Background Books

With the Chinkvirus lockdown and associated Zoom-y nonsense, we’ve all become familiar with people filming themselves with bookcases in the background.  What used to be the standard backdrop for lawyers’ vanity pics (with tomes and tomes of legal texts behind them, as though they’d ever read one, the bastards), now seems to be the norm, especially with politicians.  Here are a couple of examples:  BritPM Boris Johnson:

…and some other BritGov flunky:

Now I’m quite aware that most of the displayed books were probably chosen by assorted political handlers and PR flacks [vast overlap], so their appearance can probably be discounted.

But it gives me an idea for a game entitled:  “Suppose You Were To Appear On A Zoom Live Feed, Which 12 Books Would You Want To be Displayed Behind You?”  (I know, the title may need a little work, but you get my drift.)  Assuming such things were important to you, and you wanted to Send A Message About Yourself (e.g. if you were being interviewed by some Lefty TV show host or similar), which books would you display?

The difference between the above poseurs  and yourselves, O My Readers, is that you can only nominate books that you actually possess, i.e. that are already on your bookshelves (no cheating).

My dozen, in no specific order, are:


(The last is:  Leo: A Tribute to Leo Burnett.  It’s handed out to all new employees at Burnett on their first day, and the agency is still run on the same principles.)

Those are mine.  Yours?  (You can select fewer than twelve, but no more.  Multi-volume compendia such as Churchill’s History Of The Second World War  count as a single selection.)


  1. Just one, standing up, cover facing forward, the coffee table book sized “Hustler Anthology 1974-2004”.

  2. King James Bible
    Collected Works of Mark Twain
    The Influence of Seapower on History
    Speed Reloading Manual
    Biography of Benjamin Franklin (too early to look in office for “real” title)
    The Prince
    Starship Troopers
    The Longest Day
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    Band of Brothers

  3. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. (On my Kindle, no way can I read the small type any more.)
    The Code-Breakers by David Kahn.
    Kill or Get Killed by Rex Applegate.
    Wilderness Empire by Allan Eckert.
    Stick and Rudder.
    Sand in the Wind by Robert Roth.
    Sed and Awk.
    An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese.
    Innumeracy by Dos Passos.
    Decision Traps by Russo and Schoemaker.
    2021 Rand McNally Road Atlas.
    Eat the Rich by PJ O’Rourke.

    1. We could do this with authors, too. I have at least a half dozen, usually more, by:
      Vince Flynn
      Stephen Hunter
      John D McDonald
      Thomas Perry
      Donald Hamilton
      Dick Francis
      Robert Heinlein
      J. C. Pollock
      Carmen Amato
      Barry Eisler
      Jim Webb
      Robert Crais

  4. Monster Hunter International – Larry Correia
    The Comeplete Aubrey/Maturin Novels – Patrick O’Brian
    The Civil War – Shelby Foote
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
    Starship Troopers – Robert A Heinlein
    Gunsmithing – Roy F Dunlap
    Cryptonomicon – Neil Stephenson
    my whole set of Rudyard Kipling
    The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    Unintended Consequences – John Ross
    TM 9-1005-319-23&P – Maintenance Manual, Rifle M16A2,M4, etc.
    The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

  5. Full set encyclopedia britanica
    Works of Socrates and Plato
    Auto biography of Andrew Jackson
    the collect works of Heinlein
    The foundation series by Asimov
    Federalist papers

    That should do

    Btw never did manage to get all the way through the britannica

  6. Most of the time those backgrounds in publicity photos are not actual bookcases at all, just photos of some random ‘Wall-o-Books” used by the photo studio , but you’re right that when I see some pol or pundit on TV in front of what appears to be his home book collection, I’m usually more interested in what books are there than what he has to say.

    Anyway, Looking at my bookcases you would see 2 shelves of Tom Clancy books ( A complete collection ) a shelf of Vince Flynn books. 2 shelves of Political Biographies ( all persuasions ) and a whole 5 shelf book case full of automotive books, and another full bookcase with my fathers collection of Pirate books and WWII books. Yes, it’s a lot more than 12, but these are bookcases not just some shelves with some books facing forward in a obvious attempt to look well read.

    So it depends on the subject of the zoom meeting as to which to use as a backdrop. ,,,,,,,, or I could just go with a green screen and plug in an image of the surface of mars or some tropical beach.

    Easy to do with zoom — Its a built in feature

  7. I spend a lot of time on Zoom these days. What would really be nice if those calls could be done from bed … picture Churchill sitting up in bed with a cigar, a whisky, and one or two secretaries poised for … dictation.
    Anyway, in that spirit, my background would be the contents the night table which, shockingly, is this:
    A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway
    Shop Class As Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford
    The Transformation of War, Martin van Creveld
    Violence of Mind, Varg Freeborn
    Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe, Jeffrey Hart
    Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver
    Highland Folk Ways, I.F. Grant
    Our Borders, Ourselves, Lawrence Auster
    The Complete Outsider, Brian Sewell
    The Phoney Victory, Peter Hitchens
    Hitler in Hell, Martin van Creveld
    Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    [2,000 titles removed because of the “no more than 12” rule – K.]
    Not exactly the greatest books of all time. Many of those have been read. Others are in process. Others, like the Bonhoeffer, are there waiting until I get the stamina.

    1. Get yourself one of the new Geforce RTX 3000 cards: they come with technology to filter out backgrounds.

    * I like the extended family concept.

    USE ENOUGH GUN — Ruark
    * I like the romantic portrayal of a good camp.

    * I like the history.

    SOUTH WAS RIGHT — Kennedy brothers
    * Very difficult for me to accept ‘everything I know is wrong’.

    SUPERMOB — Russo
    * Learned Elders making a mess, blaming.

    * Gaffaws. Involuntary seepage.

    COLD DISH — Johnson
    * This represents my idea of writing perfection.

    POODLE SPRINGS — Chandler/Parker
    * Marlowe. That’s it, just Marlowe.

    * Another example of writing perfection.

    * Autobiography of the most valuable vulnerable person I wish I knew.

    WORLD WAR Z — Brooks
    * Instigator of a new genre, shows the value of good walls. I do not have enough ammunition.

    SPENSER FOR HIRE series — Parker
    * Men. Doing good.

    I enjoy the classical perfection of the writing craft demonstrated by:
    CJ Box
    Robert B. Parker
    Raymond Chandler
    Dashell Hammett
    Robert Crais
    Craig Johnson

    I often refer to medical texts.

    On my eighth birthday, my folks presented me with a set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
    It was taller than me.
    I was eight in 1960.
    The copyright for the set was 1932.
    Within days, after the thrill of playing with the boxes wore off, I usually had >three open, reading sections while referencing other sections to understand/correlate words or events.
    That investigative bent served me during careers in LawEnforcement and piloting helicopters and other deviations from the accepted norms of physics.

  9. Good contest.

    In no particular order.

    1. Bible
    2. Atlas Shrugged
    3. Wealth of Nations
    4. History of the English Speaking Peoples
    5. Vanity Fair
    6. Gulag Archipelago
    7. Free to Choose
    8. Anything by P.G. Woodhouse (personal favorites are the Blandings Castle tales)
    9. Anything by H Rider Haggard.
    10. Collected works of Rudyard Kipling
    11. A Tale of Two Cities
    12. The Myth of the Great War

    1. Honorable mention:

      Any of Robert Conquest’s work.
      Any Of Niall Ferguson’s work.
      Any of Victor Davis Hanson’s work.

  10. #1 All the Rain Promises and More – Aurora
    #2 Mushrooms Demystified – Aurora
    #3 Fire and Brimstone – Punke
    #4 Young Men and Fire – Maclean
    #5 A River Runs Through It and Other Stories – Maclean
    #6 Unintended Consequences – Ross
    #7 Atlas Shrugged – Rand
    #8 The Wreck of the Medusa – Miles
    #9 The Deep Dark – Olsen (I met the daughters of a man that died in this event)
    #10 Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck
    #11 Penrod – Tarkington
    #12 Shindler’s List – Keneally

  11. Is it just me, or do most of the “books” on the right-hand side of the book case appear to be DVD and VHS cases?

    And it would take me a while to whittle my list down to just twelve. All your suggestions mean I’ve got a lot more research/reading to do.

  12. The Gulag Archipelago
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
    Unintended Consequences
    The Turner Diaries
    Liberal Fascism
    The Making of the Atomic Bomb
    With the Old Breed
    The Blind Watchmaker
    Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting
    All of Matt Bracken’s books
    All of Kurt Schlicter’s books

  13. Johnson’s “History of the American People” (good choice, Kim)
    “The Last Lion” (3 volumes)
    Budiansky’s “Battle of Wits”
    Various of the O’Reilly series of computer reference books (Programming Perl, etc.)
    Oram & Wilson’s “Beautiful Code”
    Hanson’s “A War Like No Other” and “Carnage and Culture”
    The Joy of Cooking
    The Art of Electronics
    The CRC Manual

  14. Gulag Archipelago was the first ‘proper’ book I read. I was 14 and my Head Teacher loaned me the book. Went on to read A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich.

    Other than that:-
    The Soviet War machine
    The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Firearms
    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
    Buzz Aldrin, Gil Scott Heron and Anthony Keidis autobiographies
    The Goal by Eli Goldratt
    The curious incident of the dog in the night
    Kim’s blog (I’m such a kiss arse)

    Any of these books listed here and a life long enough to read them all

  15. Today is Friday by Hemingway
    The Washing of the Spears by Desmond Morris
    Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey
    A soldier with the Arabs by Sir John Glubb
    Principles of Thermodynamics by Goodenough
    Caesar and Christ (History of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durrant – 8 volumes)
    Sport Fishing USA
    The 12 Caesars by Grant
    Anabassis by Xenophon
    The Power of Glamour by Virginia Postrel
    The Civil War, A Narrative by Shelby Foote
    Lecons de seduction photographies by Herve Lewis

  16. Okay, I stacked up twelve books on top of the bookcase that holds the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Unintended Consequences by John Ross
    Danger Close by Michael Yon
    Monster Hunter Nemesis signed by Larry Correia
    Monster Hunter Siege signed by Larry Correia
    To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth by Jeff Cooper
    To the Last Salute by Captain Von Trapp (WWI submarine skipper. His children did some singing)
    Shots Fired in Anger by Lt. Col. John George
    Fighter Pilot by Robin Olds
    Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langewiesche (every pilot needs this one)
    Boyd by Robert Coram
    Over the Edge by Michael Bane
    Righteous Indignation by Andrew Breitbart

    I limited myself to just the books from the bookcases on the same wall behind me. There were plenty more I could have chosen. I didn’t even look at other walls or other rooms. That would have changed it from fun to work.

    1. “To the Last Salute by Captain Von Trapp”

      I need to get that for my own library. I know just who Fregattenkapitan von Trapp was…and what decorations he held. An EXTREMELY dangerous submariner.

      1. It is quite good. I have always enjoyed war memoirs by people with first hand experience. It was only translated into English a few years ago. Before that it was only available in very old editions in German or French.

    2. It occurs to me that the two books signed by Larry Correia were signed at Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore, which was an early casualty of this summer’s orgy of broken glass and burned out businesses. It’s hard to get away from current events these days.

  17. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
    The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Heinlein
    1984 – George Orwell
    Animal Farm – ibid
    The Road To Serfdom – Fredrich Hayak
    Lord Of The Flies – William Golding

    Oh, and a picture of Barack Obama on my dart board.

  18. If I were President (or running for that office), I’d be sure to prominently feature “Wild Fire” by Nelson DeMille. In it, our hero John Corey tries to thwart a plot by right wing oil billionaires (naturally, but the author is a good guy) who are attempting to set off two suitcase nukes on US soil. This would automatically trigger a top-secret program called Wild Fire, which would launch a series of nuclear missiles that would wipe out the Islamic world. I don’t know if such a program actually exists, but I’d want those Jumpin’ Jihadis to know I was thinking about it. (If it piques your interest, read “Night Fall” first.)

  19. The Complete Stalky & Co. by Rudyard Kipling
    Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
    The Rabble Rousers by Eric Frank Russell
    The Days Trilogy by H. L. Mencken (Library of America edition)
    You’re Stepping On My Cloak And Dagger by Roger Hall
    The Unkown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
    Digger by Ursula Vernon
    Personal Memoirs and Selected Letters by Ulysses S Grant (Library of America again)
    Roughing It by Mark Twain
    The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson
    A Small Colonial War by Robert Frezza
    Wizenbeak by Alexis Gilliland

  20. The Declaration of Independence
    The Constitution and all the Amendments
    The Men Who United the States – Simon Winchester
    Valkyrie, The North American XB-70, The USA’s Ill-fated Supersonic Heavy Bomber – Graham Simons
    Apollo – Charles Murray & Catherine Bly Cox
    Linebacker: The Untold Story of the Air Raids over North Vietnam – Karl Eschmann
    D Day Through German Eyes – Holger Eckhertz
    A collection of Carl Hiaasen
    The collected works of Edgar Allan Poe
    A collection of Bill Bryson
    A trilogy by Rick Atkinson: An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, The Guns at Last Light
    The Lair of Raven – Craig Duehring (I used to strap this guy into A-10 cockpits. The history I learned just talking with him over the intercom…damn.)

  21. OK, I’ll play….

    The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
    The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
    The World Crisis, by Winston Churchill
    The History of Western Civilization (all 14 volumes) by Will and Ariel Durant
    Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, by Sir Julian Corbett
    The Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien
    Fighting the Great War at Sea, by Norman Friedman
    Fleet Tactics, by Wayne Hughes
    Starship Troopers, by Heinlein
    Epee 2.5, by Johan Harmenberg (worth studying for strategic insights)
    How to Stop a War, by James Dunnigan
    and finally
    U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Flight Test Manual 110, UAV Test Methods. Mostly because I wrote it. 🙂

  22. I have steel library shelving behind my desk. The top row is visible when I’m using the computer camera. That shelf is Biography : Lee (4v), Nimitz, Ataturk, Rickover, Stalin, Himmler, T.E. Lawrence, Frantiseck Moravek, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Captain von Rintelen, Louis Fieser (a favorite since the book was banned after publication, and Feds made efforts to recall all copies.) The final book on that shelf is The American Practical Navigator, for both the quality of the book and of the binding. The four shelves beneath are all Soviet Studies related.
    Other than dictionaries all books are in English.
    The wall behind the shelf is hung with “The Chart of the Nuclides”. The real one from KAPL, but it may not be the most current version.
    Probably a collection more likely to confuse than shock or edify.

  23. The Road to Serfdom – Hayek
    On Liberty – Mills.
    Complete Works of George Orwell, preferably with an Animal Farm cover.
    Complete Works of Terry Pratchett.
    Peleponnesian War – Thucydides
    The Downing Street Years – Margaret Thatcher.
    Below the Parapet – Denis Thatcher.
    The Wealth of Nations – Smith.
    Complete Works of Ovid
    World War Z
    The Second World War – Churchill
    The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill

    And I’ll have busts of Thatcher and Churchill.

  24. Kim, I don’t know if you meant it this way, but the comments on this post look an awful lot like a dick-measuring contest.

    Me, I wouldn’t use books at all. As any good photographer would tell you, it makes the background too busy and detracts from the subject.

    1. I wouldn’t worry too much about the busyness of a book background. If done right the books will be just enough out of focus to limit that distraction. A nice touch would be to have the camera focus on the books if the person has to be out of the camera’s field for any reason. That would maximize the effect of the presumably intentional choice of book titles.

    2. Also, the pissing contest aspect is standard for just about any male discussion. Most of us find it at least a little entertaining.

  25. West Point Atlas of American Wars
    The Idiot – Dostoyevsky
    Europe – Norman Davies
    Free To Choose – Milton and Rose Friedman
    The Ambrose Bierce Satanic Reader
    How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World – Harry Browne
    Radical Son – Horowitz
    Asimovs’ Chronology of The World
    Enemy at the Gates – William Craig
    Glory of Their Times – Lawrence Ritter
    Cerebus – Dave Sim

  26. your first choice is my first choice.

    thus, everything afterwords deserves a second evaluation from me.

  27. Where’s the Howard Zinn? And Chomskey? Hmm, Kim? Having trouble believing this is Kim, without those……..

    Oh wait… Ok, found em in target bin.

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