As I walk down this path of writing my own books, I have been reflecting on the books that have influenced me the most throughout my life. Earlier this year, I wrote about the fiction books. Today, I want to share some of the nonfiction books that were most influential throughout my life and still impact me to this day. Some of these may just cause you to nod your head because they are obvious, but others may catch your attention and have you pondering these books. I am listing the books in the chronological order I was introduced to them.
My previous influential fiction posts:
The Official Boy Scout Handbook
Boy Scouts (and Cub Scouts, Webelos, and Order of the Arrow) had a massive impact on my life, helping me become the man I am today. Beyond the required reading, I read the Handbook cover to cover numerous times. It was so influential for me, I love to pick up other editions at used bookstores to compare how the teachings changed over the decades. I worked my way to Eagle Scout and can still instantly recite from memory many of the aspects of being a Boy Scout. This book and the BSA taught me to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent (and jokingly hungry, as my troop added to the list).
Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
As a kid who loved reading, especially fantasy and science fiction, I always wanted to know more. So our local librarian went into the adult section and let me check out Bulfinch’s Mythology. I was in awe of the historical and fantastical elements of the book and devoured it. So years later when we studied Mythology in class and watched the movie Clash of the Titans, I was already critiquing what I was learning. For the longest time, this book was my go to source for stories I told, research, and later my tabletop roleplaying.
The Student Bible (NIV Translation)
I have had many Bibles over the years, but this one influenced me the most. This was my college Bible, that I studied during my classes at Taylor University. It was the first Bible I read word for word from beginning to the end. I had grown up in church but mostly knew the stories of the Bible with some reading during youth group. It wasn’t until college that I delved into the written word and really studied it for myself. Reading the words, studying the words, pondering their historical context and meaning, and being tested on the words really challenged me and opened my heart and mind to the teachings within for real.
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword continues to receive harsh criticism, but it has a significant influence on me in college. I was taking a course on the History and Geography of Asia and we were given a list of books to choose from to delve deeper in the cultures. I chose this book because I was fascinated at the time by samurai and ninja movies. I know, very shallow reason. But, I got so much more than a discussion on swords and honor. This book taught me to question perspectives, especially in a historical context. And how we all, not just Americans, tend to view the world through own own lenses and history. This book challenged me more than even many of my teachers, to seek out multiple sources of information before fostering opinions or accepting facts.
Chaos by James Gleick
You may not be aware, but my undergraduate degree is in Physics. During college, I took a selected topics course in chose Chaos Theory. My Physics professor handed me this book off his shelf to read. I opened in a few days later and…Mind Blown! Organized chaos. Mandelbrot sets. Lorenz attractors. Fractals! This book altered so many of my perspectives of science from high school and early college. To this day, I still consider it my favorite academic book from college and will read it every few years as a refresher.
One World by John Polkinghorne
As part of our senior capstone in college, Physics majors during my time were required to study cosmology, and one of the books we read was One World from John Polkinghorne. I had been struggling a bit during college as how to merge my passion and understanding of science, especially physics, with my growing faith. Many conversations were had regarding the words in the Bible as compared to the findings and theories of science. This book spoke to me where I was at the time, and still speaks to me today. It delved into points of potential conflict between science and religion as well as discussing scientific reductionism vs natural theology. Much of my current views of the universe and its creation were forged and solidified from my multiple readings of this book.
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
After college and while in graduate school, I continued to ponder this Faith I had read about in my Student Bible, the science I had learned in Physics, and the cosmological view of the world I had been pondering in One World. Where did I fit in all this? What was my life to be? While meeting with my pastor, he recommended we read The Ragamuffin Gospel together and discuss each week. That book and those discussions helped me pull the greater story of the Bible and the Creation down into a personal relationship of Grace and Love. It was soon after reading this book that I chose to be baptized as I finally felt I was ready for a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier
As part of my work when I was with Taylor University, I was part of the information security team. Early into my time with infosec, I was recommended Beyond Fear and it changed my views on security in information technology, but even more it changed my personal philosophy of safety and security in a personal, local, and global scale. This book takes a complicated and often doomsday or anxiety-driven topic of security and brings it down to practical discussions that challenge your pre-conceived thoughts and opinions on security. I still highly recommend this book to anyone who works in security and privacy. And really, I recommend it to everyone as it helps you understand practically how to secure yourself and your family in today’s world.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
As a person who thinks a lot, who works a very cerebral job, and who loves to ponder and philosophy, a book about how the human mind works intrigued me when I saw it on an airport bookstore shelf. I grabbed Blink as just something to read while traveling. I didn’t know it would alter the way I view how my mind and the minds of others perceive the world around them. The book helped me understand many of the quirks of my own mind works that I could never explain to others. I have since shared this book with many others who manage geeks as this is a very common mental aspect of many of them and this helps leaders better understand their staff. I have also shared this with many parents of high thinking children as a way to better understand their own family members.
Commissioned by Marvin J. Newell
Years ago, I was a member of my church’s mission board and we brought in a facilitator to help us rethink missions at our church. He recommended we read as a group Commissioned. Even with all my years working with ICCM, consulting with missions organizations, and going on some short term mission trips, this book really opened my mind and heart to what the Bible says about global missions. This book has stuck with me over the years and ultimately influenced my interest in the position I have now at SIL International.
What non-fiction books have influenced you the most over the years? Any that you still reread years or even decades later?