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Books that dramatically changed the way you think

rousseau

Contributor
Books which, after you read them, made a huge impact on the way you viewed the world

A few of mine:

The Letters of Adam Hope

This is a book that was put out in a small batch by a Canadian publisher. It's a collection of letters written by a Scottish immigrant to Canada in the early 1800s. The light switch that went off for me when reading it was how important the correspondence between Hope and his family was. Counter-intuitively, it was actually one of the aspects of his life that he cared about the most. It really shed a light for me on how prominent communication is as a part of the internet and information age. In other words, one of the main things to emerge out of the internet is communication with higher efficiency. Probably a sign that this is what people really care about.

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

No particular perspective came to light when reading this, it's just world history on a macroscopic scale done really well.

Paul Johnson's 'A History of Christianity'

Just another good history on a topic that's very relevant to the world around us today.

Hume's Treatise on Human Nature

Specifically his idea that learning new information about an object changes our definition of the object.

Link to thread.
 

SLD

Veteran Member
Serge Lang’s: Calculus of Several Variables

Hyyam Maccoby’s: The Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity. First planted the doubts in me that it was all bullshit.
 

DrZoidberg

Contributor
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, twice. First as a teenager. Second time as an adult.

Perhaps in the future I will realise I misunderstood everything again. Who knows
 

Wiploc

Veteran Member
Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell: He said the Christians (or theists, whatever) had no case, zero. That somehow hadn't occurred to me until then. I thought their arguments were outweighed by better arguments, but this book made me realize that they have nothing at all. You don't need a good argument to counter a terrible argument. To beat a bad argument, you don't need anything at all.

The Prince, Machiavelli: I came away from this book believing that you are responsible for the predictable results of your choices. (That's not very clear. After reading The Prince, I thought that if you could stop a murder but you didn't stop it, then you were guilty of murder.) Before that, I thought one might plead innocent by saying, "I didn't do anything. It wasn't my fault." But afterwards I would have felt responsible, morally obligated, to shove the fat man on to the tracks in the trolly problem.

I'm not saying I would still shove the fat man onto the tracks today -- but the title of this thread isn't "Books that permanently changed the way you think."
 

Politesse

Sapere aude
There have been quite a few. I read a lot of books and under the right circumstances, have a malleable mind. A few that drift to the top:

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which made me realize while I was young that I wasn't the only person like me.

Mark Dowie's Conservation Refugees, which did more to poke holes in my overly pristine inherited notion of liberalism than many works actually intended as straightforward polemics.

Anna Tsing's Friction, which redefined the potential of ethnography in my mind, and helped push me into cultural anthropology over my then-major in archaeology, though it was not my only influence in that regard because

Roy Rappaport's Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity also pushed me in that direction, in part by forever redefining what I understood religion to be, on a fundamental level.

Thomas King's The Truth About Stories, which contains what it says on the tin and helped me understand just what I'm supposed to do in the classroom.

The NAB Bible, for helping me re-see a book I'd been raised on as though it were a teat, with a new and more contextual eye.

Yusuf Ali's translation of The Holy Qur'an, as it was the first holy text I had ever mastered outside my own tradition, and helped me understand what ties them all together.

Alan Richardson's The Magician's Book of Correspondences, which helped me graduate from an acolyte to priest as a practitioner of magic, and taught me that fear is the last thing you should fear for its own sake.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson  Metaphors We Live By

Howard Bloom The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates

Sean M Carroll Something Deeply Hidden

Peter Frankopan  The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Since others have been saying what their books led them to understand, I'll also take a shot:

Lakoff and Johnson: How the mind builds up more and more abstract conceptual models through analogy and metaphor, and how linguistic expressions provide evidence for that process.

Bloom: Basically, how Aristotle showed that the identity function served to explain abstract thought processes--i.e. how it always requires one to ignore differences in order to recognize abstract categories. Also, an awful lot about how reality works in deterministic chaotic systems. But this book is so much more than that.

Carroll: How MWI makes good intuitive sense, and how the concept of quantum entanglement helps to explain it. And without resort to a lot of mathematics (basically just the Pythagorean theorem).

Frankopan: That the fulcrum of world history was neither the East nor the West, but the Middle--i.e. the struggle to control the hub and crossroads of international trade: Parthia/Persia/Iran.
 

prideandfall

Veteran Member
On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony

read this when i was 10 - it's just a YA sci-fi novel but its world-building involves christian concepts (satan comes out in public and gets into advertising to tempt more people to sin), and while reading the brain my 10 year old brain "yeah if god and the devil actually existed this is totally how it would be in the real world"

that thought was basically the wedge that was pounded into the faultline of my casual christian upbringing and by the time i'd finished the book i pretty much had completely shed belief in god or the supernatural in general, and the underlying lesson - the test of whether the claims made by the religious are easily refuted by simple observable reality - has been the backbone of my agnosticism ever since.
 

Shadowy Man

Veteran Member
On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony

read this when i was 10 - it's just a YA sci-fi novel but its world-building involves christian concepts (satan comes out in public and gets into advertising to tempt more people to sin), and while reading the brain my 10 year old brain "yeah if god and the devil actually existed this is totally how it would be in the real world"

that thought was basically the wedge that was pounded into the faultline of my casual christian upbringing and by the time i'd finished the book i pretty much had completely shed belief in god or the supernatural in general, and the underlying lesson - the test of whether the claims made by the religious are easily refuted by simple observable reality - has been the backbone of my agnosticism ever since.
I hope you then went on to read the entire series. It wasn't clear to me that when he started writing On a Pale Horse he intended it to be a full series, but I did enjoy the rest of the series.
 

Cheerful Charlie

Contributor
Martin Gardner's "Fads And fallacies In The Name Of Science". The wonderful world of pseudo-science, loons, kooks and frauds. As a 13 year old, it warped my mind good. It gave me a truly good bullshit detector. And made me a life long kook watcher.

Robert Ingersoll - "Some Mistakes Of Moses". Taught me how to read the Bible. All the contradictions, grotesque tales of murder, massacres and genocides. Bible stupidities and nonsense. With a great sense of humor about it all.

Thomas Paine - "The Age Of Reason". Another classic. More close examination of Bible crudities, lies and bull doo doo. At a young age, taught me how to look for nonsense in the Bible.

Will And Ariel Durrant - "The History Of Civilization - 11 volumes". These gave me a great introduction to history. History is weirder and more interesting than cheap science fiction.

William L. Shirer - "Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich" At a young age, gave me a great read on the rise of Hitler and the start of WW2 in Europe

Stanley Milgram - "Obedience To Authority" I read about this in Scientific American and got the book. Learned a great lesson. Don't get tricked by authority figures. I still think this book is scarier than all horror novels put together.
 
I wish I could remember the name of the book that I read in high school written by a holocaust survivor that survived Auschwitz.

That's when I began to question the idea that we live in a world created by an intelligent deity.
 

Wiploc

Veteran Member
Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, and/or Cannibals and Kings:

I was raised conservative. I think one of the above books was probably significant in changing that. It (whichever) said that Europe had lots of tiny kingdoms because the rain fell on everyone alike. And Egypt was one huge kingdom because it took an organization that big to harvest the annual flood.

My insight, if you want to call it that, is that, in a modern economy, wealth doesn't rain on everyone alike. Wealth ought, to some extent, be shared rather than hoarded by those in control.

Sim City:

This was a computer game, not a book, but it also influenced my politics.

- If you make an area nice for people, more people come until the area is no longer nice.

- If you raise taxes too high, you will stop your city's growth. People won't move in to a high-tax area. In fact, if taxes are high enough, people will move away and your city will go as empty as if Godzilla had stompted it flat.

- If you don't keep taxes high enough to pay for police and fire (and Godzilla suppression, in some versions of the game), then crime (including arson) will gut your town, and people will move away for that reason.

Insight, such as it is: A high tax rate isn't the worst thing you can do to a city.
 

laughing dog

Contributor
I wish I could remember the name of the book that I read in high school written by a holocaust survivor that survived Auschwitz.

That's when I began to question the idea that we live in a world created by an intelligent deity.
Maybe it was Night by Elie Wiesel? Not only did I have the same reaction, but it helped me realize how truly evil people can be.

To Kill a Mockingbird - As a young teen, it opened my eyes to the notion of "walking a mile in another person's shoes:".

Black Elk Speaks - The simple composure and matter-of-factness of this Native American's life story helped me realize the importance of having a life centered around strong values.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - helped me understand that culture and society influence economics and vice-versa.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
For fiction, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground might apply; or poems by Poe or Apollinaire. They remind me I an not alone. :HEADBUTT:

I Googled to find three lists of "100 greatest non-fiction books" to remind me of some titles. (Is Waiting for Godot non-fiction? I didn't read it, but saw the film.) The lists had several books I'd recommend but they weren't revolutionary in the sense of this thread. (Some that were revolutionary I never read but learned about second-hand via excerpts or reviews.)

So I like my own favorite non-fictions better than those "Greatest" lists. I've already recommended some of those titles in other threads.

But one non-fiction which stands out is Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It took the worlds of psychology and anthropology by storm when published 45 years ago but now is widely viewed as debunked. But I disagree with any "debunking"! His ideas are fascinating, revolutionary, and supported by much evidence. Where Jaynes confused his critics is by mis-stating or exaggerating his conclusions. (For starters, he speaks of "Subjective Consciousness" not "Consciousness" and should have kept that modifier in the title.)
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
. :HEADBUTT:

I Googled to find three lists of "100 greatest non-fiction books" to remind me of some titles. (Is Waiting for Godot non-fiction? I didn't read it, but saw the film.) The lists had several books I'd recommend but they weren't revolutionary in the sense of this thread. (Some that were revolutionary I never read but learned about second-hand via excerpts or reviews.)
...

I literally did this; The three lists were Library, Time, Guardian. I selected good books I've read, enjoyed and think highly of.
I didn't reorder the lists at all; just threw away every unqualifying book (mainly books I hadn't read). Yet the order I rank these is that untampered-with ordering or something very close to it.

A dozen books turn up. Thirteen if you deem Waiting Godot to be Nonfiction.

THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB
by Richard Rhodes

THE RIGHT STUFF
by Tom Wolfe

THE SECOND WORLD WAR
by Winston Churchill

CADILLAC DESERT
by Marc Reisner

SIX EASY PIECES
by Richard P. Feynman

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond

A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking

The Making of the President 1960
by Theodore H. White

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Waiting for Godot (pronounced /###do#/) is a play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for someone named Godot. Godot's absence, as well as numerous other aspects...

Life on the Mississippi is a memoir by Mark Twain detailing his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before and after the American Civil War.
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the traditional name for the unfinished record of his own life written by Benjamin Franklin from 1771 to 1790; however, Franklin himself appears to have ca...

I'd especially recommend the first three. (1) Making the Atom Bomb is a great history of not just every phase in in the development of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki devices, but also a great overview of the historical development of atomic physics, of the interface between government and science, of important personalities like Oppenheimer and Szilardand much more. One thing I learned from this book is that Sir Ernst Rutherford was possibly the greatest experimental physicist ever (the honor is usually given to Faraday) Neils Bohr considered him a father and was grief-stricken by Rutherford's death.

Didn't Tom Wolfe also write (2) Bonfire of the Vanities and I am Charlotte Whatsername? Strong candidate for 5th greatest American novelist ever, behind only Twain and three of Hemingway/Steinbeck/Faulkner/Chandler/Whoever. AND appears near the top of this Nonfiction List! Yes, I must include Wolfe's writing on any short list.

It should go without saying that if you're only going to read a single history of (3) The Second World War — by several measures the costliest endeavor ever attempted by mankind — it should be the same-named book by Winston Churchill. Negotiating with Stalin and Roosevelt, he was an "insider." He was the only one of the three aware of the Ultra Secret. (True?) And His Nobel Prize was in Literature; it would be absurd NOT to read him. I don't claim that his is always an accurate and impartial look — "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.") — so feel free to consult other sources in addition.

ANY of these Books might have come at a certain time to Wake Me Up! What if I'd watched Waiting for Godot at a young age? For someone else, the timing could have been more fortunate. Perhaps there were books which strongly affected my social development, but they don't come to mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'll stick with the insight into human cognition that Jaynes found, as a great idea, as a book which illuminated myself and others. Without Jaynes it's unlikely this idea would have come up. And well-written; and which book I would strongly recommend. (I've already admitted to using Jaynes' ideas for some of my posts in Religion threads.)
 

Bomb#20

Contributor
It should go without saying that if you're only going to read a single history of (3) The Second World War — by several measures the costliest endeavor ever attempted by mankind — it should be the same-named book by Winston Churchill. Negotiating with Stalin and Roosevelt, he was an "insider." He was the only one of the three aware of the Ultra Secret. (True?) And His Nobel Prize was in Literature; it would be absurd NOT to read him. I don't claim that his is always an accurate and impartial look — "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.") — so feel free to consult other sources in addition.
You're reminding me, a book* that dramatically changed the way I think was Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Highly recommended.

(* In four volumes)
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
You're reminding me, a book* that dramatically changed the way I think was Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Highly recommended.

(* In four volumes)

Great book. I recall learning from his thorough account of the English Civil War. One memorable quote suggests that Churchill had his own approach to historical fact:
Winston Churchill said:
[The legend of King Arthur] is all true , or it ought to be ; and more and better besides.
 
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