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ninwa's avatar

What book out there have you read that really has changed the way you perceive the world?

Asked by ninwa (125points) May 3rd, 2011

I want to know what books the collective has read that has had a large impact on the way they think. A book that you began reading as one person, and ended reading as another. I know for me one of the books I’ve read in this vain was a self-help “quit smoking” book (Allen Carr’s EasyWay.) I know it’s somewhat benign, but it transformed an aspect of my thinking.

I’m hoping the collective knows books a little more profound (whether philosophically, or in whatever manner). In fact, I know you all will.

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39 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

Qingu's avatar

Nonzero by Robert Wright. Changed me from a pessimist to a (cynical) optimist about the trajectory of human history.

Judi's avatar

In Jr High I read George Orwells Animal Farm and it had a profound effect on how I view the world. Other honorable mentions are Huxleys Brave New World and CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

Cruiser's avatar

Reading Blink allowed me to have implict faith in my instincts over people I meet and interact with. No more second guessing my gut feelings anymore.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Veronica Decides to Die by Coehlo
Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar
Master & Margarita by Bulgakov
Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer

Allie's avatar

@Rarebear I’m reading that now.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Social Determinants of Health by Michael Marmot
Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau

adr's avatar

Definitely definitely definitely: The heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Allie Man, they hammered the Marmot book into us in grad school – like ham-mered, over and over. Now you wonder why I think what I think.

Allie's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Yeah, I read it in school as well. I’m glad I did, because otherwise I might never have found it. Unequal Childhoods was from the same seminar class. I loveddd that class.

gene116's avatar

It may not be as cerebral as some of these other suggestions that I now have to go out and read, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Actually, a fellow flutherer turned me on to it. Cheers!

Mamradpivo's avatar

“Guns, Germs & Steel” changed the way I understand history, geography and other cultures.

Allie's avatar

I just have to say that I love this question. I’m adding so many books to my reading list. GQ, @ninwa! =]

TexasDude's avatar

@gene116, the book that has influenced me the most out of any is hardly cerebral at all. It’s a young adult novel called The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Other than that, I can think of a few that tend to follow the intellectual trend of other jellies:

The Way of the Sufi by Idries Shah and Religion in the Making by Alfred North Whitehead both helped me develop my religious philosophical views.

TR: The Last Romantic by H.W. Brands inspired me to strive to live the “strenuous life” like my hero, Theodore Roosevelt.

and finally, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand inspired me to not be ashamed of my own talents, which was an issue I actually struggled with for a long time when I was younger.

I’m sure there are more, but these stick out the most in my mind.

wundayatta's avatar

When I was a tween, I read, Follow My Leader, a book about a boy who goes blind and learns to train his own guide dog. It is the only book in my life that I have read over and over and over. I’m still not sure, to this day, why it meant so much to me. Maybe it was about stupidity and learning how to live a life a new way, and learning how to live as an alien. I don’t know. I think it taught me about empathy and understanding of others without judging. But these might just be modern lessons transposed to back then.

The other book I want to mention is a YA novel: Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. In a way, this novel taught me skepticism—how not to make assumptions about things that you cannot see. Extrapolation is a perilous exercise. It might help, but it is always possible that just because this side of the house is white, the other sides of the house are another color.

KateTheGreat's avatar

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

One of my favorite books to this day. It changed so much for me.

Judi's avatar

Should have mentioned two from Grade School that molded my heart. The Underground Railroad. (a story about Harriet Tubman) and The Peanut Man (about George Washington Carver. )
I grew up in the ‘60’s and the schools were not teaching about civil rights yet. My dad gave me these books and they really made me an advocate for justice and equality.

snowberry's avatar

In the Days of Poor Richard by Irving Bacheller. It’s politically incorrect, and out of print. If anyone is interested in this, don’t bother if it’s been abridged.

It includes historical information that is never taught in history books. That information was derived from newspaper accounts, diaries, and personal letters by and about people who lived through the American Revolution.

What did it do for me? I realized that the folks who fought and lived through the Revolutionary War were no different than I am, and that heroic deeds are often performed by people just like me. And that miracles still are possible.

Begeara's avatar

Lord of the flies

Carly's avatar

Catcher in the Rye

“If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” great line if you understand the context

fundevogel's avatar

Honestly, in this day and age it’s rare for me to have paradigm shifts from reading books. Not because books aren’t significant or insightful, but because some other form of media (Fluther amoung them) has already brought these things to my atention and forced me to reevaluate my position long before I even got to the book on them.

I’ve read a bunch of really insightful books and have a lot of admiration for authors like Bertrand Russell and Baruch Spinoza, but it wasn’t through their books that I first embraced their ideas. As such the last book that really shifted my perception of the world was The Power of Babel by John McWhorter. No doubt because it’s focus is narrow enough that I hadn’t stumbled on to it else where.

I expect it is a good thing that these ideas are escaping their bookcovers. It means they will spread faster and further than if they were firmly encased in their bindings.

Rarebear's avatar

@KatetheGreat How did TGD change you?

gene116's avatar

LTQ….love the question!

fujivelo's avatar

fight club (yes, yes there’s a book too…)

KateTheGreat's avatar

@Rarebear I was at a time of wondering whether god was real or not and when I read it, it finally put that skepticism to rest. It helped me erase much of the religious bullcrap that I was fed as a child.

I don’t wish to delve into the details because I know we do have a lot of religious people on this site. I hate getting in debates on the subject.

jellyfish3232's avatar


I’m pretty sure that it’s “Hawkins”, not “Dawkins”.

starsofeight's avatar

Two, actually—the Bible, and The Books of Charles Fort.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@jellyfish3232 Nope, I am indeed right. Richard Dawkins is a famous evolutionary biologist that wrote the book “The God Delusion”.

augustlan's avatar

Lord of the Flies (read as a child, and it stunned me).
To Kill a Mockingbird (my favorite book of all time, Atticus Finch taught me what it means to be a good person).
East of Eden influenced the way I think about myself and my friendships.

dxs's avatar

“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; lurve to @augustlan

Rarebear's avatar

@KatetheGreat I haven’t read TGD. He is a wonderful writer, though. I just got “The Greatest Show on Earth” and it is fabulous.

KateTheGreat's avatar

@Rarebear I love his books. I’ve read every single one, been to his conventions, and even met him in person. He’s definitely a huge inspiration to me.

adr's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, I just read Master and Margarita, and although I enjoyed it very much, I did not feel that it significantly changed anything in my outlook on the world.

This could be because I’m sure I did not catch about 99% of the hidden meanings/references. Although, since I am living in Moscow right now, it was pretty cool to read.

The only part that stuck with me was from the end when Pontius Pilate was finally leaving his place of limbo to follow that moon beam up into (heaven?) and his dog was going with him. Satan at that point said something about how when a being truely loves someone (as the dog loved Pilate, and as Margarita loved the Master) he/she will share his/her fate.

I am curious as to how it affected you.

adr's avatar

@fundevogel, You said you like Bertrand Russell… I’m reading his History of Western Philosophy, and some of his chapters seem dead on (like on Hume), but others (like on Nietzsche) were just awful. Like he’s completely missed the point.

I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Russell or not. Could you shed some light?

(I did however love Logicomix, a comic following the life of Russell and the search for the foundations of mathematics)

fundevogel's avatar

@adr I haven’t read the History of Western Philosophy and as I understand it Logicomix is a rather poor characterization of him. I like Russell for his unswerving championing of reasoning, his rebellion against sexual taboos and then there’s the fact that he’s just plain fun to read. He’s not unlike Mark Twain in my opinion. Of what I’ve read of him I’d recommend Unpopular Essays and Marriage & Morals, some of it is dated, but they’re still interesting reads.

I’m aware of his dislike of Nietzche’s philosophy, but haven’t read it yet and don’t plan to until I’ve read some Nietzche. I don’t suppose you could recommend a starting point for that? On the other hand I can love the way he manhandles Hegel without subjecting myself to Hegel. Maybe that makes me a bad person but I am not a glutton for punishment.

adr's avatar

@fundevogel, I’ve only read Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche for I was told that it was a good place to start. I think it was. And the thing to remember about him, is that he is trying to be provocative. People are always quoting his comments where he insults women and jews, but the thing is, he says WAY worse about men and christians. And most of the time, he’s just trying to get a rise out of people, he’s trying to stir shit up. Russell pretty much just writes Nietzsche off as a chauvinist lover of violence, and I completely disagree. But see for yourself!

fundevogel's avatar

@adr Thanks, I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I start reading him. Do you know the reason he acted as a provocateur? Was it a response to something in particular?

adr's avatar

@fundevogel, I had someone explain it to me like this:

did you ever know someone who would say things to you that would make you CRAZY like “oh, look at the way you just went out of your way not to step on that bug – you’re such a HUMANITARIAN, oh, you must think you’re so SPECIAL NOW! but we BOTH know you only did that to make yourself feel GOOD about yourself for being such a NICE, ETHICAL person. HA! you’re so selfish, who do you think you’re fooling? we both know deep down you’re really just an ass hole.” and you HATE that guy but you LOVE that guy because he’s just pressed ALL your buttons, and the worse part is that he’s RIGHT about most of it!? he actually somehow UNDERSTANDS YOU, and he’s not afraid of you. he calls you on it. but of course, he’s making the effort becuase THAT GUY REALLY LOVES YOU TOO.

that guy is Nietzsche.

fundevogel's avatar

@adr lol, good description.

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