Sunday, April 04, 2010

10 Most Influential Books

Lots of bloggers are listing their 10 most influential books. Keeping in mind that influence is something that's difficult to quantify, here are 10 books or authors that affected my thinking in some way:

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles. I find Lewis's refutation of philosophical naturalism convincing.

2. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. A fantastical depiction of a resident of hell who takes a tour of heaven.

3. Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy. This book shaped my thinking on love and marriage as an impressionable young adolescent. It tells the tale of an American couple who fall in love and attempt to build the perfect marriage, who travel to Yale and Oxford together (befriending C.S. Lewis along the way), and who return to America only to find that the wife has a fatal disease and will soon perish. It's almost unbearably moving. (I have several letters that Vanauken wrote to me; we corresponded for a while before he died in 1996.)

4. Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy. This book probably started me on the journey to becoming a Catholic. It's a sort of sequel to A Severe Mercy, telling what Vanauken did after his wife died.

5. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton. I couldn't pick a single work here, but I spent a good deal of time in college reading through most of the Chesterton books on a couple of shelves in the library. (Chesterton was quite prolific.)

6. Pascal's Pensees. This collection of observations and sayings makes the list even if limited to one line alone: "All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room." (I guess you have to read that in context for it to make sense . . . .)

7. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. I liked all of Postman's books, including those he wrote as a 1960s radical, but this one struck me as a perfect description of American pop culture. The cover of the old paperback -- with the headless people watching TV -- was perfect. (I say this as something of a hypocrite, of course; despite canceling cable 4 years ago, I'm still an avid watcher of Lost and 24 online.)

8. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics. I like the observation that virtue consists of forming the right habits by acting in the right way: "we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts." I'm reminded of the modern psychological evidence that how you act affects your emotions.

9. The novels and fairy tales of George MacDonald, the 19th century Scottish writer.

10. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Full of trenchant and wise observations about what makes for a successful polis. (Runners-up here: City Comforts, Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred, and The Geography of Nowhere.)


Blogger Will Vaus said...

Dear Stuart,

I like your 10 most influential books. I would share a few with you. I am a big Vanauken and Lewis fan. In fact, I am working on a biography of Van. It would be interesting to talk with you about your correspondence with Van and journey to the Catholic Church.

Please e-mail me if you have the time. Have we corresponded before? Sorry if I have forgotten; I have received e-mails from a number of Vanauken fans over the years.


7:17 AM  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

Great list. The Great Divorce is one of my favorite books of all time, especially the Blackstone Audio version because the performance is so exceptional. I haven't read Miracles, but I think I have it somewhere, so I'll have to check it out.

I also enjoy Chesterton, Postman, MacDonald, Pascal, and, of course, Aristotle, but I'm unfamiliar with Vanauken and Jacobs, so special thanks for those recommendations. Always fun to find new authors.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

And while this would not be on my most influential list and has flaws, I enjoyed the extended anti-TV rant.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

Excellent list. The only surprise is that, given your interest in education, The Abolition of Man isn't one of the Lewis books on there!

8:59 PM  

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