Your Most Influential Book(s)?
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Which book(s) made you do something you wouldn't have done before? It could be anything, from getting yourself a pet to quitting your job.
I'm sure it would be interesting to see your answers, seeing that you come from different countries and are of different age. :)
I kept a quote from Voltaire's Candide in my office cubicle for a few years. It helped me quit and sell my home and travel to 20+ countries, which changed my life and ended up landing me in a new home thousands of miles away from my previous one.
I read a book by Tom Hopkins called Selling for Dummies which launched me upon what was to be a decade long successful career in Sales.
But in terms of fictional world, which I think is the thrust of the thread, I imagine I cannot look by The Lord of the Rings. For sheer depth and scope of adventure and grandeur, this is the book that I have cherished since I first read it, and have done so many times since.
I think mine was Walden, by Henry Thoureau, which I first read when I was 17 (now 66). "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away." It has led to my wide reading, my diverse book collection, and finally, my solitary house in the woods in the mountains of Colorado.
I think it's got to be Michael Lewis's Moneyball, which I read as a 16-year-old and took me from being a sports fan and put me on a course to being a professional sports analyst (and now journalist/editor).
Considering I never bothered to read a book until I was 25; I would say Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It has no special meaning, other than it gave me an interest in a topic that led to an interest in moral/humanity, and triggered me to read what is now an uncountable number of books.
I'd have to say mine was Vicente Blasco Ibañez's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. After graduating from school, that was the first book that I chose to read purely for fun, and it proved to me that such a thing was indeed possible. It started me on a long journey.
Oh i have a Walden cabin, and live right next to nature, so everything about that solitude found in the woods are inheritated on me, and there is a Japanese quote i believe, this will be missquoted, but goes something like this; `If you live and work in nature, you don`t need to read philosophy` : I`ll put it up here when i find it, and don`t take it literal, or do, but i don`t, but it has something in it.
Nature books: Helge Ingstad. Helge Ingstad is my `Walden`
“Og tror du det var ensomt å ferdes slik alene
Der skog og tundra sprer seg krevende og vill
Da feiler du min kjære,
for det er blant mennesker at ensomhet blir til.”
`and you believe it was lonely to travel so alone, where woods and tundra spreads itself demanding and wild. I so you are wrong my dear, for it is amongst humans loneliness becomes`
Late teens, my gotoguy for philosophy and motivational quotes were mr. Bruce Lee (and he had a huge personal library, though probably not larger than some of you people) .. i was training a lot, and did not read much classics at that time. Jane Eyre and me at that time did not go so hand in hand as they do now, so i saved those i did not read during schooldays (i read the usual suspects) - so, i have some catching up to do - too many books, so little time.
Modern times, probably `Sapiens` and `Quiet` from the last decade - comercial, i know, and `Snorri` is probably the closest i come to a bible (the, know where you come from or hope you do part in ancestry is important to some degree)
What most of these books have given me (and every other book i have read, because everyone of them have offered something, and they still will) can probably sum up into `know yourself better` which we all know are good in every way. When knowing yourself better, you do things more your own way, and to read books when many around you don`t, well knowledge is power, use it wisely.
It`s impossible to read a book and not learn at least something
The first books that changed my perspective on books themselves were the Dragonlance Chronicles and The Martian Chronicles. I read today because of those books.
The only book that's truly been life changing for me however(it is a cliche) is the Bible. It literally changed my life and has altered every perception and belief I have. I read it daily 12 years on and gain wisdom and insight progressively through it.
>10 Sorion: I love reading the Bible. It's just beautiful, transforming and when I don't read it for a long time, I truly miss it. The Bible have a lot of influence on me. Every time I reread Bible, I always see something new that I missed previous times reading it. Love seeing paintings from Bible stories too, whenever I go to Europe.
"Man is free the moment he wants (chooses*) to be."
*slight difference in interpretation based on the translation
Reading The Hobbit when younger was a revelation, as until then reading was a chore which had to be done like brushing your teeth or doing your shoelaces. It never occurred to me reading might be something I chose to do for pleasure. Without it I might not love books like i do.
More recently, The Selfish Gene made me think about our place in the world like no other book. We're lucky to be here, and with tiny changes in history we certainly wouldn't be here, and there is no meaning to life other than what you make of it.
>13 Uppernorwood: The Selfish Gene made me think about our place in the world like no other book. We're lucky to be here, and with tiny changes in history we certainly wouldn't be here, and there is no meaning to life other than what you make of it.
Now that is something I can wholeheartedly endorse.
Completely agree with you. Such love, truth and wisdom throughout Holy Scripture. I especially love the OT books of wisdom, the Gospels and the epistles.
>16 fiascoborelli: Yes, a very nice book. A cute, obtainable book. If one believes in those characteristics from Jung, it is easily explained, it`s not heavy and academic. I don`t think it`s up there as FS material though, books from Carl Gustav Jung to supplement Freud`s `Interpreting Dreams`, would be more down FS`s alley. A book like `Quiet` would need some giants shoulders to stand on, but give it some years`Sapiens`could be someday. It reaches a broader public and if the reader wants more information on the themes that is brought up, there are plenty of FS books that could supplement and do that job.
I have been fortunate enough to love books from an early age and I vividly remember a primary school teacher reading Enid Blyton stories to us. If I had to choose the most influential book then it would be The Lord of the Rings, not so much for the text, as for the realisation that I could read long "adult" books, as the beginning was read to us by our first secondary school English teacher and I read it myself shortly thereafter, my Dad having borrowed it from a colleague.
There were few "young adult" books when I grew up, so it feels as if I transitioned from Enid Blyton Famous Five to Alistair MacLean and Wilbur Smith via The Lord of the Rings within a year when I was eleven.
However, as >9 Pellias: says, it's impossible to read a book and not learn at least something. Although I found it too detailed, Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325 is probably my most fascinating read so far this year.
I read Pride and Prejudice when I was 15 and it really opened up the world of classic literature to me. Before that the only things I read were Archie comics and Nancy Drew books. I thought the classics were all dry and boring, but Pride and Prejudice was so funny, I started dipping my toes into other great novels.
>18 CarltonC:, Swallows and Amazons as well?
On a personal level, the most influential is Anna Karenina.
On a professional level, Kernighan and Ritchie's 'The C Programming Language" is a beautiful book. I read this by early in the 80's and have come back to it many times. For bit heads who need to program as close to the hardware as possible, this is still as good as it gets.
Probably my most influential books were David Copperfield, Jane Eyee and Wuthering Heights. I always loved reading, but these were the first “adult” books that I read and they started me on a love for reading, particularly 19th century lit...I would have done my PhD had there been any stable employment prospects on the horizon.
I'd only read under duress from school or in pursuit of specific information until the humourist Frank Muir presented a half hour radio programme on Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, somewhere around the start of the long summer holiday just before I started university. Fortunately for my subsequent development as a human being the town library was able to provide me with Burton's three volumes, one after another: I'm sure they will have been discarded long ago to make way for something more relevant. Thanks to the Anatomy my first week at Durham found me rummaging through second-hand books and equipping myself with Hermann Peschmann's 1930-50 anthology The Voice of Poetry and Herbert Spencer's The Data of Ethics, and the following three years were largely spent pursuing assorted lines of interest in areas of the university library bearing no relation whatsoever to the Applied Physics with Electronics course which was the ostensible reason for my being there at all.
It would have to be Stephen King's "The Eyes of the Dragon". It's not the best book ever written, or even Mr. Kings best book ever.
Before that book, I had no interest in reading. I was more interested in watching movies than reading books. I judged the book by its cover, (it had dragon scales embossed on the front and looked really cool). Of course, I'd heard of Stephen King and thought I might give it a go. I couldn't put it down and it opened up my mind and imagination like nothing before. That was decades ago and now I can't stop reading.
>20 sdawson: Tried Swallows and Amazons, but after I had moved on to thrillers and science fiction, so I had unfortunately outgrown them.
Inspired by Mr.Uptonogood (Uppernorwood) and Mr.Glenn. One `Selfish Gene` comming up. I am also bringing with me some Lucky Luke and Asterix magazines in case of emergency (to the cabin) ..
Great introduction by Michael Dirda in East of Eden bytheway, but as with any FS book, never read the introduction beforehand. Honorable mention to the best main antagonist in a story in a while / looking forward to watch the movie again someday after so many years
Delighted to have been of service. You must tell us what you think of it.
Non-fiction: A People's History of the United States and the Heimskringla
Fiction: The Lord of the Rings for getting me through the dark Second Age (my adolescence) after the golden First Age (my childhood) and the rewarding Age of Men/Third Age. Also, Leaves of Grass. Thank you for being there my whole life, Walt.
>18 CarltonC: >27 jveezer:
The Lord of the Rings for me also... I received a book token as a leaving gift from my primary school and bought the Hobbit. I immediately splurged on the LotR and have never looked back. Life changing and life-affirming.
Non-fiction would have to be About Black Holes by Isaac Asimov. I ordered it from the Scholastic Book Club when I was 7 and it blew my mind. It's a tiny book that somehow managed to fit in an incredible amount of easily-digestible facts that made complete sense for a young mind contemplating the Absolute. I am still weirded-out by my memory of the picture of the astronaut getting his spaghettified legs sucked into a very small black hole (hence the extreme tidal effect) or the earth as the size of a pea in my hand (if it had the density of a neutron star). I'll also never forget how to pronounce Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar as the phonetic pronunciations were helpfully included in parentheses; I used to enjoy rolling the sound of the words around my bedroom...
For me it were The Gadfly by Ethel Voynich and The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin. I was about 10 or 11 years old and these two books have definitely sparked my interest in reading. I read every Dickens' novel afterwards and started reading classic sci-fi like Bradbury and Asimov. The Lord of the Rings got me into fantasy for a while, but that was a rather short period. I don't actually remember which book has brought me back to my avid reading in my late twenties...
>18 CarltonC: Hey, that sounds like me!
Nothing too influential really for me as an adult, but as a younger person definitely the Famous Five books and then Lord of the Rings in high school.
I remember one of my earliest breakthroughs in life. It was 1958 and I was five years old. It was too wet to go outside at lunchtime. We were parked inside with our reading books - in my case, Old Lob. (He was a farmer, since you ask.) For half an hour I puzzled in silence over one word. It had an apostrophe in the middle of it and I just could not think why. The word was won't - and then suddenly the penny dropped.*** I never looked back after that iconic moment.
My primary school was in an old Victorian mansion and the "library" was a large bookcase in a large but rather dark hallway. Rummaging about, peering at rows of dusty tomes in the gloom, was an adventure in itself. It was here, after devouring the usual British diet of the time of Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Biggles* over many months, that I came across an unassuming book in blue cloth boards. The spine leaned alarmingly - always a sign that a book was good. The Riddle of Randley School** by Alfred Judd (1927) did not disappoint and for sheer excitement relegated Enid Blyton to the bottom shelf.
My next reading revelation came when I was exploring my next door neighbour's spare bedroom bookshelf (with permission, of course!).*** I picked up Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome and asked to borrow it on the strength of a chapter called "Signalling to Mars". I was momentarily devastated when I started reading and discovered it was actually metaphorical, but Ransome's magic quickly compensated and excelled and I didn't rest until I owned and had read them all. I still re-read the whole canon regularly - I'm on Pigeon Post**** at the moment.
I came to The Lord of the Rings around 1965, recommended by a schoolfriend. I'd never heard of it before (or of The Hobbit) and it was a revelation. As an impressionable twelve-year-old, I almost dared to believe the Red Book of Westmarch really existed. The breadth of imagination and the sense of aeons of history underpinning what appears to be a relatively small part of a much bigger story was overwhelming. Fifty-four years later, and after much more background reading on Tolkien, northern mythologies, folk tales and languages, my initial admiration has only increased.
Adults are less impressionable (more's the pity). I can't honestly say that any book read as an adult has changed my life, thinking or outlook in quite the same way as those early landmarks. Many books, of course, stand out as particularly good and/or enjoyable, but in a quiet, more measured way. Time in History***** by G. J. Whitrow made me think about history in a different way. The Treasure of Auchinleck and later, Pride and Negligence: The History of the Boswell Papers, while describing a gripping real-life literary detective story, renewed and consolidated my life-long interest in Boswell and Johnson - and led directly to by far my biggest single outlay for a set of books to date: the 18-volume-plus Private Papers of James Boswell from Malahide Castle in the Collection of Lt.-Colonel Ralph Heyward Isham.***
* Greatly underrated in my opinion - I've started re-reading them with renewed enjoyment - James Bond without the sex.
** Touchstone defeated.
*** I think I've told this story before. Please yawn appropriately.******
**** Winner of the first Carnegie Medal in 1936.
***** ". . . the evolution of our general awareness of time and its significance from the dawn of history to the present day. . . . the way in which changing concepts of time have influenced history itself."
****** In fact, I think I've probably told all these stories before.
>31 boldface: In fact, I think I've probably told all these stories before.
Maybe so, but with no diminution of charm, Jonathan. And now I'm going to have to try to find The History of the Boswell Papers at a realistic price.
HG Wells' The Time Machine: I first read it at age nine or 10, and it opened up vistas both of imagination and human possibilities that have never closed. It remains the only book that I have re-read many times over the 60+ years intervening.
Steppenwolf for fiction.
Salvatores Dei by Kazantzakis on philosophy.
For non-fiction "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian James
These books pushed me towards adopting a mind philosophy closer to Buddhism and taught me, contrary to popular belief, that absolute perception comes when one is not thinking.
absolute perception comes when one is not thinking.
I'll have to think about that!
I think one has to have thought at one point, in order to perceive in another?
I got myself a St Bernard after reading Cujo.....Only kidding ! The first books I remember reading as a child were Treasure Island, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, and War of the Worlds - at probably 10 or 12 years old. I then got into Stephen King and James Herbert, then stopped reading for a while and then when I was 24 in 1992 I picked up Dracula and that was the start of my love for Victorian fiction proper. I have never read a modern novel since - well, post 1930 anyway....
My experience as well, I felt drowned in boredom by modern fiction and Dracula lifted me from the doldrums. I may have given up fiction altogether had I not read it. I do own a few, The Exorcist, The Princess Bride, I am Legend, and Tolkien but the rest of my purchases, even Folios are gone or going. Pre-1930 is not my bag.
The one book that set the tone for my life is Red Storm Rising, far from fine literature. It was Clancy's followup to Hunt for Red October, and imagined a WWIII in the mid 80s. I must have read it 10 times from the ages of 14-17.
It never would have occurred to me to volunteer for submarines otherwise, and my career has been shaped by the choice.
Ah, Old Lob.
Sighs, 'spin me back down the years ... '*
I read any amount of Enid Blyton, plus Biggles, Paddington, Mary-Mary, William Brown, Jennings, Doctor Who, and many others. It's difficult to say how much any one of them influenced me although they must have done so. Watership Down made a big impact but I'm not sure how conscious I was of its deeper message at the time: I certainly struggled to explain it to my peers.
I bypassed Arthur Ransome and Alfred Judd somehow. Too late now?
Somewhat later, and I may well have said this before ('I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress ... '**), Hitchhiker happened. At the time, I think I just thought the books were hilarious but, in hindsight, and underneath the jokes, Adams slipped in a lot of serious stuff about science, philosophy and politics which definitely had an effect.
Tolkein and Lovecraft were important about that time, too.
As an adult?
Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid combined music, art and mathematics in a fascinating way. It stimulated many lines of inquiry.
Gormenghast was fantasy with a depth of character and imagination that was utterly its own.
And Neil Gaiman's Sandman reintroduced me to comics and awakened me to the fact that they had moved on a bit since the Superman and Spiderman nonsense of my childhood. This was serious stuff with serious themes.
I've probably missed loads out, of course.
(If you've only got room for one King Crimson album? Discipline. :-) )
>41 Cat_of_Ulthar: (If you've only got room for one King Crimson album? Discipline. :-) )
Oo-err coincidence. I've read that having put away "Discipline" and moved onto "Red" in the last five minutes or so. What are you doing in my room?
(Yes. "put away" implies it's an actual CD as opposed to this streaming malarkey).
I think I might have to go and get 'Red' off the shelf now.
I also listen mostly via silver discs but the online links are handy for sharing my obsessions with others :-)
I would bike to the library as a young lad to choose my weekly books from the closely selected section for grade school children. However, with care I could casually go around the corner and sneak some Leaves of Grass. That confirmed my suspicion that I was being deprived.
I used that same trusty bike to get to see the film "East of Eden" and finally satisfied the craving to read the book.
>41 Cat_of_Ulthar: That is my only King Crimson album (vinyl updated to CD), purchased from hearing Matte Kudesai on the radio. I am more of an early Genesis and later Steve Hackett listener.
Great reading the replies from you all! I knew this would be an interesting thread!
(i) I'd always read small books because my grandmother was a pre-primary school teacher. Then, I moved on to "proper" books when I started reading Cadichon's Life Stories or Enid Blyton's Famous Five. Afterwards, there was the craze for Harry Potter books when I was just starting high school. Naturally I grew up reading those.
(ii) Then there was a void in my reading life. I'd read John Grisham's books occasionally, but they always left me feeling 'meh'. When I studied English Literature in my last years of high school, I came across The God of Small Things, a book that left me all stirred up. It was unlike anything I had read before. Then, when I finished high school, I didn't feel grown up enough and felt something was lacking. So, I went online and looked for more books like The God of Small Things. I always knew about Kafka, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but I was always scared that I might not be mature enough for their books. But, hungry for more feelings and unique stories, I took the jump. That's how I ended up reading classics and modern classics, all of which being as unforgettable as the other.
(iii) At the end of my university years, I managed to secure a finance internship. I was pretty excited as it allowed me to buy things here and there. But the feeling soon dulled away. Every day seemed to be the exact same day. At the time I wasn't reading much, but I did pick some books to pass the time. Among those, Watchmen blew me away. That's when I knew I had to change field and do something more exciting with my life.
The first thing I can remember reading as a kid was Kipling's story “The Cat Who Walked By Himself” I think it probably did a lot to make me a lifelong admirer of cats, and also more generally to value independence of mind above other things.
>26 folio_books: Well yes, bytheway finished `Selfish (immortal) Gene` here the other day. A lot of reviews on goodreads so not going into that, but fun sometimes and "fun" other times, enlightening somewhat still even after all these years, and sometimes a little bit tidious sometimes with some of the, x,y, etcetc but relevant for the hypothesis by all means .. one of those books i read, and probably come back to someday to find a referance or something .. i "have to" anyway, didn`t read the end notes yet .. it`s a classic, it has stood the test of time (every FS book has, haven`t they only some more than others) ..
Will read `The blind watchmaker` next, someday down the line ..
Very glad you enjoyed it. And yes, I'd recommend The Blind Watchmaker as a complementary future port of call. I like Dawkins very much. In my opinion he's better sticking to the science, which speaks for itself, than when he allows himself to get distracted, as with The God Delusion. Possibly his best-known book. Probably his worst, imo.
I was also struck by Walden. A captivating read. Not the last book on nature and man from the US that I have taken to. Me being my favorite I think.
Only sad to see the way the Sierra Club has gone, diminishing somewhat Muir's enduring influence.
Kafka started his career in finance - insurance he used to work for soc gen.
And perhaps more well-known, Kafka then became a lawyer. A job he did to be respectable, but one in which he hated with tremendous fervour. Eventually he gave it up to write full-time.
Regarding the 'x,y stuff', its tricky balancing act, as Dawkins was also criticised for over simplifying things.
In particular the probability modelling is crucial to understanding evolution. Much of the misunderstanding of it is rooted in a misunderstanding of probability. "How can an animal randomly grow wings etc".
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