3 Books That Have Influenced You

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Mexican Presidential Candidate Enrique Pena Nieto had trouble correctly naming three books that have influenced him (at a book fair no less!).  So this got me thinking about books that have influenced me. 

Here are three books that have deeply influenced me:

1. Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality by Ken Wilber.  [I've written about my experience reading that book here.

2. Passion for Creation: The Sermons of Meister Eckhart

3. Invisible Man, Ralph Waldo Ellison.  


Please use the thread to this piece to share three influential texts in your life.  I'm really interested to hear from a cross-section of our readers and writers as I think the results could be really interesting.  

Get at it! Send us three influential books in your life.  


Afterthoughts: Nieto referenced The Bible (or "parts of it" anyway).  But The Bible is not a book, at least not in the conventional sense.  The word Bible in fact means "books".  The Christian Bible consists of 68 books in fact.  The Bible is really more like a library in one volume, so it didn't seem appropriate to choose, though obviously the books of the Bible have been very influential in my life.

I also thought about children's books that influenced me.  One in particular I loved was called The Fourteenth Dragon. 

Also I have no books by women on the list, which seems questionable.  I always loved Madeleine L'Engle. Also Bernadette Roberts The Experience of No Self has been a major influence on my spiritual life.  As well as the works of the great theologians and mystics Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, and Hadewijch of Brabant (my all time favourite Christian mystic).  

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  • Comment Link Juma Wood Wednesday, 07 December 2011 02:21 posted by Juma Wood

    1. Joseph Campbell - The Hero with a Thousand Faces
    2. Richard Adams - Watership Down
    3. William Carlos Williams - Pictures of Brueghel

    First three that come to mind.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Wednesday, 07 December 2011 05:34 posted by Andrew Baxter

    1. 1984 - George Orwell
    2. All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
    3. Omnivores Dilemma - Michael Pollan

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 07 December 2011 17:06 posted by TJ Dawe

    In chronological order:

    1. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
    2. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
    3. Larry's Party - Carol Shields

    Chris, I wouldn't mind hearing more about Invisible Man influenced you. I had a hard time with it.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 07 December 2011 20:48 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I read it in high school. My childhood was racially very insulated--especially in a US context. I grew up in a lily white environment. Invisible Man to me helped blow open my naive racial constructs. It took Well's notion of sci-fi invisibility but applied to social invisibility.

    As a simple example, growing up 'black people' or 'black Americans' were always referenced as such. The worst of course being 'my black friend.' But white people never got referenced as white people--they were just people. So white was the norm and this wasn't overt racism or whatever. I had a grandmother for that :).

    Take even the last US election where Hillary Clinton (not exactly a super right winger) kept talking about "real America" as small town, white America. Much less the more overt references that way from say a Sarah Palin. Why is that real America? And does that make everyone else fake America? Not America?

    The invisible in Invisible I think spoke quite brilliantly to that. As an added piece, Ellison really examines the multitude of perspectives from within the otherwise invisible groups--like the Markus Garvey Back to Africa character.

    For Canadians I'm not sure how it would connect as there isn't the same history and there's also not the West African influence so prevalent in US music and culture: jazz, blues, gospel, country, rock, hip hop.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 08 December 2011 01:07 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I'd have to go with, also in chronological order:

    A Whale For the Killing- Farley Mowat
    1984- George Orwell
    Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck

    lots came after that, but those three jump started something within me.

  • Comment Link Kitty Wilson-Pote Thursday, 08 December 2011 04:36 posted by Kitty Wilson-Pote

    Gunter Grass - The Tin Drum

    Susan Fromber-Schaeffer - Time In Its Flight

    Leif Enger - Peace Like A River

    The I-Ching (various translations)

    Larousse's World Mythology

    The History of Art (Janson)

    (I know, just could not stop at 3! Have been reading for over 60 yrs so far; remain rebel ...)

  • Comment Link David LaPlante Thursday, 08 December 2011 05:24 posted by David LaPlante

    Wow trying to narrow it to three is hard! Going with fiction since narrowing non-fiction is an impossible exercise :)

    1. [Teenager] Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. Growing up in a small community of self-righteous reality-escaping hippies Ayn Rand exposed me to the partial truths that my parents generation were hell-bent to hide from me.

    [Insert many many non-fiction works of social psychology and economics.]

    2. [College] Neuromancer, William Gibson. Led me to follow the white rabbit into a life-long career of cyberspace.

    [Insert Kegan, Wilber, Beck, etc.]

    3. [Now a Dad] On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Reconciled the last of my teenage angst.

  • Comment Link Chela Davison Thursday, 08 December 2011 07:15 posted by Chela Davison

    White Oleander - Janet Fitch "his shoulders were smooth like bedposts"

    Heartbreaking work of a Staggering Genius- Dave Eggers

    In Defence of Food - Michael Pollan

  • Comment Link Jody Erlandson Thursday, 08 December 2011 14:20 posted by Jody Erlandson

    1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (okay, so it's actually 7 books . . . )
    2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
    3. Quantum Theology by Diarmuid O'Murchu

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 08 December 2011 16:03 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    OK, here goes:

    1) Jiddu Krishnamurti - Commentaries on Living. My first real brush with philosophy (outside of martial arts, which I practiced middle school onwards).

    2) Daniel Quinn - Ishmael (fiction). A wonderful little book that I passed along to my friends and professors. It's a fictional story that is mainly focused on a dialogue. Subject is on the culture of "civilization" and its fate. A very unique, if not slightly supernatural conversation.

    Those two were in undergrad. There were many other books, including Pinchbeck's "Breaking Open the Head." But I wanted to give 3 to a more contemporary work:

    3) William Irwin Thompson - The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. A play of mysticism, myth, scientific narratives and esoteric interpretations. Not quite sure how to describe it. Thompson claims to have written this in a state of "white hot heat" of yogic practice. It shows. This book has helped ignite my imagination and tease out my soul to sing a little louder.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Thursday, 08 December 2011 21:16 posted by Philip Corkill

    Fuck you for drawing me back in here while I have IMPORTANT things to do!

    Childhood: "The Lord of the Rings" J. R. R. Tolkien (I'm 30, so that was before all the hype, just so you know, I am cool, so there!)

    Adolescence: "Walk Without Feet, Fly Without Wings and Think Without Mind" Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

    Adulthood: Hasn't happened to me yet.

    As I said Fuck You!

  • Comment Link Chela Davison Thursday, 08 December 2011 21:43 posted by Chela Davison


    Do I really need to direct you to our comment policy? ;-)

    Who says subtlety can't be read in such text!? Your hunour and love for the site is appreciated.
    Now go get that important shit done!

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Friday, 09 December 2011 19:49 posted by Philip Corkill


  • Comment Link Suzanne Norman Friday, 09 December 2011 21:20 posted by Suzanne Norman

    In university The Magus, John Fowles

    In adulthood, The Cure For Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson Dargatz

    In hindsight, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (it continues to influence me)

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Friday, 09 December 2011 21:22 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Catch-22. This was a challenging book to read. I used to work long hours in a remote location and I read this over a number of months one summer. I've never had such an emotional reaction to the end of a novel. Getting through this book was incredibly satisfying to me, and when I think of it now it still gives me courage.

    Diet For A New America/The Omnivore's Dilemma. The first book got me onto vegetarianism, and the second book got me off of vegetarianism. Both shifted my focus in powerful ways when it comes to food.

    The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. An incredible fantasy series that develops a Middle Earth like world and narrative, but with a much deeper exploration of psychological themes, all through the eyes of 20th century man. He happens to be a leper, and at the same time is the spitting image of a long dead Christ figure of the world that he gets dropped into. Fantastic story, and always brings me something new to think about in my own life.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Friday, 09 December 2011 21:39 posted by Philip Corkill

    My third book:

    "Reise ins Nichts" (journey into the nothing)Pyar Troll

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 09 December 2011 23:28 posted by TJ Dawe

    @Chris - thanks for that meaty answer. @Matt - I had a very similar experience with Catch-22, and the ending just floored me. Still does, even to think about it. Same with the Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami.

    I can't resist throwing in three non-fiction books, again, in chronological order

    1. The Hero With a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell
    2. The Wisdom of the Enneagram - Riso & Hudson
    3. One Taste - Ken Wilber

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 30 December 2011 06:21 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - Ken Wilber

    The Evolving Self - Robert Kegan

    The Universe Is a Green Dragon - Brian Swimme

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 25 April 2012 16:17 posted by David MacLeod

    1. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard.
    "I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam."

    2. The Marriage of Sense and Soul - Ken Wilber.
    "Various scholars, from Max Weber to Jurgen Habermas, have suggested that what specifically defines modernity is something called 'the differentiation of the cultural value spheres,'...
    This differentiation allowed each sphere to make profound discoveries that, if used wisely, could lead to such 'good' results as democracy, the end of slavery, the rise of feminism, and rapid advances in medical science; but discoveries that, if used unwisely, could just as easily be perverted into the 'downsides' of modernity, such as scientific imperialism, the disenchantment of the world, and totalizing schemes of world domination."

    3. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability - David Holmgren.
    "When we picture the energy climax as a spectacular but dangerous mountain peak that we (humanity) have succeeded in climbing, the idea of descent to safety is a sensible and attractive proposition. The climb involved heroic effort, great sacrifice, but also exhilaration and new views and possibilities at every step. There are several false peaks but when we see the whole world laid out around us we know we are at the top. Some argue that there are higher peaks in the mists, but the weather is threatening.

    The view from the top reconnects us with the wonder and majesty of the world and how it all fits together, but we cannot dally for long. We must take advantage of the view to chart our way down while we have favorable weather and daylight. The descent will be more hazardous than the climb, and we may have to camp on a series of plateaus to rest and sit out storms. Having been on the mountain so long, we can barely remember the home in a far off valley that we fled as it was progressively destroyed by forces we did not understand. But we know that each step brings us closer to a sheltered valley where we can make a new home."

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