Reading List as Autobiography

David Auerbach made a post about creating a kind of intellectual autobiography by chronologically listing the books that have had the greatest influence on him. The response to his post was good and it has been interesting to compare the overlap and pathways people have taking in their reading over time. I don’t have much recollection of my earliest years and I must admit the reading I did as a child has not had a very clear impact or discernable influence. I do remember reading history and biographies edited for young readers but titles and authors escape me, and I have no notes to rely on. It is funny how some years are so rich–I could pick five or more books that had a profound impact on me–and other years it is hard to come up with one that seemed influential or important.

Putting the list together also makes me wonder why I spend so much time reading books that are not important or potentially influential. I’m sure I have a pretty good idea which books are more likely to have a long term impact, yet these are not always the focus of my reading. I guess there are times one has to focus on the task at hand. David is certainly right in how these lists trace a peculiar kind of autobiography.

1973 Paul-Letter to the Roman
1974 Packer-Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
1975 Thoreau-Walden
1976 Machiavelli-The Prince
1977 Dante-Inferno
1978 Vonnegut-Player Piano
1979 Aristotle-Nicomachean Ethics
1980 Hegel-Phenomenology of Mind, Nietzsche-Beyond Good and Evil,
1981 Kafka-The Castle, James Frazer-The Golden Bough
1982 Marx-The German Ideology, Freud-The Interpretation of Dreams
1983 Proust-Remembrance of Things Past, Schopenhauer-The World as Will and Idea
1984 Foucault-Discipline and Punish, Canetti-Crowds and Power
1985 John Swanell-Fine Lines
1986 Ansel Adams-The Negative
1987 Kerouac-On the Road
1988 Baudelaire-Les fleurs du mal
1989 Sally Mann-At Twelve
1990 Bataille-The Accursed Share
1991 Reis and Trout–Positioning, Wittgenstein-On Certainty
1992 Gibbon-Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Rimbaud-Illuminations
1993 Morgan-Twentieth Century Music, Elizabeth Rozin-Ethnic Cooking
1994 Schoenberg-Fundamentals of Music Composition, Messiaen- Technique de mon langage musical
1995 David Carson-The End of Print, Gleich-Chaos
1996 Lasch-Revolt of the Elites, Kant-Critique of Pure Reason
1997 Crosby-Ecological Imperialism, Hernstein & Murray-The Bell Curve
1998 Melville-Moby Dick, Huntington-The Clash of Civilizations
1999 Philips-The Cousin’s Wars

2000 Gould-Wonderful Life, Gardner-The Disciplined Mind
2001 Boyer-Religion Explained, Tufte-The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
2002 Rosenwein-A Short History of the Middle Ages, Wolfram-A New Kind of Science, Mahfouz-Children of the Alley
2003 The Mahabharata, Saragmago-Blindness
2004 Montaigne-Essays, Goethe-Poems, Cervantes-Don Quixote
2005 Thucydides-History of the Peloponnesian War, Kuan-chung-Romance of the Three Kingdoms
2006 Njal’s Saga, Xenophon-Anabasis
2007 Ionesco-Jeux de massacre, Anderson-The Long Tail
2008 Psellus-Chronographia, Habermas-The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
2009 Baudrillard-The System of Objects, Zuckert-Plato’s Philosophers
2010 Dunn-Dominion of Memories, Aristotle-Organon
2011 Marx-Capital, Ayers-What Caused the Civil War?
2012 de Tocqueville-Democracy in America, Goethe-Conversations with German Refugees


~ by severalfourmany on June 21, 2011.

2 Responses to “Reading List as Autobiography”

  1. Greetings,

    I found your list via waggish, and- I must say- it is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. I like that it includes a balance of classics in literature, philosophy, and history (Cervantes, Proust, Hegel, Kant, Gibbon, Plato, Baudelaire, etc) as well as a number of contemporary books on very specific topics and from widely divergent fields.
    And that’s all considering you only picked 1 or 2 books each year!

    I was wondering if I could pick your brain in regards to one; namely, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Do you recommend any specific translation? Also, have you read any of the other Chinese classic novels? Kenneth Rexroth, and others, rank them all quite highly, though they’re basically unread and un-talked-about in the US. Do you need to know a lot about Chinese culture or history to start reading the Romance, or does the novel more or less explain itself? Should the novel’s sheer mass frighten away readers?

    also, nice blog you got here.

  2. Thanks!

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a favorite of both my wife and myself. No prep work needed, just start reading. We are you sure you will love it. More here:

    And if you are interested in lists here is an interesting one a group of us are about to start.

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