Andrew Solomon: TOP TEN BOOKS


Photo by Michael Sharkey

A National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist, Solomon writes about psychology, culture, and politics, and is best known for his opus, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. He has said, “Whenever I return to reading, I feel a great relief in it, and am awakened to other possibilities of language and thoughts.”

Below are Andrew Solomon’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.



George Eliot
This book has the virtue of being the most perfect novel ever written. It manages to blend the miniature world of an uninteresting town with a profound reckoning with the human heart in all its vagaries. Here we find courage, pettiness, self-deception, love, profundity, triviality, sadness, joy, munificence, greed, theatricality, restraint, wit, pomposity, despair, hope. It’s seductively readable, free of pretension, and written with a rare clear-eyed kindness.
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The Complete Poems

Elizabeth Bishop
A life’s work may occupy shelf upon shelf, or all the genius may be distilled down to a concentrate of wisdom, and I would love to think that I’ve ever thought anything as clearly as Bishop has thought each of her poems. My favorite lines forever: It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free, drawn from the cold hard mouth of the world, derived from the rocky breasts forever, flowing and drawn, and since our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
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Random Family

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
There has been no finer nonfiction written in the last century than this penetrating examination not only of a particular family and its travails (written with the complex plot of a Tolstoy novel), but also of the ways in which our society is broken, of a system that congratulates itself as democracy and yet is intractably inequitable. This book has no agenda and makes no argument; it simply reveals the truth of the country in which we live, and allows us to formulate our own call to action.
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The Towers of Trebizond

Rose Macauley
This is, without exception, the funniest book I’ve ever read. The phrasebook scene (which I won’t delineate further in case you haven’t yet read the book and might enjoy doing so) has made me laugh every time I’ve read it, and I’ve now read it several hundred times. Macauley has a great gentleness, and though she keeps up her wry take on the absurd, she is also engaged in moral inquiry, in the attempt to know and understand what is right and what is the opposite of right.
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The Renaissance

Walter Pater
I quoted from the conclusion in my wedding ceremony: “Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us – for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end."
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The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James
I read this whenever I need to be reminded that elegance is not reason enough to live, that we are all spiraling toward despair, and that whatever it is that leads us in that darksome way is probably of our own making. A lushly gorgeous, utterly occupying examination of how innocence is corrupted—and how it can be saved.
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Civilization and Its Discontents

Sigmund Freud
This volume contains the clearest explanation of the real difficulty of life, which is the reconciliation of the personal and the social. It is a curiously renewing experience to find one’s struggle so precisely delineated; Freud here reveals the mechanisms of the mind with a calm brilliance that shines no less brightly for all the recent attacks on psychoanalysis. I love this book because it is so wise.
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The Rootabaga Stories

Carl Sandburg
Grossly underappreciated, this is in my view the best of all children’s books—wildly, passionately imaginative, gently moral, and quintessentially American both in its diction and in a certain rough-hewn but kindly common sense. I also choose it because it was read to me by my father when I was a little boy, and it became for some time our private world, and so rereading it always carries me back to a very happy stage when I was more innocent than I knew: I associate it with love.
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War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy
To read this book well is to learn a great deal about both war and peace, and about the violent and kind impulses of man. But it is also totally absorbing; I couldn’t bear to put it down the whole time I was reading it and would have chosen the next page over food even had I been wrecked a month at sea.
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Jacob’s Room

Virginia Woolf
Well, it’s hard to say which Virginia Woolf I would choose since she is of all writers the one who most clearly articulates the world as I live in and perceive it. But I think I would say that the particular sadness of Jacob’s Room somehow reminds me of myself when life has taken me away from myself. “Their lack of concern for him was not the cause of his gloom, but some more profound conviction—it was not that he himself was lonely, but that all people are.”
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