The Dictionary – No, I’ve never actually read the dictionary cover-to-cover. But I’ve always valued the dictionary’s ability to answer my word-related questions and to teach me something new. Today, I get daily new-word stimulation from e-mails put out by a-word-a-day.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. I read this as young teenager, and was captivated by the plot, which encompasses political intrigue, religion, love and above all, revenge.
Close contenders from the same period (both my life and their authors’ lives) are Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo and A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Decades later, in fact, I went through a major Dickens phase, reading most of his books.
The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White – I first encountered this succinct guide in high school, and it remains at my elbow today. Like the dictionary, the plot is thin, but the content is timeless. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”, it makes me want to be a better writer.
Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill – I read this slim volume for a philosophy survey class in college, and found that the Greatest-Happiness Principle made sense to me. It still does. Utilitarianism, in brief, has the highest level of happiness of the greatest number of people as its ultimate goal, and Mill, in general, believed that educated individuals provided the best chance of achieving it.
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand — Another college-era book, this is not great writing, but its ideas are powerful, and it was different enough to appeal to me then. I continue to believe that overall, enlightened self-interest and free markets create more value and progress than the best-meaning governments.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac – I also read this in college, though not for any class, and it’s one of the reasons I interrupted my studies—twice!—to spend time traveling and working, both in the U.S. and abroad. To this day, I love traveling and I love working!
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, by Edwin Lefevre. I read this soon after I joined Cabot as an editor. It’s highly readable, and does a great job illustrating the many foibles of the investing animal. Even though technology has made investing vastly different since this book was published in 1923, human nature remains unchanged, and it’s human nature that governs the tides that move the stock market.
Discovering the Laws of Life, by John Marks Templeton. I read this after hearing Templeton speak at my brother’s alma mater, Babson College. Templeton was an extremely successful investor, but through his life he also demonstrated great humility and spirituality. In fact, the Templeton Prize, given annually for work in the spiritual dimension, is intentionally larger (monetarily) than the Nobel Prize.
This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin. I’ve always loved music, though I was puzzled by its utility; why did humans evolve to create and appreciate music? This book answered the question, and in general provided an outstanding understanding of the role of music in our lives.
The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell. I read this in 2010 after a Cabot subscriber recommended it, and the result was a substantial adjustment in my eating habits. My eating philosophy now (not that you asked, but you read this far), is to always strive to make the best choices possible with regard to food. In brief, this means favoring vegetables, fruits and nuts, and olive oil over grains over fish over shellfish over eggs over dairy products over chicken over lamb over pork over beef.
If you wrote about “Ten Books that Changed My Life”, what would you put on your list?