Books that Have Influenced My Thinking

A list of favorite books, particularly ones that have had a long-term impact on how I think about or interact with the world.

Sparked by this discussion on books that have influenced your mental models. Plenty more good suggestions there, but I’m partial to my own list! Really this is basically just a brief overview of my favorite books of all time, the ones that have left the most lasting impression.

Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

Clock of the Long Now, by Stewart Brand

  • For the concepts of deep time and the long now; appreciating a sense of how we experience time and our place in history
  • See also: Time and the Art of Living

Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott

  • Creative parable that’s very helpful for conceptualizing abstract concepts of topology and higher dimensions

Thinking in Systems, A Primer, by Donella Meadows

  • Great introduction to systems thinking, which is a useful lens for appreciating the complexity of all sorts of complex phenomena

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander

Oulipo – A Primer of Potential Literature

  • Nice introduction to the Oulipo and ideas of constraint as creative / poetic device
  • See also: Exercises in Style; Eunoia

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

  • Great primer on improvisation, really made me appreciate its impacts beyond just the theater, for example the importance of status in social relations

The Power Broker, by Robert Caro

  • Unbeatably rich and compelling look at how power and politics actually work, for better (power gets things done) and for worse (power blinds and corrupts)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

  • Beautiful, meticulously observed study of the natural world close at hand; made me appreciate the power of looking deeply and persistently

Le Ton beau de Marot, by Douglas Hofstadter

  • Remarkable exploration of language and translation, in all its magic and complexity…both deeply personal and deeply researched, a must-read for lovers of language
  • See also: 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

  • For really hammering home the grand, powerful potential of great literature and well-wrought language
  • See also: Don Quixote; Infinite Jest