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A&J write: Umberto Eco, respectable as he is, misses the point. Which books will survive, and in what edition? Over the years, I have watched libraries systematically dump “useless old books” to be replaced with post-modern literature(it hurts to call it that). To my own pleasure, I have bought many great volumes for a song. These books will not be available to the general public before long — they will all be held in private libraries and very large university librabries, among other places. Just try to go to your small public librabry and find Gibbon, Newman, Chesterton. Won’t happen.

As a request, (okay I have two) I have a 14 -year-old son with a new and blazing hot interest in good science fiction. He has asked me several times if I would ask you to recommend some good books to start reading. Would you have a moment to reflect on the age-appropriate ones, keeping the hoochey koochey to a minimum? He figures you are an expert on sci-fi taste, and doesn’t want to waste time on junk. And for me, I am always looking for authoritative histories, secondary source-type…like Kitto’s “The Greeks.” These help me collect original sources and give me ideas to work with when teaching.

I don’t know what your son has read already, but here’s a few obvious recommendations for your son:

The Giants Trilogy by James P. Hogan

Foundation (only the first three) by Isaac Asimov

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein

Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert Heinlein

Dune by Frank Herbert

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Neuromancer by William Gibson

For you:

Citizens by Simon Schama

Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino

Shakespeare’s Kings by John Julius Norwich, also books on Byzantine Empire

The History of the Crusades by Stephen Runciman