Books that changed your world view
May 29, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to spend the next year reading a diverse set of books to change how I see the world. What books have changed your world view?

Films and other kinds of work also welcome.
posted by markbao to Education (99 answers total) 276 users marked this as a favorite
Night, by Elie Wiesel. I was raised Jewish, but nothing I had been taught as a child prepared me for this.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:13 PM on May 29, 2014 [11 favorites]

A fine balance helped me realize how different and how the same we all are.
posted by Mittenz at 4:13 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

The works of Plato by Plato.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:17 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Straw Dogs by John Gray.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:19 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Adding one of my own, both books about "how we got here":

- The Cold War: A New History by James Lewis Gaddis talks about the major concepts of the Cold War, and how the war defined geopolitics and many other aspects of the world today. Fascinating.

- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I'm only a quarter through this, but it's already blown my mind. It talks about "how we got here" in terms of science and knowledge, and it's an entertaining yet humbling read (so far).
posted by markbao at 4:21 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. It's a history of the Americas spanning from pre-Columbian prehistory up to 1984, and reads like Howard Zinn and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had sex.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, and Birds of America by Lorie Moore. And since you said you were open to films as well, I saw Waking Life in college (of course) and it made me ponder a loooottt of things I'd never given much (or any) thought to before.
posted by lovableiago at 4:40 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and
Walker Evans
posted by aimeedee at 4:47 PM on May 29, 2014

These represent a pretty decent insight into my intellectual/perspective awakenings so far (in vague order of original reading):

Mostly Harmless - Douglas Adams
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Hyperspace - Michio Kaku
Flatland - Edwin A. Abbott
Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
Phantoms in the Brain - Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee
Simulacra and Simulation - Jean Baudrillard
Straw Dogs - John Gray (perhaps the most important book on here)
The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker
Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick
On Longing - Susan Stewart
In Defence of the Poor Image (essay) - Hito Steyerl

Ashamed to look back over those and only see three women's names. Time for me to make some changes.
posted by 0bvious at 4:55 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Night, and adding The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking), and any number of books by Carl Sagan. There are other science fiction/dystopia things that were hugely significant for me... but those might be closer to "changed my life" than "changed my world view."

(My husband would also like to add In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. That's more of a "confirmed my world view," but maybe not for you.)

Next on my reading list is Tao Te Ching. I can't confirm that it will change my world view, but I rather expect (and hope) it will.
posted by cellar door at 4:55 PM on May 29, 2014

The Design of Everyday Things
posted by matildaben at 5:00 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh is worth a read. His biography of the Buddha, "Old Path White Clouds," is as comprehensive an introduction to Buddhist teaching as you'll ever get. I find myself repeating one line in particular from that book whenever I get upset.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Infinite Jest changed the way I thought about depression, addiction, fiction.
posted by stinkfoot at 5:02 PM on May 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

1491 and 1493 for history are eye opening.
posted by BenevolentActor at 5:05 PM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

  • Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand (Not saying I agree with all this today, but it made a HUGE impact on my 15 year old self)
  • Discourses - Epictetus
  • The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

posted by bluejayway at 5:07 PM on May 29, 2014

The Brothers Karamazov, Disgrace (J. M. Coetzee), Hitchhiker's Guide series, Heart of Darkness, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Mrs. Dalloway. Also (non-fiction): My Traitor's Heart (Rian Malan).

But I was also an English major.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:08 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
are the two that came immediately to mind.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:11 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus. Skip the first section, "Version One," (but come back to it, at the end) unless you're a huge Sex Pistols fan.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:14 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


For Whom the Bell Tolls changed the way I think about the size and scope of the world and my role in it.

The Interestings (by Meg Wolitzer) changed the way I think about adulthood and growing up. It also gave me a better appreciation of the idea that everyone is the hero of their own narrative - an idea that has recently shaped how I interact with others.

Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings changed the way I think about friendship.

A Confederacy of Dunces dramatically changed how I think about socio-economic class and mental health.

Plato's Crito changed how I think about the relationship between individual and state, and redefined my understanding of freedom.


Charlie Wilson's War changed the way I think about the causes and ramifications of our actions.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:22 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

How Buildings Learn. Much of what Stewart Brand writes here is kind of taken as given today but in 1994 it blew my mind a little.
posted by axoplasm at 5:24 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Discovery of France by Graham Hobb. It's a yet another narrative history book, but it's almost completely un-romantic. Fascinating read, and really good at showing how the humanness of people has shaped history.
posted by kjs4 at 5:25 PM on May 29, 2014

The Iliad, and the Oedipus cycle.
posted by BibiRose at 5:27 PM on May 29, 2014

Nthing Night and Flatland. 1984, which I read in middle school, completely changed the way I viewed authority and government.

The very short film Ilha das Flores (Island of Flowers) set me on a completely different path in college and everything that has come since.
posted by amelliferae at 5:28 PM on May 29, 2014

I remember your previous questions, and I get the sense that you really want to optimize your life and mind, and are looking for certain procedures to do so. With that in mind, I'd recommend you focus on fiction in general. Get comfortable with ambiguity and your ability to interpret things, rather than searching for explanations.

That said, I second the Faulkner suggestions. The Great Gatsby had a pretty big impact on me when I first read it. And pretty much anything by Shirley Jackson. Don't underestimate children's books, either: I read The Little Prince when I was "too old" for it and I'm still surprised at how much it's stuck with me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:28 PM on May 29, 2014

Hope is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. What it was like to live in Auschwitz. Warning: hands down the most brutal book I've ever read.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

by James Gurney. "It belongs in the marble hall, not that of the museum, but of your imagination, the other side of the mirror, the world that is in the end more true."
posted by lharmon at 5:29 PM on May 29, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
posted by ambient2 at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2014

Sisterhood is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan
And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts
"Leaves of Grass," Walt Whitman (the poem)
The Journalist and the Murderer and The Silent Woman, both by Janet Malcolm (who can shift worldview with one sentence)

Films: Paris is Burning, The Graduate, and Dead Man Walking
posted by sallybrown at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Chronicle of a Death Foretold By Gabriel Garica Marquez
A Wrinke in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Maus I & II
The Lampshade by Mark Jacobson
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 6:19 PM on May 29, 2014

The book that changed how I see myself: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig

And the book that changed how I see the people around me: The Clustering of America by Michael Weiss
posted by DrGail at 6:24 PM on May 29, 2014

The Plague by Albert Camus
A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
Memoirs from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky (and seconding The Brothers Karamazov)
posted by sevenofspades at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (funny and brilliantly theological; not part of the regular Discworld "continuity")
Longitude, Dava Sobel (remember that spate of "here's one little scientific/technological discovery and how it changed EVERYTHING" books from a few years back? This was one of the setters of that trend)
posted by Etrigan at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
posted by Lorin at 6:39 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Ed Burns - by the same guys that brought you The Wire
posted by jjs6791 at 6:44 PM on May 29, 2014

The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald.
posted by gyusan at 6:55 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

On Liberty, if you have not already read it.

Also, any good socio-economic history of Early Modern Europe. It will explain much about how the world is today.
posted by Thing at 6:57 PM on May 29, 2014

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg. He is an American psychologist who has initiated peace programs in Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, among others, using the method he outlines in this book.

It seriously changed my life. Sincerely. Until you listen to his stuff on youtube or read his material, you will never have an inkling of how unintentionally violent we are in the way we use our language. We have such difficulty communicating and are so often offended and angry, and the reason why is so simple, it's amazing to me that it's taken this long for someone to write about it in this way.

This is the one book I would recommend everyone in the world read if I could. The ideas apply to literally everything in this life because everything is based on human communication.
posted by drd at 6:57 PM on May 29, 2014 [11 favorites]

Thing Fast And Slow.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:06 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dune, completed my journey to atheism when I was about 16.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:11 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Infinite Jest. I agree with everything stinkfoot said. The advice I was given, and that was spot on, is that you're going to do battle with the first 150 pages and then the rest will go by in a blink. I stayed up for just about 2 days straight reading once I hit that spot. David Foster Wallace's mind was stunning.
posted by goggie at 7:27 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I see someone else already recommended The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. I'll add Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City by Elijah Anderson. I don't 100% endorse either book, but the stories reported in each (one by a journalist, the other by a sociologist) definitely gave me a perspective I didn't have before.
posted by slidell at 7:35 PM on May 29, 2014

Best of Enemies demonstrated to me that people who may seem to have intractable world views may cling to their belief systems because they fill real human needs, and that if those needs can be filled some other way, the belief systems might change.

It's about a guy who was important in his local KKK organization, and how he became friends with, and worked with, a civil rights organizer. He later quit the KKK (losing all his friends in the process).

There's a play about this, too.
posted by amtho at 7:39 PM on May 29, 2014

A few off the top of my head:

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test / Tom Wolfe
Steppenwolf / Herman Hesse
Magic Mountain / Thomas Mann
Descartes' Error / Antonio Damasio
Awakenings / Oliver Sacks
Grammatical Man
The Denial of Death / Ernst Becker
Godel Escher and Bach / Hofstader
posted by Maias at 7:41 PM on May 29, 2014

The Omnivore's Dilemma changed how I thought about eating. The last section is a little fussy/unattainable, but the principle of eating whole, fresh foods was new to me.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison opened my eyes to the bewildering, humiliating experience of being victim of racism. It's an excellent book to read in conjunction with The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:45 PM on May 29, 2014

Backlash completely changed the way I looked at everything when I read it as an older teenager. I haven't picked it up in a while - it may be somewhat dated. It is about the cultural reaction to second wave feminism.

Written by the same author, Stiffed extends and expands the ideas from that book for a more holistic view of how "patriarchy" (meaning traditional ideas of what men and women are and should be) hurts everyone - both men and women.

Also all the things written by Kurt Vonnegut, but particularly The Sirens of Titan.

Very recently, The Circle shifted my thinking about privacy, transparentness, and being human.

I'm not sure this book is "good," but I still think about Alas, Babylon pretty often, and I read it more than 20 years ago.

Anything by Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.)
1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World
Infinite Jest
posted by jeoc at 7:52 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance
Infinite Jest
DFW's famous commencement speech
posted by vivekspace at 8:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
posted by clarkstonian at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2014

Lots of favourites already listed, but let me add these to the pile:

Your Inner Fish - by Neil Shubin. Really made me think about so many things we think of as human that really aren't.
Beloved - Toni Morrison. Absolutely haunting in every respect.
Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe - Simon Singh. This is pretty much a Total Perspective Vortex.

Also, for the love of humanity, everyone should read Guns, Germs and Steel.
posted by ephemerae at 8:16 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich will probably confirm everything you already suspected about class in the US.
posted by littlewater at 8:21 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. A book that showed me that Earth can be just as vast and mysterious as any science fiction setting.

His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem. I'm pretty sure this is my favourite sf book, and conversely, also takes place on Earth.

Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. This will give you plenty to think about - it still kind of scares the pants off me.

Bill Porter's translation of the Tao te ching.

Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan. Amazingly current writing from the 12th C.

Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana Jr. A book written by a crewmember on a ship that left Boston to sail around S. America to California in 1834. A window onto a California that's so distant in history that it's almost another planet, but it happened less than 200 years ago.

Time Among the Maya, by Ronald Wright.
posted by sneebler at 8:24 PM on May 29, 2014

Existentialism and Human Emotions by Sartre and Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. As I got older, the Great Gatsby started making more sense to me. As a freshman in college, the Tao of Pooh was helpful in resolving some stress at the time. Reading, in general, is always a gateway to something else, some other where and who.
posted by jadepearl at 8:36 PM on May 29, 2014

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning: This book really clarified for me that when it comes to history, we can't take refuge in the idea that the greatest atrocities and evils of our time were committed by inherently evil people.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: Blew my mind as a kid, and has a lot to do with the wonder and awe I feel when I learn more about the universe.
posted by yasaman at 8:51 PM on May 29, 2014

Iain Banks's The Algebraist changed how I look at clouds.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:57 PM on May 29, 2014

Lots of great recommendations in here to add to my reading list as well.

A book that gets at the subjects behind slidell's recommendations in another way is Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It's the one book I wish everyone would read, at least those who wish to comment on poverty.

Mountains Beyond Mountains about -- and Pathologies of Power by -- Paul Farmer really impressed me.

Finally, Thomas Merton's
Zen and the Birds of Appetite always brings me peace, which, these days, is a significant change of worldview.
posted by amicus at 9:05 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Breakfast of Champions. I like the idea of a novel as birthday present to oneself.

Siddhartha by Hesse.

"The Egyptian" by Waltari.
posted by Lardmitten at 9:35 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Peircy
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:38 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney. Haven't yet read the followup, You Are Now Less Dumb.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:52 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been pondering how to answer this. As a kid, my world-view was continually being changed, especially given the huge amount I read. It became less and less common as my world view expanded and I read even more. It's not changed very often anymore.

So here's a list of some things that changed my world view as an adult. I'm sure there's more, but it's a start.

Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott. It's really not a technophobic book, but a thoughtful look at how we as humans are being changed by our relationship with technology.

The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu. Completely blew my mind about recent history in China.

Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy, which really made me rethink my understanding of the US as it is today based on where it was during WWII. Fiction and a gripping story as well, but that central concept that the US was not at the top of its game and really struggling on the world stage has stayed with me.

Vagina by Naomi Wolf. I don't buy everything she's selling, and this is in some ways a very flawed book (which she acknowledges). But I learned so much from this book and I still think it should be required reading.

Quiet by Susan Cain. This one should be too. It's such a relief to read as an introvert, and for extroverts it offers some much-needed insight. (Needed especially by introverts!)

Sandman as imagined by Neil Gaiman and a long list of brilliant artists. Ideas about dreams, reality, immortality, death; the way we see ourselves, the way others see us. Hell as a place where people get the punishment they think they deserve. We all have universes inside us, no matter how trite and boring we seem on the outside. If enough dreamers dream the same, can we change reality?
posted by Athanassiel at 9:55 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

He's kind of an atheism-power troll now, but Richard Dawkins' early books were mindblowing. I lost religion to the tune of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.

Also: The Silmarillion. Gödel, Escher, Bach, Infinite Jest, Middlemarch.
posted by town of cats at 10:05 PM on May 29, 2014

How We Die by Sherwin Nuland
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Phantom Tollbooth set me well on the path to linguistic playfulness.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:19 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel. Meditations by Descartes. Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. The latter two are free online.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:43 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also: philosophy professor, for what it's worth. I spend a fair bit of time worrying about what will grab non-philosophers.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:46 AM on May 30, 2014

Whole Earth Discipline, Stewart Brand, 2009. Near-future environmental issues. Reframes nuclear power, explores how urbanization is leading to _falling_ world human population.

Rich Dad's Retire Young Retire Rich, Robert T. Kiyosaki, 2002. Poorly-written, verbose, smug, self-contradictory, politically oblivious, bad pulp financial self-help book. Worth a critical read to help understand capitalism in ordinary practice: the simple central goal is to make money without doing any work, and the method is to acquire ownership of productive assets. Unintentionally Marxist, inverted to the rentier's standpoint and operationalized. Buy a cheap used copy to stop the author from making any money off you.

Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond, 1997. Thesis that differences in human societies derive ultimately from the shapes and orientations of the continents. Nth.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace, 1996. Nth.
posted by kadonoishi at 2:12 AM on May 30, 2014

The ones who walk away from Omelas - Le Guin - The idea still haunts me. Particularly when I think about international political economy and its consequences (eg Bangladeshi clothing manufacturing buildings collapsing).
The glass bead game - Hesse - the importance of meditation for wisdom.
The man in the high castle - Dick - the contextual/historical nature of political morality.
The ugly American - turned me off wanting an international government career as did Burmese days - Orwell.

I'm curious about the choice of Infinite Jest by some people. I loved the book - (intentionally) entertaining and engaging - but I can't pinpoint how it might be life changing? Maybe it's because I read it when I was in my late twenties, whereas I read my chosen books in my younger years. (Or it could be that my taste leans to the political and there's less of this in Infinite Jest... Other than the Canadian separatists.)
posted by bernardbeta at 4:51 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

This might sound glib after some of the heavyweights listed here, but Harold and the Purple Crayon. It's one of the first books I ever read and there's not a day that goes by that I don't apply something I learned from the book in one way or another.

But really, the movie Harold and Maude completely changed my life. I think I was 12 when I first saw it; when I walked into the theatre I was Harold and when I left I was Maude:
Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They're so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?

Harold: I don't know. One of these, maybe.

Maude: Why do you say that?

Harold: Because they're all alike.

Maude: Oooh, but they're *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are *this*,

[she points to a daisy]

Maude: yet allow themselves be treated as *that*.

[she gestures to a field of daisies]

The Design of Everyday Things

Seconded! Caveat: this is why I have to touch and examine ALL THE THINGS in places like Bed Bath & Beyond.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:20 AM on May 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sophie's World - part young adult novel, part philosophy 101.
another vote for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Slaughterhouse V
The Giver - another novel for young adults, a thought provoking dystopian story, good for young and old. You could probably read it in a sitting or two.
Tuesdays with Morrie

I suppose I think of these as changing my world view most because I read them in my teens and early twenties, just on the verge of adulthood. These aren't dense classics. Suitable to all kinds of readers.
posted by Violet Femme at 5:24 AM on May 30, 2014

Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell. Just about the most humane writer I've read, and this book stunned me briefly out of my middle class complacency. Seconding Burmese Days, and Homage to Catalunya too.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thinking, Fast and Slow (which is what I think SemiSalt meant above when writing "Thing Fast And Slow.") "...the wisdom that comes from five decades of honest, rigorous scientific work, delivered humbly yet brilliantly, in a way that will forever change the way you think about thinking."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:57 AM on May 30, 2014

The works of Joseph Campbell - Hero with a Thousand Faces

A call to adventure? A call to adventure?
posted by j03 at 5:58 AM on May 30, 2014

Books that changed your life is a very broad category, and I will interpret the category as books that moved me to understand the inner workings of someone else's mind/perspective. With that caveat, I would add The Poisonwood Bible to this list.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:09 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Alan Moore's Promethea (all five volumes) changed my view of religion and humanity's relationship with it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2014

Never Let Me Go by Kakzuo Ishiguro made me think about the ways we are complicit in our own suffering and in the suffering of others, and the ways we distance ourselves from our complicity so we can live with ourselves.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I take great inspiration in the character of Atticus Finch.
posted by stampsgal at 6:37 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Scarcity hands down. A tremendously powerful paradigm for understanding the world around us.
posted by Freen at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2014

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, by Robert Whitaker. This book was amazing, educational, engrossing, and enraging -- all at the same time. You will never feel the same way about mental illness, psychiatry, or the pharmaceutical industry.
posted by alex1965 at 7:19 AM on May 30, 2014

If you have not read the Bible, I strongly suggest it. As an atheist, actually reading the Bible really helped solidify my own worldview and better understand the the worldview of Jews and Christians.
posted by hworth at 8:56 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

To build upon hworth's - hell, read the sacred texts of every world religion. Better yet, read the work of the mystics from each faith - the mystics are the ones who get really most mind-blowy.

That reminds me, I've been meaning to read the Popul Vuh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

These didn't exactly shift my worldview radically, but they did recalibrate how I saw certain aspects of life.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I read it as a sophomore in high school, and it was the first book to make me feel less alone in my confusion and disappointment in the world. (I haven’t reread it since, as friends of mine who did revisit it said they couldn’t tolerate Holden’s attitude.)

Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake – The book that made me realize poetry could be accessible and beautiful.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks – Reading about Sacks’s patients drove home for me how much we take for granted when our minds and bodies are in harmony and how fragile that harmony is.

The Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell – Resonated with so many ideas I’d independently come to, added a few more. About as close as I’ve ever come to a distillation of my personal philosophy.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – Completely rewrote my understanding of history (both what it contains and how it’s “created”) as well as the power dynamics involved.

On Writing by Stephen King – Made the act of writing seem doable, however challenging.
posted by xenization at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2014

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. I had been a fundamentalist Christian who was starting to have doubts about the whole thing. Reading that book was what pushed me out of fundamentalism and into a more sane way of thinking about God and religion.
posted by JDHarper at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2014

Although I generally agree that fiction is a really wonderful way to shape a worldview, because, as Michael Silverblatt notes, the responsibility of fiction is to depict the good. This interview with David Mitchell is tremendous (also, David Mitchell is an astonishingly brilliant fiction writer), I want to recommend two nonfiction books.

Causing Death and Saving Lives, by Jonathan Glover. It will help you organize your thoughts on very real moral issues, rather than having gut feelings that may contradict one another. These are all issues worth giving thought to.

American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare, by Jason DeParle, so that you have context for just how difficult it is to be poor and what kinds of strategies are needed simply to get by. As you get older, you'll very likely find people telling you the old saw, "If you're not liberal when you're young, you have no heart; if you're not conservative when you're old, you have no brain." Metafilter is a terrific resource that flouts that adage thoroughly, but this is a special place, and the world is filled with people who like to demonize the poor, I think mainly from fear that they're too much like us and we too could someday be poor ourselves. This book is a great starting place for understanding, and if you find this one compelling and want to continue to challenge the accepted worldview on other issues, try reading All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated.
posted by janey47 at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2014

Seconding Night, Animal Farm, and Atlas Shrugged.
posted by mazienh at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2014

... any number of books by Carl Sagan.

Cosmos is great, but The Demon-Haunted World really pushes you to think about what you believe and why.
posted by Flexagon at 12:30 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I see that LeGuin was mentioned upthread but I have to add her The Left Hand of Darkness and The Disposessed to this list. The first fundamentally changed my outlook on gender and sexuality and the latter my views on both individualism and society.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:01 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reid's book comparing healthcare from several different countries was a real eye opener for me.
posted by Silvertree at 2:28 PM on May 30, 2014

The Giver, Lois Lowry

The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Shea and Wilson

Seconding Phantom Tollbooth

The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz. I don't know if you have to be an angsty teenager on Study Abroad in Mexico or what, but that book hit me hard.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:47 PM on May 30, 2014

This is a dump of what's priority I in my reading list, and what I read previously that was priority I. Priorities II, III and IV would be a bit too long.

Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art

nthing Thinking Fast and Slow. It's also worth thinking a bit about Gigerenzer's work (he's got a lot of books) and Good's Good Thinking.

A book that would be an honest answer to your question but probably a bit difficult (aka you would spend the year reading the one book) would be Baby Rudin. Of course, Polya's How to Solve It. Mandelbrot's The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Cialdini's Influence.

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The Philosophical Investigations.

Petzold's Code. Nthing King's On Writing. The Feynman Lectures. The Wizard book. Nevelj zsenit!, or Bring Up Genius!, which is kind of a pain in the ass, because it only exists in Hungarian and Esperanto, I think, and it's only in print in Esperanto. Monsier Chouchani - L'enigme d'un maitre du XXem siecle, which is also not translated, but that's in French.

Otherwise than Being. Totality and Infinity. La Rouchefoucauld's Maxims. Shop Savvy. The Backstage Handbook.

Hilbert's Geometry and the Imagination. On Growth and Form. Rules for Radicals. Historical Dynamics.

Playing at the World. Rules of Play.

The American Way of Eating. Human Universals. The Art of Electronics.

Developing Talent in Young People. The Statistical Mechanics of Financial Markets. Fractals and Scaling in Finance.

The Diamond Sutra. Ecclesiastes, in the Bible.

If you Amazon search the books named Made to Stick, there will be a creativity one and a learning theory one among others. Go read both of them.

Design, Form and Chaos. Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Goedel Escher Bach. I'm too lazy to actually do the Amazon links now, so you will have to bear with me as I list everything else. The Fractalist (Mandelbrot's memoir). K & R C. Gardner's On Leadership. Founders at Work.

Drawing Down the Right Side of the Brain. How Buildings Learn. The Timeless Way of Building.

Meno. Phaedrus. Gorgias. Xenophon and Plato's Apology. Xenophon's Symposium. Seneca's Letters from a Stoic. De Oratore.

The Improv Handbook. Impro. Numerical Recipes. The Algorithm Design Manual.

How to Write a Lot. Fast Forward Family. William James's Habit. Peopleware. Oglivy on Advertising.
posted by curuinor at 4:48 PM on May 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

In specific, I always recommend people who are doing this sort of thing to not slack up on the technical readings. So often, the liberal arts are construed as synonymous to the humanities, and when people derive their meanings of the world, they derive them from the humanities only.
posted by curuinor at 4:51 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

C. S. Lewis- Til We Have Faces.

(I'm an atheist and it still moved me deeply.)
posted by quincunx at 5:44 PM on May 30, 2014

Being No One by Thomas Metzinger.
posted by Awful Peice of Crap at 6:37 PM on May 30, 2014

A Country With No Name by Sebastian De Grazia is a series of history lessons disguised as a novel, a wicked, iconoclastic take on the formation of the United States of America
posted by overglow at 12:11 AM on May 31, 2014

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Marshall Berman
posted by scody at 6:11 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reading Against Our Will and Lucky forever changed the way this guy thinks about rape and feminism.
posted by crookedneighbor at 10:47 AM on June 2, 2014

I know I already did this, but also: TS Eliot's Four Quartets.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:38 PM on June 2, 2014

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen was my primer on how to be an artist. (Written for actors though its message is universal).

A Room of one's Own by Virginia Woolfe is a clearly stated no-bullshit declaration of why the world is the way it is. (I'll confess that I use this as a litmus test when people claim to be feminists or to 'love women's literature').

Beloved by Toni Morrison brought me to an empathic comprehension of the profound horror of life under slavery. Which deepened my conception of America.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:10 AM on June 3, 2014

Man's Search for Meaning is the only book I regularly (~every 5 years) reread.
posted by psoas at 7:29 PM on June 3, 2014

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