BLOOMSBURYGOODREADINGGUIDES 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS Nick Rennison A & C Black • London First published 2008 A & C Black Publishers Limited 38 Soho Square London W1D 3HB www. acblack. com © 2008 Nick Rennison ISBN: 978–0–7136–8872–6 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems – without the written permission of A & C Black Publishers Limited.
This book is produced using paper that is made from wood grown in managed, sustainable forests. It is natural, renewable and recyclable. The logging and manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. Typeset in 8. 5pt on 12pt Meta-Light Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Bookmarque, Croydon, CR0 4TD CONTENTS ABOUTTHISBOOK INTRODUCTION vi x iv A–ZLISTOFENTRIESBYAUTHOR ATOZOFENTRIES 1 THEMATICENTRIES
Altered consciousness 61 • The child is father to the man 94 • Classics for children (and adults) 9 • Exploration and endurance 121 • Great thinkers, great ideas 39 • In touch with nature 16 • Inspiring memoirs 65 • It’s all in the psychology 96 • Making sense of death 113 • Native wisdom 18 • New physics, new philosophy 14 • Society will never seem the same 45 • Surviving the Holocaust 141 • Up from slavery 30 • Wisdom from the East 134 • Womanpower 48 iii ABOUTTHISBOOK The individual entries in the guide are arranged A to Z by author.
They describe the chosen books as concisely as possible and say something briefly about the writer and his or her life. Each entry is followed by a ‘Read on’ list which includes books by the same author, books by similar authors or books on a theme relevant to the entry. Scattered throughout the text there are also ‘Read on a theme’ menus which list between six and a dozen titles united by a common theme. All the first choice books in this guide have dates attached to them. In the case of English and American writers, there is one date which indicates first publication in the UK or the USA.
For translated writers, there are two dates. The first indicates publication in the original language and the second is the date of the book’s first appearance in English. For example, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is marked as 1949 (first publication in French) and 1953 (first translation into English). For some older texts, either there is no commonly accepted date for publication or the idea of publication, in the modern sense, was largely meaningless in the social context in which they were written.
In these instances, approximate dates for the writing of the texts have been given. iv ABOUT THIS BOOK In choosing the 100 books for this guide, I have followed in the footsteps of Desert Island Discs. The guests on that long-running radio programme are always asked about the one book that they would take with them to the desert island but it is assumed that the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are already awaiting them on the sands beneath the palm trees. In the same way, I have excluded the Bible, the Koran and other major religious texts as well as Shakespeare from my list.
On the basis that poetry is too large a subject to have what could be seen as just a token presence in this guide, I have also omitted volumes of verse. Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, which some people would label poetry, I have included because I prefer to categorise it as lyrical prose. v INTRODUCTION What exactly is a ‘life-changing’ book? There is no genre of ‘lifechanging’ literature in the same sense that there are genres of ‘crime fiction’, ‘romantic fiction’ and ‘science fiction’ yet nearly all enthusiastic readers would acknowledge that some books they have read have had a profound impact on them.
Books that change lives undoubtedly exist. This guide is not meant to provide a list of the ‘best’ life-changing books available. The idea that there can be a definitive list of the books most likely to change lives, and change them for the better, is a ludicrous one. Books can change lives but they do so in a wide variety of often subtle ways. Very different books can, in different ways, be life-changing and the selection of titles in this book reflects that. 00 Must-Read LifeChanging Books finds space for, amongst others, a children’s novel about a young girl who discovers a key to a secret garden, a Chinese text on war from the sixth century BC, a black comedy set in the Second World War, the autobiography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable statesmen, a handbook on happiness by one of the world’s great religious leaders and a fable about a pilot who meets a storytelling child in the Sahara desert. What such widely varying books do have in common is that they have all changed the lives of readers in the past and they will continue to do so in the future.
Some books can change people in very specific ways. Those oppressed by racism can take strength from works like the autobiographies of vi INTRODUCTION Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X. Women can reassess society and their own position in it after reading books like The Female Eunuch or The Beauty Myth. Those who feel themselves alienated from the world can take heart from reading about the lives of those, like Helen Keller, who have triumphed over the most extraordinary odds. This guide includes a significant number of titles which fall into this category.
Other books have a greater life-changing impact when read at one age than they do when read at another. Some novels read in adolescence (Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, for example, or Kerouac’s On the Road) can fundamentally alter the way in which the reader views the world. They become so identified with a particular period in the reader’s life that re-reading them later can be a disconcerting, even disillusioning, experience. Yet adolescence is not the only age at which certain books are likely to have their most profound effect.
E. M. Forster once wrote that, ‘the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves’. And, as Doris Lessing says in her introduction to a 1971 edition of her novel The Golden Notebook (a book which has its own place in this guide), ‘Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice versa. Her advice to readers (‘Don’t read a book out of its right time for you’) remains valid. Books that make us look at the world anew can be either fiction or nonfiction. Both have their place in a guide to life-changing literature. Novels can be much more than just entertainment – engaging narratives with which to while away some of life’s idler moments. Very often emotional truths can be better conveyed through stories than they can by any other means. The stories we have always told ourselves give meaning to our vii 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS ives and help to draw us out of the narrow sphere of self into a more active engagement with others. It should come as no surprise to learn that about a third of the titles in 100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books will be found on the Fiction shelves in any bookshop or library. The two-thirds of titles in the guide that are non-fiction can be further sub-divided into a number of smaller categories. There are memoirs of remarkable people which can inspire new ways of seeing our own lives. There are masterpieces of spiritual nsight, which can re-adjust one’s sense of the human and the divine and the relationship between them, and books by distinguished scientists which explain for non-scientists the often dizzying ideas about the nature of the universe and about ourselves which modern physics and biology have revealed. Other entries in the guide introduce the works of psychologists whose writings reinterpret human nature, self-help authors who can open up new paths through life for people in trouble and commentators whose wisdom and understanding make us look again at the kind of society we have created.
I have tried to make the selection of 100 books in this guide as interesting and varied as I could. Some were written more than 2,000 years ago, some in the last 20 years. Some present a simple and direct message to their readers, others a demanding and challenging intellectual argument. Some are the work of people who are household names, others by writers who are less well-known than, perhaps, they should be. There were titles which it was very difficult to ignore.
It would be difficult to argue with the sheer statistics of numbers of copies sold and claim that books like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull do not deserve their places in a guide to life-changing books. There are other titles (Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees, for example) which may not have quite the viii INTRODUCTION fame that others do but which, I would argue, have a message for readers just as important. There is sometimes an assumption that, if we want to change our lives for the better, the books that we read should be relentlessly upbeat and optimistic.
It is an assumption on which many a career in writing self-help and business books has been built but it is, I think, a false one. We cannot change ourselves or our lives in any meaningful way by pretending that the world is other than it is or that terrible things do not happen in it. A significant number of the books in this guide have as their subject matter some of the worst events in human history. Yet, paradoxically, books about the Holocaust (Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man or Elie Wiesel’s Night) or Stalinist terror (Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope) can be the ones which alter readers’ views of life the most.
Perhaps it is only through facing up to the suffering and wretchedness in the world that people can come to appreciate the best that it has to offer. I return to the point I made in the first paragraph of this introduction. Books that change lives inarguably exist. I believe that every single one of the 100 titles I have chosen for this guide can be placed in the category of ‘life-changing’ books. However, the ways in which books change lives are multifarious and the titles in 100 Must-Read LifeChanging Books have been selected in order to reflect this fact.
Any reading guide which includes books by J. K. Rowling and Germaine Greer, Richard Dawkins and Mahatma Gandhi, Stephen Hawking and J. R. R. Tolkien is going to be wide-ranging, whatever else it is. I hope that it will also prove inspirational enough to send readers off in search of books that they might not otherwise have read. And – who knows? – perhaps some of those readers will find their lives changed. ix A–ZLISTOFENTRIES BYAUTHOR The following is a checklist of authors featured in this book.
Isabel Allende 1 Maya Angelou 2 Margaret Atwood 4 Marcus Aurelius 5 Richard Bach 7 Frances Hodgson Burnett 8 Joseph Campbell 10 Albert Camus 11 Fritjof Capra 13 Rachel Carson 15 Carlos Castaneda 16 Jung Chang 18 Paulo Coelho 20 Dalai Lama 75 Charles Darwin 21 Richard Dawkins 22 x Simone De Beauvoir 24 Jared Diamond 25 Philip K. Dick 27 Frederick Douglass 28 Sebastian Faulks 30 Anne Frank 32 Victor Frankl 33 Sigmund Freud 34 Jostein Gaarder 37 Mohandas K. Gandhi 39 Kahlil Gibran 41 Jean Giono 42 Malcolm Gladwell 43 Daniel Goleman 45 Germaine Greer 47 G. I. Gurdjieff 49 A–Z LIST OF ENTRIES BY AUTHOR
Alex Haley 50 Stephen Hawking 51 Joseph Heller 53 Eugen Herrigel 54 Hermann Hesse 55 S. E. Hinton 57 Douglas Hofstadter 58 Aldous Huxley 59 William James 61 C. G. Jung 63 Helen Keller 64 Jack Kerouac 66 Ken Kesey 67 Martin Luther King 68 Barbara Kingsolver 70 Naomi Kline 71 J. Krishnamurti 72 Milan Kundera 74 Harper Lee 77 Doris Lessing 78 Primo Levi 80 C. S. Lewis 81 James Lovelock 82 Malcolm X 84 xi Nelson Mandela 86 Nadezhda Mandelstam 87 Gabriel Garcia Marquez 88 Yann Martel 90 Anne Michaels 91 Alice Miller 92 Dan Millman 94 Toni Morrison 96 Friedrich Nietzsche 98 Michael Ondaatje 99 Boris Pasternak 100 M.
Scott Peck 102 Steven Pinker 103 Robert M. Pirsig 104 Sylvia Plath 106 Annie Proulx 107 James Redfield 108 Luke Rhinehart 110 Sogyal Rinpoche 111 J. K. Rowling 113 Antoine De Saint Exupery 115 J. D. Salinger 116 Eric Schlosser 117 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS E. F. Schumacher 119 Ernest Shackleton 120 Carol Shields 122 Peter Singer 124 Alexander Solzhenitsyn 125 Art Spiegelman 127 Henry David Thoreau 128 J. R. R. Tolkien 130 Leo Tolstoy 131 Lao Tzu 132 Sun Tzu 134 Kurt Vonnegut 136 Alice Walker 137 Edmund White 138 Elie Wiesel 140 Jeanette Winterson 142 Naomi Wolf 143 Virginia Woolf 144 Paramahansa Yogananda 146 xii A–ZOFENTRIES
ISABEL ALLENDE (b. 1942) PERU/CHILE THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS (1982) Isabel Allende was born in Peru, where her father was Chilean ambassador, and had a peripatetic upbringing around the world as the family moved from country to country. As a young woman she worked for a time in Europe but she was living in Chile in 1973 when the coup which brought to an end the democratic government of her cousin Salvador Allende put her life in danger and she was forced into exile. Her first novel for adults, The House of the Spirits, became an international bestseller and she has since published more than a dozen further books, both fiction and non-fiction. What I don’t write, I forget,’ Isabel Allende once said, ‘and then it is as if it never happened; by writing about my life I can live twice. ’ Allende has always drawn heavily on her own life in her writing. Even her fiction, so often hailed as the embodiment of ‘magic realism’ and so filled with imagination and invention, often has its roots in the story of her family. In The House of the Spirits strange and wonderful things may happen but, at its heart, it is a family saga of love and life and death.
Three generations of women provide the backbone of the story, from the moment when the clairvoyant Clara del Valle first sees her future to the terrible events which circle around her granddaughter Alba. 1 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS The book was only the first of Isabel Allende’s remarkable works of fiction which have ranged from Of Love and Shadows, a novel in which the brutal politics of South America and magic realism meet and mingle, to Zorro, her own very particular take on the legend of the swashbuckling, masked hero.
By living twice in her own writing, Isabel Allende has provided her readers with some memorable experiences. Read on Of Love and Shadows, Paula Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera; Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar MAYA ANGELOU (b. 1928) USA I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS (1970) As a young woman, Maya Angelou was a singer and actress, touring the world in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and working in New York nightclubs. In the 1960s she became a civil rights activist and spent five years in Africa as a journalist and teacher.
Today she is one of America’s most respected poets and writers. Her finest work is the reconstruction of her own life she has made in several volumes of autobiography. The first of these is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which records the difficulties of her upbringing in the American Deep South during the 1930s. With her brother, the young Maya is sent to live with her grandmother who runs a store in a small town in Arkansas. She learns 2 MARY ANGELOU much from her grandmother but she also witnesses the endemic racism in the town and the casual contempt that the white people have for the black.
Still only eight years old, Maya is then despatched to stay with her mother in St. Louis where she is raped by her mother’s current boyfriend. Mute with trauma and distress, the girl withdraws into her shell and few people other than her brother are able to reach her. In her adolescence, and now living permanently with her mother in San Francisco, Maya continues to suffer guilt and misery. She becomes pregnant while still at high school and the first volume of the autobiography ends with the birth of her child and her realisation that new responsibilities demand a new commitment to life.
Poignantly recreating Maya Angelou’s struggle to forge her own identity and to triumph over the obstacles of being black and poor in a racist society, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings repays reading and re-reading. It is a scathing indictment of injustice yet it also holds out hope that even the worst of circumstances can be left behind. Read on Gather Together in My Name; Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas; The Heart of a Woman; All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (the other volumes of autobiography) Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road 3 00 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS MARGARET ATWOOD (b. 1939) CANADA THE HANDMAID’S TALE (1985) Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most admired living writers and her works range from volumes of prize-winning poetry to historical fiction like Alias Grace, the story of an enigmatic nineteenth century serving maid who may or may not be a murderess, and novels (The Edible Woman, for example) which explore questions of gender and identity. Probably her finest books, however, use motifs and ideas from science fiction to throw new light on contemporary debates about feminism and the position of women.
Of these books the most interesting remains The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel is set in the near future in the Republic of Gilead, where fundamentalist Christianity rules and the laws are those of Genesis. Women are chattels: they have no identity, no privacy and no happiness except what men permit them. Offred, for example, is a Handmaid, and her life is devoted to one duty only: breeding. In Gilead public prayers and hangings are the norm; individuality – even looking openly into a man’s face or reading a woman’s magazine – is punished by mutilation, banishment or death.
Atwood shows Offred’s struggle to keep her sanity and her identity in such a situation, and her equivocal relationship with the feminist Underground which may be Gilead’s only hope. Through the dystopian prism of Gilead, Atwood is able to investigate many of the issues of gender and sexuality which trouble our own society and to suggest that forces in contemporary society (religious fundamentalism, antifeminism) could only too easily accommodate the worst forms of totalitarianism. With great imaginative power she takes some of the MARCUS AURELIUS darker possibilities of sexual politics and draws them out to extreme but entirely logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is a memorable novel which uses a fictional future to ring warning bells for today. See also: 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels Read on The Edible Woman; Oryx and Crake Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve; P. D. James, The Children of Men; Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time; Joanna Russ, The Female Man MARCUS AURELIUS MEDITATIONS (c. 170–180) (121–180 AD) ITALY
Roman emperors are remembered for many things – military triumphs, great buildings which bear their names, indulgence in fabulously decadent pleasures – but not usually for their philosophical insights. The exception to the rule that emperors were not profound thinkers was Marcus Aurelius, who ruled the far-flung empire from 161 AD to his death nearly twenty years later. His thoughts have come down to us in the shape of the 12 books of his Meditations, originally written in Greek (to Romans, the language of philosophy) and put together over a ten-year period whilst he was on military campaigns in Eastern Europe.
These reflect the influence of the ancient philosophical tradition known as 5 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS Stoicism (although Marcus Aurelius never specifically describes himself as a Stoic) and of the Greek philosopher Epictetus in particular. A Stoic believed that the wise man was indifferent to the external world. Virtue rather than health or wealth or power was the great good in life and the attainment of virtue was a matter of the individual will. A man could be virtuous when sick, virtuous when poor, virtuous even (like Socrates) when under threat of death.
What he needed to do was to cultivate the reason, to recognise the inevitable realities of the world and to turn his back on the destructive power of irrationality and the emotions. In some ways the philosophy Marcus Aurelius espoused can seem a bleak one, emphasising the difficulty of life and duty, but it can also be a liberating one in as much as it champions the mind’s power over external circumstance. Through rigorous training the mind can be shaped and the character changed for the better. ‘Such as are your habitual thoughts,’ the emperor wrote, ‘such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Read on Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy; Cicero, On the Good Life; Epictetus, The Discourses; Seneca, Letters from a Stoic 6 RICHARD BACH RICHARD BACH (b. 1936) USA JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL (1970) Who would have thought that a slim fable in which a seagull discovers the truths about life and flight would become one of the bestselling books of the 1970s? Richard Bach had already served as a pilot in the US Air Force and had written a number of books about flying and aircraft when he hit the bestselling jackpot with Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Bach’s brief text, accompanied by Russell Munson’s photographs of seagulls in flight, caught the public’s imagination and the book went on to sell millions. It focuses on the experiences of one bird – the gull of the title – who dreams of flying faster and more freely than the other birds in the flock. Eventually he succeeds in reaching at least some of his goals but he is appalled to discover that the other gulls do not applaud his achievements. Instead he is told that his desire for faster and better ways of flying is unwelcome and he is banished from the flock.
It is only when he is introduced to an elite band of gulls who, like him, have broken free of the limits that the ordinary birds have imposed upon themselves that he can reach his full potential. Heaven is on the horizon for him. As one of the elite gulls tells him, ‘You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there. Richard Bach’s allegorical example of ‘New Age’ spirituality is an easy read but more profound thoughts about the possible consequences of casting off tired routines and ways of thinking lurk behind its simplicity. 7 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS Read on Illusions; The Bridge Across Forever Paul Gallico, The Snow Goose; Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT UK/USA (1849–1924) THE SECRET GARDEN (1909) Born in Manchester, Frances Hodgson moved with her family to Knoxville, Tennessee when she was in her teens.
She married Dr Swan Burnett and moved with him to Washington DC in 1873. Her stories had begun to appear in American magazines in the late 1860s and her first novel, a tale of life in the Lancashire she had left behind, was published in 1877. During her lifetime, she was most famous for her novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, the sentimental story of a young American boy of cloying goodness and innocence who is summoned back to his father’s native land, England, to be trained to take his place among the landed gentry.
Little Lord Fauntleroy, both the book and the character, are a little too saccharine for today’s tastes but another of Burnett’s novels, published much later in her life, has deservedly retained its popularity and its appeal. The Secret Garden has its share of the same sentimentality that sometimes mars Burnett’s other fiction but the story of the orphan Mary Lennox, whose misery when she is despatched to her uncle’s gloomy house on the Yorkshire Moors is only relieved by her discovery of a mysterious walled garden, has a magic all its own. As 8
READ ON A THEME: CLASSICS FOR CHILDREN (AND ADULTS) Mary tends the garden, she is able to share it with two other children in the house – Dickon, the green-fingered servant boy who helps her to bring it to life, and Colin, the sickly cousin who is transformed by his experiences in it. Few other books written for a younger readership convey so well both to children and to the adults they become that private delight that Mary has when ‘she was inside the wonderful garden, and she could come through the door under the ivy any time, and she felt she had found a world all her own’.
Mary Lennox’s secret garden is a place that changes those who visit it; the novel to which it gives a title also changes lives. Read on A Little Princess Edith Nesbit, Five Children and It; Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden READONATHEME: CLASSICS FOR CHILDREN (AND ADULTS) L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 9 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh L. M.
Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables Edith Nesbit, The Railway Children Anna Sewell, Black Beauty Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web JOSEPH CAMPBELL (1904–87) USA THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES (1949) Joseph Campbell was a graduate student at Columbia University in the 1920s when he realised that many of the themes and motifs of the Arthurian literature he was studying were similar to those of the North American Indian folklore he had read and heard about when he was a child. It was a revelation to him and it was an insight that was to be at the heart of all his later work.
As he wrote in his seminal work of comparative mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces, ‘There are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind, but this is a book about similarities; and once they are understood the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed. ’ Central to so many of the world’s great mythologies, Campbell argues, is the story of the hero and a journey he makes that transforms him. From his quiet life at home, the 10 ALBERT CAMUS ero is called to action and must set off into the unknown in quest of his own particular grail. After a series of lesser trials en route to his goal he must then face a supreme challenge. If he passes this, he is able to take home the knowledge he has gained in his travels. The impact of Campbell’s ideas on the arts has been immense. The film-maker George Lucas famously cited Campbell’s work as an influence but it is not just Star Wars that owes him a debt. Plenty of other creative individuals – musicians, poets and visual artists – have found inspiration in his ideas.
And the idea of the hero and his testing odyssey carries echoes of the journey we all make from birth to death. In Campbell’s eyes, we can all be the heroes of our own lives if we choose to be. Read on Myths to Live By; The Hero’s Journey Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment; Sir James Frazier, The Golden Bough; Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde ALBERT CAMUS THE REBEL (1951/1953) (1913–60) ALGERIA/FRANCE Born in Algeria, Camus became a leading figure in French literary life during the Second World War with the publication of his novel The Outsider and his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus.
In the decade after the war he gained an international reputation and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, three years before he was 11 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS killed in a car crash. Throughout his relatively short life, in newspaper articles, plays, essays and novels, Camus explored the position of what he called l’homme revolte, the rebel or misfit who feels out of tune with the spirit of the times. From Meursault in The Outsider to Dr Rieux in The Plague, the man who refuses to conform to the standard values of his society is at the heart of his fiction.
In The Rebel, Camus wrote a booklength essay about l’homme revolte which examines the motives behind the urge to rebel, the nature of revolution and the mingled dangers and opportunities it offers. Camus is unequivocal about the importance of the rebel, the person who stands against ‘the world of master and slave’ and thus proves that ‘there is something more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude’ and that ‘unlimited power is not the only law’. However, he is lso clear-sighted enough to realise that successful rebels or revolutionaries can be corrupted by the power that they seize through their rebellion and that, as history shows only too often, a revolutionary government can easily become more despotic than the regime it replaced. Drawing on a wide range of writers and thinkers, from the Marquis de Sade to Karl Marx, Camus creates a very individual argument about the importance of the rebel and a spirited defence of his assertion that, ‘It is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests. ’ See also: 100 Must-Read Classic Novels
Read on The Myth of Sisyphus; The Outsider Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea 12 FRITJOF CAPRA FRITJOF CAPRA (b. 1939) AUSTRIA/USA THE TURNING POINT (1982) An academic physicist with a long-standing interest in Taoism, Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions, Fritjof Capra attempted to marry his scientific and religious interests in his 1975 book The Tao of Physics. He was struck by the similarities between the world revealed by cuttingedge science and the world revealed by the religions of the East, noting that he was often encountering ‘statements where it is almost impossible to say whether they have been made by physicists or by Eastern mystics’.
Seven years later, Capra published The Turning Point in which he expanded his focus beyond the revolution in modern physics to examine ways in which science and philosophy are moving away from a mechanistic view of nature and towards a more holistic one. Just as physicists have been obliged over the course of the twentieth century to abandon many of their most cherished ideas about the nature of reality, so too will people working in fields as different as ecology and psychology, biology and economics, need to leave behind reductionist models of how the world works.
And the rest of us will have to be prepared to accept a new vision of reality. In place of the old and tired models, Capra advocates ‘a perception of reality that goes beyond the scientific framework to an intuitive awareness of the oneness of all life, the interdependence of its multiple manifestations and its cycles of change and transformation. ’ The consequences if we make the wrong decisions at ‘the turning point’ will be catastrophic. We are facing ‘a crisis of a scale and urgency unprecedented in recorded human history’ and outmoded ways of thinking cannot deal with it.
The Turning Point 13 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS was first published a quarter of a century ago and some of its arguments may now seem outmoded themselves but its central message about the importance of a holistic vision of life is even more valid than it once was. Read on The Tao of Physics; Uncommon Wisdom; The Web of Life Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature; Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order Out of Chaos READONATHEME: NEW PHYSICS, NEW PHILOSOPHY
David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order Paul Davies, The Mind of God David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy F. David Peat, Blackfoot Physics Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Immortality Fred Alan Wolf, The Spiritual Universe Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters 14 RACHEL CARSON RACHEL CARSON SILENT SPRING (1962) (1907–64) USA ‘The earth’s vegetation,’ Rachel Carson wrote in her 1960s bestseller Silent Spring, ‘is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and animals.
Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place. ’ Today, the thought she expressed is not an unusual one but she was one of the first people to bring such thinking to the attention of a wide public. Carson, born on a small farm in Pennsylvania, grew up to work as a marine biologist for the US Bureau of Fisheries. Her talents as a popular science writer were first displayed in books like The Sea Around Us (1951) and The Edge of the Sea (1955).
The success of these earlier books, widely praised for their combination of rigorous science and an elegant, lyrical prose style, enabled her to become a full-time writer and it was then that she began the research into the pollution of the environment which eventually resulted in Silent Spring. The specific target of the book was the irresponsible use of pesticides but Carson’s more general aim was to highlight the powerful and usually negative impact of human beings on the natural world.
A pioneer of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson was one of the first people to realise the damage we were doing to the web of life of which she wrote and, as such, she deserves to be remembered and honoured. Her profound belief that, ‘the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction’ remains an inspiration more than forty years after her premature death. 15 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS Read on
The Edge of the Sea; The Sea Around Us Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey READONATHEME: IN TOUCH WITH NATURE James Hamilton-Paterson, Seven Tenths W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water John Muir, The Mountains of California John Stewart Collis, The Worm Forgives the Plough Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter CARLOS CASTANEDA (1925–98) PERU/USA THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN (1968)
Carlos Castaneda was an anthropology student at UCLA for much of the 1960s and his first published writings supposedly grew out of field work he undertook as part of his studies. His books have always been controversial. They purport to record his travels in the desert regions of 16 CARLOS CASTANEDA the southwest United States and Mexico and his training, under the guidance of a Yaqui Indian he calls Don Juan, in the techniques of shamanism. Many have doubted the reality of Castaneda’s Indian guru and have questioned the teachings he allegedly passed on.
Whatever the truth about the existence or non-existence of Don Juan and about the content of Castaneda’s books, there can be no doubt about the popularity of his writings. People responded in the sixties and seventies to his message and they continue to do so. At the heart of this message is the demand that we forget what we think we know about reality. There is a different order of reality hidden behind the everyday world we usually inhabit and those with courage can reach it.
By means of initiation rituals, training and psychedelic drugs, Don Juan endeavours to show his disciple this ‘separate reality’. It is there to be experienced if only we are prepared to rid ourselves of our egotism and selfimportant belief that we are at the centre of things. We are like horses with blinkers but our blinkers can be removed. ‘For me there is only the travelling on paths that have heart,’ Don Juan tells Castaneda, ‘on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking breathlessly. Through Castaneda’s writings the old shaman invites those prepared to abandon conventional thinking to join him. See also: 100 Must-Read Books for Men Read on A Separate Reality; Journey to Ixtlan Taisha Abelar, The Sorcerers’ Crossing; Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements; Victor Sanchez, The Teachings of Don Carlos 17 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS READONATHEME: NATIVE WISDOM Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks Charles Eastman, The Soul of the Indian Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman Sun Bear, The Medicine Wheel Hank Wesselman, Spiritwalker
JUNG CHANG (b. 1952) CHINA/UK WILD SWANS (1992) Jung Chang was born into the new China ruled by Chairman Mao (about whom she was later to write a highly critical biography) and she grew up in comparatively privileged circumstances as the daughter of two leading Communist Party officials. She became a youthful Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution but, as she witnessed the violence and the public humiliation of many teachers and officials (including her own parents) that it encouraged, she grew rapidly disillusioned with its supposed progress.
In 1978, after the political rehabilitation of her father, she became one of the few students from the People’s Republic to be allowed to attend a university in Britain and, although she has returned regularly to her native country, she has lived in the West since then. Wild Swans was published in 1992 and became a worldwide 18 JUNG CHANG bestseller. In her book Jung Chang brilliantly and vividly captures the history of China in the 20th century through stories of the lives of three women – her grandmother, her mother and herself.
All three experienced terrible upheaval and human suffering. Jung Chang’s grandmother was sold as a concubine to a warlord during the years of chaos that followed the collapse of the Manchu Empire; her mother lived through the turmoil of the war between Japan and China, with its massacres and colossal loss of life; and Jung Chang herself, of course, witnessed the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Wild Swans provides an unflinching record of what the Chinese people have had to endure over the last hundred years but it is far from being a depressing or a dispiriting book.
Horror and heartbreak fill its pages but readers will also emerge from them with a renewed sense of the strength of the human spirit to persist and prevail in the worst of circumstances. Read on Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday) Adeline Yen Mah, Falling Leaves; Aiping Mu, Vermilion Gate; Xinran, The Good Women of China 19 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS PAULO COELHO (b. 1947) BRAZIL THE ALCHEMIST (1988/1993) In terms of sales alone, Paulo Coelho is South America’s most successful novelist ever, his work translated into dozens of languages and selling illions of copies worldwide. Sophisticated critics may find it easy to deride his parable-like stories and the simple language in which he tells them but he clearly reaches out to readers in search of fiction that combines page-turning narrative with a spiritual message. Coelho has published more than twenty books, including the story of a woman who is strangely liberated by her decision to commit suicide (Veronika Decides to Die), a version of the biblical story of Elijah (The Fifth Mountain) and the tale of a prostitute’s sexual odyssey in search of true love (Eleven Minutes).
However, his best-known work remains The Alchemist, first published in Brazil in 1988 and translated into English five years later. Subtitled ‘A Fable About Following Your Dreams’, this heartening story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of a treasure in far off Egypt and sets off in search of it, has long been an international bestseller. During his travels, Santiago meets with people who assist him, whether consciously or unconsciously, with his quest and eventually he encounters an alchemist in the desert who becomes his guru and opens his eyes to the true values of life, love and suffering.
At the end of the journey, Santiago learns that the treasure he has been pursuing is not at all what he first imagined but he realises that his pilgrimage has had its own intrinsic value, irrespective of what was to be found at its end. During his travels he has become reconciled to his own self and learned to recognise his own purpose in life. As 20 CHARLES DARWIN Coelho writes, ‘The boy and his heart had become friends and neither was capable now of betraying the other. ’ Read on
The Gift; By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept; The Zahir Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie; Deborah Morrison, Nexus CHARLES DARWIN (1809–82) UK THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (1859) Described by the geneticist Steve Jones as ‘the only bestseller to change man’s conception of himself’, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (to give it the full title it had on first publication) is perhaps unique among undoubtedly paradigm-breaking scientific works in that it can be read with pleasure by a non-scientist.
Darwin’s subject-matter and his own lucid prose mean that the best way for a general reader to understand the argument Darwin was presenting is to read the original book. In The Origin of Species, Darwin argues that species are not, as was assumed at the time, fixed. They evolve over long periods of time. This evolution takes place because, in the struggle to survive and propagate, those organisms best adapted to their environments will ultimately succeed and those less well adapted will die out. As the environment changes, so species will change by a process of ‘natural selection’.
The naturally occurring variations on 21 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS which this selection depends are random and not the result of any divine plan, as religious thinkers might argue. The view of nature and man’s place in it that the theory of evolution implies is not necessarily a comforting one. Many people, both at the time that Darwin first made his theory public and in the century and a half since, have found it impossible to accept. Yet it is not a petty or a reductionist vision of the universe that unfolds if basic evolutionary ideas are assumed.
As Darwin himself wrote at the conclusion of his great work, ‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. ’ Read on The Descent of Man; The Voyage of the Beagle Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker; Steve Jones, Almost Like a Whale
RICHARD DAWKINS (b. 1941) KENYA/UK THE GOD DELUSION (2006) Richard Dawkins was born in Kenya and moved to England with his family when he was a boy. Much of his life has been spent at Oxford where he has been undergraduate, graduate student, lecturer in zoology and, since 1995, Professor of Public Understanding of Science. In 1976 he 22 RICHARD DAWKINS published his first book, The Selfish Gene, which became a major popular and critical success and, with its title, added a new expression to the English language.
Since then, he has published several more books which have explained Darwinian and evolutionary ideas to the general public (The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable) but, in recent years, he has become most famous as the scourge of theologians and religious believers everywhere. When Napoleon asked the mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace why there was no mention of God in his latest book, the French savant loftily replied, ‘Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis. ’ Like Laplace, Dawkins has no need of that hypothesis.
Indeed that hypothesis seems to outrage him and The God Delusion is directed against those who still cling to it. It is a no-holdsbarred assault on religious belief that pours scorn on the idea that there is a divine designer of the universe and lambasts the often pernicious influence of religion on modern society. Instead it champions the elegant simplicity of Darwin’s theory of evolution which Dawkins firmly believes to be sufficient explanation for the diversity of life. His book, unsurprisingly, has not been universally popular despite its bestseller status.
He has been accused of indulging in an atheist variety of the very fundamentalism he condemns in others. Yet The God Delusion, written with the same wit and cleverness that characterises all of Dawkins’s other books, is one of the most powerful polemics published in recent years. After reading it, the traditional idea of an all-knowing and allseeing God may seem as sensible as belief in Father Christmas. Read on The Blind Watchmaker; Unweaving the Rainbow Sam Harris, The End of Faith; Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great 23 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR THE SECOND SEX (1949/1953) (1908–86) FRANCE Simone de Beauvoir is remembered for her central role in the French philosophical movement known as existentialism and for her lifelong association with Jean-Paul Sartre which began when she was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris and he was attending the Ecole Normale Superieure in the same city. In their lifetimes it was Sartre who had the greater fame but, two decades after de Beauvoir’s death, it could well be argued that it is her reputation and her influence that have lasted the best.
Her works range from semi-autobiographical novels (The Mandarins, for example) and volumes of memoirs to philosophical essays and political tracts. However, the book which has done most to ensure her place in the history of 20th century thought is undoubtedly The Second Sex, a long analysis of the position of women in history and society which was written in the years immediately following the Second World War. Famous for its assertion that, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’, The Second Sex is one of the founding texts of modern feminism.
De Beauvoir’s fundamental argument in the book is that, throughout history, societies have seen humanity in male terms. As she wrote, ‘Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male. ’ In other words, the human ‘norm’ is male and the female is somehow the ‘other’. In making her case, de Beauvoir draws on a wide range of disciplines from anthropology and sociology to philosophy and history, demonstrating both a prodigious erudition and a skill in posing the most awkward questions about gender and sexuality in the 4 JARED DIAMOND most powerful and direct way. Nearly six decades after it first appeared in French, The Second Sex remains one of the classic manifestos of twentieth-century feminism. Read on The Mandarins (fiction); Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter; The Prime of Life; Force of Circumstance; All Said and Done (four volumes of memoirs) Judith Butler, Gender Trouble; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique JARED DIAMOND (b. 1937) USA GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL (1997)
A polymath in an age of specialisation, Jared Diamond has made major contributions to knowledge in subjects as diverse as ornithology and human evolution and written bestselling books for the general reader which range widely across disciplines in order to construct thoughtprovoking theses about the history of man and the history of civilisations. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, he looked at human history in the light of our animal biology and its continuing influence. In Guns, Germs and Steel, he asked a very basic historical question.
Why is it that for the last 500 years the civilisations of the west have been in the ascendant and have shaped the world in which we live? Or, as a New Guinea friend of Diamond once asked, ‘Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New 25 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS Guinea but we black people had little cargo of our own? ’ In the past, arguments have been put forward that depended on assumptions of racial superiority. In his ambitious book, Diamond combines history and science to advance a less pernicious explanation.
Going back thousands of years into prehistory, he traces the biogeographical reasons behind the rise of agriculture and the domestication of animals, and the consequences these had for the development of settled societies and more complex civilisations. He explains why Europe and Eurasia were, by chance, the most suitable areas for the encouragement of these trends and places our modern history in a much broader context. ‘History followed different courses for different peoples,’ he writes, ‘because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves. In Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond ranges boldly and confidently through a number of intellectual disciplines in order to produce an immensely thought-provoking book, one which can make readers look at the whole of human history in a different way. Read on Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations 26 PHILIP K. DICK PHILIP K. DICK (1928–82) USA THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (1962)
A recurring theme in popular culture recently (and indeed in the more esoteric realms of academic philosophy) is the notion that ‘reality’ is nothing more than a construct and that behind it lurk other, possibly darker truths about the nature of the world in which we live. However, before there was The Truman Show and The Matrix, before people began to speculate that we might be living in a computer-generated reality, there was Philip K. Dick. Dick, whose work is usually categorised (and sometimes dismissed) as science fiction, wrote books which can still disconcert, disorient and delight readers decades after first publication.
Of these, one of the most remarkable is The Man in the High Castle. The rewriting of history is a standard idea in science fiction and, at first glance, The Man in the High Castle seems a standard example of the subgenre. The Axis powers have won the Second World War and the Japanese and the Germans rule the USA between them. Yet Dick’s book soon reveals itself as far more complicated and subtle than a straightforward work of alternative history. It is an interlocking, intermeshing web of possible realities. One of the central characters has written a bestseller in which the Allies won the war and the world looks more like the one we know.
An alternate history lies within an alternate history. Who can be sure what the ‘true’ reality is? Dick plays increasingly complicated games with the idea of ‘history’ and how accepted versions of it come to be created. When he published The Man in the High Castle, Dick had already written other novels (Time Out of Joint, for example) which investigated the nature of reality and 27 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS he went on to produce many other works with a similar theme but this 1962 narrative of alternative history remains his masterpiece. See also: 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels
Read on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ; Time Out of Joint; Valis Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man; Philip Roth, The Plot Against America; Norman Spinrad, The Iron Dream FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1818–95) USA NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE (1845) In the course of an extraordinary life, Frederick Douglass travelled from slavery to a position as one of the most eminent and eloquent campaigners for black freedom and human rights in the nineteenth century. He was born in Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, who was a slave, and (in all likelihood) a white father.
He was separated from his mother at a very early age and was looked after by his grandmother on a plantation until, still a small child, he was despatched to a new owner in Baltimore. It was his new owner’s wife who, contrary to state law, taught him to read and write and thus unwittingly provided him with the means to change his life. In 1838, while working in a shipyard in Baltimore, he fled the city and made his way to New York where he took 28 FREDERICK DOUGLASS the name of Douglass, married and (some years later) met the abolitionist and anti-slavery campaigner William Lloyd Garrison.
It was Garrison who inspired Douglass to speak at abolitionist meetings and to write the book that was published in 1845 as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and immediately became a bestseller. Douglass went on to write two further volumes of autobiography and to edit his own abolitionist newspaper, The North Star. For the rest of his life, he remained one of the most powerful and compelling advocates of the rights of his fellow African-Americans. His autobiographies reflect the man he was.
In a speech delivered towards the end of his life, he said that, ‘No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck. ’ In his knowledge that slavery diminishes both slave and owner and in his profound belief in the importance of freedom for all men, Frederick Douglass remains an inspiration more than a century after his death. Read on My Bondage and My Freedom; Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (the two later versions of his life that Douglass wrote, publishing them in 1855 and 1881 respectively) W.
E. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin 29 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS READONATHEME: UP FROM SLAVERY Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery Harriet E.
Wilson, Our Nig Norman R. Yetman (ed), When I Was a Slave; Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection SEBASTIAN FAULKS BIRDSONG (1993) (b. 1953) UK In 1910 a young Englishman named Stephen Wraysford arrives in Amiens to stay with the Azaire family. Soon he is embarked on a convention-defying affair with Madame Azaire and, when it is discovered, the two leave Amiens together. The affair does not last and Stephen is left a cold and empty man by its failure, uncaring of what the future might hold for him. What it olds are the trenches of the Great 30 SEBASTIAN FAULKS War. He becomes an officer and takes part in Ypres, the Somme and other major battles of the war, watching men die horribly all around him and discovering in himself a surprisingly steely determination to survive. As the northern France he knew before the war becomes both a quagmire and a slaughterhouse, his past relationship with Madame Azaire resurfaces in an unexpected and disturbing way. Sebastian Faulks has written a number of very good novels in his career.
Charlotte Gray, set in the Second World War, tells the story of a young woman journeying into France in search of her lover, and Human Traces is a massively ambitious saga which follows the fortunes of two pioneering psychiatrists. None, however, has matched the power of Birdsong nor enjoyed its commercial and critical success. It is not difficult to work out the reasons why this novel of love and war has proved such a triumph for him. The power of his writing, both in its evocation of the passionate affair and in its descriptions of the claustrophobia and terror of the trenches, is remarkable.
He succeeds both in conveying the comradeship of men in battle and in precisely observing the ebb and flow of an intense romantic relationship. Few modern novels capture readers’ imaginations so fully as Birdsong does. It shows individuals trapped by historical events over which they have no control and poignantly records their efforts to retain their humanity in inhumane circumstances. Read on Charlotte Gray; Human Traces Pat Barker, Regeneration (and its successors The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road); Louis de Bernieres, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front 1 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS ANNE FRANK (1929–45) THE NETHERLANDS THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1947/1952) The heart-rending story of how a young Jewish girl from Amsterdam hid with her family from the Nazis until they were found and sent to a concentration camp became an instant classic when it was first published in English in 1952. More than half a century later the story of a teenager coming to maturity in the most terrible of circumstances remains profoundly moving. Anne Frank was actually born in Germany but her family moved to Holland when she was a small child.
She was 11 years old when the Germans occupied the Netherlands and 13 when the Franks, together with four fellow Jews, went into hiding in a small set of rooms above the premises used by her father’s business. They stayed there for just over two years until someone betrayed their hiding place to the Nazis. The Franks were arrested and transported first to the small concentration camp of Westerbork and then to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister Margot were transferred to Belsen where they both died in a typhus epidemic in March of 1945, only weeks before the camp was liberated by Allied troops.
Her father, Otto Frank, survived his time in Auschwitz and, after the war, it was he who retrieved his daughter’s diary, written during her 24 months in hiding, and arranged its publication. Anne Frank became perhaps the best-known of all victims of the Holocaust and her words continue to be read decades after her death. ‘It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality,’ she wrote. ‘It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical.
Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. ’ 32 VICTOR FRANKL Read on Tales from the Secret Annexe Mary Berg, The Diary of Mary Berg; Livia Bitton-Jackson, I Have Lived a Thousand Years; Janusz Korczak, Ghetto Diary VICTOR FRANKL (1905–97) AUSTRIA MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING (1946/1959) Victor Frankl was born into a prominent Jewish family in Vienna and, after studying medicine at university, he specialised in psychiatry, showing a particular interest in the still controversial ideas of psychoanalysts like Freud and Adler.
Before the Anschluss of 1938, the Nazi annexation of Austria, Frankl had already won a reputation as a pioneering specialist in the treatment of suicidal patients but, under the anti-semitic legislation of the Nazis, he found it increasingly difficult to work. Eventually, in 1942, he was arrested and, together with most of the members of his close family, he was despatched to a concentration camp. Frankl survived the war; most of his family, including his wife and his parents, did not.
His 1946 book, translated as Man’s Search for Meaning, chronicled his experiences in the war and is the founding text of his school of psychotherapy, usually known as ‘logotherapy’. The book’s original German title (‘… trotzdem ja zum Leben sagen’) can be literally translated as ‘Saying Yes to Life Regardless’ and that provides as precise a summary of Frankl’s ideas as it is possible to get. At the heart of logotherapy is the idea that life has meaning even in the midst 33 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS of terrible suffering and that the urge to find that meaning and assert it provides the most fundamental motivation for living.
Frankl’s experiences in the Holocaust both tested his theories in the most extreme of circumstances and enabled him to refine and develop them. As he wrote, ‘We have come to know man as he really is. ’ ‘Man,’ he went on to say, ‘is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips. ’ Read on Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning Rollo May, Love and Will; Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person SIGMUND FREUD (1856–1939) AUSTRIA THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS (1900/1913)
Sigmund Freud was born in the small Moravian town of Freiburg and his family moved to Vienna when he was four years old. He lived there until he was an old man of eighty-two, through all the years in which he slowly elaborated his theories about sexuality, the unconscious mind and the hidden motives behind human action. Only when the Nazis marched into Vienna in 1938 and Freud, as both a Jew and a supposedly ‘decadent’ thinker, found his life was in danger, did he move from the city, going into exile in London where he died in the following year. Freud’s contribution to modern thought is almost incalculable.
His 34 SIGMUND FREUD influence permeates our culture to such an extent that it is perfectly possible to be aware of Freudian ideas without ever having read a book by him. Which of his many published works, however, is the most significant? Freud himself was certain enough. Dreams were the gateways to the unconscious mind or, as he put it, ‘The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. ’ And his book The Interpretation of Dreams included some of his profoundest thinking. ‘Insights such as this,’ he wrote, ‘fall to one’s lot but once in a lifetime. In his monumental work on dreams, he provides a route map of the royal roads to the unconscious. He reveals how we disguise our true motivations and desires, the ‘latent’ content of the dream, behind its ‘manifest’ content (what we remember of it) and how we can access our hidden selves. Dreams, with all their mysteries and ambiguities, have always haunted us. Thanks to Freud we have new ways of understanding them and of using them to learn more about our secret thoughts and longings. After Freud, we can never quite see ourselves as we once did. Read on
Civilization and Its Discontents; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality C. G. Jung, Dreams 35 100 MUST-READ LIFE-CHANGING BOOKS ERICH FROMM (1900–80) GERMANY/USA THE ART OF LOVING (1956) Born in Frankfurt and educated there and at Heidelberg University, Fromm trained as a psychoanalyst in the 1920s and was already a respected practitioner in Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933. As a Jew, he was under an immediate threat both personally and professionally and he moved first to Switzerland and then to the USA. He spent the rest of his working life as an academic in American universities.
Fromm was a prolific writer and his works range from The Fear of Freedom and The Sane Society, which examine the structures of modern society from a psychological perspective, to books on Marx, Freud and the links between psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism. However, his most lasting legacy may well prove to be a short book he wrote in the 1950s in which he explored the nature of love and its capacity to alter lives for the better. The Art of Loving is not the kind of simplistic self-help book that the title might immediately suggest. Rather it is a clear-sighted exploration of what love (from brotherly love, he love of one’s fellows which Fromm believed formed the basis for all other love, to erotic love) might be. In Fromm’s eyes, modern society and modern capitalism work to undermine the many different varieties of love and encourage the kind of selfishness and alienation from others that is love’s very antithesis. Only through hard work and selfexamination can people achieve the capacity for genuine and fulfilling love. Fromm argues that, although it provides no magic answers to life’s difficulties and although our expectations of it are often unrealistic, then none the less ‘Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the 6 JOSTEIN GAARDER problem of human existence. ’ For more than fifty years readers of The Art of Loving h