What writers have influenced the way you think?

Inspired by this thread.

I grew up reading Heinlein, Asimov, and the CS Lewis. I think those three a major reason why I’m as open-minded as I am. Heinlein and Asimov gave me respect for intelligence. Heinlein gave me acceptance of other lifestyles. And Lewis gave me the lingering desire for fantasy and acceptance of the very strange.

How about you?

Can it be in a negative way? Because it took me years to scrub Ayn Rand out of my young head.

Not when was young, but James Gleick’s Chaos: making a new science had a massive impact on my thinking when it came out in back in the 80’s. Closest I have come to a religious experience. The world has looked different every since. The impact of tiny chance events keeps popping up in every sphere of life, natural and otherwise.

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams are the two big ones for me. Pratchett, especially.

J.G. Ballard, Steve Keshner, Jim Goad, Tom (not Thomas) Wolfe.

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.


R. Buckminster Fuller, especially his book “Critical Path”, led me to understand his unique understanding of how the world and everything in it works. His overarching principles of efficiency and using natural forces is something that I still am learning about as I read and re-read more of his works, and it all seems to work together (synergetically, if you will) to make sense.

E. H. Gombrich, with his amazing “The Story of Art”, was an early love and really influenced my thinking in a number of ways. I didn’t necessarily develop a life-long interest in art history or anything, (although it DID directly lead to my intense feelings for the art of Albrecht Dürer) but its basic principles that different works of art have different contexts and require different ways of viewing and understanding has and will continue to stay with me forever (and not just in interpreting art). Gombrich wrote something along the lines that there is no bad reason to like a work of art, but that to dislike something you have to really have given it a chance to be fair really inspired how I think.

Like Argent Towers, I also have to add Tom Wolfe to my list. I read “The Right Stuff” when I was in high school, and I subsequently read all of his other works, which then led to other authors and works with (what I consider) a similar style (including Neal Stephenson). His stylistic flourishes helped me understand what I was missing in things I was reading in school and a different way of expression. Creative use of punctuation (!?) is still my favourite part of reading even now.

C.S. Lewis was the first writer I encountered that made me think, “Hey, Christianity can be examined critically”

Not that I agree with all of his books, but he was the first honest Christian writer I encountered. I’m not talking about Narnia (though I love those books) - I’d recommend Mere Christianity to anyone, regardless of their personal faith. If they were interested further I’d say give *The Problem of Pain *a try - it’s a bit dense, but it’s a great intro to the problem of pain. Of course, when he wrote it, he was still in the insulated bubble of being a single man without many cares in the world.

Anyways, it would just be an intro to reading A Grief Observed. This time around, Lewis had lost his wife after only a short time being married to cancer. All his nice confidence in Pain is shattered once he comes to suffer on a very personal level. This one is brutal and insightful.

Mere Christianity is a great apologetic work.

The Problem of Pain is a nice but difficult treatise on, well, the problem of pain.

And A Grief Observed is the diary of a man broken, who slowly manages to put his life (and faith) back together after a great loss.

I picked up a lot of ideas from various writers, but the only writer that really had a major impact on the way I think and the way I view the world is Robert Heinlein. I was raised by a single mother, and in my early teens Heinlein was the closest thing to a father figure I had. I read all his books voraciously and repeatedly, and many of them had explicit ‘father figure’ characters who taught life lessons. I absorbed a lot of it.

Kurt Vonnegut
Ursula LeGuin
Norman Maclean
Terry Pratchett
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Charles Dickens
Mark Twain
Tom Wolfe (his non-fiction)

Daniel Quinn, Jared Diamond, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joseph Campbell, Margaret Atwood, Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, and Rita Mae Brown, to name a few.

Heinlein definitely was a strong influence on me when I started reading his novels as a young 'un. I know it’s gauche to admit it, but Ayn Rand really did affect my brain when I read “Atlas Shrugged” in high school - I had never thought about things that way before, never encountered those ideas before.

One of my favourite novels is still “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller; I’m trying to think if it changed how I think or not, and I think it did. I think it opened my eyes to cynicism and how things are not what they seem, and how a healthy sense of the ridiculous goes a long way.

Forgot to include Mary Oliver and Rumi. :smack:

Robert Anton Wilson has to be in first place. If we’re talking about novelists I’m not sure there’s even a second place. He was very weird, we shared some interests, and above all he was focused on different ways of seeing and interpreting reality and the processes through which we understand and change what we experience. And he explored some very big-picture humorous ways of looking at things that really spoke to me.

Nabokov and Fitzgerald are more influences on my writing than my thinking, as far as I can tell, but there’s no firm dividing line. If we expand it beyond novelists I’d add a bunch of comedy writers and Shakespeare.

Pratchett, LeGuin, Sartre and Tolkien for fiction,
Nietzsche, Asimov, Gould for non-fiction.

Terry Pratchett had a huge influence on me in college. Oddly enough, the influence occurred without me even realizing it, which some might see as an indication of Pratchett’s greatness. My parents were both college professors and I was raised in a very academic environment. As late as my junior year of college, I still largely believed that professors were always right and that the academic world was naturally the apex of humanity, generously providing instruction to everyone who didn’t have a Ph.D. During college, I encountered a number of professors who believed and taught illogical, incoherent things, yet with a bit of cognitive dissonance, my faith in academia remained firm. Pratchett was the first to show me that an intelligent person can view universities as circuses and their inhabitants as clowns. While I started reading the Discworld novels during my senior year, I didn’t actually figure out this message until I’d read at least a dozen of them. I think it was in the middle of Soul Music that I suddenly said to myself, “Hey! He views the academic world as a big joke!”

Another author that I’d have to mention is G. K. Chesterton. He changed my mind on so many things that I can’t possibly list them all here. He made me understand what freedom truly is: not the ability to be bossed around by bureaucrats, but the ability to actually make one’s own choices. He made me understand the idea of democracy: not voting for President once every four years, but treating ordinary people with respect. He made me understand a great deal more, and he made me convert to Christianity. But perhaps most of all, he taught me that life should be enjoyed.


Hm. If philosophers count, then Kant. Definitely Kant. If they don’t. . .I dunno. Some of Andre Dubus’s short stories have a sort of wonderful spirituality in them that’s influenced me. And a lot of TS Eliot has, but that might be more creatively than anything else.

Douglas Adams and Joseph Heller managed to put a lighthearted spin on the absurdity of existence and the human condition that has stuck with me. It certainly help me out of my teenagey angst-ridden black and white world.

Herbert S. Zim – editor for Golden Books, and writer of more than a few. He got me at first through the What is a…? series. He also edited the Golden Nature Guides, along with quite a few other Golden Books that I read and re-read as a kid.

Roy Chapman Andrews – onetime director of the American Museum of Natural History, discoverer of Protoceratops skeletons and eggs in the Gobi desert. He also wrote books for kids – All About Dinosaurs, All About Whales, All About Strange Beasts of the Past. There are several reasons I wanted to grow up and be a scientist (especially a palaeontologist), and he was one of them.

Robert A. Heinlein – probably the most popular entry on this thread. But I discovered him early on in my SF reading with Waldo, then found The Puppet Masters and Magic, Inc., and started seeking him out, and finally found his Juveniles. He didn’t write down to you, his writing had a sense of reality and he avoided the obvious cliches.

Marvin Harris – Anthropologist, inventor and popularizer of a research strategy he called Cultural Materialism. After I read his book Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, I eagerly sought out his others, especially Cultural Materialism, where he presents it most fully, and where he trashes the other theories (it’s fun to watch anthropologists bad-mouth each other). I realized only after I’d written down much of my own book on myth just how strongly he’d influenced me.