Beating the 10 Books Horse

Ezra at Popehat is still playing the “10 Influential Books” game.  I’d hate to allow him to feel like he’s the only one still playing, and besides, today is the single best day of the year for me to indulge my inner egomaniac (I’m a blogger after all!).  So….here’s my list, in no particular order. 

1.  Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I can’t think of many quotes that have stuck in my head more in life than “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”  The essay as a whole is in my mind timeless, and played a pivotal role in teaching me to think and act for myself.

2.  The Federalist Papers, and especially Federalist #10, as the handful of readers who remember my old site are all too aware.  The role of interest groups is the single area of politics and political theory that most interests me, and Federalist #10 lies at the root of any and all of my thought on that topic.

3.  On the Road, Jack Kerouac.  The birth of my wanderlust, and my introduction to the diversity of experience that exists in this world, informing our myriad worldviews.

4.  The Quiet American, Graham Greene.  At the time I first read this book, I was a proud movement conservative, an unquestioning believer in the necessity of fighting the Vietnam War and a strong advocate of pro-democracy foreign interventionism.   This book, for me, started to bring the folly of such beliefs into clear focus.  Greene wrote it in 1955, just as the US was starting to ramp up its support for South Vietnam, and it could not have been a more prescient forecast of US decisionmaking in Vietnam over the subsequent two decades.  In retrospect, this book’s influence on me was also  not limited to its effects on my view of international relations.  Instead, it also heavily influenced my views of the imperfectibility of human nature.  There are so many wonderful quotes from this book that help to show what I mean, but I’ll leave this teaser: “Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

5.  The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo.  A fascinating look into how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of pernicious groupthink and come to sanction or directly participate in unspeakable acts of evil, and how systems can act to encourage that groupthink and evil. 

6.  Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand.  Cliche, I know, but it’s not on this list for the reasons one would expect.  Rand’s influence on my views of politics is, in retrospect, fairly negligible – the parts I agree with, I’ve agreed with since long before I considered myself a libertarian or read any Rand, and there is much I think Rand got wrong.  But read as a sort of psychological self-help book, Atlas Shrugged turned out to be the right book for me at exactly the right time. 

7.  The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek.  Unfortunately, it is the hyperbolic element of Hayek’s argument in this book that has withstood the test of time, allowing it to be readily caricatured by modern liberals and horribly overread by libertarians and conservatives alike, all of whom tend to think Hayek was claiming that any form of social democracy would inevitably lead to totalitarianism in this book.  My experience, by contrast, was what set me on the path to what many would call “liber-al-tarianism,” and away from minarchism or more run of the mill libertarianism.

8.  Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement, Brian Doherty.  The book that made me realize that I was a libertarian.

9.  Euthyphro, Plato.  I seemed to wind up reading this dialogue at least once a year in college, and everytime I wound up learning a new way of looking at it.  The best solution I’ve been able to come up with to the problem is that morality exists but is ultimately unknowable even as we must continually strive to know it.  If that makes any sense.

10.  1984, George Orwell.  For pretty much all the reasons you’d expect.

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9 thoughts on “Beating the 10 Books Horse

  1. I keep trying to do one of these lists, but I really can’t make up my mind what to put on it.

    Partly, it’s just that some of my most influential/formative mediated narrative experiences weren’t books – but it seems inappropriate to cite Neon Genesis Evangelion even if it was to me something like what the Ayn Rand books are to some of you.

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    • @JosephFM, yeah, I have similar. Out of all of the books I’d put on my list, 8 have shown up on these various lists.

      As soon as someone mentions Walter Kaufmann’s _Faith of a Heretic_ and John Ralston Saul’s _Voltaire’s Bastards_, I’ll be able to write a “top 10 book list lists”.

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