time to new books and reading reread projects online that evoke many of the same comfortable feelings while coloring them with just a tinge of envy.

“To Curiosity”

A review of: Who Is the Historian?, N.A. Raab

Three things made me pick up Raab’s slim volume on the work of historians: 1) its brevity 2) a longstanding love of inspirational stories from historians 3) desire to be familiar with the genre should I ever be fortunate enough to teach a historiography course. Unlike From Herodotus to H-Net, this book is not really a book of historiography, but an essay on the doing of history in the twenty-first century, covering spaces, sources, disciplinarity, technology, and skill-sets.

Raab’s wants to give personality and humanity to historians qua historians rather than historians as professors. He offers a vision of them as an eclectic globe-trotting bunch who work in a host of different jobs in addition to teaching college courses. The overarching themes of the work are how the field has changed, expanded and become enriched in recent decades, and how historical thinking is fundamentally embedded in all walks of society.

With few exceptions, Raab avoids overwhelming the reader with specific disciplinary periods, themes, and names, which, while useful, sometimes means that the book errs on the side of general observations rather than specific developments or advice. For instance, there is specific discussion of certain open-access sites and how that has changed how historians do their job, but doesn’t suggest specific technological expertise that could be beneficial. Certainly historians do not work in a vacuum and some of the observations, such as the wide variety of viable source material, is well taken. Similarly the book is well-written, and Raab is an advocate of the written style as critical for the field, but offers no suggestions for how to get there or how to frame questions in order to best use the material.

Raab works a middle-path that didn’t work for me. On the one hand, while much of the book is reflective, to give personality to the stuffy old-fashioned vision of the tweed-clad professor, neither are most of the reflections personal. Similarly, while he includes a broad range of people in the historical fields, Raab still tends to default back to the historian as professor. On the other hand, neither does he provide skill, methodological, professional, or practical suggestions to those who might be interested in being a historian. Raab is clearly enthusiastic about history, but his audience for the book is not wholly clear. Students may appreciate the insights and some might be inspired, but the testimonials are not particularly uplifting and the defense of the humanities follows traditional paths. Who Is the Historian? has its virtues and in some ways shows a more nuanced understanding of historians in the world than did From Herodotus to H-Net, but it was still in some ways lacking. It might be the right book for an opening gambit in an undergraduate historiography class for some, I am still looking for that right one for my tastes.

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

It must have been five or six years ago that a package arrived from my father containing two books, this one and Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus, and a note saying something to the effect that he was glad I now read literary novels (as opposed to almost exclusively science fiction) and that perhaps I would enjoy these. I took to Dr. Faustus quickly, but this book about the circus didn’t pique my interest. It was around the same time that the movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson (who I still only think of as “that guy from Twilight”) was made and still I didn’t crack it open. That is, until two days ago.

Gruen launches the reader immediately into the action of a circus disaster–the animals escape their cages in the menagerie and stampede into the tent. The rest of the novel, split between events seventy years later and recollections of an old man, works its way back to that disastrous start.

Jacob Jankowski is in his nineties and lives in a nursing home, barely able to walk and his memory beginning to fade about details, but active enough to be a grouch. Particularly when people are lying. His family visits every Sunday and, this week, the circus is in town and it calls to mind events in the early 1930s when, the week of his final exams at veterinary school, he is driven to jump onto a passing train. This train, which is the property of the BENZINI BROS MOST SPECTACULAR SHOW ON EARTH traveling circus, literally sweeps him onto an adventure that both sheds light on the deep-seated problems of the early years of the depression in the United States, while also catching Jacob (and the reader) up in the romance of the performances.

Jacob is forced to begin his journey among the workers, setting up tents and playing bouncer for extracurricular entertainments, but quickly finds a job working for August Rosenbluth, the carnival’s master of beasts, taking care of the show’s animals. However, August alternates between the most charming of men and the most violent. To make matters worse, Jacob is smitten with Marlena, the star of the show and August’s wife. The slow-burn is ratcheted up a notch when the carnival adds to the menagerie a “stupid” elephant, the playful and clever Rosie. The triangle of tension that are Jacob, Marlena, and August, becomes a foursome and the plot careens toward the inevitable collision.

Many beats in Water for Elephants were fairly predictable, some because it is at its heart a love story, but most seem to be the details of Gruen’s rich descriptions foreshadowing events because my guesses did not distract. I hated and had affection alongside Jacob throughout the story, both as a very innocent young man and as an old man once again in need of escape. In short, Water for Elephants is a poignant tour of America where nearly every town looks the same from the point of view of the midway on which there are extreme risks for compassion, but where, ultimately, that is also the only way to thrive rather than just survive.


Next up, I am reading Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (yet another) novel about the brutality of totalitarian states turning on the individuals who helped create them. Already I suspect that I will need to give this type of novel a break for a while.

What’s making me happy 8/15

In an homage to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, I’ve wanted for some time to start at least a semi-regular feature here about what is making me happy. The reason for this is simple: my favorite thing about the podcast is that it is upbeat. They close every show with a roundtable discussion of what is making them happy, sometimes in the form of a recommendation, sometimes something more abstract. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety and like the reminder not so much to take pleasure in things as remember that I do take pleasure in things. So this is borne of both a reminder to myself and a desire to share things I enjoy with others. (Future posts will likely include a shorter introduction.)

What is making me happy: Neil Gaimon’s Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In his middle years the narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral and finds himself drawn to the Hempstock farm, where, in a flash, he remembers something that happened there when he was seven.

That’s the entire summary that I’m giving. Things happen, he had forgotten, but now remembers. I had heard good things about this novel, but really only picked it up on a whim and then read it over the course of the next twenty-four hours. Like the rest of Gaimon’s oeuvre that I’ve read, The Ocean at the End of the Lane bends truth and reality, as well as manipulating folk tales and traditions. This particular story tugs at the nostalgia strings about how one remembers childhood and about things that children know that adults don’t, begs the question of not whether, but how people change as they age, and how worth is adjudged. There is whimsy, there is sadness, and there is pettiness.

Gaimon’s prose is beautiful and sent me on a nostalgia trip of my own, complete with sweet sadness. I also enjoyed the brief interview with the author published at the end of the copy I had, as well as a set of reading group guide questions that pointed to particular features of the story that were fairly evident, but perhaps not articulated by the reader, and also prodded one to think just a little bit more deeply about what was just read.

I’ve been fortunate to have read some really, really good books this year so far and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is up there with the best of them.

Review 2013, Preview 2014, in list form

Five favorite books I read in 2013

  • Magister Ludi, Herman Hesse
  • To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway
  • Snow, Orhan Pamuk
  • Starmaker, Olaf Stapledon
  • Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

Three news stories I’m following going into this year

  • Civil war in Syria the devolution of the “rebel” forces
  • Ongoing violence and French foreign policy in Africa
  • Unrest in Turkey about Erdogan’s government

Two things that, in 2013, I discovered I no longer cared about

  • The NFL
  • Fantasy football

Four books I am particularly looking forward to reading in 2014

  • The Bad Girl, Mario Vargas Llosa
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
  • The Plague, Albert Camus

Seven books I would like to reread in 2014

  • The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
  • Catch 22, Joseph Heller
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carre
  • Bridge on the River Drina, Ivo Andric/li>
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Four books I once started, but didn’t finish…that I’d like to give another shot

  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Four “resolutions” for 2014

  • Write more, in a variety of places (including here)
  • Cook more often and more adventurously
  • Spend less time dwelling on things beyond my control
  • Smile more often

I did not like 2013; for everything that went right in the year, it seemed that two things went wrong. Flipping the calendar to 2014 is an arbitrary milestone, but I am optimistic about this next chunk of time all the same. Noted above, one goal I have for this year is to write here more frequently, and I have a few topics on the back burner, though the only post I have planned for the near future is to revisit my list of top novels, which could appear as early as next week.

White Collar

Not long ago I finished watching the first season of the USA show White Collar. The premise is that a con-artist and art thief who spent years in jail is let out to house arrest under the supervision of the agent who caught him provided that he consult with the FBI on white collar crimes (art forgeries, thefts, scams, etc). Neil Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a charming, smart, erudite character at ease discussing intellectual topics in high society and wearing nice clothes, while Peter Burke (Tim Dekay) is just an average-Joe agent who would prefer to watch a basketball game. Despite their differences, some of which provide an underlying tension that is one of the recurring plot devices, they develop a rapport and respect each other. Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) mediates their differences and helps bridge the (expected) underlying distrust that comes with a criminal working with the man who caught him.

The acting in White Collar is engaging and solid, if not spectacular. The premise itself provides most of the drama and the writing (and thereby execution of the premise) sometimes is deft and subtle, allowing Bomer’s charisma to shine and playing on Dekay’s ability as a straight-man; at other times the writing is ham-handed and the episodes revolve on nothing more than that the intellectually inclined Caffrey doesn’t like sports, while the everyman Burke doesn’t care about art. Likewise, there are points at the story when the writers slip into this mode that the plot becomes somewhat predictable. On the other hand, when the writers at their best, the story is witty, engaging, and there is enough suspense that the twists are not immediately obvious–or, perhaps at its best, the characters are able to engage the audience in such a way that it doesn’t matter what the twists are.

I have a lot of problems with television as a medium for storytelling, and White Collar commits many typical sins and suffers from all of the limitations, but often overcomes them by providing strong characters and a strong premise.

Despite enjoying the series, I have hesitated to watch the second season. I probably will get around to it at some point, but the reason I hesitate is that I am not optimistic about the future of the show. Some of the underlying tension will remain, but the major plot issue that kept Caffrey going was resolved (at least in its immediate incarnation) at the end of the first season and as has happened with other shows so reliant on a character and a premise, once that initial motivation for the character goes away (or gets dragged out), the show struggles to adjust, becoming repetitive. Shows like this one (also such as Burn Notice) that rely on just a few characters expire more quickly than ensemble cast shows (e.g. How I Met Your Mother). In the former type, I have become tired of shows as early as the second or third season, while ensemble casts can usually make it for five or six.

Above I mentioned the limitations of the television medium, and I suspect that this is the primary reason that these shows become stale. Television, like movies, are limited by what a person can be filmed doing and saying, with thoughts limited to voice-overs. Moreover, despite the length of an entire season, each story has to be short (usually either 20 or 40 minutes). This means that in comparison to a book, the stories presented in a show have to be the backbone of the story, then filled out by the body language and interaction of the actors. With these limitations, there is only so much that the writers can do and still remain within the premise and narrative of the show. In contrast, a book does not require the budget (and cast), or have to stick to an extreme serialization for the narrative and can thus range over a far wider area. Serial books can run into some of the same problems as a TV show, but usually does so after more time.

This is not to condemn White Collar for these inherent weaknesses. It should be criticized for the ham-handed treatment of some issues–as much as it could be praised for promoting a well-dressed intellectual as a main character–but not for the limitations of the medium. More to the point, I found watching the show an interesting study in the medium of character driven television since it possessed remarkably evident strengths and weaknesses.

It does leave me wondering, however, if the medium of television (and often movies) is not somewhat complicit in producing a culture milieu that de-emphasizes reading, struggles with attention, and seems to be increasingly less capable of producing complex thoughts and extended narrative or argument–even as some of these shows claim (either explicitly or implicitly) to glorify scientists, authors, and intellectuals. I question if the shows actually support the place of such people in society or if they merely provide a substitute for substance. It is also possible, though, that these shows are not so much causes of this culture as products of it. In either situation, I have read some discussion of the mechanization of American schools such that learning is a passive action done to students. TV, more so than books, seems to function the same way. Shows beamed into our living rooms and bedrooms along with commercials and with the possibly exception of shows that ask viewers to vote on candidates (which amounts to little more than a national popularity contest that I have little interest in), ask nothing of the viewer. Books require an active investment.

Assorted Links

  1. Mitt Romney would restore “Angle-Saxon relations between Britain and America-Speaking about the relationship between Britain and the United states, an adviser of Mitt Romney said: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special…the White house didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The immediate response is the charge of racism and, I can’t help but agree. But beyond that, I want to know who authorized this person to speak who uses the phrase “the special relationship is special”
  2. The Ruins of Empire: Asia’s Emergence from Western Imperialism– A story in the Guardian that traces some of the recent history of imperialism and the attempts to escape it. The author has a particular stance (that, ultimately, Western Imperialism impeded and destroyed cultures and societies by attempting to impose its own values) and is, for the most part, correct. He is not as directly critical as Said, but does call for a paradigm shift away from “narcissistic history,” that is history obsessed with western ideals, which causes a one-sided history that helps define the world as between “masters and slaves.” That said, the author does play down the impact of most Asian imperialism (yes for Japan, no for China), religious conflict, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Rather than address these tricky issues, the author just wants to persuade you of the problems of viewing the world from a western perspective.
  3. Too much to bare– A reporter at the Guardian got permission to get a behind the scenes look at one of the older strip clubs in England. The story feels half-formed since she got expelled from the club for talking to the girls without first getting authorization. The club owner and the company line is that the work is well paying, respectful, and rather benign, while there were actually some darker sides. Besides the usual problems, the women actually need to pay for the permission to work–whether or not they actually get hired for the night. Unfortunately, the author makes a point of sticking to the quotes and to the narrative of what happened rather than providing analysis.
  4. But is it a Book?– A report in the Chronicle about one book historian who argues that an electronic “book” is not actually a book, which is the artifact of recorded text. The suggestion is that for all the benefits of the digital book, we are losing something by losing the artifact.
  5. James Bond with a Mask-An article that suggests that Batman on film is reduced to a supporting character in his own franchise, and basically begs Hollywood to keep rebooting the series until they actually capture the Batman of the comics–the qualification for “getting it right.” The author brings up some good points, but I am not sure it is possible. For one thing, comics and cartoons are not limited by the human body and technology for filming. For another, perhaps the larger concern, the author seems to be under a delusion about what the directors (some, at least) are trying to accomplish and why the studios continually reboot these franchises. I would expect that the rumored reboot of Batman (already) has little to do with Christopher Nolan’s infidelity toward the comic.
  6. Is Mythology Like Facebook-Well, no. But scientists are using statistical analysis of social networks to look into the whether or not, or at least plausibility that, myths reflect actual worlds or social networks.
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

1. In Praise of Downtime -Yet another Op-Ed in the Atlantic that responds to and builds upon Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece. Ellen Ruppel Shell instead focuses on the “system that increasingly relies on overwork–and underemployment–to pad the bottom line.”

2. In Praise of Idleness – One of the articles that Shell references is this one by Bertrand Russell from 1932.

3. Do The Eyes Have It? – A hypothesis that the domestication of dogs and particularly communicative eyes may have given early humans an advantage over Neanderthals. Evidently the large amount of white in human eyes could have made it particularly easy for humans to silently communicate with their canine companions.

4. Subway Work Unearths Ancient Road in Greece – Work on a subway in Thessaloniki (which should make that city significantly easier to traverse!) has unearthed a Roman road that used marble paving stones. The current plan is to raise the road to the surface level to put it on display. There was also an older Greek road that was found underneath the Roman one. Work on the subway has allowed for some of the best archeological work in the center of Greece’s second largest city and workers have been excited to discover that the earlier roads lie roughly in the same spot as the modern ones (although in a city that has been continuously occupied for something over two thousand years and with some other indications that the center of the city has not changed layout in pretty much the entire time, I am not sure why this is a surprise).

5. The Missing Constitution – Some more thoughts about the ACA ruling, this time by Mark Graber, a law professor at the University of Maryland.1

6. Romney: Students should Get “As Much Education As They Can Afford” – I actually think that some people (such as the ones at Think Progress who wrote this article) are taking the quote a bit out of context, though it is true that there is a symptomatic problem with his statement that the presidential candidate is not acknowledging. People have been honing in on the byte about affording the education when he is trying to say that they should get as much education as they can. I am also a bit more concerned when he says “if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to…have a shot at realizing their dreams” (emphasis mine). Of course he mentioned money and this is not the first time that Romney has been out of touch with how (most) students pay for college and hasn’t actually offered a viable solution to fix the cost and paying for college. Sadly, this is just yet another of the election year sound clips that are more about rhetoric than about solutions–as are the knee-jerk reactions to pieces like this. In fairness, the Think Progress article is not nearly as bad about this as were some other places I saw report on this.

7. Professors condemn New York’s ‘overreliance’ on standardized tests – Earlier this week more than 1,100 professors in New York signed a petition aimed at ending the reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

8. The Liberal Arts and the Great Recession – an op-ed in the Huffington Post that suggests that reformed liberal arts are needed to end the adversarial relationship between liberal arts and career-oriented degrees. He tries to find a middle ground between people who believe that kids should go to college to prepare for a career and those people in the liberal arts who claim some sort of intrinsic superiority. I agree that some direction is necessary, but I often feel that the reforms to the liberal arts are mere appeasement.

9. The Incredible Resilience of Publishing Fantasy – A blog post from the Huffington post that argues that traditional publishers have lost their two main monopolies, marketing and distribution. He is, in particular, responding to an overly cheery op-ed put out by a publishing executive.

1 Thanks to Naomi Graber for forwarding me this link.

Some of my favorite things: books

The following is a list of my twenty favorite works of literature. The list is entirely subjective and takes into account how much I enjoyed the book, level of the writing, story, message, and issues dealt with. I also consider there to be a slight tier between 5 and 6.

True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics -Zamyatin

1. The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
3. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Magister Ludi, Hermann Hesse
5. Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

6. The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth
7. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
8. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell
9. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
10. We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
11. Dr. Faustus, Thomas Mann
12. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
13. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
14. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
15. Coming Up For Air, George Orwell
16. Catch 22, Joseph Heller
17. Creation, Gore Vidal
18. Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
19. American Gods, Neil Gaimon
20. Down and Out in London and Paris, George Orwell

Others I liked a lot, just not quite as much:

Good Omens, Neil Gaimon, Terry Pratchett
Burmese Days, George Orwell
The Clergyman’s Daughter, George Orwell
Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis
Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carre

Obviously this is a list based on personal judgement so it brooks no argument, but are there thoughts on this list or are there other books (perhaps that I have not read) that deserve a look to make the list?