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Influential Books

Matt Yglesias posts a list of books that have influenced him.  I shall do the same, nonexhaustively, in no particular order.

  • Wendell Berry, What Are People For? — I could really list any of Wendell Berry’s books of essays, but I’ll list this one because it’s the first book of his that I read.  Berry’s assessment of the dangers posed by our modern way of living to many of the things that I find profoundly valuable is persuasive convincing.  I think that everyone, ultimately, has to have a political philosophy, and Berry comes closest to anyone I’ve read to describing mine.
  • Gavin DeBecker, The Gift of Fear — I’ve been lucky enough to have lived a fairly safe and mundane life, that for the most part has been free of fear.  So, luckily, much of how I like to handle threats and danger, I learned from this book.  Plus, Gavin DeBecker tells you exactly why local TV news really sucks.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings — Despite what China Mieville says, this is a great story and it will outlast all of us.  I’ve read it about ten times, but I’ve been rereading it throughout most of my life, so it’s possible that I’ve lost count.  When the day comes to assemble an army of minions at my compound, I’m naming that compound RivendellEven Mieville might understand.
  • Various, The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories — Back in the 1970s, when Carter was in the White House, I was reading a lot of Hardy Boys books.  Sometimes four in one day.  Specifically, I’ve read all of the first 58 books plus The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook (the “Hardy Boys canon”) in their 1959-1973 revisions.  Maybe I love to read because of the Hardy Boys?  It’s possible.  Baffling, but possible.
  • Ferdinand the Bull

    Ferdinand the Bull

    Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand — Why am I such a sucker for creatures?  I don’t know.  Why am I not a neoconservative?  Because neoconservatives are catastrophically stupid, of course, but how do I know that? There are a lot of books from my childhood that may claim responsibility for some of these traits of mine, but this one is surely one of the most influential.

  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition — I read this during my senior year of high school on the recommendation of my favorite teacher, and I’ve now read it almost as many times as I’ve read The Lord of the Rings.  If any single thing is responsible for my decision to study political philosophy in college, it’s this book.  My choice of college major, in turn, has been hugely consequential.  I doubt I would have gone to law school otherwise.  Hell, medical school might have seemed a lot less attractive to me had I not been insulated, on account of writing a thesis on Hannah Arendt, from the icky, obsessive, preprofessional premed culture in college.  Even if that’s all it ever did for me, I’d still be grateful for having read this book.

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