As I re-work my Profile for this new year, I note that I created five categories in my Favorite Books section. This is in addition to listing, at the end, the most recent books I read in fiction (Red Planet by Heinlein), biography or history (Grant As Military Commander by Marshall-Cornwall) and poly sci or general (Salt by Kurlansky). The permanent categories are drama (Othello, discussed in an earlier post), American classic (The Scarlet Letter), enduring classic (L'Etranger, discussed in my last post), history (Hell In a Very Small Place) and biography (Growing Up).
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is my favorite American classic, bar none. What a tale of morality so richly told! The hypocrites it describes (the world is filled with hypocrites), especially the Reverend Dimsdale, are timeless and endless. Hester Prynne is the very dignified "sinner" who puts them all to shame with the beauty of her character (her inner self). Her life is heroic.
Hell In a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall is the best war book ever written, bar none. It is about the siege of Dien Bien Phu, where the arrogant French got their asses handed to them in 1954 by the Viet Minh (forerunners to the Viet Cong and the NVA). This battle, which ended with the surrender of a large French garrison in a fortified valley west of Hanoi, ended French colonialism in Indochina. Extraordinary bravery was exhibited on both sides during the contest. This book was a must-read for all American officers during the long NVA siege of the Marine fortified base at Khe Sanh in 1968. The outcome wasn't the same for the Americans in their battle, but American preoccupation with the besieged Marines (where the use of tactical nuclear weapons was considered) provided the diversion North Vietnam needed to have such success with its Tet Offensive.
Growing Up, the Pulitzer Prize (1983) winning autobiography of the early life in Baltimore of New York Times columnist Russell Baker, is a gem. Read it.