Take by way of contrast my three favorite books on The Post’s list: Margaret Leech’s “Reveille in Washington” is a superb work of history about the city during the Civil War that has the depth, breadth and humanity of a great novel; Edward P. Jones’s “Lost in the City” gives the District’s African American residents their due and then some in short stories of amazing poignancy and power; and Dinaw Mengestu’s “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” is a quietly heartbreaking account of the price of gentrification in, as it happens, the Logan Circle neighborhood where I live.
Our list is the work of many hands and reflects many tastes, but what matters most about it is that it consists of books about Washington as a place where real people live and work, not as a place where deals are done and muscles are flexed. It tells us that, long-standing rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Washington itself is a real city, not an artificial Brasilia but a human community with its own culture, traditions and heritage. Reading the books on it will make you even prouder of having become a part of that community, will teach you a great deal about it and will make you want to learn even more.
Because we have only so much space for this enterprise and because we wanted to include as broad a representation as possible of the city’s variety, inevitably many of you will note, and regret, some omissions. Probably there will be e-mails shouting: “Where is Henry Adams’s ‘Democracy’?” I didn’t recommend it because I find it impenetrable, and since no one else proposed it, perhaps it has at last forfeited the title of “Great Washington Novel.” I do regret the omission of anything by Ward Just, who has written often and uncommonly well about various aspects of the city, and I wish we could have included more than one novel by George Pelecanos (who is to Washington what John D. MacDonald was to South Florida) as well as Edward P. Jones’s second story collection, “All Aunt Hagar’s Children.”
Never mind. It’s a good list, and it will take you to good places. Read on!