Background reading for Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day
September 4, 2012 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Another book recommendation question. I'm looking for a few general history books to read as preparation for diving into Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day".

I'm looking for a very general overview of events "between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the time immediately following World War I," enough that I might at least recognize a name or two going in. I realize that is incredibly broad, but I have no problem if I end up reading half a dozen (or more) titles and am open to suggestions of more specific stuff if it's highly relevant. I haven't read much more than the blurb, so there are surely areas of interest I'm unaware of. No fiction though, that part is covered.
posted by Lorin to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if "between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair," etc. is inclusive, but a great, quick, general history of the fair is of course The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.
posted by HeroZero at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2012

For the world just before and after WWI, I highly recommend the following:

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War by Barbara Tuchman
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Barbara Macmillan

Tuchman also wrote The Guns of August and The Zimmerman Telegram; both are excellent. If you want a look at the war itself, see The First World War by John Keegan.
posted by jquinby at 6:53 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

...rats, Paris 1919 was written by Margaret Macmillan. Sorry.
posted by jquinby at 6:54 AM on September 4, 2012

Related: This wiki for "Against the Day" may help you with historical references as you read along.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:02 AM on September 4, 2012

Be a little careful about using the Pynchon Wiki as you go — it's meant to avoid spoilers, but doesn't always do that perfectly. Here are some specific topics that you'll want to pay special attention to, or look for good books about, as background for Against the Day:
  • Riemann and the history of mathematics
  • Labor history and anarchism, esp. in the mountain West (read about the Ludlow Massacre)
  • The Mexican Revolution
  • The history of photography
  • Boys' adventure novels (e.g. Tom Swift)

posted by RogerB at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read up on the Tunguska Event, which plays a small but significant role in the book, but is just generally really interesting anyways.

Good luck with ATD!
posted by mannequito at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

With respect to the mathematics, I recommend paying special attention to quaternions. Wikipedia is not a bad place to start, if only to see how au fait you are with the broad strokes. That and some familiarity with relativity should soften you up for the stuff in ATD about the nature of time--is it just a different kind of space? And so on.
posted by Zerowensboring at 2:42 PM on September 4, 2012

Oh, and read up on Tesla.
posted by Zerowensboring at 2:42 PM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. This ought to keep me busy until sometime next year!
posted by Lorin at 4:23 PM on September 4, 2012

« Older difference between GPS on a smartphone and a stand...   |   Which FMLA reason is more appropriate? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.