A Mexican politician is in trouble after flunking a question on “three books that have left a mark on your life”. It is not actually as straight forward a question as it seems. How many people feel that particular books have made a mark on their lives? And can you narrow things down to 3?
I had a quick think and picking the first 2 was easy. Coming up with a 3rd took me a few more minutes. It’s a good thing I wasn’t put on the spot in a live interview. Anyway, my three are:
- The History of the World – J.M. Roberts – I read this one around 1990. As well as being a fascinating tour of where we came from, it really opened my eyes to how the world works. And in its social history elements probably did more than anything else to make me an atheist. I am re-reading the most recent version (5th edition, published last June) on my Kindle at the moment, and discovering new things in it all the time. That isn’t surprising of course when a book covers so much ground.
- Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond. I picked this book up in Dallas airport on the way to Chile in 2001. If the History of the World talks about how European civilization went out to conquer the world, GG&S is why it happened that way and why Africans or Americans didn’t come to subdue the “Old World”. More people really should read this book, if just to see how small thing, like pigs, wheat, and chickens made the world the way it is.
- Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan. This one was the last of the three I decided on. I am not 100% sure where or when I picked up this one originally. I think I was working in Nenagh and got it in Limerick around 1997/1998. I had always been of a curious but skeptical nature (my mother can tell you stories). But this book opened my eyes to the simplicity and beauty of the scientific method. I got to see how it isn’t as much a tool for finding answers, as for checking which ones are good, and which ones are bad. The book also helps explain why so many people believe in nonsense – often it’s because they know no better. It introduced me to the joy of being a skeptic – of being able to look at the world with unclouded eyes, appreciating the real beauty rather than some made up nonsense, usually being peddled by someone with an agenda to push, or a product to sell.
Now not all of these are readily re-readable, and they may not be the best for covering their subject matter. But each one profoundly change my mindset and opened my eyes. And if they didn’t change my mind directly they have led me to other books that have made me who I am today.
Aren’t books great that way?