Forum: What Are The Most Influential Books In Your Life? Why?

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Every Monday, the WoW! community and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question: What Are The Most Influential Books In Your Life? Why?

Don Surber:The Bible. Of course. I’ve never read the whole thing. Most people don’t. But religion tames men and gives us hope and shows how utterly insignificant and irreplaceable we are.

The Little Red Hen was very valuable in showing that you must work to eat. My late mother lived that life, planting the seed, harvesting the crop, etc. to feed five kids.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf taught me the lesson of telling false tales. I avoid it and avoid people who lie.
Chicken Little taught me the danger of following the crowd. In retrospect, Foxy Loxy gave them the ending they deserved.

Fahrenheit 451 deserves a mention. I mean, how can you love books and not admire those who memorized them to keep the books alive? But it did not shape me as much as those simple childhood books. And the Bible on which our civilization is based.

Mainly the Bible. Hope.

Doug Hagin:First the Bible, for very obvious reasons.

Next Animal Farm, what a great book. I opened my eyes to the evils of Marxism. I read it at 12, The line …but some animals are more equal that others is etched in my mind.

The third book was called Democracy vs Communism. Animal Farm kind of led me to this one. It detailed the horrific thing done under Lenin, Stalin, and under Communism in other nations.

Fourth, was a three volume set by Douglas Southall Freeman. Lee’s Lieutenants. What a great work looking at Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. I have re-read it a few times. It gives great insight into how an army worked at that time, and into the generalship of Lee, and his generals

Last, I would say, The Federalist Papers.Anyone wishing to grasp America, Federalism, why we are NOT a democracy, etc must read this.

Bookworm Room: Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, which taught me that respect is a powerful motivator.

Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice, which taught me that even bad life experiences can lead to good things.

Max Dimont’s Jews, God & History, which helped me understand how important Jewish ideas have been in the West.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which taught me that it’s not always easy to do the right thing, but that you still have to try to do the right thing.

Giovannino Guareschi’s Don Camillo books, which gracefully explained how horrible communism is.

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, a brilliant book about Leftist totalitarianism, and a book that leaves me confused about Goldberg’s intransigent NeverTrumpism.

John McWhorter’s Losing the Race, the first book that made me aware of the way in which the modern welfare state devastated American blacks.

R.F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, which introduced me to the notion of “Few rules, but unbreakable,” which I’ve applied to child rearing and think should be applied to government.

Keith Richburg’s Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, which makes the argument that, although slavery in America was a deep moral failing, those blacks whose ancestors were brought here should be grateful, because it’s no fun being a black in Africa.

Jane Austen’s books, all of them, which remind us that ethical dignity, with a dose of acerbic humor, is a good way to go through life (not that I’ve ever met Jane Austen’s standards)

Leo Rosten’s The Joy of Yiddish, which is allegedly a lousy book when it comes to Yiddish purity, but is a wonderful book about Jewish American culture in the early 20th century.

And most recently, Dennis Prager’s The Rational Bible : Exodus, which is a book everyone should read to grasp core moral principles that lead to a free, functioning, highly successful society wherever they are applied.

I have to amend my list, because Doug reminded me about 1984. Second, I have to boast a little: I have read the whole Bible. I can’t imagine any school in America offering it anymore (including a Divinity school), but at Cal I took a class called “The Bible as Literature.” We read the whole thing, both Old and New Testaments. The teacher was boring, but the book, except for the begats and the rules in Leviticus was fascinating. Looking back, I suspect that laid the groundwork for me to become a conservative one day.

I’d better stop now or I’ll never stop. I keep thinking of more books.


Dave Schuler
: Max Dimont was a family friend. Shortly after the first edition of Jews, God, and History was published my parents invited him over for dinner. Nearly 60 years later I can still remember the evening vividly.

Patrick O’Hannigan:Fun question!

Hard to narrow my list of influential books.

I’ll put the Bible on that list because it has influenced me, but unlike some of my illustrious colleagues, I haven’t read it all the way through!

The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer
, by Douglas C. Jones, is the book that showed me how interesting and thought-provoking “alternate history” could be.

Red Sky at Morning, by Richard Bradford, is still the wisest and funniest “coming of age” tale I’ve ever read.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy introduced wild new vistas to my imagination, and convinced me of the perennial worth of heroism and persistence.

Last but not least, the WW2 prisoner-of-war memoir Give Us This Day, by Sidney Stewart was memorable not simply because Stewart survived not just the Bataan Death March and a long stint in a Japanese concentration camp, but also because my dad read it aloud to my brother and I over a summer when we were teenagers. He meant that as a character-building exercise, and although I was initially embarrassed that our neighbors could see these sessions (at a public table in front of our townhome), I realized later that my dad was right.

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The Razor
: All of these books are on a nearby shelf. There are many more but I chose some that others likely did not.

PJ O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell. How I discovered the conservative satirist – while I was a flaming liberal no less. I still remember what he said about Korean democracy when he was asked about it after attending a rally where he was tear gassed: “Tastes terrible.” This book made me want to see the world. I carried it with me to Japan and Africa.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This book helped me weather the storms of young adulthood and later helped again when I had to quit drinking. To me it’s an American classic, a psychological On the Road.

Dietrich Dorner, The Logic of Failure. This book traces the path towards failure in complex systems and explains how individuals and groups create failure. As our world gets increasingly complex the lessons of this book are critical. I’ve written the author and begged him to update it or write a sequel but was ignored.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. One of my co-workers begged me to read this for months. Finally just to shut him up I read it – and found one of my top 5 books. It explains everything from why only a few writers and musicians are able make a living while most scrape by, and why economists are the modern equivalent of the ancient augurs who sacrificed animals then poked around their innards to divine the future.

Philip K. Dick, Ubik. His best work in my opinion and one deserving of a movie. Explores the nature of reality in ways that are only now being discussed. Dick was a true visionary and prophet and one of the 20th century’s great writers, and I have never forgotten that my mind is locked in a dark case with only a few limited sensory inputs into it.

Laura Rambeau Lee: There are so many books that have influenced my life, but I will narrow it down to the following six:

As a precocious youth searching for meaning and truth I discovered and read A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell and was introduced to Cicero. It is a historical fiction about his life during the time of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire and many of his writings are scattered throughout the book. Since then I’ve read pretty much everything Cicero has written as his observations on philosophy, life, and politics rang true in his time and are sustained throughout the existence of humankind.

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand convey the importance of the individual and our inviolable right to self determination and to fully enjoy the rewards of our labor. Her works are a warning to us about the evil that exists in the world in the form of communism/socialism/Marxism and those who attempt to strip us of these rights.

When I attended college in the mid 1970s I took many classes with a particular German professor because I was interested in hearing him speak about his experiences growing up in Germany. Many years later Professor Rainulf A. Stelzmann wrote his memoir titled Thinking of Germany at Night: A Personal View of the Years 1927 to 1956. His book is a must read for anyone who has wondered what it was like for an average family living in Germany during the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton is a fictional story surrounding the disappearances of over thirty thousand people into the general’s prisons and torture chambers in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Argentina. The main character is a man who has visions of the fates of those who have disappeared and people come to him eager to know what happened to their loved ones, although when his wife, a journalist, disappears he is unable to “imagine” what happened to her. It is a powerful story of the human need for closure no matter how horrific the details may be, and also how uncertainty and randomness are the ultimate tools of evil. Uncertainty causes paralysis and inability to act allowing evil to grow and take hold. We can and must have certainty and control within our personal lives in order to deal effectively with the chaos and evil around us.

The Bible tops my list of influential books, for it conveys through its stories and parables the moral codes and immutable natural laws that guide us all. What it teaches us is that all human beings have the capacity for both good and evil within them and that no matter how difficult and challenging even when we fail we can be redeemed.

Rob Miller: I love books. I always have.

A fascinating topic, n’est pah? As I think about books that influenced my thinking, it seems they can be categorized to a degree. So I’m going to try to work that in.

The first book I recall as a major influence was Gibbon’s Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. I read it at 16. I got it out of my high school library and the last time anyone had checked it out was 9 years ago. I devoured it and it gave me a fascination with history that still lasts. Some of Gibbon’s research is now antiquated, but his delightful use of language and his clarity in communicating how freedom and morality can disappear and degenerate over time is unchanged. With that and an assist from Shakespeare (who got a lot of his plots from him) I managed to get hold of Plutarch’s Lives and other chroniclers of those times like Livy, the Plinys and Thucydides. Other history I’ve  particularly enjoyed? Churchill’s history of WWI, The World Crisis, his six volume history of WWII, Shirer’s two great histories The Rise and Fall Of The Third Reich and The Fall of France, which more Americans should read because of certain similarities to our own politics  in the last quarter century. I’ve also enjoyed Barbara Tuchman’s books, in particular A Distant Mirror, her history of the 14th century, The First Salute, about our  Revolution and  The March of Folly, which discusses how great nations screw up. Two other books I particularly like are The Discovery And Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who was there with Cortez and William Prescott’s The Conquest of Peru, which will give you an account of the only society where socialism ever worked, and why it failed. Castillo’s book will tell you exactly why Cortez was able to conquer Mexico and why the myth of ‘Atzlan’ popular in some circles is total nonsense when you look at who the Aztecs were and the vicious tyranny which characterized how they ruled.

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Looking at the shelves, I also seem to have a weakness for biographies and first person accounts,especially of people I admire…or really don’t admire at all!

Fiction? Favorite Authors include Taylor Caldwell (Favorite book, Dialogues With the Devil which maybe Laura has read) Homer, Virgil, Somerset Maugham, Aeschylus, Herman Melville, Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Sherlock Holmes stories), Victor Hugo, Jack Kerouac, and JRR Tolkien. I have pretty much everything he wrote,  including the marvelous Silmarillion.  The message of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is of course quite relevant to our own times. We too must drop appeasement and those who practice it as we destroy evil. I seem to have a weakness for tales of heroism and standing up for basic  principles even when it is costly and even dangerous. Gotta include Brave New WorldLord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange on this list

Political stuff? David Horowitz’s Radical Son which shows exactly how the commies attacked America with Gramscion warfare to penetrate our culture and institutions. Tammy Bruce’s The New Thought Police. Most of  Ann Coulter (selectively) and Rush Limbaugh’s books. And Machiavelli’s The Prince, an amazing primer on politics and leadership.

OK  now we get to the real meat, religious, occult  and metaphysical stuff.  At any rate, I had an experience in my early teens that convinced me beyond any doubt  that there is a world outside that which we see and process.Growing up in a very secular home, it opened me up to a lot of inquiry about what I’d experienced.

The occult stuff  included what’s known as the Apocrypha, which is scripture that didn’t make it into the Bible like the Book of Noah, which details what really happened during the Flood and why. Another key book was Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough which is essentially an examination and compendium of various forms of occult practice, shamanism and what’s known as ceremonial magic. It’a fascinating read, and led  me to other sources on the subject that were valuable and definitely influential as far as teaching me certain values, self control and mental concentration. Caveat:   I would NOT recommend anyone getting into this stuff unless you really know what you’re doing, have the proper goals and attitude in mind  and are mentally prepared to handle it.

Religious literature? I’ve read the Bible at least 3 times, including not just the Torah but the whole shebang including the prophets and the writings. Ecclesiastes (Kohelas to the Tribe) is a compelling account of what is truly important in life, written by King Solomon, obviously one of the wisest men who has ever lived.   I’ve also read certain commentaries like the ones by Rashi and a fascinating Torah copy with translations of  commentaries by the Lubavitcher Rebbe  ..what an amazing  mind that man had! As one of my favorite Ravs once ribbed me during a little debate we had, “The Bible’s a great book! You oughta read it sometime!”

Ah, Brooklyn! Gotta love it.

One book I think a lot of people might find interesting and clarifying is Biblical Literacy, written by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, another incredible mind. It goes over the text and explains it in very accessible and I dare say entertaining  language.

I first read the New Testament in junior high, thanks to an amazing teacher who befriended m,e a Evangelical Christian named Bert Ortrum. I read  the Qur’an (Pickthall translation), Sunnah and a gob of the Hadiths after 9/11, not satisfied with what President Bush was trying to feed us. I also have a copy of the Book of Mormon, given to me by a close friend. I found it interesting both in terms of understanding the LDS faith, why so many of the Mormons I meet (lots of them around my neighborhood)  are such admirable people and why we get along so well. Of course, I never met Harry Reid so…

Well, there it is!

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