Whenever I get tired of clean, polished versions of history, I entertain myself with first drafts, memoirs and primary sources. There’s nothing quite like the messiness of discarded ideas, unreliable accounts and dry court papers to get me thinking about the way the world works.
The Portable Malcolm X Reader is a fascinating collection of historical documents. It was designed as a companion to Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. The biography earned its share of controversy, but still managed to win the author a Pulitzer. The companion piece includes the FBI files, speeches, oral histories and news articles which guided the author on his way.
Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is such a celebrated poem even its first draft deserved publication. This edition includes not only the scratch-outs and revisions, but also the court documents of the resulting trial.
Marco Polo traveled through Asia, met Kublai Khan and discovered some suspiciously ugly unicorns. He told his story to a prison buddy in Genoa, and since then his accounts have been the source of endless speculation. The beautifully illustrated Travels of Marco Polo will guide you along a journey which changed how Europe saw the world.
In a time when everyone likes to pretend they’re right, first drafts are a refreshing chance to read another person’s words and come to a decision all on your own.