Literature and books

Ten books that changed my life, part 1

Part 1 of 4

In many ways it’s a bit of a free lunch to write a blog post like this. Nothing to worry about with structure, and little with content. Just a list of items and a snippet or two on each. Perhaps that’s why hundreds of such lists seem to spring up every week, in newspapers and on websites. Maybe I should write a daily post: ‘A hundred lists you must read before you rip out your Internet connection’, featuring the best beaches, the worst management-speak, the oddest pets. I saw one once in the UK’s Independent newspaper called The Ten Best Belts For Men. Another was the top fifty films of 2012. Fifty? Isn’t that all of them? I want five, maybe ten, maximum.

Perhaps editors know that readers can dip into such articles as they wish, read the paragraph about an item that catches their eye, and nothing else. You lose little or nothing by ignoring the rest. Occasionally I’m all for such an approach to blog posts. Because it doesn’t matter how much you enjoy writing them and hitting the publish button; it doesn’t matter how marvellous, informative and stimulating you truly believe your posts are, no one will ever love them quite as much as you. And sometimes I do think my posts are good. Why else would I write them? Yet, if someone reads a post from start to finish, I consider myself honoured and lucky. So if anyone reads a bit, then it’s far better than nothing. But I don’t blame my few followers. After all, they are busier than me, and there’s more to life than the Internet – apparently. So unless you’re one of the lucky few bloggers who attract followers like the Messiah, you’d better be patient, put up with few readers, or give up.

This is not simply a list of books that I like. Each one made a fundamental impact on my life, whether that was visible through my later actions, or through my mental development, or both. I run the risk of appearing pretentious. But the list doesn’t stand any higher or lower, in my opinion, than one containing Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer, or The Bible.

The order is chronological.

photos of sociology book1. Invitation to Sociology by Peter L Berger; read 1984/85

Throughout my childhood, growing up in a small town whose main employer was a shipyard making military vessels, I was often surrounded by conservatives, mostly working class, who rejected the Labour Party’s then more pacifist stance. They wanted to keep their jobs. This view of the world, bolstered by TV, radio and newspapers appeared natural, final, immovable. To question anything, to change anything, did not even occur to me. Then, aged 18, and ripping straight into my quiet world, came Peter Berger’s little book, with its unassuming cover. I found it quite by chance in my local toy and book shop. If I’d never bought it, maybe – somehow, sometime – I might eventually have started to question things, and myself. But I sometimes doubt it. For the first time in my life I saw that there were other possible interpretations of the world, our place within it, how we got there, and where we may end up; that society’s moods and currents, its political discourse and social attitudes were influenced by, in fact are often a direct reflection of, specific social and economic drives and interests. I read parts of it again recently. It is excellently written, very balanced and an intelligent work by an author who is still with us, after a very long career teaching and writing. His other books, including the co-authored The Social Construction of Reality, are also well worth a look. Thank you Peter. Although my attitudes have grown and sometimes alternated in the subsequent years, I am forever indebted to you.

2. Why You Don’t Need Meat by Peter Cox; read 1986

photo of book why you don't need meat peter coxFired up with my new philosophy absorbed from Peter Berger above, not long after I read Peter Cox’s popular book. The same spirit of liberation was clearly in full flow within me – the book gave a good account of the politics and industry of food production especially in relation to meat, its potential harm individually, socially and economically. I was a convert. Within weeks I had given up meat. And why not? I was young, free. No more oxtail or rib steak for me. I was soon a full-blown vegan, much to the horror of my parents, with whom I still lived. It lasted only six months, but I was a vegetarian far longer, and today still do not eat lamb or beef, if only because I don’t now like the taste. Looking at Amazon I see that Cox, not too long ago, has co-written what is essentially an update to the original book, which is now called You Don’t Need Meat, under a different publisher. The original book’s central messages were pertinent, useful and enlightening. I imagine the recent book is too.

In the next instalment I encounter a philosopher who wasn’t really a philosopher, a famous man in tights, and discover how Aristotle influenced modern movies.



Copyright © 2013 David Hansard /
All articles on are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.



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