What’s your favorite book, and why?

The title is the blog post :). Just wanted to provide people more space to comment than Twitter allows. More than one book is fine, of course! I’ll add mine in comments.

4 thoughts on “What’s your favorite book, and why?

  1. One of my all time favorite books is Ronald Gross’ *Independent Scholar’s Handbook*. (http://www.sfu.ca/independentscholars/isbook.htm). I discovered the book as a teenager browsing through the shelves of the Timmins Public Library. Living in a city without a university, I didn’t come across many professional scholars. Gross’ book taught me that one can have a vocation as a scholar full of life outside the academy. Little did I know all those years ago that even though I’ve spent many years associated with the academy that I would end up having a rewarding intellectual life outside the university confines. Thanks to Ronald Gross for his inspiring book.

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  2. As promised, my favorite books (in chronological order by when I read them):

    1) Bulfinch’s Mythology — an edition illustrated with paintings and poems from those centuries when it wasn’t art if it didn’t have mythological allusions. I read this obsessively as a small child. I didn’t understand the poetry but I understood that it was beautiful. I got, to be clear, the heritage of civilizations handed to me. In a book! This had profound influences on my future academic and professional directions, my sense of language, my artistic and literary tastes, my understanding of the universe and my place in it….everything, really.

    2) Walter Rudin’s Principles of Mathematical Analysis. (The thin blue one, not the more advanced one.) The first time I tried taking math 131 I failed hard, had to abandon the course and try again as a sophomore. And then I flung myself against this brutal, unyielding, elegant book — the diamond that subjects you to its own heat and pressure, the mountain that makes you fight for every inch you climb — and it rewrote my brain. It showed me rigor and elegance and beauty and clarity and infinity. My neurons are different now.

    3) Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities. Written with wit and brilliance and penetrating observation; one of those books that describes something we’ve always seen — cities — and makes us see them in a wholly new way; isn’t that the definition of genius? Jacobs’ analysis whispers throughout my everyday life now.

    4) Sudhir Venkatesh’s Off the Books — a fascinating story and intriguing from a research-design perspective, but mostly something that reconciled my observations of rural poverty growing up in Appalachia with the the stories of urban poverty that are so much more common in the news — in the media perspective they look so different; Venkatesh let me find surprising parallels. I always like books that give me an insight into experiences unlike my own, and he won big on this.

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