Ayn Rand is like brain-porn. It seems to make sense but never comes out that way in real life.
More writers have influenced the way I think that I could begin to list, and continue to do so. I must say, though, that Sam Clemens (Mark Twain), David Cornwell (John Le Carre), and Anthony Burgess all gave me a healthy skepticism of successful conspiracies and that people really know what they’re doing. It’s clear that most conspiracies are actually the result of bumbling incompetence on all parties.
Douglas Adams persuaded me that most people have no idea as to what is going on, and if you try to give them a clue they’ll clamp their eyes shut and stick their fingers in their ears. This is especially true of people who are absolutely convinced that they have The Answer.
On the non-fictional front, I’d have to credit Carl Sagan. Even though his Cosmos is now a significantly flawed book in many ways, his presentation of science as a way of understanding how the world works is really nothing short of brilliant. Other authors have written on physics, astronomy, and certainly evolutionary biology more accurately and in greater depth, but I’d be hard pressed to find any single volume that is as broad and yet accessible, managing to provide both science fact and cohesive theories behind it. I awaited each new episode of the PBS series like most kids waited for the next Star Wars installment.
Richard Dawkins provided the key that changed biology from button-sorting to being an actual grounded science. I knew of evolution and natural selection before, but reading The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker crystalized the idea that there is a unifying principle to biology. I think he overreaches in many ways with his extreme assertions of gene-centric theory (and his personal vendetta against organized religion) but it still turned the corner for me.
M.L.K. Fisher converted me from being an ex-cook who could care less about food to an aspiring gourmand for the sake of the art and craft of food.
I’m not even going to say what Jim Thompson did to my tender brain. Let’s just say that I don’t trust no one. I think the same thing must have happened to David Mamet.