Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Books Changed Your Life?

On the Monroe Institute website, Leslie French asks the provocative question: "What books changed your life?" She cites her own life-changing books as do many others in her comments section.

I confess that as long as I've been able to read, I've been a book slut. I love books, buy books, devour books and possess several library cards. Books have been changing my life for as long as I can remember. But which are THE BOOKS, the books that made a difference? I decided to limit my selection to ten books, to include only books that purport to be non-fiction and to list these books in rough chronological order of their influence at various stages of my life. To all those dozens of books that spring to mind shouting "Choose me! Choose me!" I have to say "I love you all, and it pains me to not include you, but, as anybody connected with the book business knows, editors have to be ruthless!"

1. The Baltimore Catechism: gave me the answers at age 6 to questions that still puzzle me today.

2. St. Joseph's Missal: you can't follow the players (at the Mass) without a scorecard especially when the game's conducted in Latin.

3. Introduction to Complex Variables: imagine discovering for the first time the existence of another kind of number (complex numbers) than the kind you count with, whose properties are strange, beautiful and utterly logical.

4. Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Schiff: my first introduction to the strange world of quantum physics. At Stanford, prime breeding ground for big egos, Schiff was famed for his extraordinary modesty.

5. The Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Paul Dirac: Closest thing to The Bible in quantum physics. Dirac introduces here his ideosyncratic bra/ket notation which is now the language in which every physicist in the world expresses the quantum mysteries.

6. The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts: In the early 60s, living in San Francisco, I first read Alan Watts's description of his LSD trips and decided that someday I too would drop acid.

7. Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert: no better way to understand a subject than to write a book about it.

8. Not Man Apart by Robinson Jeffers: "Love that, not man apart from that..."

9. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: "Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son, Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding..."

10. The Penny Whistle Book by Robin Williamson: former member of Incredible String Band teaches the art of the Irish whistle. With this book and 10 years of practice you could be a star.

And to all those books left out, I repeat: "I love you dearly, but an editor's gotta edit."


kcb000 said...

Margins Of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World

I was a die hard materialist and replicated some of the experiments that lead me to an awareness that we are NOT just meat machines.

Greg said...

Another interesting post and lively poem. Thanks, Nick. But only non-fiction....? Really? But, after all, this is YOUR list. Mine would have fiction but I can't imagine honing it down to ten.