Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution has started a game of people listing the ten most influential books that they have read, which has since been picked up by a large number of folks. At first I thought this was kind of silly, but I have decided to join in and provide a list. This is in rough chronological order of when I either read or initially encountered them, although unlike some others, I am not going to provide any accompanying explanatory verbiage. Let them just be.
So, now, some days later, have decided to add some commentary.
1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Read first when I was 12 in hardbook when nobody knew about it. Blew me away and still does. My all time fave.
2. 1984, George Orwell
I was at the peak of my libertarian phase when I read this (age 14), but I am still deeply struck by its vision of tyranny based on double speak and all that.
3. The Worldly Philosophers, Robert Heilbroner
Not the greatest book on economics, but I read it at the time that I switched into economics, and it played a role. Later I would read many of the classics, but I would say that for all the simplifications, Heilbroner's takes generally held up pretty well on the earlier economists.
4. Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens
I write poetry, and I could list some others, but Stevens has a certain perfection and profundity. I just heard earlier this evening that Hemingway beat him up out of jealousy because he knew Stevens was a genuine genius.
5. Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann
Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain get read more and get more attention, but this longest book of Mann's is more profound in my view. It was where I really became aware of how the western monotheisms took so deeply of the preceding paganism, and it also deeply altered my view of the role of Jews in history.
6. Some Cambridge Controversies in the Theory of Capital, Geoffrey C. Harcourt
This was the book that first threw me into realizing that orthodox economic theory had serious problems. Some of my earliest publications were inspired by it.
7. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
Deeply altered my view of what happened in the first part of the 20th century and and the interconnections between technology and various intellectual disciplines. I remain a big fan of Pynchon.
8. Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
Tyler Cowen praised this one for its "interiority." It has that, but its depiction of the subjective aspect of time as well as of the many layerings of social hypocrisy and obsession is also outstanding, as well as the sheer quality of the writing itself.
9. Structural Stability and Morphogenesis: An Outline of a Theory of Models, Rene Thom
This is the book that first laid out catastrophe theory, which has long since interested me. However, this is also a multidisciplinary book of philosophy and not merely of mathematics, obscure in many ways and disturbing.
10. Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick
This is a pop-schlop book ultimately, but it did put together the pieces of what was going on in chaos theory quite well. I had been aware, but this helped me focus on what was going on in this topic, yet another of my ongoing obsessions.