What's Tony Horwitz reading?

Nightstand

Tony Horwitz

Horwitz is a former writer for both the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, where he received a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on working conditions in low-wage America. He is also the author of several books, including A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic and Baghdad Without a Map. In Midnight Rising, which was released in paperback by Picador on Aug. 7, Horwitz tackles the subject of John Brown, the white abolitionist whose attack at Harper's Ferry was a key event in years leading up to the Civil War. Brown hoped to lead an armed slave revolt across the South but instead was captured by Robert E. Lee's troops and hanged for his actions. Horwitz, who grew up in Washington, D.C., remembers visiting Harper's Ferry as a youngster. "Although now it is a well-respected living history museum, when I was growing up it was a spooky, semi-abandoned place. The main attraction was the John Brown Wax Museum, and it was scary to look in the windows and see John Brown's face scowling down,'' recalled Horwitz, 54. We caught up with Horwitz by phone last Monday. He and his wife, novelist Geraldine Brook, live on Martha's Vineyard with their two sons, ages 9 and 16.

What books are on your nightstand?

Two at the moment. For pleasure, I'm reading Capital by John Lanchester. He's a wonderful British writer. He's best known for The Debt to Pleasure, but this one is an intertwined tale of people living on one street in London during the financial meltdown in 2008. It's funny and profound.

Can you elaborate on the humor?

The humor is slightly like Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. It's a satire of London when it was at its financial peak. One of the characters works in finance. At first the character is rolling in dough. There's humor around his extravagant lifestyle and how his wife is spending his money, sending him to ruin.

Can it be used as a financial tutorial?

No, it's not a book about finance, but it is absolutely accessible and perhaps sheds light on the psychology of the crash.

And the second book on your nightstand?

I picked it up because it's related to my work in Midnight Rising. It's Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union by Louis Masur. It's a different take on Lincoln, and it's a good book to be reading in the midst of the presidential political campaign. The book reminds us of the value of flexibility and open-mindedness. Lincoln changes in the office. Initially he was a conservative, against emancipation, but during those first few years in office, he changes his mind. In a sincere way, he comes to see this as a necessarily moral and important step to take. The book is counterpoint to the political dialogue today. We can perhaps agree that we now are wasting a lot of time talking about superficial issues and the attributes of the candidates, and in the book, here is a moment when a president was wrestling with issues of tremendous, unimaginable consequences.

Are there books you encourage your sons to read for history's sake?

I have to admit that I haven't had the best success giving my sons my history bug. My wife is a novelist and has a great imagination and has been more successful turning them on to fiction, though. That being said, I think Michael Shaara's Killer Angels is engaging, and also a book by an art historian, A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. It's a sweep of world history in about 300 pages that is just a wonderful book to read with the kids.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer

What's Tony Horwitz reading? 09/01/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 1, 2012 5:31am]

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