There’s a meme that went around Facebook about the 10 books that had the greatest influence on you, and my friend Brian asked for mine. I’m sure I left one out that will cause me to slap my forehead and go, “How did I forget that!”. But these ten books made a lasting impression on me, for which I am incredibly grateful.
Fooled by Randomness – Nassim Taleb
I was blown away the first time I read this, and along with The Black Swan, Nassim’s writing and analysis allowed me to move my inherent iconoclastic nature (read “tendency to be a dick”) from just being petulant to having some intellectual heft. It impressed upon me the need to challenge conventional thinking; and also why the “conventional” thinking is the “conventional” thinking even when it’s incorrect. On a practical level, it helped me understand why the numbers game in sales didn’t actually make sense, but why it was still worth using as a motivational tool (and that’s important to know when your job is to motivate salespeople).
Hardcore Zen – Brad Warner
How could I not like a Zen book written by a white guy from Ohio who played in a punk band and worked on Godzilla movies? Besides being an interesting and modern take on Zen (you can only read so much from the medieval monks…), I was very intrigued by how his Buddhism interacted with the very real-world issues of his day-to-day life. The fact that he is American also gives his approach to the Dharma more accessibility to me, because the cultural underpinnings of the practitioner influence how we approach out practice, and sometimes Asian Zen seems a little otherwordly.
The Four-Hour Workweek – Timothy Ferriss
I hated busywork in school. When I read this as a young professional, it was the first time I had read an argument about why busywork (low-value activities) is anathema to success- and making no apologies for it. It was also the first book where I distinctly remember thinking, “This chapter is great, but this one here is crap.” I was actively engaging with the author’s ideas and deciding whether or not I wanted to agree. I also learned how to do the most important activities first thing in the morning from Tim – a tool I still use.
Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille – Steven Brust
I’m not sure why, but this book is the first time an author conveyed melancholy to me. Not sad, sappy melancholy; but the real melancholy brought on by the realization that life has its joys and with them its corresponding pains. I totally didn’t see the end coming, and I still tear up when I re-read it. I won’t lie, though, I want to play in an Irish trad band that hops across the galaxy in a time-traveling pub (or maybe I’ll just open my own Cowboy Feng’s someday).
The Art of Possibility – The Rosamund and Ben Zander
“It’s all invented.” “Remember Rule #6.” “Give everyone an A”. I can’t think of a book that has more ideas bubble up into my daily life. When you aren’t sure why some of the social norms you see are social norms, you read “it’s all invented” and everything makes a lot more sense. That was invaluable for me. It made me more understanding of people with different perspectives – I realized they had simply invented a different worldview. And it helped me understand that I could take an active part in creating the world I lived in by changing my perspective.
Count Zero/Neuromancer – William Gibson
I know these are two books, but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better and well, dammit, it is my list and I’ll do what want. I first read them in highschool and I was blown away by William could make prose move fast, and his imagery continues to be poetic to me. His characters were all so real and fantastic at the same time – and they went beyond the hero/anti-hero dichotomy into something much more nuanced and real. He would later be quoted as saying, “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” These books were my first glimpse into what the future could be and what issues I’d wrestle with.
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
I read this early on when I was trying to wrap my head around what spirituality means to me. It started a little corny, and there were a few eye rolls in the first chapter. But as I kept reading, it just made so much sense. It still remains one of the clearest explanations I’ve found of the emotional effects of the unspoken contracts we make with ourselves and those around us. Even though he’s a Native American shaman, his work feels very Buddhist to me and I find it one of the easiest ways to contemplate the idea of living with intention.
Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Gilbert
When we look back at the book trends of the 1990s and 2000s, it will be very apparent that it was a time perfect for scientists who could take the research being done in universities and tie it into our daily lives. I could have just as easily put down books by Ariely, Gladwell, or Levitt. And I love them all; because even when I don’t think they are always spot on with their analyses, I think it’s important to ground our understanding of how we operate with the research of the day. I especially liked Stumbling on Happiness because I have an overactive mind, and I think too much about trying to be happy and making good choices. At least now I have some scientific underpinnings to my search.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I’m not sure if I hated injustice before the 8th grade… but I sure did afterwards. I was so mad during the courtroom scene when I knew that Tom Robinson was innocent. And then I remember being scared when Scout was running through the field at the end of the book, and feeling profoundly sorry for Boo Radley. All of these emotions from a book! It showed me the power of literature to teach and of story-telling in general; a lesson that I have tried not to forget in my professional and personal life.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I read Adams over and over again. He’s my version of a Saturday afternoon movie. And years later I still find myself laughing out loud at a part I forgot about. I didn’t realize it when I was teenager reading it for the first time, but Douglas found this rare place to hang out – he knew that there was so much pomposity and ego in life, and yet he found it infinitely amusing and worth to engage with. He could have been a cynic but instead he became enthralled with people and life. My friend Jeff once say to me, “D., you’re like the Ford Prefect of our group.” It was one of the proudest days of my life.