Tuesday, November 23, 2010

15 Authors

There is a meme going round Facebook called "15 Authors" in which you list (you guessed it) 15 authors who have "influenced you and that will always stick with you". This is mine...

1. Joseph Heller -- Catch-22 is funniest book ever written - also: it's profound. Pity the fools who don't get it. [You know who you are].
2. Sophocles -- his plays are masterpieces. I've read Oedipus Rex five times, and it still gives me goose-bumps.
3. Dan Dennett -- too many brilliant books to count. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is arguably one of the best non-fiction books of the 90s. His "Postmodernism and Truth" shaped my thinking significantly.
4. Jorge Louis Borges -- author of innumerable mind-bending and beautiful short-stories. If you've not done so yet, listen to "The Library of Babel" (the mp3 is here).
5. John Stuart Mill -- On Liberty is his most important book, but his autobiography and A System of Logic are also very good.
6. Mancur Olson -- An economist actually worth reading. The Logic of Collective Action and Power and Prosperity are both must-reads. (The speculation about the origins of states in P&P is fantastic).
7. Vladimir Nabokov -- I've not read enough of his work, but Lolita is a disturbing, incisive study of obsession. His prose is sublime.
8. Simon Blackburn -- I actually like only one of his books - Think. The latter is the best single-volume introduction to philosophy. I read it at a pivotal time in my intellectual development.
9. Steven Pinker -- possibly the best popularizer of science around. Like Think, I read How the Mind Works at a pivotal time: it was really the start of my interest in science as a whole, and psychology and evolution in particular. The Blank Slate is also excellent.
10. Jared Diamond -- Guns, Germs and Steel is in my opinion THE best non-fiction book of the 90s. Must. Read. The Third Chimpanzee is also worth a read. (But avoid Why is Sex Fun?)
11. Cormac McCarthy -- The Road and Blood Meridian are wonderful both. I've decided to read his entire oeuvre over the next couple of years.
12. Paul Theroux -- his travel writing is something to behold. I'm not a huge fan of his fiction, other than The Mosquito Coast.
13. Richard Dawkins -- He's had a tremendous influence on me. The Selfish Gene first introduced modern theoretical biology to me, and it's had a lasting impact. The God Delusion inspired me to "come out" to my family as an atheist. His best book since The Blind Watchmaker is The Ancestor's Tale, if you haven't read it yet, do so.
14. Malcolm Gladwell -- my favorite science journalist. I've read all three of his books (Outliers is the best, followed by Blink, then The Tipping Point). He's actually on the list for his long-from New Yorker essays. Have a look at his archive.
15. John Rawls -- A Theory of Justice is the locus classicus of 20th century political philosophy. Reading it had an absolutely profound effect on me.


  1. Runners up:

    Erica Jong
    Leda Cosmides & John Tooby
    Peter Medawar
    Charles Darwin
    T.H. Huxley
    Francis Bacon
    Janet Radcliffe Richards

  2. What a great list. I particularly like Sophocles, Dennett, Borges, Pinker and Dawkins. Some of the others I have yet to read.
    Great list!

  3. Nice list, thanks.
    I've just finished Guns, Germs & Steel and agree that it's a must read. Wish I'd read it 20 yrs ago...
    I imagine the God Delusion inspired many to 'come out'. I'm one!

  4. @Anon... I wished I read GG&S before I chose a major! I suspect I would've been much less likely to go into political science. (Or at least 'bad' political science).

    Yeah, Dawkins has a "converts corner" on his website that shows many people were positively influenced by TGD.