The Books that Changed My Life

Reading is a huge part of my life.  I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t reading books.  So for today’s post, I decided to reminisce about the books that had the biggest influence on me in my formative years.  And, since I’m convinced that my formative years never ended, I’ve included a sampling of post-college books that have had a big impact. (Original post: 5/9/13; revised 2/17/18.)

Elementary school (ages 7-14)
The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), by Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species (1859), by Charles Darwin
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), by Jules Verne
Mutiny on the Bounty; Men Against the Sea; Pitcairn’s Island (1932-1934), by Charles Nordhoff & James Norden Hall
Life Long Ago: The Story of Fossils (1937), by Carroll Fenton
Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J.D. Salinger
The Foundation Trilogy (1951-1953), by Isaac Asimov
Dominic Savio: Teenage Saint (1954), by Peter Lappin
The Lord of the Rings (1956), by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Source (1965), by James Michener
American Heroes of the 20th Century (1967), by Harold Faber
The Past Through Tomorrow (1967), by Robert Heinlein
The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel/The Novel as History (1968), by Norman Mailer
Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past (1968), by Erich von Daniken
The Drifters (1971), by James Michener
The Closing Circle: Nature, Man & Technology (1971), by Barry Commoner
The Marvels of Animal Behavior (1972), by John C. McLoughlin/National Geographic
The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 (1973), by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt (1975), by Tom Wicker

High School (ages 14-18):
The Four Gospels (c. 70-110 CE)
Fathers and Sons (1862), by Ivan Turgenev
Crime and Punishment (1866), by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Siddhartha (1922), by Herman Hesse
Steppenwolf (1927), by Herman Hesse
As I Lay Dying (1930), by William Faulkner
Light in August (1932), by William Faulkner
Nausea (1938), by Jean-Paul Sartre
The Glass Bead Game (1943), by Herman Hesse
Waiting for Godot (1953), by Samuel Beckett
Nine Stories (1953), by J.D. Salinger
Lord of the Flies (1954), by William Golding
Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (1956), by Walter Kaufmann (ed.)
Great American Short Stories (1957) – Wallace & Mary Stegner (eds.)
Anarchism (1962), by George Woodcock
The Mentor Book of Major American Poets (1962) – Oscar Williams & Edwin Honig (eds.)
Selected Poems (1964), by T.S. Eliot
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The First Circle (1968), by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Complete Poems, 1913-1962 (1972), by E.E. Cummings
Breakfast of Champions (1973), by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
(1974), by Robert Pirsig
The World According to Garp (1978), by John Irving

College (ages 18-22):
A Treatise of Human Nature (1738-1740), by David Hume
(1851), by Herman Melville
Beyond Good and Evil (1886), by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949), by Mircea Eliade
On the Road (1957), by Jack Kerouac
V. (1963), by Thomas Pynchon
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), by Tom Wolfe
The Tassajara Bread Book (1970), by Edward Espe Brown
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), by Hunter S. Thompson
A Theory of Justice (1971), by John Rawls
Diet for a Small Planet (1971), by Frances Moore Lappe
The Feminist Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir (1973), by Alice Rossi (ed.)
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), by Thomas Pynchon
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976), by Tom Robbins
The Selfish Gene (1976), by Richard Dawkins
The Women’s Room (1977), by Marilyn French
On Human Nature (1978), by E.O. Wilson

Post-College (ages 22- _):
Henry IV, Part 1 (1597), by William Shakespeare
Don Quixote (1605, 1615), by Miguel de Cervantes
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759), by Laurence Sterne
The Federalist Papers (1787-1788), by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison & John Jay
The Anti-Federalist Papers
(1787-1792, pub. 1981) – Herbert Storing (ed.)
Middlemarch (1871-1872), by George Eliot
Lord Jim (1900), by Joseph Conrad
The Wings of the Dove (1902), by Henry James
The Golden Bowl (1904), by Henry James
The Ambassadors (1903), by Henry James
Ulysses (1922), by James Joyce
A Field Guide to Eastern Birds (1934), by Roger Tory Peterson
Molloy, Molone Dies, The Unnameable (1951), by Samuel Beckett
The Tin Drum (1959), by Günter Grass
A History of Western Music (1960) – Donald J. Grout
A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide to Southern New England (1978), by Neil Jorgensen
The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience of Family Therapy (1978), by Augustus Y. Napier and Carl Whitaker
A People’s History of the United States (1980), by Howard Zinn
Midnight’s Children (1981), by Salman Rushdie
Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities (1982), by John Diekelmann
The Best American Short Stories (1983-1990), by Shannon Ravenal (series ed.)
A Short History of the Movies (1985), by Gerald Mast
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987), by Randy Shilts
Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories (1988), by Raymond Carver
A Brief History of Time (1988), by Stephen Hawking
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992), by Julia Cameron
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (1994), by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994), by Anne Lamott
The Rough Guide to Classical Music (1994), by Joe Staines
Infinite Jest (1996), by David Foster Wallace
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (1997), by Richard Fortey
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (1998), by Philip Gourevitch
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), by Dave Eggers
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), by Michael Pollan
Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the MusicThe Definitive Life (2011), by Tim Riley

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