Books that Shaped You

What books helped shape your political and moral opinions?

A lot has gone into my reading list. Here’s a list of the things I think were most important, with a focus on fiction:

  • Starship Troopers. Often derided as fascist, this book… isn’t fascist. It’s not a complicated book, but it does contain a lot of essays about political theory and the application of force: a lot of its message is “You don’t own it if you’re not willing to defend it.”
  • The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand was not a … good writer, but the Fountainhead’s focus on personal creativity and adherence to individual vision was, and is, inspiring. There’s a lot to find distasteful here – her view of personal relationships was… um… not profitable to anyone who didn’t enjoy the concept of Fifty Shades of Grey, but she avoids bonking her readers over the head quite so much with morality plays in The Fountainhead, unlike some of her other books.
  • Dune. Dune is a fantastic book for communicating ideas about perspective and control. When the Imperium itself is 10000 years old, the value of an individual life… it ends up looking like what it is: a drop of water in a vast river. It’s still valuable, but it can’t scream that it’s the point of the river, nor is it in control.
  • Foundation. In addition to being a rollicking set of adventures, the perspective shifts about what’s important and what things drive economies and political engines are wonderful. And then Asimov breaks the model with an outsized predator just to show the system in action.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyone who can read this without being affected is a robot. Accepted groupthink along tribal lines died for me for once and for all when reading this book… even accepted groupthink that agrees with the premise, that racism is wrong and evil. It is wrong and evil… but it’s not a set of definitions that can be applied without reason. I may agree with groupthink, but it’s because I agree, not because it’s groupthink.
  • Lucifer’s Hammer. An apocalyptic book about a comet’s calves hitting the earth, it’s a lot like Starship Troopers in that it focuses heavily on the issues one would care about given a lack of comfortable privation.
  • A Wizard of EarthSea. Illustrated the idea that a hero didn’t have to act like, or look like, a traditional hero. Wizards who didn’t focus on blasting spells at enemies? Wizards who were not white? Even gender issues were addressed. Fantastic book, fantastic series, fantastic author.
  • The Wheel of Time. As a prospective author of fiction, this series gives me hope: if people are willing to pay for crap like this, then maybe I can some day retire by pumping out similar dreck. An author whose best material falls under the quality level of Robert Jordan’s offerings really should never be willing to write such that others can buy it. Books not linked because I’m a kind person and I don’t want someone to accidentally read this and blame me.

This is hardly a list of “good material” – I mean, I’m leaving off the Jubal van Zandt series, Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, The Mote in God’s Eye, Night, Neuromancer… really more books than I can even think of at the moment. But these are the books that I can think of right now that shaped my political and personal philosophies the most.

What about you?

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