Books That Changed Me: Paul Ham

Paul Ham is the author of several histories of war and politics won the NSW premier's non-fiction for his last book, Passchendaele. His latest, New Jerusalem: The Short Life and Terrible Death of Christendom's Most Defiant Sect, is a departure into religious history and is published next week by William Heinemann.

The Dunciad

Paul Ham

Paul Ham

Alexander Pope

Pope's mock epic poem takes a scalpel to the reputations of the greasy hacks and "dunces" who trawled 18th-century Grub Street, casting them as the braying worshippers of the Goddess Dulness and the mortal enemies of education. Pope's raucous satire seems just what we need right now, if only to dispatch a few bogus reputations richly deserving of his ridicule.

Gulliver's Travels

Jonathan Swift

I first read Swift's novel about the sailor Gulliver and his voyages to the lands of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Luggnagg and the Hounyhnhnms as a school boy. I've re-read it a couple of times since. It never ceases to amuse and inspire me, both as a mesmerising adventure and hilarious account of political debasement and academic pretentiousness.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Edward Gibbon.

"While that great body [Rome] was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol." That sentence alone explains why I've never been able to shake my admiration for Gibbon's "Grand Style", now largely lost in an age when writing history seems to involve force-feeding micro-themes and prodding them in the hope they'll burp.

Essays

George Orwell & Virginia Woolf

Of the many essays that have inspired and disturbed me two demand to be read again and again: Orwell's Politics and the English Language and Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Orwell examined the abuse of language, showing that "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought". He then wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. Woolf advised women who hoped to write to find a room of their own and "£500 a year". Quietly darkening her point was the shadow of "Shakespeare's sister", a little watchful ghost, mocked, spurned and silenced.

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