Great books and works of literature often provide a sharp perspective for deciphering events of life and the world. In 2011, the American withdrawal from the Iraq war, the 22nd annual Bioneers conference, Hurricane Irene, London riots, a great flood of the Mississippi River, and other events brought important human ideas to the forefront, the ideas explored in great literary works.


Many are worth further contemplation due to the quality perspective created by timeless authors.

shows the true costs of war when soldier Joe Bonham is completely dismembered by a WWI bomb, yet still lives. For Joe, what is the source of freedom and truth? Is it internally or externally driven? Norman Mailer recreates external layers of illusion within a combat Army society in his WWII classic,

. How are humans motivated by the myths of war?

A potent force of nature also carves universal truths. Santiago, a Cuban fisherman, grapples to understand life's vitality along with a giant marlin in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, while a historic flood of the Mississippi provides a metaphysical glimpse in William Faulkner's The Wild Palms. In A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, Faulkner's unseen spiritual force of nature (numenon) blossoms from the observed and measured events of the natural world (phenomenon). This spiritual power of nature calls for a new ecological ethic from human kind, an ethic intertwined with the social civility explored in William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

In 2011, the question arose many times: where is civility in modern society? The London riots tapped the growing materialist spirit of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, while John Fowles' first novel, The Collector, probed the psychology of materialist power demonstrated by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape accusation and acquittal. Guilt created by rampant materialism was exploited by "philanthropist" Greg Mortensen and author Gregory David Roberts, while others like Target worker Anthony Hardwick transcended materialist forces, just like Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener.

The tone of American spirit has continued to sour in 2011, a stark contrast to the western optimism of Mark Twain's Huck Finn. This souring requires double vigilance of thought, word, and deed to avoid the misperceptions like those articulated by Susan Sontag regarding cancer. With awareness and exploration of these profound texts and others, perspective on our current age is available, a valuable clarity in an increasingly cloudy media uber-reality.

Lee Miller is the author of the Bengali novel, Kali Sunset (, the story of Mrs. Sona Choudhury's spiritual journey in 20th Century India.