Duff McKagan is the founder of Seattle band Loaded, and the former bassist in Guns N' Roses. His Reverb column runs every Monday and Thursday.


Upton Sinclair, Thomas Pynchon, Adam Hochschild: This Time of Year Brings Out the Book Discusser In Me

Duff McKagan is the founder of Seattle band Loaded, and the former bassist in Guns N' Roses. His Reverb column runs every Monday and Thursday.
Fall is suddenly upon us, and in the Northwest, all seemingly at once. I am a year-round, every-night reader, but this time of year seems to bring out the book "discusser" in me. Goofy, right? Yeah, well . . . you all know what you are going to get when you read this column. Nerd-fest. Me.

There was a discussion last week about civil war and colonization in Africa. A couple of great books that initially informed me about the ins, outs, and causes of these conflicts are:

Hotel Rwanda, Terry George: A fairly good film adaptation of this book starring Don Cheadle brought much-needed international attention to the suffering innocents left on the bloody trail of rampage and revenge there. It seems that once the common oppressor left (those nations who colonized those parts of Africa), the old warring tribes were left to remember old beefs. Fucking hardcore.

King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild: Hochschild is, in my opinion, one of the most readable and well-researched writers of our modern times. This is THE ultimate story of the colonization of Africa, with no thought whatsoever to the effects on its human beings.

Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild: A different angle on this story--slavery out of Africa, and the resulting anti-slave movement that started in England around 1760 or so. Both of these Hochschild books are "must-reads."

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch: A most heartbreaking and maddening story of senseless and inhuman slaughter among brothers and sisters.

I got a text from a friend the other day asking if I had read the new Keith Richards book? He said that he had to put the book down a few times during the heroin-withdrawal parts (a fate that this particular friend had gone through more than a few times). On my friend's recommendation, then:

Life, Keith Richards: Hey, Orion is the publisher that's putting out my book in the UK next year. This book MUST be good!

Old Gods Almost Dead, Stephen Davis: I know firsthand that Davis is not the most thorough of rock writers (he doesn't worry about such things as "fact-checking" or "primary sources"), but this Stones book was a fun and quick read on a short vacation a few years back. If you like Hammer of the Gods, you should enjoy this one too.

Now on to random titles:

Carnegie, Peter Krass: If you are a lover of history and the big, beefy, earth-moving characters that shaped much of it, get this tome. A massive but amazingly readable and enjoyable undertaking.

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Reséndez: I love this kind of books. The subtitle says it all: "The extraordinary tale of a shipwrecked Spaniard who walked across America in the 16th century." Now THAT is what I call a real story!

Oil!, Upton Sinclair: Early 20th-century Southern California and its oil! Sinclair was the best at throwing the big interests under the bus way back when this type of thing was yet fashionable. Read EVERYTHING by Upton Sinclair.

The White Spider, Heinrich Harrer: Brad Pitt portrayed Heimlich when his story stayed in Tibet (Seven Years in Tibet). Did you know that this amazing man (Harrer, not Pitt, ladies) took part in the first successful climb of the north face of the Eiger in 1938? This book leaves one gasping.

Some recent books that I have added to my read list:

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

Vineland, Thomas Pynchon

Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro was recommended to me as "the best writer alive." The person who pointed me in this direction also shares my love of Cormac McCarthy. Stark and sparse words on an often brutal human condition.

What say you? Input or further recommendations that you'd like to share with the rest of us? Criticisms of my list (as if)? Please chime in, you lofty readers of this column; this should be rather good!

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