Help me add to my booklist.
February 27, 2011 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to challenge my preconceived notions.

Most of the books that have changed me were those that took what I believed to be true and turned it absolutely upside down (like a neverending episode of Mythbusters). I tend to gravitate towards race/class/gender (Delusions of Gender, The Ethnic Myth, Backlash, Nickel and Dimed) because those assumptions are the hardest to get rid of, but I really like scientific-leaning works as well (A Short History of Nearly Everything, The God Delusion), and overview books like Everything You Know is Wrong, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and An Underground Education made a big impression on me.

I want to know what those books were for you so I can keep reading and being surprised about all the strange complexities of life. (I have The Omnivore's Dilemma on my list already, so there's one!)
posted by petiteviolette to Education (43 answers total) 168 users marked this as a favorite
Random Family by Adrien Nicole LeBlanc, for the sociological angle.
posted by something something at 1:29 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm reading sex at the margins for a class, which might challenge your preconceived notions about human trafficking and sex work. I'm not far enough into it to make a judgement on its quality, but it's interesting so far.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2011

and, contrary to what amazon says, I definitely didn't pay $80 for it. not sure what's up with that.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2011

Atlas Shrugged.

Just kidding, that's trash. How about A People's History of the United States?
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Last Place on Earth. Destroys Robert Scott's reputation as a polar explorer.
posted by Melismata at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street was enormously eye-opening for me.
posted by LittleKnitting at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2011

Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting is great, and very readable, for an academic philosophy book.

I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about The Illusion of Conscious Will, and with a title like that...
posted by phrontist at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Race: Losing the Race by John McWhorter.

Gender (mostly men): The Will to Change by Bell Hooks.

Race, gender, class, and economics: Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell.

Humanity as a whole: The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.

Humanity as a whole, and gender (mostly women): An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin.

Human behavior, aesthetics, and economics: Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen.
posted by John Cohen at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absence of Mind
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:42 PM on February 27, 2011

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat might make you reconsider your relationships with animals.
posted by box at 1:42 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Time of Their Lives debunks a lot of myths about the Pilgrims and native Wampanoags in Plymouth Colony, as does Mayflower. Both good academic history reads.
posted by Melismata at 1:44 PM on February 27, 2011

Definitely read Collapse by Jared Diamond. I haven't read Guns, Germs and Steel and so can't compare the two but Collapse made a big impression on me.
posted by daisyk at 2:16 PM on February 27, 2011

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.
posted by Beardman at 2:20 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I liked On the Take. Not mindblowing but a pretty cool look at a seemingly profitless scam that was in fact quite lucrative.
posted by cashman at 2:53 PM on February 27, 2011

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Focused on American history.
posted by maximum sensing at 2:59 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.
posted by sien at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2011

Sex at Dawn debunks mongamy as human nature. Its a good read and is really, really interesting.

Woman: An Intimate Geography is awesome, too.
posted by godshomemovies at 3:11 PM on February 27, 2011

Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes turned my conception of the ideal human diet upside down.
posted by peacheater at 3:25 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Books by Peter Singer - he writes about ethics, and uses a simple principle (what's ethically right to do is what minimizes suffering) and reaches some very surprising conclusions from it, on topics from animal rights to support of developing countries to infancy. It's not that you should necessarily believe he's right, but he lays out his argument in a clear way which is a great challenge if you disagree with his conclusion - it forces you to think about where he goes wrong, which makes you get clearer about your own moral principles. If you wanted to start with one, start with one on animal rights.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:26 PM on February 27, 2011

I found Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth" to be a fantastic look into how evolution works, and it explained a *lot* that had never really clicked for me. If you don't have a college biology background but find evolution interesting but a bit elusive, it makes it all make sense to the point where it seems completely obvious. I've also read "The God Delusion" which I didn't like nearly as much and seems mostly like it'd only be useful for you if you're on the fence about your religious beliefs. "The Selfish Gene" is good, but a bit drier and more dated and specialized than "The Greatest Show on Earth".
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:40 PM on February 27, 2011

I'll add Studs Terkel (oral histories of many things, eg the Depression, the experience of aging and contemplating death, etc) and Stephen J Gould (wrote on topics in biology and human nature) as general very interesting nonfiction writers who've written a ton.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

And Oliver Sacks, ditto - he writes about surprising neurological problems people can have and what they reveal about the workings of "normal" brains.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2011

If you wanted to start with one, start with one on animal rights.

That would be Animal Liberation.
posted by John Cohen at 3:46 PM on February 27, 2011

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford is a great read!
posted by Kronur at 4:07 PM on February 27, 2011

Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett. He proposes that the unitary stream of consciousness is a narrative constructed (and edited) by the brain after the fact from a larger set of potentially conscious experiences happening at any moment. And he's probably the most influential thinker on consciousness in the last twenty years.
posted by wps98 at 5:48 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett. He proposes that the unitary stream of consciousness is a narrative constructed (and edited) by the brain after the fact from a larger set of potentially conscious experiences happening at any moment.

His theory is more radical than that; in fact, he is deliberately cagey in that book about his real position. This is explained in a heated back-and-forth between Dennett and John Searle in Searle's The Mystery of Consciousness. If you're going to read Consciousness Explained, make sure to also read the chapter in The Mystery of Consciousness called: "Consciousness Denied: Daniel Dennett's Account."
posted by John Cohen at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it's not a book, but I just read an article by Marcus Raichle in Scientific American March 2010 about how the brain spends very little of its energy/power on what you "do" and a great deal (24/7) on constructing its view of reality. It also said that a tiny fraction of the sensory input (gigabits/second) makes it into our nervous system, and only about a hundred bits/second gets perceived.
posted by forthright at 6:31 PM on February 27, 2011

These are all fantastic suggestions! Please keep them coming. As the Unsinkable Molly Brown said, I'm learning already.

I actually have read A People's History of the United States (although it was several years ago and definitely warrants a reread), and I LOVE everything Oliver Sacks does (I'm a linguist with psychology leanings. I've kind of swung on the pendulum from pro-Pinker to pretty anti-Pinker), even if I can't take how depressing some of his case studies are enough to read a book of his straight through.

The Mother Tongue inspired me to go into linguistics, but upon reread after years of Real Linguistics I found it a little shallow and broad (duh!). I got Through the Language Glass as a gift, but I'm saving it for when I feel in a contrary mood, since I disagree with a lot of the author's positions.
posted by petiteviolette at 6:58 PM on February 27, 2011

The biggest book for me in recent years was and remains Straw Dogs by John Gray.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:21 PM on February 27, 2011

The China Study:
Although it was "heretical to say that protein wasn't healthy," he started an in-depth study into the role of nutrition, especially protein, in the cause of cancer...

More commonly known as the China Study, "this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease."

The findings? "People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease ... People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored," said Dr. Campbell.

In The China Study, Dr. Campbell details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and also its ability to reduce or reverse the risk or effects of these deadly illnesses. The China Study also examines the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities, and irresponsible scientists.

The China Study is not a diet book. Consumers are bombarded with conflicting messages regarding health and nutrition; the market is flooded with popular titles like The Atkins Diet and The South Beach Diet. The China Study cuts through the haze of misinformation and delivers an insightful message to anyone living with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and those concerned with the effects of aging. Additionally, he challenges the validity of these low-carb fad diets and issues a startling warning to their followers.
Made this life-long carnivore make a massive course-correction at 41 and go almost completely vegan.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:23 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Douglas Hofstadter - Gödel, Escher, Bach

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari - A Thousand Plateaus

Donald D. Hoffman - Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See

William Vollmann - Rising Up and Rising Down
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:23 PM on February 27, 2011

Seconding Straw Dogs and adding People Like Us (Hello Everybody!) by Joris Luyendijk.
posted by gakiko at 11:21 PM on February 27, 2011

The Last Place on Earth. Destroys Robert Scott's reputation as a polar explorer.

Part of the fun of reading books that challenge preconceived notions is enjoying the dialectic. The Last Place on Earth challenged British received notions about R. Scott, Ranulph Fiennes' Captain Scott in turn demolishes The Last Place as an analysis of decision making. So we progress from understanding Scott as a superman, to Scott as a fool, to a final synthesis of Scott as a fascinating character.

The same could be said of many of the other books recommended here. Usually when a book comes along that challenges received wisdom, the most interesting thing is to examine the reactions to it.

Guns, Germs, and Steel has received a great deal of criticism, and I've learned as much from that as I did from the original book.

I've seen both Taubes and the China Study here, they're both compelling nutritional narratives. Obviously they're not both right. Probably neither is quite correct, only time will tell. They're both thought provoking which is what you're after.

Other synthesis/antisynthesis pairs that are fun to read are Gould vs. Dawkins on mechanisms of evolution (not on religion, where their rivalry is boring), Chomsky vs. Pinker on language, and E.O. Wilson vs Lewontin, Gould et al on sociobiology.
posted by atrazine at 3:23 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Freedom from the Known by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
posted by edguardo at 8:52 AM on February 28, 2011

Zen Mind Beginners Mind, Shunryu Suzuki. Challenge the nature of the preconceived notion itself.
posted by pbroderick at 12:23 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Public Sex by Pat Califia.
posted by ifjuly at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2011

posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:42 PM on February 28, 2011

In no particular order:

Metaphors We Live By
The Singularity is Near by Kurzweil
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Labyrinths of Reason by William Poundstone
End the Fed by Ron Paul
On Intelligence by Jeff Jawkins
posted by vegetable100% at 8:47 PM on February 28, 2011

A Mathematician's Apology has some interesting things on work, skills, and talent in it.

Also by Hofstadter, I am a Strange Loop, about the nature of consciousness.
posted by hepta at 9:18 AM on March 1, 2011

Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard
posted by pseudonick at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2011

"Tristram Shandy" by Laurence Sterne
posted by cmp4Meta at 3:30 PM on March 4, 2011

The Big Bang Never Happened. The book posits that observational evidence argues against a Big Bang/gravity oriented cosmology, and that the Big Bang theory is laden with ideas like dark matter and dark energy and black holes which are just so many "epicycles".

The author argues that a electromagnetic plasma-oriented cosmology better explains much of what is being observed by astronomers, and without the need for things like non-baryonic matter which have never been observed, can't be foiund, but have to make up 99.9% of the universe. There's also a 2-part documentary relating to the subject of plasma cosmology and the problems with the Big Bang theory when compared to the observational evidence.

"If science is a method for asking questions of nature, than Big Bang theorists could be described as people who don't take no for an answer"
-Eric Lerner.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2011

« Older Mr. Status Quo Need Not Reply   |   Need a home in Orlando! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.