There have been a raft of lists of “10 books that have influenced me most” going around lately. The meme was initiated by Tyler Cowen, and picked up by quite a few other regular bloggers, mostly in the economic and political spheres. The idea is to spend some time thinking about the books that have led you to have the worldview that you presently hold. I thought it would be useful for those thinking about science and society to get in on the act. Here are mine.
- The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin. The Big Daddy of them all. I may not have read it in its entirety, but there is little question that it has been the single most influential book on my worldview. And, IMHO, on the worldview of, well, the world.
- The Integrative Action of the Nervous System by Charles Scott Sherrington. There was much about modern neuroscience of which Sherrington was not aware, but his anticipation of synapses and the integration that goes on in nervous tissue remains highly influential.
- Principles of Psychology by William James. It is hard to imagine writing a book in 1890 that still gets cited regularly by students of the brain 120 years later. But he did it.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Tied with 1984 as the two most influential dystopias going. BNW gets top billing only for sentimental reasons – Aldous was the grandson of my personal hero Thomas Henry Huxley, famous for being Darwin’s bulldog, winner of the infamous smackdown debate with Samuel Wilberforce and originator of the intellectually honest position of agnosticism.
- 1984 by George Orwell. See #2.
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Turned the dystopias of Huxley and Orwell into “Oh Oh” moments for us all. It turns out that humans really can misuse technology, to their own detriment. Introduced the concept of blowback to the general public decades before the word entered common parlance.
- The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller. Darwin is best known for the theory of evolution via natural selection, but Miller has singlehandedly put Darwin’s other important intellectual contribution, evolution via sexual selection, on the map.
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. The nitty gritty of the sociology of scientific advances doesn’t get any better than this.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson. Not only did the book anticipate the concept of cyberspace, and have much to say about one potential future vision of brains, but it opened my eyes to the idea that the world might one day be ruled as much by multinationals as by nation states. Current events seem to once again corroborate Bill’s vision.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Sweeping novel with sensitive treatments of culture, genetics, and, at its core, personal identity.
By all means, suggest your own in the comments.
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