What book that you have NOT read has most influenced and shaped your life?

by on February 6, 2016 at 2:43 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

That is from Venkatesh Rao, retweeted by Ben Southwood, a version of “Questions that are rarely asked.”

I suppose if you haven’t read the Bible or Quran those are easy answers, but let’s say you have.

I’ve only read snippets of Mein Kampf, so that has to stand as a contender.  But has the book really influenced and shaped my life?  Maybe you can attribute the relevant marginal product to the life of Hitler, with the book being intermediated by Hitler himself.  Therefore I am not sure that answer is true to the spirit of the question.

How about a training manual of some kind, which perhaps my early teachers read but I have never seen or even heard of?  Might my mother have read Dr. Spock or other parenting books?  That would be my best guess.

1 Joan February 6, 2016 at 3:11 am

Principles of natural Phiilosophy., Isaac Newton

2 Ed February 6, 2016 at 9:04 am

Yep. But make sure that you at least read the title – that math part is crucial.

3 Jake February 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

One and only correct answer. People flatter themselves that their bloody opinions and ideology matter that much.

4 efp February 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm

That is exactly what I was going to say.

5 Steve Sailer February 6, 2016 at 3:12 am

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica?

6 tdc February 6, 2016 at 3:26 pm


7 Unanimous February 8, 2016 at 1:31 am

Yep. Easily the most influential book few people have read.

8 Market Timer February 6, 2016 at 3:18 am

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, von Neumann and Morgenstern.

9 dearieme February 6, 2016 at 10:41 am

Das Kapital.

10 Thor February 6, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Horrible, baleful influence — how I wish progressives would read Mill instead — horrible grasp of economics (labour theory of value, etc.), completely unbelievable theory of history, but brilliant and inventive invective.

11 So Much For Subtlety February 6, 2016 at 3:27 am

For virtually everyone here it is going to be by Dr Spock.

Benjamin McLane Spock (May 2, 1903 – March 15, 1998) was an American pediatrician whose book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, is one of the best-sellers of all time. Its message to mothers is that “you know more than you think you do.”[1]

Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals. However, they were also widely criticized by colleagues for relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence rather than serious academic research.[2] In addition to his pediatric work, Spock was an activist in the New Left and anti Vietnam War movements during the 1960s and early 1970s. At the time his books were criticized by Vietnam War supporters for allegedly propagating permissiveness and an expectation of instant gratification that led young people to join these movements, a charge Spock denied.

Denied but did not disprove I note. Keynes said that statesmen are often the slave to some half forgotten economist. He never met an entire generation shaped by the flabby Marxism of a now-forgotten pediatrician.

12 Ricardo February 6, 2016 at 5:32 am

The late 1960s youth protest culture was a global phenomenon. It existed in the U.K., France and Japan and many other countries. Attributing this all to one American psychiatrist seems a bit much.

13 carlolspln February 6, 2016 at 8:16 pm

Not for him-see how he yokes Dr. Spock to Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge?

14 So Much For Subtlety February 7, 2016 at 1:45 am

I did not yoke the two. Wikipedia did. Or more accurately Dr Spock did.

I like the way that the Left claims to be able to see the smallest sign of racism in esoteric readings of seemingly irrelevant words. It is all Code Words and Dog Whistles. I have heard people on the Left claim that talking about Obama’s golf game is really racism. But when it comes to someone like Dr Spock who openly calls for America to be defeated and the Khmer Rouge and the Viet Cong to come to power, suddenly it is all nuanced communication or flat out denial.

I have a slightly less complicated relationship with the facts – people who supported the Khmer Rouge coming to power supported the Khmer Rouge coming to power.

15 too hot for MR February 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

Equating opposition to the SE Asia bloodbath with flabby Marxism seems a bit much.

16 So Much For Subtlety February 6, 2016 at 10:21 am

The Flabby Marxists were the ones supporting the bloodbath. People in uniform fighting to keep Pol Pot out of power were the ones trying to prevent a bloodbath. People with long hair protesting in America were the ones trying to put the Khmer Rouge into power. The Killing Fields were what they were trying to achieve.

However I did not make that comparison. I quoted someone else who did.

17 prognostication February 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm

What exactly is it that you think the U.S. could have done that it didn’t do?

18 So Much For Subtlety February 7, 2016 at 1:49 am

Stayed the course. I actually think America would have benefited from a general de-escalation – fewer tanks and B-52s but that is beside the point. All they had to do was wait for the USSR to collapse. That would have saved millions of lives.

19 Steve Sailer February 6, 2016 at 3:27 am

Here’s a book that virtually nobody today has read, but everybody who was anybody (Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Gladstone, Disraeli, Tennyson, Darwin, etc.) read in the decades after it was published anonymously in 1844: “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation” by St. Andrews journalist Robert Chambers. “Vestiges” pretty much won the argument over evolution / unplanned development of nature in the sophisticated popular mind, so that when Darwin published his “Origin of Species” 15 years later (which added the crucial mechanism of natural selection), Darwin enjoyed pretty much of a walk-over with a educated public already prepared by Chambers’ bestseller.

Historian James A. Secord’s 2001 book ‘Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation”‘ is an exciting and highly readable book about the influence of Vestiges on public opinion.

Secord’s book confirmed my long-held intuition that the evolution of the golf links at St. Andrews over the centuries played a role in introducing the idea of unplanned development to the British mind: Chambers, it turns out, played the Old Course at St. Andrews several times a week while writing “Vestiges” and he later used the Old Course to illustrate how landscapes evolve. Chambers played some sort of role in the origin of the famous links at Carnoustie.

Chambers’ son co-designed the first 9 holes at Royal Hoylake, still a British Open course, and Chambers’ great grandson Sir Guy Campbell became a leading golf sportswriter who cowrote a history of golf with the other premier golf sportswriter of the time, Bernard Darwin, the grandson of Charles Darwin.

20 Steve Sailer February 6, 2016 at 3:29 am

Here’s an excerpt from a Secord’s “Victorian Sensation” on the influence of “Vestiges:”


21 dearieme February 6, 2016 at 10:43 am

Pah! More Scottish triumphalism, eh? From a Swissish American, no less.

22 jim jones February 6, 2016 at 3:46 am

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, the book that freed humanity from superstition.

23 Steve Sailer February 6, 2016 at 4:00 am

“Origin’s” not an uncommon book for 21st Century people of higher IQ to at least start reading. Granted, it’s less common to finish it, but you can usually find it for sale on the shelves of most bookstores these days. It’s certainly one of the most purchased non-literary non-fiction (i.e., not a novel or a memoir) books of the 19th Century, ranking probably ahead of De Tocqueville, Macaulay’s big history, Mill, Nietzsche, Marx and Engels, and a few others.

24 dearieme February 6, 2016 at 10:44 am

It’s a fantastic read. If anyone has reached forty without reading it he has no claim to being educated.

25 jjbees February 6, 2016 at 1:34 pm

If anyone has reached 40 without reading that book I like a lot, then they aren’t as smart as me!

26 Sam Haysom February 6, 2016 at 5:46 pm

+1 Dearime’s one of those online personas you really hope is an intentionl exaggeration, but deep down know is exactly the way the person is in real life.

27 So Much For Subtlety February 6, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Origins is an interesting book because it is a Shibboleth of the Left. Everyone takes sides in the Monkey Trial. But they don’t really know what it is about. It is not a scientific debate, it is a virtue signalling debate. Put simply, it is a mark of the modern Left that they hate Christians. Not Muslims or Jews of course, but pretty much all Christians. So it is necessary to support Darwinism.

But of course no one reads it. For generations the Left has been claiming there is such a thing as Social Darwinism. There isn’t. Darwin was not much of a racist because he was a Social Darwinist. If anyone actually read all the way to the end of his books they would have noticed. They don’t. Therefore no one reads him all the way through.

28 Hazel Meade February 7, 2016 at 11:49 am

Yeah, nobody reads The Origin of Species all the way through. A lot of it is an interminable list of descriptions of different birds beak sizes.

But more importanty, most people don’t know that the modern theory of evolution is at least half based on the work of Mendel. Darwin came up with the idea of natural selection, but Mendel came up with the concept of genes. The theory was finally really solidified with Watson and Crick identifying the structure of DNA.

29 Mark Thorson February 6, 2016 at 4:05 am

I have read Mein Kampf and consider it a vast wasteland of words. It’s the largest book I’ve read that I consider to have been almost completely a waste of time.

I have not read Das Kapital, but I’ve always been meaning to. One of these days I might get around to it, but as the years pass the urgency diminishes.

I started to read The Book of Mormon, but stopped at the point where that guy is murdered because it’s better that one man die than an entire nation should perish in disbelief or howver it is stated. That incident rubbed me the wrong way. Much later, I found out my only sibling had become a Mormon. Maybe there’s something genetic or the way we were raised that makes us susceptible to that sort of thing.

I got about three pages into Dianetics. The BS was just so thick, it was like trying to walk through a pool of congealing tar. Had I read it when I was a teenager — instead of Mein Kampf — maybe I’d be a Scientologist today! Or more likely an ex-Scientologist. It’s like a bullet just whizzed by, and I was unaware of it. Praise the Lord.

30 Dave Barnes February 6, 2016 at 9:59 am

Das Kapital.
Contributed to the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_War_(20th_century) and as someone born in 1948, I spent a huge part of life in that event.

31 Faze February 6, 2016 at 6:39 pm

“Das Kapital’ is difficult to read. I remember there were weekly “Das Kapital” reading groups at the storefront commie bookstore near my house on the Upper West Side in the 70s, and I can imagine earnest leftists (I was on myself at the time), attempting to plough through it chapter by chapter under the guidance of some seedy savant behind the windows of that dusty storefront. The book that made communism sing was “The Communist Manifesto”, brief and beautifully written and, so, widely read, it gave us “A specter is haunting Europe,” “All that is solid melts into air,” “no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest,” “nothing to lose but their chains,” and even — if I recall correctly, “the opiate of the people” (among other powerful and gorgeous phraseology). Its description of capitalism and its truly revolutionary effect on the world was brilliantly accurate. “Das Kapital” alone would have never been heard of, without its John the Baptist, “The Communist Manifesto”.

32 Alvin February 6, 2016 at 10:08 pm

I know a Turkish muslim female born and raised in Turkey. Not very religious and has never actually read the Koran. She came to the states and started reading the Bible and Book of Mormon in hotels. She was inspired reading the Bible and thought it was a great book, but felt the Book of Mormon was definitely of lesser quality and inferior to the Bible.

33 Axa February 6, 2016 at 5:40 am

As a kid I spent too much time being from sick from infections and viruses. I think I’m one of those individuals that should have been weed out of the gene pool by a random infection by now,so……. “Microbes organized, their role in fermentation, putrefaction and the Contagion” by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch “Investigations into the etiology of traumatic infective diseases.”

34 Curt F. February 6, 2016 at 9:26 am


This is probably the best answer so far.

35 Bill February 6, 2016 at 9:36 am

With this interest and background, I highly recommend the book or the audiobook called The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager. Both are in downloadable form. Very memorable account of the work to find anti-biotics and what things were like without them

36 Axa February 6, 2016 at 12:53 pm

I read long ago Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, that’s why I remembered Pasteur & Koch. Thanks for the recommendation.

37 David Horacek February 6, 2016 at 3:22 pm

I like this answer as well, but it makes me wonder how we are to understand what counts as “important”. I have a strong suspicion that if Pasteur and Koch hadn’t done their research someone else would have done and published more or less the same findings within five years. That five year gap would by now have a very small effect on your life.

So I think we should specify that an important book is one which made a large impact on our lives compared to the counterfactual situation in which the book was never written/published. That makes Main Kampf not very important, because I suspect that WW2 would not have gone very differently without it. If Das Kapital had never existed, I don’t think that some ersatz-Marx would have reproduced similar ideas and produced a similar impact.

I imagine that many MR readers have read the Koran, but I haven’t, so for me I think that would win.

38 Kantor February 6, 2016 at 6:19 am

Euclid elements has been probably the most influetial book of all times, and Newton’s Principia is the second.

The Axiomatic deductive method in mathematics accounts for the only true advantage the West had over the Rest in 1400 Ad. Only but decisive..:

39 Steve Sailer February 6, 2016 at 7:01 am

Like a lot of people, I actually have read much of the Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Le Morte d’Arthur, and Shakespeare.

Among books I haven’t read, I suspect the Aeneid ranks high on the list of books that were widely read for about 1900 years by a large fraction of literate Westerners, but stopped being widely read not very long ago. It’s weird how the Aeneid has just sort of vanished from cultural literacy in the English-speaking world. I have almost no idea about the contents (a whole lot of fighting, I guess). In contrast, while I haven’t actually sat down and read Don Quixote per se, I’ve read a Classic Comics version, watched several TV specials for kids based on it, seen parts of Man of La Mancha on TV, read Borges’s story about Pierre Manent, Author of the Quixote, and so forth and so on. But I don’t recall anything like that for the Aeneid. And yet the Aeneid was a very big deal to educated Europeans for a very long time.

40 Matt Moore February 6, 2016 at 8:01 am

I read the Aeneid as part of my school Latin. I think the enduring influence that you mention is likely because most educated Westerners had a fair bit of Latin but only a little Greek

41 FredR February 6, 2016 at 9:25 am

The Aeneid combines a second-rate Odyssey with a second-rate Iliad.

42 Sam Haysom February 6, 2016 at 5:55 pm

This is kind of true but the scenes with Dido and Aeneas add a component that I would say is missing from Homer.

43 Donald Pretari February 6, 2016 at 11:05 am

Thematically, the Aeneid connects the fall of Troy with the founding of Rome. Stylistically, Virgil is important for Latin, which, as you yourself noted earlier, even Newton wrote in Latin.

44 Gary Othic February 6, 2016 at 7:34 am

Too many to name I imagine (to my shame)… Although I suppose a clarification would be; a book that’s a continuing influence and shaper of my life, or merely one that was once a large influence?

Does lead to an interesting question I’ve normally mused over though; which is the most famous/important book in the academic discipline that you’re part of that you’ve not read? ‘Economy and Society’ would probably be up there for me.

45 Ann K February 6, 2016 at 7:46 am

SJWs Always Lie

46 Heorogar February 6, 2016 at 8:17 am

I haven’t read a SJW book because they distort everything.

47 Christine February 6, 2016 at 9:12 am


48 Matt Moore February 6, 2016 at 7:58 am

Marx’s Capital

(Which maybe I should read)

Unlike Mein Kampf, Marx’s ideas were not mainly given influence by his own actions.

Although thinking about it, it seems that the right answer must be much longer ago. I’m sure I haven’t read the complete works of Aristotle.

Although (again) I have read some of the corpus, so I wonder if the marginal impact of the remainder is really that great.

49 Mark Thorson February 6, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Marx founded the first Communist Party, so he did through his own actions do more than just write a book. However, it is also true that Das Kapital is central to the philosophy of Communism, while Mein Kampf is not really an expression of the core beliefs of Naziism — the latter not really having any core beliefs except the Führerprinzip.

50 middyfeek February 6, 2016 at 8:18 am

If Mein Kampf had been written by Adolf Menjou instead of Adolf Hitler it would have long since drifted into well deserved obscurity. Hitler’s later infamy cannot rescue that book. And even his world class infamy cannot paper over the fact that he was essentially just a hopeless gasbag.

51 Aaron Moz February 6, 2016 at 8:25 am

I find it surprising many people are naming Dr Spock when the newer twin studies and genetic behaviorism research has been showing for some time now the lower effect of parenting on individual children’s personality and economic outcomes, relative to what we used to suspect. So maybe a whole generation of parents read Dr Spock, but that does not show that it actually influenced their children’s lives in any strong way, contra to most people’s inflated expectations of the marginal effect of parenting.

Undoubtedly for me the book would be the parts of the Hebrew Bible that I have not read (at least 80 percent). Once a nonbeliever, reading it has become a chore that I try to do every so often but find of dubious immediate value given the much better options on my walls. The opportunity cost of my reading time devoted to biblical writings is simply too high, but the book has affected so much of history (all over the planet) and current, powerful political leaders…

Runner up is Lolita. It is named as the most influential book on their development by more top writers than just about anything else. And writers of fiction shape the experience of life more and more strongly, especially for the agnostic side of the world. Converse to my first choice, I guess.

52 Christine February 6, 2016 at 9:13 am

Maybe it didn’t influence your “personality and economic outcome,” but if it did nothing but influence how your mother treated you for 18 years, it “influenced your life.”

53 Aaron Moz February 6, 2016 at 12:05 pm

I don’t disagree with you that much, but it’s more about answering the call of the question for me. You may or may not have read the literature to which I refer, and if not you should because it is more nuanced than what you seem to think I am claiming. I don’t deny that as an individual you retain a lot of memories of ‘how your mother treated you’, and how important that may be to your narrative of your life. But the question was which book ‘most influenced your life’ not which book had some impact on your memories of childhood but didn’t really shape who you are or the world you live in.

If a book had a huge effect on society, politics, economics, religion, etc or causes people to individually change their lives (which, to be fair, books like Atlas Shrugged do in many cases, however that is interpreted), and moreso than other books, and you didn’t read it, it qualifies, right? But I’m casting doubt on whether Dr Spock’s child rearing guide had as much effect as people seem to assume it did. And that’s because parenting methods are overrated in their impact on how people’s lives turn out and what they do. Which is a lot of cold water in my book. (mixed metaphors, I know)

54 noge_sako February 6, 2016 at 12:54 pm

That’s a 4th of the typical persons life, 18 years.

55 Miguel Madeira February 6, 2016 at 12:11 pm

I think that outside US the Dr. Spock is largely unknow (most people confuse him with Mr. Spock).

However, the studies showing that the way as each individual parent treats his/her individius children has very little influence in the life of each individual children does not mean that the way the majority of parents treate their children will not have much influence in the life of these children, at an aggregate level.

56 noge_sako February 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I’m a bit skeptical of some results.

I mean, you are having parents motivated enough *to* adopt someone, and that may give very different results then parents thrust with a child they don’t actually want. Has there been a double-blind study of that?

57 Sarcii February 6, 2016 at 8:45 am

The Great Stagnation

If I read that I couldn’t get up in the morning…

58 A Definite Beta Guy February 6, 2016 at 9:36 am

“The City of God” or “Confessions.” Perhaps Augustine’s entire body of work. Augustine defined a lot of Church dogma, which was quite open to the philosophical inquiry of the world.

We could’ve easily produced an entirely different, much more backwards, dogma.

I’d second SMFS’ Dr. Spock for creating an entirely different culture of raising our youth, compared to how, say, my grandfather was raised. Someone suggested that different parenting styles have no effects on outcomes, and that may be true, but it certainly altered the UMC’s idea of “how to raise children properly.”

59 zbicyclist February 6, 2016 at 4:33 pm

In the same vein, I would nominate Luther’s 95 Theses. These had a massive effect on Western civilization, even though few of us could reliably name many of the 95.

60 PD Shaw February 6, 2016 at 9:41 am

I’ve only read passages from the Koran, but so much of it is inscrutable, the real meaning of the religion is more often found in the sunnah and/or hadith, and many believers would argue that a translation is not the Koran anyway. A book of highest veneration, recited as part of worship on a daily basis all over the world, its still not clear to me why reading it would be of any value to a non-believer, as opposed to reading secondary sources that educate one about Islam.

61 uair01 February 6, 2016 at 3:37 pm

I’m a (relatively progressive) Catholic and (relatively) well read in theology an history of religion but I’ve never been able to read the whole Bible end-to-end. I know from evangelist sources that it should take just 40 hours. I haven’t even been able to read all of St. Pauls letters. – In general I think I’ve learned more from secondary than from primary sources. Especially with Heidegger 🙂

62 Moreno Klaus February 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

Kama Sutra hahahaha 😉

63 A Definite Beta Guy February 6, 2016 at 9:48 am

I did consider “50 Shades of Gray.” But we need to be a generation or so removed to see if THAT one has any long-term consequences…

64 Axa February 6, 2016 at 10:03 am

@Moreno Klaus, you need to be part of the judges for Loebner Prize https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loebner_Prize

65 Thor February 6, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Its okay, Moreno — your parents read it 😉

66 Bill February 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

This set of comments is excellent. I would like to see the question modified to only books held at one time or another in one’s own possession but not read. I have several hundred books that I may read someday. But has a little knowledge, maybe some hearsay and the cover art influenced me? Maybe the book “Gandhi and Churchill” by Arthur Herman: the picture on the spine emphasizes the difference in the men and their worlds. Once of these days

67 uair01 February 6, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I had “Of Grammatology” by Derrida for several years in my bookcase. I managed to read just the first chapter. I was amazed about the contortions that he could put “language” through. But I never understood what his project was about. I think this will irritate me for the rest of my life. Then I have the book “Some modern mathematics for physicists and other outsiders” that I’ve picked up and read fragments from often. It is very beautiful but I have never found the time to get beyond chapter one: “Set theory”. But it’s a permanent reminder of the beauty of math.

68 Paul February 6, 2016 at 9:54 am

Hands down, the DSM. For many, the impact isn’t direct but its influence is threaded throughout communities. It did make a difference in one of my parents life. Given the stigma against openly seeking therapy, probably countless others around me have also benefitted. Also, given the rapidity of acceptance toward gay rights, the DSM was at the vanguard of that and I’m sure I’d feel different about human sexuality in general if I lived in a time before many behaviors were normalized through the DSM. Pseudo-religions have been created whose very existence is threatened by the DSM. I’d estimate its impact with that of the communist manifesto but Marx has been read by just about everyone who believes in it–that can’t be said by the massive number of people impacted both positively and negatively by the DSM.

69 Tom February 6, 2016 at 9:56 am

Dem dern law books.

70 Eric February 6, 2016 at 9:57 am

The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I didn’t realize it at the time but most every evening meal and bagged lunch while growing up was effected by my mother, and every other mother in her generation, after reading this book.

71 Thor February 6, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I have read it. And I read it again not long ago. (By “read” I mean I used a number of the recipes. Beard’s American Cookery is far superior not just because of the writing.)

It is so dated in comparison to the many fine books available now that I gave it away.

72 Ray Lopez February 6, 2016 at 10:01 am

I think the people upstream of this post are answering the question incorrectly. For example, citing Newton, which is ludicrous unless you are an engineer. Most people have no idea of (nor any need for) how physics works; ditto for medical history or even medicine (pace Spock’s more practical “how to”). Even with Spock however, it’s debatable whether any parent really used Spock as a “how-to”, other than perhaps Spocks’ recommendation not to discipline children (which is bad advice BTW).

My vote personally is Hans Kmoch’s book “Pawn Power in Chess”, as pawns are the soul of chess, as I’ve found out myself, and I’m a chess player.

73 tdc February 6, 2016 at 3:37 pm

You are an idiot

74 Rex February 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I agree with the Newton example. I’m a chemical engineer and there are so many basic building blocks of science it other standard texts, i think it disqualifies it. Besides,living in the physical world and being subject to it, it a whole lot different than being ‘influenced’ by it. For instance, reading about gravity in most cases isn’t really going to influence you to alter your behavior.

I’ve read the Bible multiple times, so St. Augustine is the best answer I’ve heard so far.

If you haven’t read a Benjamin Franklin biograpgy/autobigraphy, you should consider that; mainly the way he shaped American thought and elevated the colonies

75 Brian Donohue February 6, 2016 at 10:12 am

Friedman and Schwarz’ Monetary History?

Been meaning to get to that.

76 Ray Lopez February 6, 2016 at 1:29 pm

LOL, yet you pound the table on monetarism. Here’s a hint: Friedman and Schwartz’ Monetary History is bogus. See this chapter, available online, and read between the lines (C. Romer is, like you, a true believer in Friedman yet she cannot in good faith give unabridged praise to Friedman)

Chapter Title: Does Monetary Policy Matter? A New Test in the Spirit of Friedman and Schwartz, Chapter Author: Christina D. Romer, David H. Romer in Volume Title: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1989, Volume 4, Volume Author/Editor: Olivier Jean Blanchard and Stanley Fischer, editors MIT Press

77 dbp February 6, 2016 at 10:12 am

Am I the first and only one to immediately think of “The Gulag Archipelago”?

Few read all of it, most homes had at least the first part on their bookshelves–but everyone knew what was in it. It was an irrefutable indictment of the immorality of Soviet Communism. Many people exerted great effort and displayed heroism in the Soviet downfall, but Gulag Archipelago was the slow poison, or more apt, chemotherapy which ate away at that awful tumor.

78 Horhe February 6, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Since the Gulag system has been supplanted by the Holocaust in people’s imagination as the go-to concept for a cruel and dehumanizing fate (some time ago, since it was noted by Joseph Sobran), which Holocaust book would you recommend?

79 Steve Sailer February 7, 2016 at 12:44 am

I actually have read it. It’s a good read in the British translation that didn’t make it to America for a couple of years rather than the rushed translation that came out in America immediately.

80 Mark Thorson February 7, 2016 at 1:32 am

I read the first two volumes and got about halfway into the third before it became too repetitive. Okay, a lot of people died. Horribly. Starving or in the cold or both. Got it. I wasn’t going to plow through all four or five volumes or however many it was.

This seems to be a style peculiar to Russian literature — flood the reader with a vast collection of anecdotes, some reliable and many less so. Let History Judge is like that, though mercifully in only one volume.

81 Bjartur February 6, 2016 at 10:18 am

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

82 A B February 6, 2016 at 10:24 am

No fair choosing a book from 300 years ago, or something which had global impact. I’m picking something personal: Free To Be You And Me, a feminist book and album which influenced several women around me in all sorts of annoying ways.

83 peri February 6, 2016 at 6:52 pm

I am surprised no one offered a feminist manifesto, any feminist manifesto. Impossible that it should have been read, and there can hardly be anything that has altered the daily lives of Western men more.

84 Noah Yetter February 6, 2016 at 10:25 am

The Mythical Man-Month

(I’ll get around to reading it one of these days…)

85 dan1111 February 6, 2016 at 6:24 pm

It’s good. Reading it influenced me, but if I had not read it, I don’t see how it would have influenced me (and I’m a software developer).

86 Anon. February 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

I’d go with the Bible. Outside of a few quotes here and there I’ve never read it, but its influence has obviously been enormous.

87 David February 6, 2016 at 10:45 am

University Economics

88 Venkat February 6, 2016 at 10:46 am

Got the idea from Pierre Bayard’s “How to talk about books you haven’t read” which quotes a book that mentions a game called Humiliation. A group of people each mention a book they haven’t read, and score a point for each person in the group who HAS read the book. Person with most points ‘wins’ (by being humiliated for having the most embarrassing gap in the milieu). Couldn’t play the full game on Twitter, but when friends and I played in a group, the winner was Ender’s Game, followed by Hitchhiker’s Guide at #2 and Godelian, Escher, Bach at #3.

89 Granic February 6, 2016 at 10:59 am

John Dewey, The School and Society.

It has done more to influence North American education than almost every other work, and I’ve never read it.

90 HL February 6, 2016 at 11:03 am

Either 50 Shades of Grey or one of the Harry Potter books

91 Ray Lopez February 6, 2016 at 1:32 pm

I think you are, like most here, misreading the question, but, this being a family site, I don’t necessarily want to know how these unread books have shaped your life. Perhaps you’re into kinky role-playing?

92 LR February 6, 2016 at 11:14 am

‘Racial Typology of the German People,’ by Hans F. K. Günther,

93 Kris February 6, 2016 at 11:53 am

Surprised no one’s mentioned “Wealth of Nations” yet. To my mind, it pretty much underpins the thinking behind the modern globalized economy.

Also, there’s a wide array of science books (mainly physics and chemistry) that no one in the lay public would have read, and without which our world would be unrecognizable. Folks on this forum seem to be gravitating towards books on evolution and genetics, which though very important, hardly impact our daily lives anywhere as much as a cutting-edge physics textbook.

94 Bill Kirby February 6, 2016 at 11:56 am

Same is true of math and statistics books. I have virtually never found them on personal reading lists.

95 jcs February 6, 2016 at 11:56 am

Mao’s Little Red Book probably has to make the list if Mein Kampf does.

96 Ray Lopez February 6, 2016 at 1:35 pm

But it does not. See TC’s qualification why Mein Kampf does not (or should not) make the list: “Therefore I am not sure that answer is true to the spirit of the question.” – And neither would (for most people unless they were working in a STEM field) any book on math, stats, or physics, chemistry, biology and the like.

97 Mark Thorson February 7, 2016 at 1:46 am

Having read both books, big difference. I suspect many more Nazis owned Mein Kampf than read it. It’s a huge, boring book. Mao’s Little Red Book is short and easy reading.

98 Charles February 6, 2016 at 11:56 am

Speculating, I think that Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Darwin, On The Origin of Species, and Ayn Rand, (anything) are commonly cited (the people probably, because of the books) as influences on perspective or values without any engagement with the writings; however, I’ll add:

Thomas Paine, Common Sense.

A few years back in graduate school, we had a raising of hands on who had read the book. Less than a quarter of the students had done so, and this in a graduate seminar on American politics.

99 Dzhaughn February 6, 2016 at 1:53 pm
100 Kevin February 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

My thought as well – as an American but not a lawyer: the US Code.

Very interesting and thought provoking question with some great answers above. Thanks.

101 tdc February 6, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

102 John February 6, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Seems like most are answering with regard to ideas that have largely represented an advancement in our scientific understanding of the world or human psychology. But was it the book that really did that? If that’s the tack to take perhaps one needs to think about the writing of people like Pythagoras — does anyone have a copy of his stuff?

But in terms of impact on my personal life it gets difficult to trace — or even understand if the question is about how those ideas had an influence on who I grew into versus influenced they type of world I got to live in.

103 Martin Keegan February 6, 2016 at 4:33 pm

The correct answer turns out to be the writings of Martin Luther.

104 Sam Haysom February 6, 2016 at 6:02 pm

Without Calvin the Protestant Reformation would have collapsed.

105 peri February 7, 2016 at 10:15 am

And Luther subsumes Mein Kampf as well.

106 Sam Haysom February 6, 2016 at 6:01 pm

I vote for Calvin’s institutes. People really underestimate how influential they were in buttressing Protestantism during the Counter-Reformation. I’d argue that without Calvin Protestantism might have been confined to the Baltics, Scandanavia, and possibly England. International Catholicism spent a lot of time and energy defeating Protestantism in even Catholic strongholds like France because Calvin provided a ideological blue print around which Protestants could unite.

107 bulgarian license plate 1904 February 6, 2016 at 10:27 pm

One of my favorite anecdotes about CS Lewis is the time in a middle of a conversation with someone he wanted to impress where he said something like (I have Americanized this) “well all of MY students have read Calvin”… It was obviously bluster, and God only knows why Lewis wanted to brag about that, but he did. Great guy, but eccentric, like almost all people who are really good with words.

108 Gary Steinmetz February 6, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Here’s something (not a book though) that I haven’t read that arguably has most influenced and shaped my life – my genetic code.

109 JWatts February 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm

“Internal Revenue Code (IRC),” (US Federal Tax Code)

110 JWatts February 6, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Possibly “Trump: The Art of the Deal”, depending on the upcoming election.

111 zuki February 7, 2016 at 4:55 am

the english dictionary

112 Handle February 7, 2016 at 9:27 am

Any of Michael Porter’s books on competition.

113 Hazel Meade February 7, 2016 at 11:44 am

Das Kapital

Pretty much determined the political environment that I and everyone else live in.

114 Archibald Meatpants February 8, 2016 at 8:28 pm

I’ll throw in Plato’s The Reupublic and Descartes The Discourse on the Method. Maybe John Locke’s work on natural rights.

115 morocco desert tours February 9, 2016 at 5:05 am

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