Books that Changed My Life (Repost)

I saw a posting recently by someone who described the books that changed their life. In an era of complete and total connection to TV, Internet, and Radio I thought the idea was excellent. If you haven't been reading books, I highly recommend that you take some time and head down to your local library to check them out.

Keep in mind, I rarely read books in school. After 5th Grade, I preferred to spend my time playing sports, building Legos, and screwing around. I could "get by" on Cliff's Notes, classroom dialog, and other 3rd party accounts of books. I've finally taken a liking to reading, so this is a good time to share my list of books that changed my life in chronological order of my first reading them.
  1. Night by Elie Wiesel
  2. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  3. The Myth of Sanity by Martha Stout, PhD
  4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  5. The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan
  6. 1984 by George Orwell

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel has been criticized for this book and his continued vocalization of his experiences in the Holocaust. Personally, I don't agree with the criticism. Open, honest, and constant discussions of humanities failures are necessary to prevent them from recurring. Regardless of your stance on his speaking out, Night is a book that you must read remembering that it is not a work of fiction, but a true story. This book is Elie's account of his time in Auschwitz. It is very hard to digest.

I read this book as a high school senior. At that time, the only struggles in my life were with girls or with my parents. At times, those problems would have me a little down. After reading Night I began to see the glass half full quite a bit more.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Albert Camus was an atheist, arguably a nihilist. This was my in depth run-in with the philosophy of Nihilism. For me, the story boiled down to a man being sentenced to death for not crying at his mother's funeral. Sure, there's a lot more in the book, so go read it. There's certainly a part of me that connects with the main character. The inability of society to cope with a person who experienced emotions differently than them was especially striking. The character Camus presents exhibits patterns of someone classified as a "sociopath." This was also my first experience with abnormal psychology, which is something that I even to this day, completely enthralled by.

The Myth of Sanity by Martha Stout, PhD

I finally began studying psychology via in late 1999. Prior to that, I was too busy not doing anything productive. The Myth of Sanity is almost a scientific paper, except it gets way too personal. No doubt, papers have been published by the author on the subject, but this book is a look into the experiences of a psychologist working with patients suffering from Disassociative Identity Disorder (previously classified as Multiple Personality Disorder). The storytelling in the book gives a very human and simplistic look into the amazing defensive capabilities of the human mind. If this book taught me anything, it's that we know so very little about the potential of our most valued possession, our mind.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Having been a good Catholic High School student, I contemplated the existence of God and often questioned the logical implications or reality distorting mechanisms of the dogma. I never received any answers beyond "have faith." As a child, I had faith. As I grew up, I learned that meant "have faith in what these people are telling you." I also discovered that people are dirty, rotten, liars. So I began to wonder how a book (the Bible) that was written so long ago could be verified to be accurate. I also began to learn about how even the Justice System no longer trusts eye-witnesses are credible evidence. People lie, or people's senses lie to them. Even in large groups, people are unreliable as evidence.

I decided to buy a copy of this book while in Texas (oh, I got a dirty look). All the questions I asked were answered with references to peer reviewed papers and ongoing research with plausible hypotheses. The experience of understanding the world as a purely natural environment devoid of any and all mysticism is akin to experiencing the world where any and all things are mysticism. It is fantastic. Seeing everything as a process of unrelated, complex interactions over exhaustively long periods of time makes every second that much more amazing.

Does anyone have all the answers? Of course not. This doesn't mean that you should stop looking or discount science because the only alternative it to make shit up. Admitting you don't know the answer is one of the most important qualities I look for when interviewing new candidates for jobs. Science doesn't know all the answers, but at least it provides the methods to derive them, and the motivation to keep looking.

If you have questions and you've read the Bible attempting to figure it out, you're doing yourself an injustice if you don't look to science as well. Check out The God Delusion.

The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan should be required reading for all school children. At the very least, you should read the short story "The Dragon in My Garage." The rest of The Demon Haunted World is equally as alluring and wonderful. Since reading this book, I've latched onto Carl Sagan's works. He was what we needed, and still need today. His primary objective was to bring the joy and wonder back to science. He was a brilliant proponent of science education, and an adamant dissenter of the Regan Star Wars program that he felt would ultimately lead to the destruction of life on our planet.

Sagan is unique in his enthusiasm and childish wonder for science and all things science. He admits that he desperately wants to believe in UFO's and alien visitations, but the evidence for those occurrences is horribly lacking. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Nothing can be taken as fact without evidence, regardless of how bad you want it to be true. I highly recommend all of Sagan's works. If you haven't seen it, The Science Channel reruns Cosmos fairly regularly and it's definitely DVR quality material.

1984 by George Orwell

At the time Orwell wrote 1984, it was a far fetched warning to future societies on the dangers of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, most of the warnings have been ignored. The UK has long since crossed the threshold of this disturbing proposed future. The United States is on their way, if not through mechanisms described in Huxley's Brave New World (on the list to read). I read this book while traveling through the US's airport system from Maryland to Boston, MA and back. The sheer irony was haunting.

Anyone in the field of Information Security, Politics, or Public Service should have to reread this book every year. There are a number of elements in 1984 that struck me. On several occasions Orwell describes the perfect citizen of his distopian reality to be a balding, fat man who sweats profusely. This was striking considering the obesity epidemic in the US. Additionally, the invention of New Speak as a language that attempts to flush out the means to form rebellious thought by making it impossible to vocalize it. This is censorship at it's extreme. Another striking feature was the how often the Party referenced the War as a reason to sacrifice minuscule personal liberties. I've heard this exact logic from the White House.

I really liked 1984 and regret not reading it when it was assigned in High School. I could write a term paper on the relevance to Information Security, Public Policy, and the "Democracy" of the United States. Probably several papers.

el fin.

This originally appeared at my blog.

Views: 18

Comment by Liam on February 1, 2009 at 2:11pm
I reread 1984 recently and I was amazed at how relevant it is for today. The neverending and non-existant war in the book is an exact paralell for the War On Terror.


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