David Bowie’s Top Must-Read Books


In the interview below for French television to introduce his album Heathen in 2002, David Bowie talks about art, religion and philosophy.

He starts by saying that all his albums are negative, yet the content of all his albums provides continuity —the themes of alienation and isolation are in everything he has written. About Heathen, he says it is probably slightly less negative. The slashed and vandalized art represents his Barbarian nature and dissatisfaction with everything we have done in our culture.

When we talks about the three books he talks about the culmination of the Enlightenment with Nietzche's statement that “God is dead,” and Einstein's discovery that time and space aren't what we thought they were, and Freud's understanding of another kind of human inside the human.

All these things culminated on the idea that everything we knew was wrong  —we started the twentieth century with a clean slate. But, he says, all we could do with it, with the idea that now we are the gods, was to create the Bomb. And that so destroyed our faith in what we could do in life that we are still living with that chaos.

We have no spiritual lives to speak of, he says. There are quasi new religions, but there is no direct sense of what our purpose is anymore. Which may be a good thing, because we may find out that we have no purpose, says Bowie. Are we big enough to accept to exist like that, that there is no plan? There is no going somewhere.

Maybe, then, we need to exist on the idea that we have one day at the time. Can we do that? If so, he says, we might be serving some great thing.

On aging, he says we're all learning to do it for the first time.

On the subject of art, he talks about Tiepolo, Michelangelo, and Rembrant, but also finds enjoying and sustaining modern artists. He says we need to be equitable and use the arts to experience and learn different things. For example, the Beatles and The Streets in music. “We can only learn from our mistakes,” he says, “although I don't thing that will really happen.”


David Bowie, who died this past January of cancer, was a popular and influential musician with a particular sense of style. He was well-spoken and well-read —his archives contained a list of 100 top must-read books. The tiles demonstrate range and curiosity.

The list was part of a 2013 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, David Bowie is, which included handwritten set lists, lyrics, diary entries, instruments and sketches, more than 50 stage costumes plus music videos, set designs, photographs and excerpts from films and live performances.

Topics range from tales of working-class boys made good, which emerged in the postwar years to a study of creativity and the mindset of misfits. It demonstrates a fascination with psychotherapy and creativity, an interest for political history, and a broad taste for fiction, irreverent humor, and music.

David Bowie top must-read books

The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby (2008)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007)
The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard (2007)
Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage (2007)
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters (2002)
The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens (2001)
Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler (1997)
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes (1997)
The Insult, Rupert Thomson (1996)
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon (1995)
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman (1994)
Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard (1993)
Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C Danto (1992)
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia (1990)
David Bomberg, Richard Cork (1988)
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick (1986)
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin (1986)
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (1985)
Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey (1984)
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter (1984)
Money, Martin Amis (1984)
White Noise, Don DeLillo (1984)
Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes (1984)
The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White (1984)
A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn (1980)
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester (1980)
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1980)
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess (1980)
Raw, a "graphix magazine" (1980-91)
Viz, magazine (1979 –)
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (1979)
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz (1978)
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan (1978)
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed Malcolm Cowley (1977)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes (1976)
Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders (1975)
Mystery Train, Greil Marcus (1975)
Selected Poems, Frank O'Hara (1974)
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich (1972)
In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner (1971)   Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky (1971)
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillett(1970)
The Quest for Christa T, Christa Wolf (1968)
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn (1968)
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg (1967)
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr (1966)
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1965)
City of Night, John Rechy (1965)
Herzog, Saul Bellow (1964)
Puckoon, Spike Milligan (1963)
The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford (1963)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea, Yukio Mishima (1963)
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin (1963)
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell (1962)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)
Private Eye, magazine (1961 –)
On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding (1961)
Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage (1961)
Strange People, Frank Edwards (1961)
The Divided Self, RD Laing (1960)
All the Emperor's Horses, David Kidd (1960)
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse (1959)
The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard (1957)
Room at the Top, John Braine (1957)
A Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno (1956)
The Outsider, Colin Wilson (1956)
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)
The Street, Ann Petry (1946)
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)

[list via The Guardian]