LibraryThing recently asked the question in one of their groups: What Books Have Changed Your Life?
That’s a good thinker. I don’t know about “changed”, but some have certainly influenced. Life changing may be a bit much, but paradigm-shifting or point of view changing? Sure!
First should be Lester del Rey’s The Runaway Robot. One of the first “real” books I owned, I was nine years old in 1970 and that book turned me on to science fiction and the innumerable possibilities of imagination. Four years later, a teacher suggested I read The Lord of the Rings, and that added high fantasy to the shelf. I spent more time in the 1980s and 1990s reading fantasy than science fiction, but I come back to it as much now as fantasy. del Rey’s Time Tunnel was another that helped start me.
I can add Jonathon Livingston Seagull as an influencer, but not in a positive way. I was 11 and in sixth grade and we had to discuss the “meaning” of the book as a class and I didn’t get what some of my classmates were saying. The negative was that I thought something was wrong with me. The adult me knows that my brain isn’t wired that way – I don’t see meaning in a Pollack painting, nor in so many symphonies. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them…I do. So, a David Foster Wallace tome is just noise to me. Austen writes stories. Melville? Human condition? Uh…okay. (Plus I this some people just make u[ stuff…)
In 1993 we pulled our oldest child out of first grade in Staten Island, NY (stationed there in the military). Unheard of at the time, but we started home educating. Tried public schools again 18 months later in California and threw in the towel on the failed experiment of compulsory education after two more years. Never went back (and our youngest two’s first experiences in a crowd class were in college classes.)
John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling was extremely influential. When the New York State Teacher of the Year quits in mid-reign because after 30 years he can no longer take being forced to create mindless followers… We met and talked at length with him in California. Animated guy. Had some “out there” theories on the conditioning of students to comply, and had some axes to grind, but he’s really not that wrong.
I liked science in high school and early college; history was for others. Then, as part of our home education journey in the late 1990s, I read James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and I realized the stuff of “history” growing up in New England was largely white-washed fiction. And that was just the start. Woodrow Wilson made the world safe for democracy (his words, not mine) but his world didn’t include Central and South America and the Caribbean, which we invaded and puppetized. Nor did his world include the marginalized people of color, who found all of the desegregation progress wiped out under him. And so much more BS our high school textbooks are spewing to those mindless followers (no, not all, but too many).
Paul Johnson’s Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (Eighties in my edition) taught me the value of two bookmarks and endnotes…and to be suspect of any nonfiction that doesn’t have citations! David McCullough writes nice histories, but without cites…they’re just stories passed on.
Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science was a serious game changer. The godfather of skepticism helped me refine, educate, and focus healthy skepticism, how to filter BS, and how to civilly tear down and deconstruct the nutjobs I chose to evaluate (or are shotgunned unsolicited along with ad hominems in a unsocial media thread.) Check your sources, and check those sources. If I choose to have heroes, he would be one. And I am always stunned at his access to obscure texts in a day long before an interweb connected everyone.
Other books of some influence include James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (crowd sourcing wins) and L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around (excellent empowerment book!). Marquet’s is more surprising and refreshing because rare is the military officer who thinks like that. Surowiecki demostrates that an educated average
Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael (for one line in particular: “…and finally man appeared…”; that was a paradigm shifter as well.) The Bible might be on the list, because once I actually started reading it, there were too many questions the experts couldn’t answer. James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter gave me two of the best lines ever written: “Science does have all the answers. The problem is that we don’t have all the science.”
That’ll do for starters. What books have influenced you?