David Bowie’s 75 Must-Read Books by Maria Popova

DeM Banter:  Always a big fan of reading lists…and a big Bowie fan…so this is pretty cool.

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From poetry to history to theory of mind, with plenty of fiction and a few magazines for good measure.

Creativity is a combinatorial force — it rests on our ability to fuse, usuallyunconsciously, existing concepts, memories, bits of information, pieces of knowledge, and fragmentary impression into novel ideas that we call our own. A mind of exceptional creativity, then, is a mind brimming with vibrantly diverse bits that can be fused together into a boundless array of possible combinations. One way to fully appreciate the power of such cross-disciplinary curiosity is to look at the intellectual diet of those we revere as geniuses, whatever their field of exceptional ability — take, for instance, the reading lists of Carl SaganAlan Turing, and Nick Cave.

David-BowieNaturally, I was thrilled to come across the itemized intellectual diet of one of the most celebrated creative icons in modern history, David Bowie. A new retrospective of the artist’s work at the Art Gallery of Ontario features 75 of Bowie’s must-read books — a fascinating tour of his cross-disciplinary curiosity and the fuel for his combinatorial creativity. Although all but two of the books were published within Bowie’s lifetime — with the exceptions published within two years of his birth — he makes up for the presentism bias with an extraordinary diversity of disciplines, topics, and sensibilities, ranging from poetry to history to theory of mind, with plenty of fiction and a few magazines for good measure.

I was especially delighted to discover that Bowie too is fascinated by the routines,habits, and creative wisdom of great writers — among his favorite books is the vintage gem Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series, which also gave us Malcolm Cowley’s theory of the four stages of writingWilliam Faulkner on literature and life, and the entrepreneurial story of how the Paris Review reinvented the art of the interview.

Here are Bowie’s booktrysts, in reverse chronological order:

  1. The Age of American Unreason (public library) by Susan Jacoby (2008)
  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (public library) by Junot Diaz(2007)
  3. The Coast of Utopia (trilogy) (public library) by Tom Stoppard (2007)
  4. Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875–1945 (public library) by Jon Savage(2007)
  5. Fingersmith (public library) by Sarah Waters (2002)
  6. The Trial of Henry Kissinger (public library) by Christopher Hitchens(2001)
  7. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder (public library) by Lawrence Weschler(1997)
  8. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890–1924 (public library) byOrlando Figes (1997)
  9. The Insult (public library) by Rupert Thomson (1996)
  10. Wonder Boys (public library) by Michael Chabon (1995)
  11. The Bird Artist (public library) by Howard Norman (1994)
  12. Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir (public library) byAnatole Broyard (1993)
  13. Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (public library) by Arthur C. Danto (1992)
  14. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson(public library) by Camille Paglia (1990)
  15. David Bomberg (public library) by Richard Cork (1988)
  16. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom(public library) by Peter Guralnick (1986)
  17. The Songlines (public library) by Bruce Chatwin (1986)
  18. Hawksmoor (public library) by Peter Ackroyd (1985)
  19. Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music (public library) by Gerri Hirshey(1984)
  20. Nights at the Circus (public library) by Angela Carter (1984)
  21. Money (public library) by Martin Amis (1984)
  22. White Noise (public library) by Don DeLillo (1984)
  23. Flaubert’s Parrot (public library) by Julian Barnes (1984)
  24. The Life and Times of Little Richard (public library) by Charles White(1984)
  25. A People’s History of the United States (public library) by Howard Zinn(1980)


Complement with the story of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona — you might find yourself tracing it back to a number of Bowie’s influences above.

 The Guardian  Reddit

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