The Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read

Not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but these are the ones that changed my life (in no particular order):

There’s also one more book (a fantasy novel about calculus circa 1983 of all things) that should be on this list, but I haven’t been able to dig up a copy or remember what its title was. I do recall it involved a demon who posed problems that the king and courtiers then tried to solve. If that rings a bell with anyone, please post a comment. Update: I’m pretty sure this was the first edition of Calculus the Easy Way by Douglas Downing.

There’s one more book in my private list that I’m deliberately omitting here.

I’d sort of also like to include the entire non-fiction ouevre of Isaac Asimov, but while his books were very important, I’m not sure I can point to any one book that stands out.

I’m also leaving out all my own books, which in many ways changed my life too, but in very different ways than the ones shown here.

The earliest of these I read in late high school. The most recent (the one I’m not mentioning) just last year.

Some of these were important in total. Some of them just had one or two crucial ideas. Looking at the group of them though, I am struck that they’re all non-fiction (with the half-exception of Calculus the Easy Way). There are a lot of novels I’ve read and loved, many more than once, but I can’t say any of them had a noticeable impact to the point that my life would be different if I hadn’t read them. The one that perhaps comes closest is Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy but like Asimov, Wilson’s non-fiction work had a much bigger impact on me.

No textbooks made the list, or rather no textbooks actually used in a class. Chris van Wyk’s Data Structure and C Programs is a textbook, but when I read it, I’d not yet taken any courses in computer science. (And since then I’ve only taken two.) Nor did any assigned reading make the list. Outside of science and math, I can’t even remember most of my course books.

Subject wise, history is notably lacking. I’m not sure why that is.

Some books seemed important at the time but didn’t stand up to the test of time, and I eventually rejected what they had to teach. Others failed to make the list because they weren’t unique enough. Pretty much everything I’ve ever read about physics or economics falls into that category. There were many important books but they were more or less interchangeable with each other. No one stands out.

7 Responses to “The Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Ummm, okay, where’s the list already?

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    I suspect your ad blocker blocked it, since it consists of links to amazon. Easier than uploading all the pictures myself.

  3. Gregg Says:

    For most of these I can understand why they would be important to you, but can you share about Cosmic Trigger? How was this book important to you?

  4. HabaneroGuy Says:

    “There’s one more book in my private list that I’m deliberately omitting here. […] The most recent (the one I’m not mentioning) just last year.”

    You do realize that you’ve caused this book to be the most interesting one by far, even drawing attention to it by mentioning it twice. What can be life changing yet too personal to mention? The Quran? “Going Rogue” by Sarah Palin? “TTYL”, “TTFN” or L8TR, G8TR”?, “The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things”? Alan Moore’s “The Lost Girls”?.

    I guess we’ll never know. :-)

  5. James Orenchak Says:

    Interesting list! Have you ever read Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”? That’s one book I read when I was in my early teens and I’ve read it again several times since then. Albert Camus and I have differing opinions about the topic of his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, but I found the book very important. If you’re interested in philosophy at all and you’ve never read “The Myth of Sisyphus”, I suggest you read it.

  6. James Orenchak Says:

    Isn’t there a book about bird watching that belongs in your list of most important books?

  7. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    No, not really. Not everything I learned was learned from books, or even more from one particular book. In the case of birds, I’ve learned a lot more in the field than in in the library. Same story for photography.

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