Top 11 Most Life-Changing Books

Here’s a list of the books (along with a memorable quote from each!) that have rocked the foundations of my perspectives on the human condition and our relative place in the cosmos. Topics include utopian fiction, ecology, socio-political analyses & critiques, animal ethics, conservation, psychoanalysis, philosophy, history, and literature. Enjoy!

  • The Universe Within – Neil Shubin “The American Philosopher William James often said that religious experience emanates from ‘feeling at home in the universe.’ With bodies composed of particles derived from the birth of stellar bodies and containing organs shaped by the workings of planets, eroding rock, and the action of the seas, it is hard not to see home everywhere.”
  • Leviathan, or The Whale – Philip Hoare “We are living through a vast experiment, one which may result in the flooded world that Melville imagined; a world that the whales will inherit, evolving into superior beings with only distant memories of the time when they were persecuted by beings whose greed proved to be their downfall.”
  • Letters from the Earth – Mark Twain “And so I find that we have descended and degenerated, from some far ancestor (some microscopic atom wandering at its pleasure between the mighty horizons of a drop of water perchance) insect by insect, animal by animal, reptile by reptile, down the long highway of smirchless innocence, till we have reached the bottom stage of development (namable as the Human Being). Below us, nothing.”
  • Looking Backwards: 200 – 1887 – Edward Bellamy “In the time of one generation men laid aside the social traditions and practices of barbarians, and assumed a social order worthy of rational and human beings. Ceasing to be predatory in their habits, they became coworkers, and found in fraternity, at once, the science of wealth and happiness. It was for the first time possible to see what unperverted human nature was really like.”
  • The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm “And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: despite the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power.”
  • A Modern Utopia – H.G Wells “On how many occasions must that ancestor of ours have had just the Utopist’s feeling of ambitious unreality, have decided that on the whole it was wiser to go very quickly home again, and leave the big beast alone? But, in the end, men rode upon the elephant’s head, and guided him this way or that…The Thing in Being that roars so tremendously about Charing Cross corner seems a bigger antagonist than an elephant, but then we have better weapons than chipped flint blades…”
  • The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guin “There is no freedom. It is a box- Urras is a box, a package, with all the beautiful wrapping of blue sky and meadows and forests and great cities. And you open the box, and what is inside it? A black cellar full of dust, and a dead man. A man whose hand was shot off because he held it out to others. I have been in hell at last..Hell is Urras.”
  • Walden – Henry David Thoreau “Men frequently say to me, ‘I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.’ I am tempted to reply to such- This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the milky way? What do we want most to dwell near to?…to the perennial source of our life, whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that direction.” 
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate – Naomi Klein “We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more ‘inputs’ (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can’t afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages  instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on debts would collapse.”
  • The Myth of Progress – Tom Wessels “If everything we observe in the world around us honors limits to growth as a means to sustain itself, why is the underlying foundation of our current paradigm of progress ever-increasing growth? The answer lies in a body of economic theory that that not only has no grounding in, but is actually divorced from, the scientific laws that govern the universe. In a very real sense our reigning neoclassical economic orthodoxy has been developed in an artificial world where resources are infinite, and waste, including garbage, pollution, toxins, and environmental degradation, don’t exist, and where our socioeconomic system functions in a void rather than being nested within the biosphere.”
  • Ecology as Politics – André Gorz Then, dear neoliberal economists, tell us quickly: how much is a ray of sunlight worth? Fresh air without lead or sulphur fumes? A dip in the sea or the lakes? At what price will industry and the banks be able to ransom all this in order to sell us at retail- in the form of air purifiers, clinics, and hotel rooms- what they have stolen wholesale? And what’s the price of hearing, smell, and human life?”- Gorz, Ecology as Politics

 

Content by Heather Alberro

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