American writer Dave Eggers burst onto the literary landscape in 2000 with the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a stream-of-consciousness account of his struggles to rear his younger brother following the deaths of both their parents. Praised for its idiosyncrasy and postmodern prose, the book was an instant bestseller and picked up a Pulitzer Prize nomination for General Non-Fiction.

Eggers has published a slew of successful non-fiction work and novels since, including 2013’s The Circle – a dystopian delve into the perils of the tech industry. A longtime literacy advocate, he is the founder of magazine and publishing house McSweeney’s, and co-founder of the 826 Valencia project, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for children that started in San Francisco and has now spread across the States. For his work in activism, Eggers has received the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Education, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the TED Prize.

In a reading list for The Week, the celebrated author shared six books on the human condition that have most impacted his life and work. From Saul Bellow’s examination of a mind in crisis to the electrifying experience of reading Sartre, find his recommendations below. Complement with the bookshelves of David Foster Wallace and Nick Hornby.


Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

“Bellow explores the psyche of a young man waiting to hear if he’s been drafted. I don’t know if anyone’s ever better represented the workings of the mind in crisis, or the mental state of a human whose life might change, permanently, based on forces far beyond his control.” -DE

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (also rec’d by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jonathan Franzen & William S. Burroughs)

“Every time I read this book I love it more. Terrible things happen to its characters, three young Americans traveling through Morocco, but Bowles’s writing is so hypnotic that the calamities are seen through a certain anodyne haze. And despite its darkness, it’s the most humane of existential novels.” -DE

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

“I’ve only seen the play performed once, a long time ago, but a few years ago I reread the text and was astounded by how funny it is on the page. I know it’s considered pretty dour by many, but the play is so nimble and knowing. There’s a satirical topspin there that’s not often acknowledged.” -DE

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Written in 1938, this novel still feels electric. It’s about a young man disgusted by the futility of his existence, but reading the book is strangely invigorating — great art as a near-religious experience.” -DE

Something Happened by Joseph Heller (also rec’d by Jonathan Franzen)

“Here an American businessman, Bob Slocum, looks back and forward on a life that seems devoid of meaning. A soldier in WWII, he now finds himself in an office where virtually nothing happens. So he fought as a young man for the right to do nothing the rest of his life. Which raises the question: What’s more absurd — war, or the antiseptic drudgery of so many workplaces?” -DE

Selected Writings of the American Transcendentalists by George Hochfield

“This is a fantastic collection. Anyone wanting to understand the American DNA then and now must read the transcendentalists — pious, bold, passionate, obstinate, naïve, and capable of breathtaking acts of beauty.” -DE

(via The Week)

Categories: Activists Writers

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