Books That Have Shaped My Worldview
A Bonus Email
It would be nice to say that the thoughts I think are more than the sum total of the books I have read, but I don’t know if that is true. I’d like to think it is but who can say? So in the spirit of self-disclosure, and because some people in our Discord group asked, here’s a list of books that have been instrumental in shaping the way I think about things.
Now of course I think they are all excellent, but this is not necessarily a list of endorsements. I’m trying to be more descriptive rather than prescriptive here. Not ‘Here’s what you should read’ but ‘Here is what I have read and been influenced by, make of that what you will.’
Anyway, let’s get to it shall we…
Underground History of American Education- John Taylor Gatto
This list is in no order, other than perhaps a loose and subconscious chronology. But regardless this book by Gatto is the first title that popped into my head. I always saw schooled as a con and a waste of time in spite of the fact I was reasonably bright and certainly very, very curious. And then I found this book which explained all of the things I had felt but been unable to articulate.
It’s all here: the con-job of the whole corporate rat race game, how bureaucracies soon become about the perpetuation of themselves versus their actual stated aim, how many of the games of life are rigged, how schooling deliberately doesn’t educate you to become a critical thinking and resourceful citizen.
This massive tome is not as accessible as some of Gatto’s other books (all of his books are essentially reiterations of the same core themes) but it is his masterwork. It changed me at any rate.
The Intellectual Life Of The British Working Classes- Jonathan Rose
Still on the subject of education but with a more positive slant (kinda), this book lays out example after example of autodidactic working men and women from the 18th through 20th centuries. People with zero opportunities in the direst of working conditions and absolute grinding poverty educating themselves in their free time because they believed this was a worthwhile and essential thing to do. Without being cute or cloying this book is genuinely inspirational. But very, very long. But it affirmed everything I felt about self-education and following your own path.
How To Be Idle- Tom Hodgkinson
Of all of the books here this one may seem the most obvious if you have gotten to know me a little bit in the Discord. Because me and Mr Hodgkinson see eye to eye on an awful lot of things. Chiefly that life is for relaxation, contemplation and simple pleasure rather than striving and stress. And that ironically (if your temperament is anything like mine) that taking it easy is actually the way to get things done. This book is the antidote to the pervasive online hustle culture which makes it worth its weight in gold. A huge inspiration. Or again, affirmation of what I already felt but was unable to properly articulate as a teenager.
Early Retirement Extreme- Jacob Lund Fisker
I’m using this book to cover the whole sweep of money management type literature. Because it is the best of the book. At some point early on I realise that this idle life of self-education that I wanted required time. And time is often purchased with cash. So I needed to get my act together financially. I needed to become efficient. I needed a system. In fact this book introduced me to the whole idea of system thinking let alone mere money management. This book can be quite dry and their is a chance that many of you already know this stuff about passive income, withdrawal rates and all the rest of it. But to me it I blew my mind. Let alone all of the positive ethical implications of living the deliberate, systematic Renaissance Man type life that this book leads you towards.
A Love Supreme- Ashley Kahn
Simply put, I grew up obsessed with music. I still am. And as part of learning about music and life I read the music press a lot- NME, Q, Mojo, back issues of The Face and Select if I could get my hands on them. And through this I picked up the old ideas, the old cliches that the devil has the best tunes and that creativity and genius require a decadent and chaotic Bohemianism.
Well this book put that nonsense to bed. Coltrane is possibly my favourite musician and he got better when he cleaned up and became (even more) disciplined and spiritually oriented. I learned that the best art of all comes from decent, honest and compassionate people like Trane. After years of rock-myth nonsense this was a revelation.
The Politically Incorrect Guide To English And American Literature- Elizabeth Kantor
A similar debunking regarding literature occurred when I read this book, a powerful argument for the Canon and the ideas of objective skill and eternal themes in literature. This didn’t lead to a Demascene Liberal to Conservative conversion (affiliating with any side and in fact the whole of politics as it is currently presented seemed silly to me) for me but it certainly put to bed many a Romantic and relativistic stand that I had imbibed through my education to bed.
Amusing Ourselves To Death- Neil Postman
I know I should take a deep dive into McLuhan- and at some point I will- but for now this volume stands as the closest thing to McLuhanlike thought that I have actually read. Though written in the Reagan era this book on the insidious nature of advertising and the general (and intentional) dumbing down of the populace is as relevant as ever. More so perhaps. I have read it 3 or 4 times since discovering it in my late teens. I always get something from it. And in terms of length, form, tone and erudition I think it is the effect example of what a contemporary non-fiction book should be.
Orality And Literacy- Walter J Ong
This is one that I definitely need to re-read. Again. This is a classic in its field and it’s contrasting of oral and literate cultures is revered for a reason. Reading and writing are not ‘natural’ acts. We forget this. And as they are so pervasive, we forget just how much of an impact they make on the way we see the world and ourselves. This was one of those books where I instantly felt like I had gained another piece of the puzzle and another lens through which to see the world upon reading it.
The Revenge Of Analog- David Sax
The lesson learned here is about the importance of tangibility and how an overly digital life removes this necessary facet of existence. I read this during my hooked-on-twitter phase along with a whole host of other ‘downsides of digital’ type books. So I could have instead chosen to include Irresistible by Adam Alter or Alone Together by Sherry Turkle or The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Or a whole host of similar books. But I chose this one because it implies solutions as well as articulating the problems of too much screen time that we have all felt. I leaned on this book heavily to write The Future Is Analogue
Wanting- Luke Burgis
Rene Girard’s mimetic theory is one of those ideas that once you have learned it you begin to see it everywhere. And my friend and discord alumnus Luke’s book on it is the best introduction to it around. A great way to begin the potentially lifelong journey into literature, anthropology, religion and society as seen through the Girardian lens. At least it is proving to be for me. I also include this book because it is new. Many of the books above I read a long, long time ago. But the fact that such a recent book has had such an impact shows that the autodidactic journey and the contemplative life only ends when you decide it does.
So there you are.
Happy reading and I’ll see you over at the discord,