“What books have changed how you think?” The one who asks me this sort of question asked me this the other day.
I don’t know if it’s a meme or not, but if it isn’t out there it damn well should be, so I’m asking Anticant, Charlotte, Hairy Farmer Family, Teuchter, Reed, SoRB, Sol, the Singing Librarian, whether they would like to consider this one, and share with us the books that have changed how and what they think. It’s an arduous process and an impertinent request, and I know that each of you are busy or pressured at the moment, so please ignore it if it’s not appropriate. And of course, anyone else who feels like it is more than welcome too.
Anyway, I asked him if he meant how (as in processes) or what (as in content) and he said “both really”. But the whole list is too long to bore you with in one session, so I’m splitting it in to two. I’ve listed the books in the order I read them.
Books that have changed how I think
Games People Play – Eric Berne – the whats, whys and hows of how we get stuck with the same old patterns of behaviour with strangers and with our nearest and dearest. My Ma read this when I was in my teens and promptly started playing more games rather then fewer. However after thirty or so years of trying, I am now reasonably good at not playing games, though not perfect by any means. This definitely changed my thinking processes, and it is a book I would recommend anyone to read today.
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula le Guin – I’m putting this in the “how” list rather than the “what” list because even though they are fantasies, these books helped me accept that reality isn’t cosy and reduced the amount of denial and surprise I go through. I still get shocked, but I’m less frequently surprised. Their impact has lingered and deepened over the years; Le Guin is one of the least self-indulgent writers I have ever read, and I guess these books introduced me to Kantian ideas about about responsibility, obligation and duty, you do what you do because that’s what you should do. I’m not really a Kantean at all but I try to out-stare reality even if it’s always me who blinks first and looks away.
Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit – Adelle Davis – Davies points out that the devil is in the detail, when she calls one of her chapters “Which apricot, grown where?” in reference to the statement “apricots are a good source of Vitamin A”. The book itself is a collection of rather dated nutritional advice that I’d hesitate to recommend. However those four words kicked off a professional lifetime of listening out for what’s not said and poking around for data that isn’t there. It’s a phrase that definitely honed my thinking tools.
How to Master the Art of Selling – Tom Hopkins – The simplest and most accessible introduction to questions that I’ve come across, whether you want to influence people or discover things.
The Phoenix Seminar – Brian Tracey – a set of tapes and not a book, but this self-help course has given me the tools I use when I have to pick myself up, dust myself down, and start all over again. I still occasionally listen to these tapes even if I’m more sceptical about some of his approaches than I was at the time. There is a lot of sense here, and some powerful techniques.
NLP for Lazy Learning – Diana Beaver – I’ve undertaken various forms of NLP training and this was the book that introduced me to NLP in the first place. I feel very conflicted about NLP: it is cultish, anecdotal and subjective and everything I dislike with my critical thinking head on. But on the other hand NLP techniques have helped me learn presentation and public speaking, given me a whole bunch of linguistic tools, and taught me a lot of techniques I use at work in problem-solving and analysis. Diana Beaver is as clear-eyed and un-cultish as you would ever want, and this is a grounded and sane introduction to NLP. It’s wholesome and healthy even if it might become a gateway drug.
The British Medical Journal – Yeah, I know the BMJ’s not a book, you know the BMJ’s not a book, let’s move on from that, shall we? This is the first scientific journal I’ve read regularly, if intermittently, and it encouraged me in the habit that Ms Davis started of prodding information to see what it was made of and of going to the sources. It’s also a journal for generalists and is full of really ikky pictures. The ones of dental abcesses so bad they’d worn right through the cheek were particularly gross.
Eating Less – Gillian Riley – I’ve written this up elsewhere, but this book and Riley’s weekend course have helped me tackle my addictive eating. This book has changed how I think in a very literal way by tackling thoughts and habits right there where they occur, in the well-worn paths my synapses created in my brain. I strongly recommend this book if it is relevant to you.
The Tiger that Isn’t – Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot – an accessible introduction to how numbers are misreported by journalists and turned into lies by politicians. This book has given me tools to help with my habit of prodding statistics to see what gives. I’m not sure if its influence will last with me, but I certainly recommend it right now.
So we have the book that taught me how to be honest in my dealings with people, a set of tapes that helped me manage my emotions and the book tthat’s helping me control my addiction to food. On the thinking side, there are the books that taught me reality’s real, several that turned my insatiable curiousity into a tool, one that started me on a journey which enriched my linguistic and analysis skills, and one that I’m using to hone my numeracy.