10 Influential Books (For Me Anyway)

The right wingers, albeit some of the more thoughtful ones, are engaging in a bit of a blog meme at the moment–10 books that have influenced their world view.

Can’t let the lefties get cut out of all the fun.

Small Is Beautiful– E.F. Schumacher
This series of essays on appropriate technology, ordering production to meet human needs and eliminate the worst exploitation of capitalist markets is inspirational and closely reasoned. It’s sub-title says it all, “economics as if people mattered.” Given to me as a high school graduation gift by my first real girlfriend, it more than makes up for the horrible break-up a few months later.

Rules For Radicals–Saul Alinsky
I bought this book in college, read part of it and wondered why it was considered so radical. None of my experiences as a sheltered, suburban, political dilettante gave me any means to understand organizing and people’s movements. 15 years later, I’m a community organizer and I’m reading the book in its entirety several times a year for both its practical ideas and its passion.

World’s End– T. Coraghessan Boyle
Erudition is hip! In the fiction of TC Boyle, the words come in a dizzying array, like reading a dictionary on speed. But it’s the amazing world view and depth of feeling for characters that reels you in. I could have chosen almost any of his novels or one of his masterful short story collections, but this book was my first and still favorite. A historical novel of the Hudson Valley area–interlocking tales seen through the eyes of the residents of the same area during several different eras.

Ball Four– Jim Bouton
I grew up a baseball fan, devouring all the pulp biographies/puff pieces on the stars of the sport. In high school I got ahold of this book and, while I am still a baseball fan, the book’s expose of the fact that baseball players are real humans with real problems, contradictions and the ability to act real stupid, taught me that PR and spin are everywhere but the truth is infinitely more entertaining.

A People’s History of The US–Howard Zinn
The book that should be on every lefty’s list–the book that shows our nation’s history through the eyes of the exploited, marginalized and oppressed. The book’s whole purpose is to force people to think about their world view and to consider the viewpoints of people different from themselves.

Death At An Early Age– Jonathan Kozol
Everything I still work to change is in this book–racism, discrimination, liberal guilt, heavy-handed and uncaring bureaucracies. Liberal guilt? Try reading this as you’re just about to graduate from the area’s most privileged high school and getting ready to enter an Ivy league university.

Letter Concerning Toleration– John Locke
Who says you never learn anything in school? Toleration is the principle more central to my world view than any other. This is the argument, encountered in an early college philosophy class, for a nation’s need to respect others and that a nation will only be stronger if it carves out a space for those who may not be in the mainstream. If you want the crib notes, listen to “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone.

Adventures Of Tom Sawyer–Mark Twain
Yeah, Huckleberry Finn is better literature, more important. But this book made me a reader, a lover of books. Read at a very early age, with the help of my parents, it showed me that books open up your world–to ideas, to people, to adventure. The imagination kicked off by reading didn’t even stop at night when my parents made me put down the book, turn off the lights and go to bed. I could dream all night long.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas– Hunter S. Thompson
Look beyond the surface–the guns, the drugs, the lunacy. I read the book cover-to-cover in one day in college, soaking up only the surface. On future readings you pick up the elegance of the writing and the most heartbreaking description in modern literature of the death of 1960’s idealism.

Custer Died For Your Sins–Vine Deloria, Jr.
No single book has ever hit me as hard emotionally and intellectually. I found it in the collection of books left behind by guests at a Caribbean resort during a high school winter break. It is impossible to read this book and not look at the world differently. Why weren’t we taught any of this in school? Why has our history been, no pun intended, whitewashed?

One thought on “10 Influential Books (For Me Anyway)

  1. I read the Jim Bouton book because of my love for baseball… almost made me stop watching & playing the game. lol I also read Tom Sawyer, though more because we were forced to read it than because I wanted to read it (although I got an A on that paper so I didn’t hate it so much). A much younger “me” would have read A People’s History of The US if I’d known about it; I think those days are in my past.


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