(Reposted from June 2011 in response to a question. Be sure and check out parts 1 and 2)
I have a really good friend I was visiting the other day who was discussing some of the recent books she’s read. I blurted out that I don’t read much, but then as she listed some of the books she’s read lately I was able to answer, “I’ve read that…read that…read that…check.” So, maybe I do actually read a lot. I always have 2-3 different books I’m reading at a given time. One stays in my briefcase for those times I’m on the road waiting for a plane or eating out alone. Another one remains at my bedside table at home for my evening read just before sleep.
My reading topic choices tend to come in waves… biographies… fiction… non-fiction… religious… humor… biographies… non-fiction, etc… I’ll stick with a genre for a month or two before I burn out and move on to my next area of interest.
Reading is both a source of entertainment and information to me. More than anything, over the last few years reading has been a source of self-confidence in my life path. I don’t have a label for my beliefs, but I can say that reading has been extremely helpful in determining that it’s better to NOT know everything than to be cocksure certain about what is true. It really is accurate that the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. I try now to stick with the old adage “Seek those who seek, doubt those who find.”
It’s therefore curious to me that the most confidently certain, knowing people I am acquainted with are the people who read the least. And when they do read, they almost exclusively read the topics that support their current beliefs. I at least try not to do this.
I think that that was my downfall as a Mormon actually… that I was never afraid to search and read things that contradicted my beliefs. I, of course, had the confidence that the truth had no challenge that could not be addressed and answered. That’s another reason that I refrain from labeling myself today as an atheist or whatever. I’m open to changing my worldview the more I learn.
I understand that not everyone feels that way. When something overtly challenges their belief structure it can be extremely offensive and intimidating.
So, for part 1 of my book recommendations, I have decided to list the non-fiction books that helped me question my original beliefs even though these have little to no direct connection to Mormonism. In other words, I don’t believe these are “anti” anything. In listing books here I’m not even saying that I agree with 100% that is written inside, but they did challenge me to think. They opened my eyes to a way of thinking about facts and the world around me that I hadn’t encountered before. A couple of the authors included here are well-know atheists but I found these particular books to be their earlier or less confrontational writings.
These would be books that I wouldn’t have had to read covertly as a Mormon, or books that peers of mine have certainly read and come to different conclusions (in other words, they stayed Mormon); but they challenged me to question that world.
In order from most innocuous to more challenging:
- The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt
- Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman
- The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Adrienne Koch and William Peden
- A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
- The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James
- Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
- How We Know What Isn’t So, Thomas Gilovich
- 1984, George Orwell
- A History of God, Karen Armstrong
- Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Stephen Jay Gould
- Unweaving the Rainbow, by Richard Dawkins
- The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman
- Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer
- Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan
- The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine