First and foremost I’m not “anti-TV”. I watch it and I enjoy it. Although I do try to at least find shows that evoke something. Not just putting it on for background noise while I sit and do something else. Comedy – make me laugh. Thriller – hook me etc etc. TV has came a long way over the last couple of decades. There are a lot of great quality shows out there. But I thought I’d try and find 3 books that I’ve read in recent years that knock it out of the park while providing similar content to a TV show.
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky – You could argue that this book is replicated in some fashion in many of the most popular TV shows today. In essence – a main character does something awful. They get pursued by the law and it explores this characters moral dilemmas and psychology. Tony Soprano? Marty Byrde? Walter White? – there’s something appealing about exploring good and evil. Particularly when characters aren’t just clear cut – black and white. The Wire is another show that explores the psychology of characters on both sides of the law and across multiple facets of a city. This made the show far more appealing because it didn’t just have “good guys and bad guys” – characters were real and three dimensional. It’s bizarre to think this book is from 1866 because it feels like a more modern novel. Not just dealing with events but what a character is going through – paranoia, anguish, guilt, anger. As a reader you go on this journey with Raskolnikov. One of my favourite books.
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas – Dumas wrote his books in serials – a bit like TV shows today. Which was the custom at the time. This explains the pace of the plot. It was apparently a sensation at the time with the whole of France wanting to know what was going to happen next. There’s a reason it’s been made into several movies over the year because it’s so screen worthy. Alas it’s a giant novel with so many threads and characters a movie run time won’t do it justice. Edmund Dantes, falsely imprisoned – escapes and plots his revenge. So well written with so much going on. Even minor characters get rich and full back stories that fill the story with a depth you don’t find very often. Everything is interwoven smartly – with twists, turns and clever plans.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt – Edmund Morris – TR lived a life almost too unbelievable to be true. But it is. Whether you like him or not by the end (you’ll most probably like him) you can’t deny he lived a fascinating life and this is just part of it – there are another two books by Morris. Morris does that rare thing of combining facts with story. It helps that the subject lived such an interesting life no doubt, but I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into producing this. One of the best biographies you’ll ever read. Inspirational – exciting – sad – and you’ll learn a lot about American politics and history as he lived at a time of such transition. Politician – cowboy – soldier – young asthmatic – president – student. He lived a life.
The Second World War – Antony Beevor – There are a lot of WW2 documentaries out there. Many of them are very good. But this book is just – WOW. He has to summarise a lot of events because of the sheer amount of events and information it tries to cover. But you’ll finish this with a wide knowledge of the history of World War 2 and with a profound empathy and sadness. Beevor writes in such a unique way – combining the bigger picture without neglecting the events on individuals- soldiers and civilians on all sides. There are a lot of things in this book that I had never even heard of (some deliberately so…). Even as a British historian he doesn’t shy away from honest assessment and opinion. Pretty much everyone possible gets criticised at some point from politicians to army officers. But it gives it that authentic punch. He’s not trying to be friends with anyone. He’s telling the story of a global tragedy. I put this down when finished and felt immense gratitude for all that I’m fortunate to have.