Friday, March 19, 2010

books which have influenced me most.

Stolen from Chris Brown, who stole it in turn from Marginal Revolution, here are the 10 books (in order, at least through the top 4) which have most influenced me:

1. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler.  
--A model for living decently in a patently indecent world.  In practical terms, it's a beautiful and endlessly readable book, and Chandler is probably the greatest influence on my writing.

2.  The Works of T.S. Eliot.  
--Eliot speaks to me as a writer because he shows me how to communicate in absolute terms.  He speaks to me as a thinker because he's as preoccupied with the Western tradition as I am.  He speaks to me as a reader because his poetry is as breathtaking today as it was when I first read him.

3.  The Roman Revolution, by Ronald Syme.
4.  Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War, translated by Thomas Hobbes.  
--Historians like to talk about revelatory moments, times when something suddenly clicks or a particular historical question reveals itself.  Learning from these books in Oxford provided me the former, showing me that there's no such thing as nonfiction, and that there's no value in history if it's abstracted from the people who need it.

5.  Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.  
--There were a lot of things I thought I understood about the Western tradition after reading Plato, but none of them (especially the conflict between reason and passion) were really clear until I read Hamlet

6.  The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk.  
--Kirk introduced me to Edmund Burke, the political philosopher whose insights and values are most closely calibrated to mine.  When I try to define my political beliefs now, Kirk's discussions of Burke, Tocqueville, and others serve as invaluable guideposts.

7.  The Greek Way, by Edith Hamilton.
8.  Homer's Iliad, translated by Samuel Butler.
9.  Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, translated by Robert Graves. 
--These three books, more than any others, fostered my love of the classics and really got me enthusiastic about the sweeping heroism, complex characters, and occasional hilarity of the ancient world.

10.  As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.
--Faulkner's ability to write transcendentally about the mundane aspirations of a white trash family, to elevate their quest from a spiteful demand to a grand tragedy, left an indelible impression on me; the notion that you can make something beautiful or meaningful out of ugliness is profound and profoundly interesting.

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