Jess and I love to go to the Seattle Public Library's book spiral and browse her favorite parts of the Dewey spectrum. We've found some weird books (a book on gay reincarnation, a leadership manual based on the principles of our first President with an MBA). We've paged through big books with lots of big pictures (a chronicle of couples, a polemic against public-land ranching and cattle subsidies in the West). We've even checked out a few. Here are some things I've been reading and skimming:
Beyond Red and Blue by Peter S. Wenz. It covers 12 political philosophies that contribute to major American political debates. It's a survey and thus doesn't go too deeply into any of the philosophies and glosses over some things. And he makes some assumptions about what “everyone” believes that I find to be begging the question. But his way of explaining how people come to their political positions make more sense than the explanation of, say, the Political Compass, which I've thought about a bit. The compass is just a spectrum in two dimensions. People can fall in the middle of political spectra without consciously moderating their views, and explaining people's positions as the result of impulses rather than as positions on spectra makes a lot more sense. This book has given me some ideas about future reading, both on philosophies I sympathize with and those I don't, and that's certainly an important function of any survey.
War and Peace, Tolstoy. I just finished this last week. Tolstoy certainly has lots of opinions. His big interest in War and Peace is the telling of history, and its tendency to ascribe greatness to leaders. In particular he lampoons the idea of Napoleon's genius, portraying the rise and fall of the French Empire and especially the invasion of Russia, as being the product of... well, I won't spoil it. He spins a nice set of stories around all these ideas, too — through almost 1400 pages I never felt like giving it up. Nationalism and sexism abound, and he seems to find great glory in the scorched-earth warfare performed by the Russians. Of course, Tolstoy himself argued against judging historical events by the standards of later ideas. Sort of a temporal relativism.
The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins. I haven't got far into this one, but I've caught bits of it. Maybe the most important idea is that if we are going to have a positive future we have to make it positive.