Most Influential Books

Last week’s post discussed the issue of the books one should read, which implies that you are stupid if you haven’t read, at least most of, them. According to these lists, I must be pretty stupid. I’ve read some, but probably not 20%. Of course, I can’t always remember whether I’ve read the book, watched the movie, have done some combination of the two, or have read the Cliff Notes version. However, dealing with such lists may be a way of stroking one’s ego or perpetuating the storylines schools like to impart. Schools and their corporate co-conspirators want people to feel less than adequate and subservient to their bosses. Feeling confident is for the select few who will take over as the new generation overseers (NGOs … you thought you knew what “NGO” meant!).

As I mentioned last week, I think people should put together their own lists of “the books that have been most influential for me,” “the books that changed my life,” etc. You could expand lists to include film, music, and other media, as well as to people: (a) most influential people, (b) most influential poets, (c) most influential philosophers, (d) and so forth. As opposed to the “should read” or “must read” lists, these “influential” lists can be helpful to those with similar interests and to oneself in pondering one’s life path.

The first book I read was one in the series of Hardy Boys mysteries. It certainly was not a fine work of literature, but it was a landmark to me. I was not much of a reader, so actually finishing a book as something had not yet done. However, the earliest book that deserves to be on my list of “most influential books” is Lady With a Spear (1953) by Eugenie Clark. Eugenie Clark, who died a couple of years ago, was a world renown expert on sharks. She also would be on other list, such as most influential people, most influential scientists, etc. After reading her book, when I was 12 years old, I wrote to her wanting more information about sharks. A few weeks later, she wrote back saying that she was too busy to write very much, but that I should write to Jack Casey as the Sandy Hook Marine Science Laboratory. A few weeks after that I got a letter from Jack Casey, along with a jar full of preserved shark embryos and several books on sharks. I was officially hooked on sharks at that point Lady With a Spear set the heading on my life for the next 5 years. And, this book is not on anyone’s list of “must read books.” Yet, for one young boy, it was the most important book of his lifetime up to that point.

36 Children by Herbert Kohl was another book responsible for a major life change. At the time, I was working as a marine biologist studying fish eggs and larvae. When I read this book, it sparked my interest in teaching, especially science. I went from reading this book in the late fall, 1973, to looking for a teaching job. The following August, I showed up for my first teachers meeting in Brooklyn, New York.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind, along with participating in a 5-week live-in workshop on education by Gregory Bateson, indelibly changed and have continued to affect my thinking.

And, mixed in among some of these books were Meditation in Action followed several years later by Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa. Both of these books changed my fundamental views of how to work with my own mind. In fact, these two books set the stage to Bateson’s books, which looked at some of the same issues but from different perspectives.

Some of the other books that have had an impact on my thinking include, but are not limited to:

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman
Acts of Meaning by Jerome Bruner
Children’s Minds by Margaret Donaldson
Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch
Full House by Stephen Jay Gould
Greenpeace by Rex Weyler
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind by Tyler Volk
Millennium: Tribal Wisdom in the Modern World by David Maybury-Lewis
Mind and Nature by Gregory Bateson
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen Buhner
Sibling Society by Robert Bly
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Small Arcs of Larger Circles by Nora Bateson
Summerhill by A. S. Neill
Synectics by W. J. J. Gordon
Talking Their Way Into Science by Karen Gallas
Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner
The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter by Vivien Gussin Paley
The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell
The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall
The Water in Wide by Pat Conroy
World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements by John Hunter

And, some of my favorite poets include:

  • Charles Bukowski
  • Gregory Corso
  • e. e. cummings
  • Diane di Prima
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • John Giorno
  • Spencer Holst
  • Theodore Roethke
  • Patti Smith
  • Anne Waldman

I also have been influenced by these philosopher, among others:

  • John Dewey
  • Maxine Greene
  • Aldous Huxley
  • George Herbert Mead
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Evan Thompson
  • Alfred Lord Whitehead
  • Ken Wilbur

What do these lists tell me? tell you?

Rather than what I have not read, these list show something about what types of ideas have affected my own work and thinking. I can trace an intellectual heritage from these books. And, if I was interested, I could find out what people influenced the thinking of the people who have influence me. I could construct an intellectual and/or philosophical genealogy.

About Jeff Bloom

I’m a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.

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