What Book Has Had the Biggest Impact on You?

Of the books you have read, which one has meant the most to your life?

Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What book has had the biggest impact on you?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘How do you show thanks?’

Share why if you wish.

Michael’s Answer:  Mine is Wendell Berry’s What Are People For?  This was the first book I read from Berry.  It changed how I saw myself in relation to the environment, the economy, and my love of growing food.

Lee’s Answer: There are lots of possible answers, and on a different day I might have a different selection. Today I’ll choose What It Is by Lynda Barry. The book is part creative guide, part art object, part memoir, and part philosophy text. I found it inspiring, challenging, and unforgettable.


7 thoughts on “What Book Has Had the Biggest Impact on You?”

  1. I’m mainly a novel reader. My favorite book is Watership Down and I re-read it every year. I think fiction can make an impact on one’s life by allowing a temporary escape, refreshing the mind and fueling the imagination.

  2. When I was a senior in high school, I was desperately looking for scholarship money, so I entered an essay contest based on a book and author I hadn’t heard of: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The contest was hosted by my local newspaper, the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American. I didn’t know then what I know now about Ayn Rand’s strong libertarian politics. I read the book without any such context. Which was a good thing. Because it allowed me to see that my life could be about something besides serving others. I grew up a “good Catholic” girl, in a generation that was still taught (both directly and indirectly) that “good” girls and women are selfless givers who always look out for others’ needs before their own. This book was my first experience with central characters who followed their own ideas and values without giving in to others’ opinions and needs. It helped me to see that the word “selfish” did not have to be a negative thing.

  3. For me it was “Tuesday’s with Morrie” by Mitch Album.
    Very impacting in a way because I have been close to someone who’s had a long battle with death. I always wish I could have gotten to know that person better.
    So good I read it twice.
    This makes me want to read it again.

  4. There are a lot of books that had an enormous impact on who I am and how I see
    the world. The original Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov inspired me with
    the idea of psychohistory and directing the long arc of the future. Saul
    Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals gave me my initial framework for understanding
    how making change in the world is possible. Myles Horton’s The Long Haul
    helped me to reconceptualize my work as a community organizer as that of an
    adult educator more than anything else. George Lackoff’s Moral Politics
    fundamentally changed how I see and navigate the “left-right” divide in
    American society, which is really a “strict father-nurturant parent” divide.
    Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory changed how I understand social, economic,
    and political development over the last 50 years. But, the book I want to talk
    about that I have re-read often over the last 30 years is Watchmen.

    Alan Moore talks about the Watchmen being not about super-heroes, but really
    about different kinds of people. I think he means different kinds of people in
    the sense of being driven by different sets of ethical or moral beliefs.
    Overall, the story is like a master’s class in ethics theory.

    Each of the major super-human characters represents a very distinct ethical
    tradition. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are the most familiar and relatable
    characters not only because they are the most like everyday people, but
    because they represent two of the philosophies we’re the most familiar with:
    Nite Owl represents virtue ethics (exemplify good character) ; and Silk
    Spectre represents care ethics (treat others with care and benevolence).
    Rorschach also seems pretty familiar because he represents a form of
    “deontology” (you have a moral duty to act) and particularly Kant’s
    categorical imperative (do what’s right no matter what the consequences). Put
    simply, a person should be judged based on their actions, regardless of the
    outcome. Ozymandius represents “utilitarianism” (do the greatest good for the
    greatest number). In other words, a person should be judged based on the
    outcome, rather than their actions. So, the exact opposite of what Rorschach
    believes. The Comedian represents either “nihilism” (life is meaningless) or
    “absurdism” (we exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe). Probably more
    absurdism given his name. Finally, Dr. Manhattan, as a god-like figure, is the
    most perfect possible representation of “existentialism,” which argues that
    the universe is unfathomable and therefore each individual must assume
    ultimate responsibility for their actions without anyone or anything that can
    tell them for certain what is right and wrong, or good and bad. At a
    metaphorical level, who ultimately takes more responsibility for their own
    actions and deciding what is right and wrong than a god?

    I think we all use a blend of different ethical approaches, but each of us
    probably gravitates a little more towards some approaches rather than others.
    As a result, we probably each identify more with some of the characters and
    less with others. How you judge the characters actions is a kind of a
    Rorschach test.

  5. The book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, changed my outlook on the world when I first read it 15 years ago, and the ideas it puts forth have never left me. It provides another explanation of how western culture has ended up relentlessly consuming the world, even though we logically recognize that the planet’s resources are limited, and human populations cannot continue to grow exponentially. We search for ways to “save the planet,” but the human story we’re enacting is one of human domination and subjugation of the planet, and part of the central issue is that we view ourselves as existing on a higher plane of being than other living things. To find a way forward, we have to find “another story to be in.” Author Daniel Quinn passed away in February – a great loss.

  6. There are two books that have had a great deal of influence on me. The first is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and the second is the Tao Te Ching.

    The Sherlock Holmes stories are important because the taught me to observe and connect. People are most revealing when they don’t know you’re there and paying attention. The entire story is there, if you look for it. Pygmalion is a good example. You can tell a lot about a person’s life by listening to what they say and how they say it. We can improve ourselves, but even that is a cumulative effect. We are the sum of our experiences.

    The Tao is important because it took all the things I believed in and gave them a name as well as clarity, focus, and organization. Things that were intuitive to me are now, in a sense, more tangible. And yet not tangible. It is, after all, the Tao.

  7. Two books of the Bible have probably influenced me the most. Matthew’s Gospel because it contains Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapters 5-7, which my faith community chose to include in our mission statement. In it, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. In John’s Gospel, Doubting Thomas says that he won’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he can see him (and he does see him and believes). When I have doubts about my faith (and who doesn’t), re-reading this story helps.

    We Catholics (and probably all Christians) are taught that God actually is speaking to each of us when holy scripture is proclaimed in church. So it’s no wonder that the Bible is the book that has impacted me the most.

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