The Influential Books Game

Everyone’s making a list of ten books. Tyler Cowen started it. I caught up via Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times.

The drill is: stream of consciousness, from the gut, no great research, off the top of your head, what ten books most influence your world view.

Like almost everyone I cheated by adding more than ten, but I was legit by just dashing off the list from near term accessible memory. It’s the only way to do it, if you sit and think for long the list can run on for a hundred pages.

Most Influential Books

  1. “The Western Heritage of Faith and Reason” – Bewkes and Keens – It was once, long before I got there, a required text at St. Lawrence University, and a bedrock of philosophical deconstructionism. Reading Bewkes was the first time I learned the historical underpinnings of things presented to me as religious faith. I’ve been looking under the covers of superstitions ever since.

  2. “The Fountainhead” – Ayn Rand – Read just after I found Buckley’s “Up from Liberalism,” Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” and Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” After Rand I realized why I was always queazy with the collectivism of our time.

  1. “Richard III” – Shakespeare – I was trying to be an English Lit major in undergrad. R3 was the reason why. “Twelfth Night” was a close second, and then all that other stuff he wrote.

  2. “Moby Dick” – Herman Melville – As they say in Brooklyn, “That whale is out there, man!” Rough, bumpy, gritty, sea water swelling, storms crashing, obsession, pursuit, discovery, disaster.

  3. “Catcher in the Rye” – JD Salinger & Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale” taught me about great writing, and kept me going until I found DeLillo’s “Underworld”. This was after I read McInerney’s “Bright Lights Big City” and said, “so that’s what second person is for…”

  4. “Consilience” – Edmund O. Wilson – My Bio-Harvard-pHd-nerd lover turned me on to it and changed my view of perceptual reality. (get it?)

  5. Foucault – Various – Knowledge is power, and knowing you’re an outsider makes all the lines drawn around this place very clear.

  6. “Bird By Bird” – Anne Lamott – Sure I lived in Aristotle’s “Poetics”, and Forester’s “Aspects of the Novel”, and Woods’ “How Fiction Works”, but being very personal here for a moment, it was “Bird By Bird,” a Christmas gift from a writer relative (who was published no less!) that flipped the lights on for me about WTF I was supposed to be doing all the day long while I wrestled with the blank page.

  7. “A Theory of Justice” – John Rawls – I came to Rawls after reading a lot of Hannah Arendt (and falling in love with my marxist political philosophy professor). Reading Rawls, it was as if Jefferson was walking amongst us again (and was probably why she dumped me).

  8. “Ulysses” – James Joyce – Don’t you wish you had the nerve to put “Finnegans Wake” on a list like this? But the reality is Ulysses opened my eyes to existence as Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” opened my eyes to the individual. The sweet daily odor of humanity, living a day, loving a day, sometimes being crushed by a day.

Bonus Points:

  • “The New Journalism” – Tom Wolfe – Even brilliant people don’t grok (had to fit Robert Heinlein in someplace) that the news is no longer about the facts, it’s all about the narrative, and facts are like Christmas tree ornaments, some get used, some don’t. Wolfe explained to me why people like Naomi Klein can make stuff up, like most of “The Shock Doctrine,” get it published, and have it considered journalism.

Just to prove this is not just liberal bashing I almost included E.P. Thompson’s “Making of the English Working Class,” and Gutierrez’s “Liberation Theology” in the list above. These two works were profoundly thought and perfectly grounded, adding embarrassment to the current politico-intellectual print being produced today. They shaped many of my views on development, as did Hirsch’s “Social Limits to Growth,” and Alen Blinder’s “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts,” and Ludwig von Mises….

…see this list thing can get out of hand quickly…

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One Comment

  1. Dan Yeomans
    Posted April 7, 10 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Nice to hear what books were important to someone. I’ll look at nos. 1 & 9, which didn’t ever call out before. Unlikely to pick up Ayn Rand, but it’s true I’ve never read her.

    Since I’m here, a friendly word for “Influential” not “Influlencial” (2nd title) and “grok” not grock.

    Cheers, D

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