5 Gems I Unearthed While Packing Up My Books

Essential reading material

Essential reading material

By Daniel Ford

Since I’m moving for the umpteenth time at the end of this month, I had to once again organize and pack up all of my books.

I quickly discovered that I have way more books than I do articles of clothing. Sadly, the majority of my literary collection is also more stylish and up-to-date.

As always, I unearthed several gems that deserve a more prominent place on my future bookshelf. I’ve only completed one night’s worth of packing, so I’m sure I’ll find much more. However, in the meantime, enjoy these five that you might want to consider adding to your collection.

The Anchor Atlas of World History Volume I

The first volume of The Atlas of World History by Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann is endlessly fascinating. This is essential reading for any map nut. The maps detailing the Roman Empire’s rise and fall are worth much more than the $1.99 you’ll spend on a paperback edition.

One of my favorite lines is when Nero becomes emperor. “Nero’s early years were happy ones for Rome.” Things got a little toasty after that.

Why Sinatra Matters

Pete Hamill brilliantly sums up why Frank Sinatra was such a force in popular culture. It also reminds me of the story my grandmother used to tell me when I was growing up. She said she was a manager in an office in New York City and one of the employees told her she needed a day off to go see Frank Sinatra in concert. My grandmother said she couldn’t give her the whole day. “Fine, I’ll just quit,” the woman said, according to my grandmother. She got the day off. “She was dead serious,” my grandmother would tell me. “She was seeing Frank whether she had a job the next day or not.”

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the book:

“To begin with, the hands of the clock had passed twelve, and he was in a large city, specifically the hard, wounded metropolis of New York. For decades now, Sinatra had defined the glamour of the urban night. It was both a time and a place; to inhabit the night, to be one of its restless creatures, was a small act of defiance, a shared declaration of freedom, a refusal to play by all these conventional rules that insisted on men and women rising at seven in the morning, leaving for work at eight, and falling exhausted into bed at ten o’clock that night. In his music, Sinatra gave voice to all those who believed that the most intense living begins at midnight: show people, bartenders, and sporting women; gamblers, detectives, and gangsters; small winners and big losers; artists and newspapermen. If you loved someone who did not love you back, you could always walk into a saloon, put your money on the bar, and listen to Sinatra.”

A Farewell to Arms

If you don’t have Ernest Hemingway on your bookshelf, I don’t want to know you. If you ever question whether or not you’ve written something good, pick up and read anything he wrote and compare. You haven’t. Keep writing until it’s great. It’ll never be Hemingway great, but at least you’ll be striving for perfection and not a cash advance.

There’s no way I can choose a favorite line. Just read it all.

Debate on the Constitution

You don’t have to be a lawyer to appreciate the debate our Founding Fathers engaged in while forming our current state of government. These were impassioned men to be sure, but they debated ideas and not sound clips. Issues were important, not semantics like whose flag pin is bigger. Disagreement is essential to democracy, but so is compromise and creating solutions. Ben Franklin didn’t necessarily agree with the document that came out of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but agreed to endorse it. He also expressed “a Wish, that every Member of the Convention, who may still have objections to it, would with me on this Occasion doubt a little of his own Infallibility, and make manifest our Unanimity, put his Name to this Instrument.”

That’s a hell of a leap of faith he was asking for. More than 220 years later, we’re still trying to figure out whether or not we have it right.

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

This was given to me by a former colleague on my 25th birthday. I consult it daily.

“When I am king, they shall not have bread and shelter only, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.”—from The Prince and the Pauper


The first time someone referred to me as an author. Not bad.

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