Every now and again I come across a writer that inspires me with new ideas or with better ways of looking at old problems. For the most part, they aren't new writers, and sometimes the ideas and frames they present aren't even their own. Regardless, it's useful to me, and as I appreciate that the experience is uniquely subjective, I don't often seek out the roots of the ideas I come across. Sometimes I'll read and research further for perspective, but it isn't common for me to want to find the originator of an idea to sing their praises. I owe more to the person that conveys it in a meaningful way than to the person that thinks it up in the first place, after all. It's why I'm so grateful to my parents and friends: they're the ones I've learned the majority of stuff from.
That being said, the thought occured to me today that I should share some of the writers and books that have left a strong impression on me.
Arturito el Astuto ("Artie the Smartie" is the English title, though I prefer to translate it as "Little Arthur, the Wise") is the first book I remember. It's about a little non-conformist fish that gets a kick out of making others laugh, fighting off cruel crabs, tricking mean fishermen and venturing out into the great unknown expanse of the deep blue sea to make a big splash. My childhood copy was lost long ago, but I was fortunate enough to find a used copy online which I promptly paid good money for. I feel others can learn a fair amount about me by reading it. To this day, I aspire to be that fish.
In high school, I found myself able to relate to (unsurprisingly) The Catcher in the Rye, which summed up my 10th grade worldview fairly well: "this is bullshit and everyone is so phoney". A nervous breakdown and a grade later I then read a book, and discovered an author, that more or less makes up for the rest of the time wasted in English class. Crime and Punishment remains my favorite novel, Dostoyevsky one of my favorite authors. Though I haven't made time for The Brothers Karamazov (something to fix before law school), I did finish The Idiot, and found it also to my liking. Dostoyevsky's appeal is how he's able to delve into the minds of his characters, letting you feel every painful decision that drives the story towards its conclusion. Not that they're all tragic; The Idiot ends with the hero having gone mad, but Crime and Punishment ends on a hopeful note. The great part is how you get to see that the source of most of the characters' serious problems is just themselves.
In college, there was a dearth of good reading. Kant was interesting, but I didn't get too much out of him other than a sense of humility. I've gone back since and made more sense of what he's saying, but I'll never forget how dumb I felt reading through some of his work the first time. I also did most of my World War I reading (why do we use Roman numerals for that?) in college, which robbed me of the idea of the "good war". I also read some revisionist history of the causes leading to World War II and became interested in reading The History of the Peloponessian War (which I did recently). Those last two probably did the most to make me realize that writing history is, in fact, a political act. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States confirmed the fact.
So, that's just a few of my favorites. I'll post again with some of the economists and philosophers that made a difference.