Books That Changed Your Life

 

bookThe other day someone on Ricochet mentioned Viktor Frankl and there’s no way I can see his name without thinking of his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning. His book had a deep influence on my life and how I have lived it. And then I realized it would be a powerful personal objective to not only identify a couple of other books that have made a difference in my life, but to think about “why” and “how” they had influenced me so profoundly. So I’m going to share two of my books and I’d love for you to consider sharing one or two of yours:

As I said, Frankl’s book had an enormous impact on me. Having survived the concentration camps, he determined that it wasn’t superficially obvious why some people survived and others didn’t. He finally realized that if a person had no hope or plans for his future, at some point he would simply give up and die. But if a person knew in his heart that he had more to do, that he hadn’t fulfilled his mission, whatever that might be, he survived. One of Frankl’s most famous quotes is, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Frankl inspired me to make a difference in the world, in whatever way I could.

The second book that had a major impact was Elie Wiesel’s, Night. I can’t even think about the book without feeling both devastated and inspired. I assume that you might know of Wiesel and his time in the concentration camps. What both weighed on me and filled my heart was his determination to survive that last, long, impossible walk in the snow, as the Nazis essentially forced a death march. To begin to imagine the fortitude that a human being can have in the face of incalculable odds is to be humbled and blessed.

I could list other books, but these are the two that are “up” for me. Resilience, fortitude, and wisdom in the face of the insurmountable are the characteristics of books that I am drawn to. They are difficult to read, impossible to imagine, but they inspire me to face whatever life presents.

Do you have one or two books that changed you? Inspired you? Since many of you may identify the Bible or Torah, consider identifying a specific book within those sacred tomes that changed your life. Once you identify your life-altering book(s), will you tell us about the reasons they influenced your life?

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Man’s Search for Meaning has had the greatest impact on my life of all the books I’ve ever read. What is most significant to me about that book is that Frankl wrote it thirty years after he left Auschwitz. He didn’t want to open that door again, but he did so for the sake of his patients in his Boston practice. He realized that his patients were dealing with dehumanizing belligerent people in their daily lives, and it was destroying them.

    Interesting point: Lady Diana, Mother Theresa, and Viktor Frankl died with days of each other. Make of that what you will. :) :)

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  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN: I could not stop shaking when the Nazis forced him to throw his manuscript in the fire. I had to put it down for a few days. Kill me but not my work.

    I remember that part! I, too, could not imagine such horror. And then he had the determination and resolve to re-create it. I didn’t know about those who died around the same time. Quite amazing. Thanks, Marci.

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  3. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Such an amazing man and such an important book.  This is how it begins in the dedication:

    “I dedicate this

    to all of those who did not live

    to tell it.

    And may they please forgive me

    for not having seen it all

    nor remembered it all,

    for not having divined all of it.”

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  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Concretevol:The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Any comments on your reasons for choosing that one, Concretevol? It was an amazing book, but it was so horrible to imagine that I’m sorry to say I couldn’t get through. Maybe I’ll try again.

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  5. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Susan Quinn:

    Concretevol:The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Any comments on your reasons for choosing that one, Concretevol? It was an amazing book, but it was so horrible to imagine that I’m sorry to say I couldn’t get through. Maybe I’ll try again.

    It had such an impact on my thinking about Communism/Socialism and the political Left as well has humanity in general.  The book to me is more than an account of what happened in the dark of the Soviet Union.  It is a moral outcry for everyone that was swallowed up.  It is one book that was/is a force of good vs evil.

    In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.

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  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Concretevol:

    Susan Quinn:

    Concretevol:The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Any comments on your reasons for choosing that one, Concretevol? It was an amazing book, but it was so horrible to imagine that I’m sorry to say I couldn’t get through. Maybe I’ll try again.

    It had such an impact on my thinking about Communism/Socialism and the political Left as well has humanity in general. The book to me is more than an account of what happened in the dark of the Soviet Union. It is a moral outcry for everyone that was swallowed up. It is one book that was/is a force of good vs evil.

    In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.

    Thank you SO much for following up. You expressed your choice beautifully. And with all the talk about Marxism and socialism, we might all benefit from reading it now. Now I feel compelled to go back.

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Walter Miller’s post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.  A deep book; it is categorized as SF but is really theological/philosophical fiction.  A couple of passages:

    “The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they became with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier to see something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.”

    “To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.”

     

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  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    also from A Canticle for Leibowitz:

    That’s where all of us are standing now, he thought. On the fat kindling of past sins. And some of them are mine. Mine, Adam’s, Herod’s, Judas’, Hannegan’s, mine. Everybody’s. Always culminates in the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by the wrath of Heaven.” 

    “Children of Merlin, chasing a gleam.  Children, too, of Eve, forever building Edens–and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same.”

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  9. She Member
    She
    @She

    This might be a slightly different take on the question, but I have to say that the first time I read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, was the first time I was struck by how little people have changed over the intervening six hundred years, and how really good literature (or, as some of my more effete professors would insist on saying, “Lit-er-a-TOOR”) can make an immediate connection back through the ages for you, and show you the universality of the human condition.  There are lots of other examples of this in what used to be called the ‘literary canon,’ (when it was a good thing, and when everyone was expected, simply as a matter of course, to read most of it), but I have to say that when what passes for literature these days (which mostly consists of people feeling sorry for themselves and reading their own bumps–my mother had a rather more indelicate turn of phrase for it), I pretty much gave up on the field.

    I’m sorry Casey’s given up Ricochet for Lent, as per his annual custom. He usually has really interesting answers to questions like this.

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  10. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    Since you started by naming an author, Victor Frankl, I’d like to work this from that angle.

    The inspired authors who contributed to the Bible

    the early Church fathers

    CS Lewis and GK Chesterton with many noteworthy books between them

    Scott Hahn with many noteworthy books

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his histories (the Gulag Archipelago series) and his fiction

    Tolstoy but with a consideration: He could make wallpaper sound interesting, but he disliked a lot of his characters.  I could not read for two to three days after finishing one of his books.  I had to let his dislike of people dissipate before picking up another book

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  11. OldDan Member
    OldDan
    @OldDanRhody

    From the Bible, Jeremiah: a first-person account of a man specifically burdened by God to deliver bad news to a corrupt, decaying culture that wouldn’t listen to him.  It reveals a very personal relationship between God and the man, and it carried me through a difficult period in my own life.

    White Shadows in the South Seas by Frederick O’Brian (1919):  Not a travelogue, it is the account from a keen observer of humanity of an extended sojourn among the people of the Marquesas Islands and ultimately his reflections on the devastations among the population resulting from the culture shock of encounter with Western civilization.  Brief quotation from his reflections:  “…changes in the customs of every race must come from within that race or they will destroy it.  The essence of life is freedom.”

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  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David Foster: “To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.”

    Thank you so much, David. Dark, indeed. But can speak volumes to our current conditions.

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  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She: I was struck by how little people have changed over the intervening six hundred years, and how really good literature (or, as some of my more effete professors would insist on saying, “Lit-er-a-TOOR”) can make an immediate connection back through the ages for you, and show you the universality of the human condition.

    Indeed. That answers the question perfectly (since I’m asking people to connect in whatever way speaks to them). I thought of Casey, too.

    • #13
  14. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    For me it was the Playboy magazine I found in the woods at the age of 12. I have never gotten over those intellectual articles. Well then again maybe it was the pictures.

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    PHCheese:For me it was the Playboy magazine I found in the woods at the age of 12. I have never gotten over those intellectual articles. Well then again maybe it was the pictures.

    Why am I not surprised?  Was that in the wilds of Worshington Cahnty?

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  16. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    She, no it was Alligeny Cahnty but close to Worshintin.

    • #16
  17. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Ayn Rand’s novel We The Living, which I read as a teenager, gives a good feeling for how dreary day-to-day life is in a bureaucratic, totalitarian society. I discussed this book in the context of present-day American political issues here: Life in the fully politicized society

    • #17
  18. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Borrowing from another thread:

    Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer is a wonderful sorta-companion to Man’s Search for Meaning. Both are incredibly perceptive, brilliant, and short works about psychology that really open eyes.

    Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.” It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?

    I only read it last year, but Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit is simply an astonishingly good work on economics and anthropology, and I desperately wish I had read it 15 years ago. Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist is a sort of pop-sci reworking of some of the same arguments and worth it in its own right.

    If we had deliberately built, or were consciously shaping, the structure of human action, we would merely have to ask individuals why they had interacted with any particular structure. Whereas, in fact, specialized students, even after generations of effort, find it exceedingly difficult to explain such matters, and cannot agree on what are the causes or what will be the effects of particular events. The curious task of economists is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

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  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David Foster: I discussed this book in the context of present-day American political issues here: Life in the fully politicized society

    It’s a very thoughtful and thought-provoking essay, David. You might need to shorten it, but if I were you, I’d consider posting it on ricochet. I think the whole idea of the politicized society is well worth discussing. Thanks!

    • #19
  20. Glenn Inactive
    Glenn
    @Glenn

    Milton Freidman’s “Free to Choose”.  Great writing – made economics interesting, changed my view from the Keynesian that was pushed at my University at the  time.

    • #20
  21. Painter Jean Member
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    “Confessions” by St. Augustine. It struck me how unchanged human nature is, despite the “chronological snobbery” (as C. S. Lewis termed it) that I had unconsciously adopted.

    • #21
  22. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Man’s Search For Meaning is also on my list, as well as Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  Both helped me understand what it means to have convictions and live by them.  I also love a little book by C.S. Lewis called The Weight of Glory, but I love anything by C.S. Lewis.  Great thread–I’m looking for books to read on my kindle while on vacation!

    • #22
  23. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it: Human, All too Human, by Nietzsche. What a goldmine of psychological, cultural, and aesthetic observations. The book showed me that the man was, like all great thinkers, nothing like what people–especially his supporters–make him out to be.

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  24. Barkha Herman Inactive
    Barkha Herman
    @BarkhaHerman

    @Susan Quinn:  We did a series on this last October with great success; my entry here:

    http://ricochet.com/october-series-books-we-the-living/

    The book was we the living.  Changed my life, details in the article.

    @David Foster:  we have to meet some day.

    • #24
  25. Beatrice Campbell Inactive
    Beatrice Campbell
    @BeatriceCampbell

    No serious adult book (fiction, biography, or autobiography) has ever changed my life, but many have armed me with good, solid information (i.e. facts and educated analyses) and reinforced my core political beliefs. Influence only occurs with experience.

    Oddly enough, my favorite childhood book Harriet the Spy written by Louise Fitzhugh in 1964 not only changed my immediate life but actually got a grade-schooler into some trouble with the police! I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t read it to their kids, but I loved it so and still do to this day. It’s truly a great conservative book in that it celebrates the individual.

    Harriet was the Ayn Rand of her generation.

    I recently re-read it and its charm has yet to abate. :)

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  26. Milt Rosenberg Contributor
    Milt Rosenberg
    @MiltRosenberg

    So we all agree that there is a lot of evil out there which hurts you–and, in fact, even more stupidity,  almost equally malificent. Frankl, Weisel and even Augustin do, indeed, offer wisdom about how to survive all that.

    So does Stephen Potter in his great “comic” works: Oneupmanship, Lifemanship, etc. His approach, in the mode of “ilegitimati non carborundum” is to turn the tables on them. To be sure, that won’t work well on a Nazi death march (though, in a way it did for Weisel)

    but it will for the overbearing “expert” who has just returned and is explaining the  folkways of the  Brobdignangians. The devastating oneupsmanship response is, of course, “but surely not in the south!”

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  27. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    The only book that changed my life is the Bible.  Within the Bible, the Gospel of John.

    In our culture, this probably sounds like the most conventional answer.  But the Bible in general, and the Gospel of John in particular, may be the most outrageous and unconventional books ever written.

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  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Barkha Herman: @Susan Quinn: We did a series on this last October with great success; my entry here:

    As a newbie to Ricochet,I worried that it might have been discussed and I missed it. It sounds like a different but intimate take on how an author can change our lives. Thanks for the further reference.

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  29. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Concretevol:

    The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    This was one for me as well.  “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and this book together were like chapters of a single book making clear the nature and methods of the progressive movement in its early-middle stages of implementation.

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  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Beatrice Campbell:Influence only occurs with experience.

    Oddly enough, my favorite childhood book Harriet the Spy written by Louise Fitzhugh in 1964 not only changed my immediate life but actually got a grade-schooler into some trouble with the police!

    I love that–sounds like Harriet was a real adventurer! Thanks, Beatrice.

    • #30
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