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The American Way of Death and Six Other Books Bowie Thought You Should Read

Back in late 2013, around the time of his David Bowie Is exhibition, I came across an article in The Guardian about the great man’s 100 favourite novels of all time. The list, in chronological order, was a mix of genuine classics – cult, modern or otherwise – and novels I was only vaguely familiar with or not at all. Some of the titles seemed quite bizarre, at least.

I’d always wondered what a man like Bowie read. I reckoned he’d eaten through Proust and Sartre by his 20s and had gone right through the Beats and the Romanticism period and on and on, consuming books like we would dinners. Bowie seemed like the type of hyper-intelligent character who always made time to read no matter how many projects he was working on, what live performances he had coming up or how many times he had to save Iggy and Lou’s careers. He was most definitely one of us. A bookworm.

I’ve dipped in and out of The Guardian's list of David Bowie's top 100 must-read books, and this is a selection of some of the more unique books that may arouse your interest.

The Street

Both the idea and the myth of the American Dream are examined here through the eyes of African-American woman Lutie Johnson. She firmly believes that those who work hard, save hard, and strive for that dream will acquire it. Lutie just wants to find a nice apartment and raise her son as best she can. But life isn’t as straightforward as that and Petry shows her disdain for this American dream, soon forgotten amid the simmering violence and raging poverty of 1940s Harlem. A powerful read and an important voice.

The Hidden Persuaders

Published way back in 1957, Packard unravels the mysteries of advertising in The Hidden Persuaders. All the tricks of the trade are explored, including psychological techniques and how subliminal messaging works. It even explains the eight compelling needs that we seek and advertisers promise to fulfill. It’s a fascinating read and goes into a full analysis of products and even political campaigns. This is just the type of book I would usually glance over and ignore, but I actually gave it a try and loved it.

The American Way of Death Revisited

OK, so the book above this was ‘a fascinating read’ and this one is equally fascinating, but different. Really, it is. It’s about, wait for it: the US funeral home business. Mitford was astonished by the way the funeral business took advantage of clients through a number of tactics and unnecessary add-ons. What started out as an exposé piece for Frontier magazine soon turned into a full length book when she decided to write more than just a cautionary tale for the consumer. Once the book took off, she effectively split the business wide open, which led to reforms on the way the industry conducted itself.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Granted, this title is slightly off putting and it certainly won’t be for everyone, I had to check it out nonetheless. Written by a psychologist, Jaynes’s theory in layman terms was that our fully developed cognitive mind as we know it now was once physically very different in that our brains and cognitive reasoning were divided in half between a speaking section and a listening/obeying section. The book was a huge success and won a lot of acclaim, but has since undergone serious criticism and been largely debunked. But without concrete evidence one way or another, who are we to judge? Read the book and make of it what you will.


Hawksmoor is a little slice of postmodernist historical crime fiction genius lapsing between two time periods – the early 18th century and the 20th century. In quite a brilliant backstory, architect Nicholas Dyer is in the process of finishing work on seven churches around the East End of London. He christens each new building with a human sacrifice unknown to everybody else. Fast forward to relative modern day and detective Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating a series of strangulations at the sites of Dyer’s churches. Are they somehow related? You bloody bet they are.

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

By this point, it’s safe to say that Bowie’s tastes run the gamut. Paglia’s title makes this sound very academic, but I’ve got my hands on this and in fact, though difficult to get into at first, I stuck with it and eventually I found it both very readable and very interesting. Paglia is dissecting Western culture here and it’s sexual mores, artist by artist, work by work. She investigates how Western society has always grappled with sexuality and its insertion throughout art away from the rest of the world and she does this by evaluating the likes of Baudelaire, Poe, Shakespeare, Wilde, Brontë and even Dickinson, among many others. It’s a big book with a lot to say.


We’ll finish on a lighter note – a look back at the history of adolescence from 1875 through to 1945 – that period before the youth movement became confident, rebellious, addicted to rock’n’rock and fun, and broke away from all parental control. The book is a joy to read. Where did all these modern product hungry teens come from? Where did it all begin? Savage bounces all over the time period, drawing on examples from England, the USA, France and Germany. He recalls the days of Goethe as he extolled on the state of pre-adulthood. The American and British gangs and fashions that gave the teen years an image and a scene. The survival of this image through the war years and the onslaught of cool music aimed at a younger audience. Go back in time, relive it all and be ready to feel very very old.

Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More


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