Now, time to fire up a meme. There are super smart guys out there, and I’d be really curious to know what are the books that had some part in developing their thought process: hence I hereby tag Gianpaolo, Tim and Nigel to name at least 5 of the books that did the trick for them. I know that getting a reaction from Tim & Nigel will be difficult, they both blog very rarely, but it’s worth a try nonetheless 🙂
Speaking of books, amusingly, or maybe in a weird cosmic coincidence, on Saturday, in a Feng Shui inspired moment, I went to Half Price book and gave away many of the books that I read over the years. I have to confess that I was disappointed to only get a whooping $11.45 for the 60 or so books I gave back. Not that I cared about the money (my primary reason to go to half price books was to make sure they were recycled) but because it gave me the feeling that in the last few years I read a bunch of worthless books 🙂
Anyway, let’s go back to the tagging game and discuss a few books that impacted me, I cannot really say that they are the one that impacted me the most, but certainly they all had an impact one way or another:
The first one I would to say is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World :
I must have been 12 or so when I read it and it is the first book that made me think. I don’t think I caught all the underlying philosophical implications when I read it for the first time, but I caught enough to realize that books (and SF in particular) were an excellent way to surface and discuss fundamental human conditions. It triggered in me, the first self assessments of happiness, societal choices, politics etc. Funny enough, back then in my young unformed mind, I disagreed with the "morale" of the story and argued that sacrificing freedom and free will (through indoctrination) for perceived constant absolute happiness was an acceptable proposition (I changed my opinion since). As a pre-teen looking forward to full puberty, I think I also liked the fact that sex was a social activity in that society and was encouraged from early age, but I digress…
A much more recent book and probably the one that impacted me the most in the last couple of years is Taleb’s Black Swan
Of course, I liked the concepts of ludic fallacy, the short coming of theoretical model, the value of empiricism, I particularly liked "Fat Tony" approach to life but what this book mostly did for me was to put back into me the love of erudition. Before reading the black swan, I had spent a few years without really reading books. I thought (wrongly) that with the Internet, instant news, blogs… books could not offer interesting perspectives anymore. Following the book I went back to old Italian and French classic, such as Montaigne’s Les Essais, Rousseau’s Contrat Social, Machiavelli’s Principe… and enjoyed very much revisiting them. I even tried to get hold of German copy of Marx’ Das Kapital which I never read, but not too surprisingly I did not find it, looks like it is not a very common book in the USA 🙂
Two other books that I read recently that I found similar in their intent (although quite different in their content) are Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Schwartz’ Paradox of Choice. Both helped me rationalize a lot of things. It is amazing how easy it is to find yourself trapped into the proverbial rat race, where mean is confused with end. Although quite light in substance, by offering elements of science and empirical evidence on happiness, these two books helped re-prioritize certain aspect of my life.
A series of book that my friend and colleague Eugenio (who I will tag later) made me discover is Druon’s Les Rois maudits. Absolutely fascinating. The historic novels take place in the XIV century with characters such as the King of France, the Knights Templar, Archbishops of various cities… A part from being a great read, these books surface very articulately the perversion that Power has on human beings. Plots, counterplots, alliances and betrayals for world domination were as common then that they are now. You can replace the King of France, the Pope, the various barons with current political leaders and replace their quest for new land with Oil and it still works perfectly, showing that human nature has not changed in more than 700 years and is unlikely to change in the future.
Plenty of other books that did not individually shape my thinking process but most likely influenced me are the entire series of books I read about Silicon Valley, eBoys, founders at work, valley boy… business books such as purple cow, crossing the chasm, good to great, one actually that I found quite interesting is Peters’ Re-Imagine, more from a format perspective than content per se.
Finally, one last book that did not really teach me much, but certainly made me laugh countless time and I recommend to anybody is of course the almost harmless 🙂 Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy.
I am sure that I missed several fundamental books, but off the cuff this is my list. I would like now to pass the baton and tag a few people of which I highly respect their intellectual sharpness (and have a blog) I name: Eugenio, Darryl, Simon, Arvindra and Charles. Not sure how many will respond.
Thanks Vittorio for this trip to memory lane, it was fun to think back for an hour or so about the books I read…