J. Peder Zane is a columnist for RealClearPolitics and an editor at RealClearInvestigations. He was the Book Review Editor and Books Columnist for the News & Observer of Raleigh for 13 years, where his writing won several national honors, including the Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He has also worked at the New York Times and taught writing at Duke University and Saint Augustine’s University. He has written two books, “Off the Books: On Literature and Culture,” and “Design in Nature” (with Adrian Bejan). He edited two other books, “Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading” and “The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.”


  1. Dear J Peder Zane,
    Thanks so much for making the “Ten Top Ten” site: it’s an excellent mix of novels and the ranking system (though of course it can never be objective–nor would anyone claim it is) gives a great mix of important books.
    The writers who you made contact with are excellent–many of the leading writers in the world.
    I wonder: Do you think it would be possible to carry out the same project regarding short stories?
    (Not collections, I mean, but individual stories.)
    I’ve compiled a list of short story gems over the years.
    I’m sure you have too.
    Imagine the gems that these (excellent) writers have collected!
    We could really assemble the greatest list of gems in the world!

  2. Mr. Zane,

    Just read your article on hb2 and the pandora’s box theory. Great read. I’m proud to read an article like this and see it’s posted publicly despite it not being the “popular” idea in today’s society. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. Have a great day!

  3. Great oped today. There were stories about left wing summer assignments at UNC shortly after we moved here in the late 1990s. So it’s not new. Also on last evening’s College Jeopardy contest, one question was to recite the last 4 words, identical in each verse, of the Star Spangled Banner. Of the three contestants, no one even took a stab at it. All had blank faces.

  4. Hi you have a user friendly site It was very easy to post it’s nice

  5. Read yr comments..Often wish I could respond..Admire yr education and successes.
    Older person…great many years experiences…ancestry of both parents back to 1524
    recorded plus, maternal back to a ancestor just discovered, proven, for thousands of years…
    Overwhelming….always taught, we do not own the land, we hold it in trust for the next
    generation..we love one another. We revere the insights of others..we truly learn when we listen with an open mind and a listening heart.
    You seem to have closed all doors, not only tightly, but locked and bolted them.
    I was born into a Democratic Family…I NOW HAVE since JessieHelms, fox news,
    and religious right quote, Quote…many republicans with strong identical thoughts.
    Rote…I listen for voices, I search for insights, but all republicans seem to speak with the same
    robotic voices..
    Why would Democrats be so partisan against a sitting President.
    Could it be because, he is a Republican…Get Real…Could it be, perhaps, because.
    He seems to be unable the speak the Truth….And appears to be proud of that fact.
    Please tell us how wemay learn to trust him, as you do…
    Teach us your truths, that we may know the Truth…because the scriptures say, Ye shall know the truth and The Truth shall set you Free..
    Listen, the sound you hear may be one of a voice of another who is a searcher.

    Please,,,open, your mind, your heart, to that still small voice of the Holy Spirit and be
    led to greater heights of your better angels.

    Do No Drink The Kool Aid….

  6. Wake County’s tax hike may make problems worse – I read the story and always wonder why if a county is growing like Wake County and thus more revenue is coming in from the development why tax increases are always needed.

  7. How One Thing Leads to Another

    Dear Mr. Zane,

    I’m interested in how Adrian Bejan’s Constructal Law applies to my work so, I read the book you co-wrote with him, Design in Nature. His concept seems rooted in an even simpler characteristic of natural systems: events occur along paths of higher probability — lower resistance to flow, e.g. — but not always. Higher probability event outcomes are more likely to occur; lower probability outcomes will occur just at lower rates. My daughter calls this “The Obvious Rule.” Bejan’s Constructal Law adheres to this “obvious” principle since lower resistance to flow implies higher likelihood of occurrence. Although I agree in general with his constructal ideas, he limits their applications to mechanical operations and neglects the higher order functioning unique – at least on Earth — to biological and conceptual (thinking) systems.

    Constructal principles in biology apply, among other things, to the functioning of reproductive systems in individual organisms. Constructal principles also will apply to the flow of evolutionary changes to reproductive function such that the development of the reproductive system over many generations follows a path of lower resistance to reproductive success. In evolutionary development, a constructal outcome equates to more successful reproduction (flow) in either number or survivability of offspring. At times, the evolutionary development of reproductive flow can seem counterintuitive. In my attempts at correspondence with Prof. Bejan several years ago, I used the example of the salmon’s reproductive “system.”

    Salmon literally go against the flow – swim upstream – in order to improve their reproductive success. Not only does the difficulty of swimming a path of higher resistance remove weaker (less fit) fish from the reproductive process, it improves the survivability of the resulting offspring by moving them from an ocean environment where they would be easy prey to a freshwater environment where there are far fewer predators. In a purely mechanical sense, swimming upstream increases resistance to flow. However, from a sense of reproductive purpose, it provides outcomes with a lower resistance (improved flow) to reproductive success. The result is more and stronger offspring. How exactly does Constructal Law apply in this situation? (Or to metabolism or homeostasis or motility or growth or containment any other complex living function that evolves over time?) I wanted to discuss this application with Prof. Bejan but he wouldn’t engage with me.

    Bejan hobbles himself with the notion that flow equates to life. Unlike flow, which is pervasive in the event structure of every system, life is limited to individually complex systems; even the simplest lives are very complicated operating structures. Billions of years ago on our planet, chaotic natural system behaviors allowed complex chemical events to evolve into a newly emergent life system. On the pre-emergent side of that event flow is mechanical nature; on other side is the emerging life system. Although the new life system is bound by the existing physical system, it operates much more complexly and produces an incredible diversity of outcomes. These features are what makes life unique on our world. Life is a radically different system in the ways it functions and not due to its underlying chemistry or physics. Prof. Bejan never makes this distinction in your book or in other materials of his I’ve read.
    You co-wrote a general science book that does a very good job at explaining a rather abstract subject. I suspect that Prof. Bejan wanted your help in authoring his signature idea due to your skill in explaining difficult ideas to a broad audience and not for your scientific expertise. Would you be willing to do it again? I have a powerful idea with an unusual background story. That adds up to a unique, possibly compelling, narrative. Isn’t that what journalists dream about? Regards.

    Dave Paist

  8. re: Trump hatred.
    My biggest concern are those who see the current administration as a vindication of white supremacy and anti Obama policies based on race alone.
    There is certainly enough malfeasance from both sides to keep many commentators gainfully employed. That is your job.
    How we govern is as important as what we govern.
    Pots and kettles depend on the fuel source and effort to Keep America Great.
    Do your part.

  9. Dear Mr. Zane –

    When you talk about “Trump hatred” among Democrats, you seem to be oblivious as to the reason so many people of good will have been aghast since the GOP primaries in 2016. Here is a person who told Rep. Dingell’s widow that her husband was in hell. Such behavior is beyond obscene for anyone – let alone the President of the United States. During the 2016 campaign, he mocked a New York reporter with a disability by imitating a shaking arm movement. Not accidental. And if I had done that at age 9 when I was walking down the street with my mother, she would have smacked me into the middle of next week. Not to mention turning the White House into a used car dealership oozing with nepotism. (With apologies to used car dealers) No, Mr. Zane. You are way off base on this one. May I suggest a new pair of glasses?

    Sincerely, John Egan, Buffalo, WY
    (formerly of Chapel Hill)

  10. Your article in the N&O should have been addressed to Trump. Apparently, you don’t listen to his daily rallies, so-called briefings. He continually refers to information that has been “told to him (no names given) and things he’s “heard”(no names given). And, of course, his constant lies about numbers, feedback, and his self-grandiosity have nothing to do with the pandemic.
    I realize you need to make a living, but you’re grasping at straws in this article to make a point. You can’t deny the pictures you see or the words out of scientists mouths to know that this pandemic is an unprecedented occurrence. And look up the definitions of projection, prediction, and estimate. Cooper’s people said, by your own writing, that there is a great deal if uncertainty. So their numbers were off by a few hundred at the low end. 5,123 is still a large number.
    Perhaps you should write something positive for a change. People could use some non-partisan encouragement.

  11. I just read your WSJ commentary, “Science Needs Criticism, Not Cheerleading,” and wish to pass along that your closing mention of an admonition by Prof. Staddon about feigned knowledge is echoed by the well regarded historian, Daniel Boorstin, who insightfully warned: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”

  12. Read your “Conspiracies Pass as Wisdom on the Left.” Quoting Dylan, it’s a wonder that you still know to breathe. Won’t need to pick up your stuff again.

  13. Why the Russiagate Scandal Outranks the Rest
    Great article – you nailed it!
    USA 2021 is deeply and abidingly corrupt. I have little hope…

  14. Peder,

    You need to get your head out of your cult.

    • Can you put a little meat on your insult?

      • A little more meat, WTF? He’s a member of the butterscotch cult, how does he even see with his head completely up the asshole of 45.

  15. Hello Sir –
    I couldn’t figure out how to make a suggestion on the top-ten books website, so here goes:
    Would it be possible to add another category, “Most Mentions,” or something like that? Possibly it wouldn’t differ that much from the ranked-choice listing, but I think it would be interesting. Because if someone places a book at number 10, it’s still a great honor, because they’re saying it’s one of the 10 greatest books out of the hundreds or thousands they’ve read. In other words, if I was an author and 10 people listed my book as number 10, I only get ten points, but if one person says it’s number one, I get the same ten points. I would much rather be on ten lists than only one. So a listing of most mentions might give your readers a different perspective. Thanks !

    • Hi,

      That is a great idea – though it would take some doing. You can get some idea of the answer by scrolling through the List of Books (http://toptenbooks.net/books/the-list-of-books-view) which includes the initials of each author that selected the title. The biggest point-getters, in general, also received the most mentions; there was no outlier that had 10 tenth place picks. But to your point, “Disgrace” by Coetzee has ten points (though four authors picked it) and is tied with “Geek Love” that was picked by one author. Thanks! jpz

  16. Hello J. Having loved your top ten from writers, I just want to turn you on to the four comedic novels I’ve published, and the book on the early films of Wes Anderson: https://www.amazon.com/John-Andrew-Fredrick/e/B00BZ6QN4U?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1643524743&sr=8-1

    cheers, JAF

    • Thanks – and congratulations!

  17. Hi, a question for you, that I don’t know who else to ask. Re Russia hacking 2016 election, everyone assumes it happened, but I have never seen any evidence. Best I recall was the indictment document for the 13 Russians, which had no evidentiary detail, I seem to recall it was 12-15 pages in total.
    Do you know of any real evidence or even reporting on this?
    Thank you.

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