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. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

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

    Although a Jew, I’ve read the gospels and especially appreciated the Gospel of John: a deeply spiritual and poetic man with an important message. Thanks Arizona.

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  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Milt Rosenberg: 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!”

    It sounds intriguing, Milt. Thanks!

    • #32
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: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.

    Awesome suggestions. I am especially curious about Hoffer’s book. Along with several others, it’s on my list. Thanks, Tom!

    • #33
  4. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Susan Quinn:

    Awesome suggestions. I am especially curious about Hoffer’s book. Along with several others, it’s on my list. Thanks, Tom!

    Wonderful. The other thing I didn’t mention was that it’s just a hair longer than Man’s Search for Meaning (both are under 200 pages).

    • #34
  5. Beatrice Campbell Inactive
    Beatrice Campbell
    @BeatriceCampbell

    BTW, I’m not certain any book should change your life because it is never written by a human being such as ourselves. Many authors’ experience/motivations have nothing whatsover to do with mine.

    Books are always important, however, because of the history they dissect and analyze and to which they give perspective.

    I read over 200 books a year and yet to have had a life changing relevation.

    • #35
  6. James Jones Member
    James Jones
    @JamesJones

    The Gulag Archipelago is a great choice. I read it and its sequels at 22 and it was quite eye-opening.

    I’m slightly embarrassed at this remove to admit that Atlas Shrugged is one for me (I was 13-14 when I read it, and impressionable).

    In a very practical way, the CRC Handbook of Mathematics probably changed my life. I won a copy back in middle school for some mathematical feat or other (I can’t recall exactly what these days) and while I was already a math guy, I spent many hours looking through it and trying to figure out what all the weird symbols and equations meant.

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  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Beatrice Campbell: BTW, I’m not certain any book should change your life because it is never written by a human being such as ourselves. Many authors’ experience/motivations have nothing whatsover to do with mine.

    I see your point, Beatrice. I think that having read Frankl’s book at a young age, when I was especially open to influence, was powerful. I think, too, that the changes that happen can happen over time, since we all change as we grow and mature, and we may not be aware of the intersection between what we’ve read and what we choose to do. Finally, for me, learning and practicing Buddhism had a very deep impact. In fact, I think ironically it brought me closer to G-d in a way I’d never experienced. So it’s not like any one person or belief caused me to change to be like them, but helped me grow in unexpected ways, perhaps (as some say) to become more of who I am. I hope that makes sense.

    • #37
  8. OldDan Member
    OldDan
    @OldDanRhody

    James Jones:

    In a very practical way, the CRC Handbook of Mathematics probably changed my life. I won a copy back in middle school for some mathematical feat or other (I can’t recall exactly what these days) and while I was already a math guy, I spent many hours looking through it and trying to figure out what all the weird symbols and equations meant.

    Yeah, similar experience for me.  For college homework I used to write papers, etc. first because that was work, saving the mathematics for last because that was fun work.

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  9. Bradley Ross Member
    Bradley Ross
    @BradleyRoss

    Bonds that Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner. Reading the book (and the subsequent conversations with friends about the material) has made me a much better husband and father. The key insights of the book sound so simple that many people dismiss the book as overly obvious. Yet most of the people I know, including me, frequently fall into the trap of seeing other people as tools to be used or obstacles to be overcome. Just learning a vocabulary for talking about the problem goes a long way toward ameliorating it.

    With good literature, it is the work we do in processing it alone or in groups that lastingly shapes us more than the mere reading of the text.

    The book that shapes and defines my life more than any other is The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Once again, simply reading through ancient scripture rarely does much to change me. But the framework it provides for rich conversations with family and friends has paid handsome rewards.

    • #39
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    OldDan: Yeah, similar experience for me. For college homework I used to write papers, etc. first because that was work, saving the mathematics for last because that was fun work.

    Wow. That is awesome! I enjoyed equations, but beyond those exercises, math was a mystery. Good on you and James!

    • #40
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bradley Ross: With good literature, it is the work we do in processing it alone or in groups that lastingly shapes us more than the mere reading of the text.

    I so agree! If we don’t actualize what we read and learn in our lives, I believe it’s just an interesting exercise. So well put. (Also appreciated The Book of Mormon–read it when I was studying various religions for a book I wrote. I love the family and community orientation of LDS too.)

    • #41
  12. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Two come to mind: I’ve mentioned before but God Will Answer – 52 Meditations to Enrich Your Prayer Life by Ron Susek was a life-changer for me – I feel like it saved my sanity during a very trying year in our family and my sister’s too. The 52 is one for each week – short lesson followed by 5 questions (one for each day). She and I read it together over the phone. It took us a year and a half. There is no way to describe how powerful it is unless you read it. It’s only 218 pages, but no matter your faith, you will be a different person at the end of it.

    The second was Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz. It put into words behavior and personality traits that ACOA experience that others without addicted households don’t experience. It put perspective on many family members, as well as seeing the effects in society at large. I literally had no idea.

    I’m with you – Love to read books on overcoming the odds, history, autobiographies. Also love mysteries, comedies and the writing and language of vintage books. I am new to CS Lewis – love him. Loved Claire’s book Menace in Europe – what an amazing perspective on today’s headlines. It was an eye-opener.

    • #42
  13. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    My books are not on the surface metaphysical or existential, or overtly religious. But if I had to come up with a broad categorization for why they made an impact on me I’d say: the demonstration of integrity in the face of overwhelming odds.

    The first is non-fiction. Robert Coram’s Boyd- the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War. It profoundly changed my understanding of the military and the way wars are fought, and how bureaucrats and self interest exist everywhere. My father was(is) a Marine Corps Colonel, and I grew up pretty much hero-worshipping the Corps and the rest of the military. Boyd (and his struggles to design cutting edge aircraft and refine military tactics) helped me to think much more critically about defense, and how best to actually support the men and women who wear the uniform. A must read for anyone with an interest, in my opinion.

    The second is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. By far my favorite novel of all time- a broad range of characters, multiple view points, different time periods, code breaking, banzai charges, mathematicians, Nazis, Japanese admirals,  treasure hunts and a treatise on Captain Crunch, all told through the eyes of truly compelling characters who wrestle with unbelievable odds. OK, I’m not doing it justice- just read it. :)

    • #43
  14. Allan Rutter Member
    Allan Rutter
    @AllanRutter

    Two books that changed my reading habits for the rest of my adult life were assigned reading in college.

    The first is Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, an astonishingly well-written overview of the social, political and military history of the Civil War.  It lacks the drama and scope of Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote or Jeff Shaara, but it got me hooked on the Civil War and other books of American history.

    The second is The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, assigned in a freshman English class, followed in short order by Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep.  This hooked me on mysteries, and I have been reading them ever since–hard boiled, private eyes, police procedurals, cozies, all of them. The books have been a travelogue of the United States.  When I worked on a project in Minnesota, I was overjoyed to see the town of Lucas Davenport, Virgil Flowers and the Monkeewrench gang.  When I worked for a company based in Cambridge (our fair city) MA, I walked around in Robert Parker’s Boston.

    Great post!

    • #44
  15. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone
    @MichaelSMalone

    I did what must have been one of the last (if not the last) television interviews with Frankl for my PBS show.  He was rapidly going blind — and so even though he wore dark glasses, we still had to dim the lights on the set and open up the irises on the cameras — something we never did before or after.

    I’ll never forget the experience of sitting in this kind of twilight, listening to Frankl recall his train trip to Auschwitz, my crew so frozen in awe they didn’t make a sound, and realizing that this might be the last record of a great man.  It was an overwhelming emotional experience.

    • #45
  16. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    Allan Rutter:Two books that changed my reading habits for the rest of my adult life were assigned reading in college.

    The first is Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, an astonishingly well-written overview of the social, political and military history of the Civil War. It lacks the drama and scope of Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote or Jeff Shaara, but it got me hooked on the Civil War and other books of American history.

    Just ordered a copy. Thanks!

    • #46
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    FightinInPhilly: The second is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. By far my favorite novel of all time- a broad range of characters, multiple view points, different time periods, code breaking, banzai charges, mathematicians, Nazis, Japanese admirals, treasure hunts and a treatise on Captain Crunch, all told through the eyes of truly compelling characters who wrestle with unbelievable odds. OK, I’m not doing it justice- just read it. :)

    I think you forgot the kitchen sink! Seriously, it sounds like a fun book to read. Really appreciated your thoughts on the military book, too. Thanks, FIP.

    • #47
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Allan Rutter: When I worked on a project in Minnesota, I was overjoyed to see the town of Lucas Davenport, Virgil Flowers and the Monkeewrench gang. When I worked for a company based in Cambridge (our fair city) MA, I walked around in Robert Parker’s Boston.

    A really great point–seeing locales in books appear in real life! It gives an added dimension to both the locale and the book. Thanks, Allan!

    • #48
  19. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton
    @CrabbyAppleton

    When I was a child I didn’t read. It was an absolute chore to be avoided at any cost. When I was in the Air Force 40 or so years ago and serving on a strategic bomber crew we would fly two to three times a week. The sorties averaged 12 to 15 hours with only four at most engaged in actual activity. Lots of deadhead time and no windows! One day on my way to go fly I noticed that someone had left a well used paperback copy of “The History” by Herodotus in the day room. On a whim I stuck in my pubs bag to take with me and during that flight I glanced through it and began reading out of sheer boredom. The more I read the more enthralled I became and it started me on my rest-of-life-so-far- long path of reading. I have three or four editions of Herodotus in my library and have reread it many times, the last as recently as last summer.

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  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Michael S. Malone: I’ll never forget the experience of sitting in this kind of twilight, listening to Frankl recall his train trip to Auschwitz, my crew so frozen in awe they didn’t make a sound, and realizing that this might be the last record of a great man. It was an overwhelming emotional experience.

    That is so completely awesome, Michael. I wonder if I could find it on youtube or in the PBS archives. I’d love to post the link. Wow.

    • #50
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Crabby Appleton: When I was a child I didn’t read. It was an absolute chore to be avoided at any cost.

    My husband didn’t read much either. Then I put him on to Robert Ludlum and Ken Follett and he was hooked. I think people would come to love reading if they just discovered the books that were written for them. Now my husband orders 20 books at a time (when the Kindle prices drop) to stock up. Rice and beans for us! Great story, Crabby.

    • #51
  22. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    Beatrice Campbell:BTW, I’m not certain any book should change your life because it is never written by a human being such as ourselves. Many authors’ experience/motivations have nothing whatsover to do with mine.

    I will take exception to this.  I posted a list back in the early part of this thread, and I picked authors whose writings had an impact on my thinking.  There were things I thought I recognized about myself and about human nature in general.  These peoples’ writing brought clarity and depth to my thinking.

    I had to think both about where I wanted to go with my life, and about how to get there.  These people aided me in this effort, profoundly.

    There is a saying that to learn a language is to gain a soul.  These people helped me to learn some languages and to this day I remember them with keen appreciation.

    • #52
  23. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I read some of Peter Drucker’s work, especially “The Practice of Management,” about the time I first moved into a management position, and believe it definitely influenced my approach for the better.

    • #53
  24. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Leo Marks’ memoir “Between Silk and Cyanide” led to an interest in resistance activities in Nazi-occupied countries and especially the British organization Special Operations Executive.  Marks became SOE’s Codemaster at age 22…he briefed the agents before they went out, and they all left indelible impressions on him.  I reviewed the book here:  Link

    • #54
  25. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    J. D. Fitzpatrick:

    Allan Rutter:Two books that changed my reading habits for the rest of my adult life were assigned reading in college.

    The first is Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, an astonishingly well-written overview of the social, political and military history of the Civil War. It lacks the drama and scope of Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote or Jeff Shaara, but it got me hooked on the Civil War and other books of American history.

    Just ordered a copy. Thanks!

    If I had gotten to my second most-life-affecting author and book, it would have been James McPherson. I worked on the college textbook McPherson wrote, Ordeal by Fire (I worked on the second edition, and it is now in its fourth edition). He wrote Ordeal by Fire, then Battle Cry, and then went back and revised Ordeal by Fire. I was so inspired that I spent the next three years reading everything he had written at that point on the Civil War.

    McPherson was an adviser to Spielberg on Lincoln, the movie, but he walked out before the project was finished, saying that people did not curse the way they were cursing in the movie. :)

    If you like Battle Cry, you should follow it up with Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution and What They Fought For: 1861 to 1865, also by McPherson.

    • #55
  26. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    A few books have had a profound influence on me. The Art of Walt Disney, that I read cover-to-cover in a few days when I was a junior in high school – not that it was a stunningly well-written or insightful book but because it showed me what a profound effect one determined man’s life had in inspiring creative people to do amazing and innovative things starting with animation and then to create a formula for an amusement park that was safe, wholesome but still fun for kids and adults and endlessly evolving. I’m constantly amazed at how crowded Disneyland is even during the off-season on weekdays. Disney’s influence still pervades our culture…and people like John Lassiter and the Pixar team are thankfully carrying on his spirit even as other portions of the Disney empire like much of their teen TV faire wouldn’t be missed if it disappeared.

    The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes because it forced me to look at the world in a more examined, methodical and skeptical way and to challenge pre-conceived notions of what consciousness and other difficult-to-define concepts were (for example, God, the soul) and that many presumed spiritual occurrences could be explained as neural-triggered activity in the human brain eliciting visual or auditory hallucinations. I still get perturbed when some bandy about the word consciousness as though there is a general accepted consensus on what the word means. Jaynes’ quite lucid and rational treatment of the topic demonstrated that when examined closely such concepts like consciousness begin to get blurred, frayed and not terribly satisfying because they were too dependent on metaphor and not real-time observation of neural triggers that resulted in the varied aspects of conscious behavior.

    • #56
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Brian Watt: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes because it forced me to look at the world in a more examined, methodical and skeptical way and to challenge pre-conceived notions of what consciousness and other difficult-to-define concepts were (for example, God, the soul) and that many presumed spiritual occurrences could be explained as neural-triggered activity in the human brain eliciting visual or auditory hallucinations

    Brian, I’ve seen studies on this topic. Is the Jaynes book highly technical or is it accessible to us regular folks? It sounds fascinating!

    • #57
  28. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Susan Quinn:

    Brian Watt: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes because it forced me to look at the world in a more examined, methodical and skeptical way and to challenge pre-conceived notions of what consciousness and other difficult-to-define concepts were (for example, God, the soul) and that many presumed spiritual occurrences could be explained as neural-triggered activity in the human brain eliciting visual or auditory hallucinations

    Brian, I’ve seen studies on this topic. Is the Jaynes book highly technical or is it accessible to us regular folks? It sounds fascinating!

    Not highly technical. Written for the lay person even as it does explore the results of split-brain operations and activating the Wernicke’s area in the brain to generate auditory hallucinations and other explainable phenomena.

    • #58
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Brian Watt: Not highly technical. Written for the lay person even as it does explore the results of split-brain operations and activating the Wernicke’s area in the brain to generate auditory hallucinations and other explainable phenomena.

    Excellent. It goes on my list! Thanks, Brian

    • #59
  30. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone
    @MichaelSMalone

    Susan Quinn:

    Michael S. Malone: I’ll never forget the experience of sitting in this kind of twilight, listening to Frankl recall his train trip to Auschwitz, my crew so frozen in awe they didn’t make a sound, and realizing that this might be the last record of a great man. It was an overwhelming emotional experience.

    That is so completely awesome, Michael. I wonder if I could find it on youtube or in the PBS archives. I’d love to post the link. Wow.

    It’s hard to find.  The Viktor Frankl Institute lists it as  part of its media collection.  Sadly, due to budget problems, KTEH-TV, the PBS affiliate in Silicon Valley where I filmed it, likely taped over it.

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