My wheels have been turning all week since I read Peter Levine’s list of ten books that influenced him. I like the exercise of putting together such lists to help consider things that have been meaningful to us. It was interesting to distinguish between books that I enjoyed a lot versus those that also have had staying power. The ones on my list are generally ones that I keep coming back to–either the text itself, and/or the key concepts. With no further ado, here is my list of ten books that I would say influenced me. What’s on your list?
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam.
Well, let’s see, I was so fired up to do something after reading this book I nearly jumped out of the plane en route to San Francisco. I waited until landing, and wound up creating Social Capital Inc. (SCI) to address issues discussed in the book. Have been at it for twelve years now…I’d say that qualifies as influence!
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives This makes good follow-up reading to Bowling Alone. This work conveys the power of social networks to transmit norms and behaviors, helping to explain the importance of social capital. This book helps inform our work at SCI, and we often include excerpts and a related video in our trainings. I blogged about the book and its connection to Bowling Alone themes here on my SCI blog.
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Terkle. I read this recently, so I suppose it is top of mind. It raises many interesting questions about the social impact of spending so much time online. While I’m on balance a proponent of the good side of social media, my enthusiasm is tempered by a concern for finding time for depth, offline relationships, nature, and so forth. I blogged about the book here, and followed with this piece: 10 Ideas for Finding Your Own Walden in a Digital Age. I also found Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age to be very interesting on the topic of balance in our digital worlds.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I was quickly filling up my top 10 list in my mind when I realized I didn’t have a novel yet. Now, I might choose something else for “favorite” novel, but for influence, this Steinbeck classic gets the nod. I read it at a formative time–during a college summer break–and was particularly moved by the ending. That characters struggling so for basic survival could still find ways to give and nurtures others encouraged my leaning toward a career path of service. A runner-up for novels that influenced would probably be A Tale of Two Cities, for similar reasons. Any number of works by Tolstoy and Herman Hesse also would be on this list if it were a bit longer.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. A segue from literature to the eminently practical. A mentor encouraged me to read this shortly after college, and I apply many of the principles to this day. In fact, I just led a workshop for our SCI AmeriCorps team based largely on Covey’s framework that encourages one to prioritize proactive, “Quadrant II” time in order to be successful. Will have a post about that up soon!
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. Another work I read in the formative years shortly after college. Much of Peck’s thinking about personal growth, relationships, and spirituality resonated and helped shape my thinking about my priorities as an adult.
Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer. Gandhi’s leadership, grounded in his strong commitment to spiritual practice and personal growth, is certainly very inspirational. This classic biography is a good study of his life and approach.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan I almost overlooked this one! Given the importance I place on cooking and enjoying tasty, real food with my family, I have to have a food related book on my list. I considered “My Life in France”, Julia Child’s story of how she developed her passion for food, but have to give the nod to Pollan’s work. I was already interested in eating whole foods, seasonal and organic when possible, but this book helped crystallize my thinking on the topic. And I loved reading about his quest to prepare an awesome meal with ingredients he grew or procured entirely on his own!
Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger. This one really helped me see the power of bits of data and the significance of the incredible explosion of content creation. I’ve found a lot of practical application, such as the power of Twitter hashtags to connect people that share interests. More broadly, in our SCI work, it informs my thinking about how getting to know more about people in our network increases the potential to make meaningful connections among those we know. Oh yes, and inspired by this book, as of this writing I’ve got 1,329 different subject tags in my Diigo bookmarks!
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. From mundane data to a mystical poet, this flow seems to be in keeping with my eclectic interests! This is particularly special because it was the first birthday gift I got from my wife, and we subsequently had excerpts read at our wedding.
Others of Note: John Dewey’s work on experiential education informs much of how I think about learning. The Tipping Point was certainly a compelling read and one that I reference a lot. I loved reading The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo while traveling in Italy. And Trinity got me interested in learning more about my Irish roots.