Books That Have Influenced You the Most

Discuss the books that have influenced you–your thoughts, character, beliefs, etc.–the most. One approach that might make this easier is to think about books you really liked and then see if they had a big influence on you.

To make it even easier, you could also talk about recent books that have influenced you to some degree.

Or how about talking about books that have opened your mind or changed the way you think.

To answer this question, I think I would have to break down my life or thoughts into different categories. For example, my own view of religion and God has been great shaped by many of the works. Here are a few:

Kierkegaard, particularly his direct writings on Christianity
Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship
Richard Foster’s Freedom in Simplicity
Mother Teresa–not her writings, so much as her life
the Bible

Intellectually, that’s much more difficult to say. I guess it would depend on the subject or issue. How about this. There are some books that change the way you think or that open your mind to things you hadn’t considered. It could be the author provides a different way of looking at a problem. Here are some books that would fall under that category:

  1. Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn. This book helped me think about science as way to build s that help us understand the world more than telling us the “truth” about the world. In addition, the major developments in science do not occur by the constant addition of new information. Rather, major developments occur in a revolutionary fashion. The theory of Relativity is not Newtonian Physics plus new information. It’s a radically different theory.
  2. The Discarded Image C.S. Lewis. This book was similar to Kuhn, except in dealt with literature. Lewis explained that we could not understand writing from the past without understanding the philosophical worldview at the time. Both Kuhn and Lewis’s books underscored the importance of the historical approaches to both sciences and philsophy (the history of ideas in general).
  3. Conversing with Cage Richard Kostelanetz. This book is a collection of excerpts from interviews with John Cages from different time periods. This book gave challenged my notions of art and music. Cage, even if you don’t like his music, had tremendously interesting ideas about music. (If you want to know more about Cages ideas, I’d be happy to talk about them.)
  4. Amusing Ourselves to and Technopoly Neil Postman. Postman’s writing is really great. It’s simple, clear and precise, a for any essayist. But Postman showed me the importance of communication media and technology in general. The way these things shape our most important concepts, such as time, community, history was a really eye-opening experience.
  5. Suburban Nation Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. This books introduced me to the importance of town planning and design, how design influences things like traffic, -use and even the quality of education in our society.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I would recommend not attempting to write one or else you’ll never write anything down.

22 Responses to “Books That Have Influenced You the Most”


  1. Tony

    Okay. I’ve been thinking about this and have concluded that there are books that put what you think and feel into words and that there are books that shape the way you think. I love going back to books like The Lord of The Rings and Orthodoxy because they help put my thoughts and feelings into words. But here are some books that have shaped my thinking:

    1. Connecting by Larry Crabb- I’ve been trying to figure out the riddle of Christian community for some time now. This book gave me a different perspective on the place of relationships and community.

    2. The Middle Mind by Curtis White. Read this a couple of years ago. It concerns the role media and culture have played in getting rid of that space where we can share what we think and know that what we think matters.

    3. The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer and the Cost of Discipleship. Read these at the end of high school and the beginning of college. These shaped my thinking that faith is both mystical and somewhat ascetic.

    4. The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steve Garber. Read this one the same time I took a class on the Holocaust in college. It helped me put the pieces of my somewhat shattered thinking together and helped me focus on the essential connection between belief and practice.

    Anybody else?

  2. Tony

    And one other book. I know it sounds strange, but the letter to the Hebrews totally shaped the way I view life as a spiritual journey. Sure, you kind of get that in different books of literature and all, but I’ve been so used to living a life of systematic theology that I was blown away by a book of the Bible that presented such a dynamic view of life in its eschatological entirety. From bits and pieces to something better and lasting. Yeah.

  3. Reid

    Tony,

    I’m interested in hearing your views about Christian community, particularly the aspects that puzzle you. I’m not saying Christian community without “riddles.” I perceive challenges in Christian community, but I just don’t know if it’s the same things you see. I’d be also interested in hearing what you learned from Connecting.

  4. Chris

    Here are a couple. More to follow; I simply can’t rank or organize these things very well.

    *Amazing Grace* by Jonathan Kozol. Wonderful, passionate (but written in a quiet way) book about the neighboorhood of Mott Haven in NYC.

    (This just out on NPR: “I know what I’m doin’ when it comes to winnin’ this war” — GWB)

    Anyway, this book combines pretty good analysis (though not his best analytical work) with wonderful writing that is close in to peoples’ lives. I suppose it is about poverty and neglect, about how it is possible for us (as a culture) to completely ignore grinding poverty — especially among children — within our own neighborhood essentially.

    *Divided by Faith*. This was written by a couple of sociologists, and it analyzes why/how American style white evangelicalism (as a huge proportion of active Christians in the US) thinks about and deals with race in the context of church. Lots of good analysis; they did original research in the form of hundreds of interviews, and their aguments are narrated in a very clear way. I think it changed how I analyze situations I’m in, organizations I affiliate with, hopes I have for the church and church structure I am now tied to . . .

    *Four Quartets*. I think these introduced me to really _experiencing_ poetry in a semi-mystical sense. I read them over and over again.

    *Teaching a Stone To Talk*. Essays by Annie Dillard. Wow. Amazingly creative, intense but unclassifiable (Christian) spiritual content. She is an angel.

    Maybe I’ll think of some more.

  5. Marc

    Wow, look at all the treasure on this site that’s buried beneath the surface.

    Reid mentioned this thread in a recent email and I shot off a few from the hip. I haven’t come up with much elso, so here they are in no particular order.

    *How to win friends and influence people* Dale Carnegie. I think I read this while in college and I only remember a few of his principles, like remembering someone’s name and the value of self-deprecation. Geez, I may have gotten that wrong. But I remember reading this as I sort of enjoyed a spiritual renaissance in my early 20’s and more than anything else, I appreciated the spiritual value of giving people respect. I’m not wild about the title of the book, because it seems so self-serving, but I think the priniciples mentioned are sound. I don’t remember how I came about reading it, maybe it was a recommendation from Kurt Murao.

    *The Screwtape letters* CS Lewis. This is probably an easy one to pick and also probably stereotypical, but it’s so good that I really don’t care. I’ll freely admit here that I have an extremely difficult time reading Lewis’s other writing. If I were to recommend any piece of Christian literature to anyone other than the bible, this would be it.

    *Prayer, the great conversation* Peter Kreeft. Also a non-traditionally written book in the form of a dialogue between two friends about prayer. It was amazingly insightful to me as a Christian seeking to learn about what faith and prayer were really about. I haven’t looked at it in a while, and I may pick it up to see how relevant I still think it is.

    Although these aren’t really books, I thought I’d throw these in here. There have been a few songs that have really hit home with me over the years in terms of lyrics and music. I might not place these as the greatest songs of all time. but they are a few that touched me and that I thought of as I wrote this post. I could probably think of others given more time. You can probably google the lyrics to most of these. Chris may be able to get you the lyrics to the Springchamber tune.

    *Prince of Darkness* and *The Wood Song* by the Indigo Girls. I made sure that I could play these on guitar. I haven’t played them in a while, but I’m willing to bet that I can pick up a guitar and remember them within 15 minutes.

    *Without a shelter or a wall* Springchamber. I think there are several versions of this with several titles, but when I was a semi-groupie for Chris’s band in the mid-90s I loved the this tune.

    *Find a way* David Wilcox. One of the best songs I’ve ever heard about hope from a secular artist. I think some Contempory Christian artists have covered it, but I’m avoiding listening to those versions because I don’t want to ruin my enjoyment of the original.

  6. Reid

    I also read How to Influence People and Win Friends because Kurt recommended it to me. While the book offered effective tips, I wasn’t very comfortable with the overall tone of the book. It just seemed so insincere and manipulative. I told that to a former public official who recommended the book to me. He responded by saying that it’s important to be sincere. Well, yeah, be sincere so that you can influence people. Maybe I should read it again to see if I feel the same way.

    Oh btw, check out the thread in the music section on favorite lyrics. (I don’t think anyone responded, but maybe you can get that one going.)

  7. Marc

    Geez, it sounds like I could spend hours just breezing through this site.

    I hear what you’re saying about “how to win friends…” in fact I couldn’t really remember the title at first and when I figured it out I was a little uncomfortable with it. If Kurt was the one who recommended it to me, then I read it when he was in Seattle at some point around 1988-1990. We’re talking 15 years ago. I look back at that period of my life with some fondness, because I feel like it was a time when I really grew and matured. Some had their awkward moments in high school, I was about five years behind. Anyway, this particular book at that particular time in my life was in fact very influential because I think it helped open my eyes to the value of relating well to others, something which I didn’t really take too seriously before.

    Maybe it was also a time when I sort of wanted to become good at manipulating people…

    In any event, I really have no desire to reread the book now or to take any of the Dale Carnegie classes. Most people who know me would say that I’m not all that great at manipulating people. Sarcasm apparently isn’t one of the best methods for converting people to your point of view, and it wasn’t one of the things I learned to quit from the Carnegie book.

  8. burgess

    Here are some of the books that have influenced me the most. Most, if not all of them, I have a professional interest in.

    Prayers by Michael Quoist–it is simply a book of prayers, but such wonderful prayers.

    Life of the Beloved, Return of the Prodigal Son, and Can you Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen–Nouwen is perhaps my favorite spiritual writer. Spirituality is not a formula to follow, but an ongoing journey.

    On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross–A book about issues of death and dying. An old book (c)1969, but Kubler-Ross’ insights into death and the dying process are still relevant today. This book has been very helpful to me as I assist people who face imminent death, and as I help families in the grief surrounding the death of a loved one.

    Death of the Church by Michael Regele–A little too analytical at times. Regele explores the rapid cultural change in which the church finds itself.

  9. Tony

    Burgess-

    I remember reading Life of the Beloved after already reading a number of other Nouwen books and still being amazed at how fresh his words were. That’s the one book of his I highly recommend to others. Also really learned a lot from Creative Ministry and The Wounded Healer. Man, I would like to have met the guy!

  10. burgess

    Tony,

    I’ve always wanted to meet Nouwen as well, but never got the opportunity. I’ve had a few professors who knew him well, and they all say he was incredible and humble.

  11. Tony

    Hey Burgess-

    I was wondering if you ever read his book, The Inner Voice of Love. Picked it up Friday night and I am being blown away by the guy’s honesty and the fact that it’s like he’s speaking to me (in more than just a generic sense). Just wondering/

  12. Reid

    Anyone else?

  13. Reid

    Kevin? Mitchell? Penny? Bueller…Bueller?

  14. pen

    One book that immediately comes to mind is Madelyn L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t enjoy reading, but this book helped me fall in love with reading.

    Don’t make fun of me, but I read my older sister’s copy of “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton when I was in 4th or 5th grade and that book made me want to be a writer. I remember laughing and crying at the same time and wanting to evoke that experience for others.

    Jonathan Kozol’s “Amazing Grace” also had a lasting impact on me. It was a story told simply and with love and compassion. Hey! I just scanned comments above and saw Chris also mentions “Amazing Grace!” Cool.

  15. Reid

    Pen,

    What was it about Wrinkle that made you fall in love with reading?

    I have Amazing Grace on my bookshelf because both you and Chris mentioned it as influential books. I’m intrigued that a book about that subject (which is something I think we’re not unfamiliar with) had such an impact on both of you.

  16. pen

    “A Wrinkle in Time” was a pivotal book at a pivotal time in my life. I am not sure if things were percolating and just happened to coalesce as I read this book or if the novel itself was the impetus of getting me to think in a different way.

    Oooh, this could be my homage to “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Heh. I am not sure if I can adequately explain, but here goes. “A Wrinkle in Time” showed me that:

    Books create relatable characters. Meg and I could have been best friends. I began to realize that there were other people who thought as I thought, valued the things I valued, searched for who they are as I searched, and were misunderstood as I felt I sometimes was.

    Books engender empathy. The way “A Wrinkle in Time” was written made me fall in love with this family and these characters. I hurt with them, was afraid for and with them, and rejoiced with them. It allowed me to experience things vicariously, and thus in a “safe” way, which leads me to my next realization,

    Books are magical. They create other worlds, cultures and societies. I can travel and experience things beyond my comfort zone, but in a safe way.

    There is joy in escapism. Not that my life was so tumultuous, but there is joy in escaping the mundane day-to-day stuff, the worrisome stuff and the stuff that causes uncertainty. It was comforting to have a ready escape route if ever I needed it, and it was reliably there. If there were certain passages I wanted to re-read, they were there exactly where I left them last

    Books fire the imagination. I remember having imaginary conversations with Meg, as if we were friends. I also thought about what I would say or do if put in some of the same situations she found herself in. What if something similar happened to my family? What other adventures could be out there?

    I realize none of these ideas are exceptional or especially insightful, but think back to when you first learned/realized it. When these concepts were new, fresh and seemed to come both from beyond yourself and well as from within.

    When I first realized all that books (well-written books!) could provide, I went beyond enjoying reading as a pastime. I fell in love. I’ve since learned other things and have changed my view on some things, but the core of it is here. It is kind of like when the Holy Spirit provides insight into God’s Word. It may be a passage you’ve read many times before and even gotten a lot out of. But when this realization hits, it is so clear, sharp and personal, that you are not quite the same and will always remember it.

    Now that I look at what I’ve written, it sounds kind of hokey. That’s okay, though, since I am kind of hokey. It’s one of those “newer” realizations — that child-like awe and interest and excitement can be kept alive by reading books. The learning of something new, the challenge of an opposing ideaology, or the old familiarity of childhood favorites can all be found in books.

  17. Reid

    For once, I can say that your ideas are not hokey. (OK, there were a few others.) What you learned and experienced from reading this book may not be terribly novel, but it is very meaningful and makes your selection totally undersandable and worthy (not that you needed my approval). I think your post is a captures what a lot of book lovers have experienced. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your reasons.

  18. Reid

    Penny, you saw my post, right?

    Mitchell,

    I’m curious to hear your list.

  19. Mitchell

    I’ve enjoyed this thread and have actually been assigned, in my education courses, two different papers with this theme. I do plan to write something here, but probably not six pages’ worth, and boiling my thoughts down to a more appropriate length on a subject this important to me is not something I can do easily or lightly. But yes, I plan to contribute.

  20. Reid

    I picked up Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son because several of you mentioned it here, and I saw it at a used book store a while ago. Well, I finally finished it, and I enjoyed it. I’ll have a review up in the “What Are You Reading” thread.

    Mitchell,

    I know this is an important topic to you, but I hope you don’t let the desire to get the post just right to prevent you from posting. I’d much rather have an “imperfect” post of yours than no post at all.

  21. Mitchell

    It isn’t just the perfect thing. If I write about some musician I really like and the response is a sincere “yeah, that’s really nice,” I’m okay with that, because it’s just music. But the ability to communicate why my favorite books have been so important to me for all these years is (a) perhaps beyond my abilities as a writer and (b) a risky proposition, because it’s too intimate. We’re not just talking about books that have taught me something, or taken me away to distant worlds. We’re talking about stuff I LOVE. You already know that I’m reluctant to talk about my relationship with God in casual conversation, and I hate talking about my love life with people. You would have to multiply that by at least one and a half or two to get the depth of my feeling for my favorite books. You’re asking me to strip myself down in a public forum and share with you all my insecurities and alienation, all the things that separated me from the people around me and made me feel like I’d never fit in anywhere with anyone. I know that’s not what you mean to be asking, but that’s what it is.

    I’ve been lucky. My family loves me and I’ve never been through anything truly traumatic, such as the death of a loved one or any kind of abuse at the hands of a family member. What my favorite books have helped me to deal with is nothing like that, but it’s just as real to me because it’s what I have. When I was a kid (count adolescence and even young adulthood in that), reading was all I had; it was the only thing that made me believe I wouldn’t always be alone. I suspect sometimes that I was misled by those books (hee hee), but I’m still clinging to the hope they brought me. I am not sure this is the place for that kind of exposure.

  22. Reid

    Oh, OK. I never thought talking about your favorite books would be that intimate and personal. Maybe you could talk about books that influenced you in ways that weren’t so deep and personal–a book that shaped your thinking on a particular subject, etc. Just a thought.

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