Here are the seven books that have influenced me the most. Note that “influenced” is not the same as “like” or “love”. I loved “The Lord of the Rings” and “Raisin in the Sun”, but I cannot say they influenced me much.
In the order in which I first read them cover to cover:
1. Sophocles, “Antigone” (written in the year -441)
My sister had this book. One afternoon I read it, end-to-end, straight through without stopping. That day I fell in love with the Greeks. At university people thought I went to some school that made me read the Greeks. They wished they had gone there. Well, it was not like that. At school I was made to read Dickens and Hardy and will not touch them even now.
Antigone showed me that there is more to life than making money and keeping out of trouble, that men are more than talking animals.
2. Thucydides, “History” (-395)
I read this in the wonderful Hobbes translation, which is currently out of print.
Thucydides taught me that human nature is the same in all countries and all ages. That men are driven chiefly by self-interest, that they use morals and fine words to dress up their sins. That you have to read between the lines. That empire has its dark and monstrous side.
3. Aristotle, Complete Works (-322)
Aristotle showed me that simply believing what you hear people say all the time is not enough. You need to reason things out for yourself. The world should and can make sense.
He showed me that from small beginnings you can put together grand systems.
From reading Aristotle I learned how to read long books. This made it possible for me to read the Bible (#4) and the Summa (#7) in full.
4. Bible (+367)
Before I read the Bible I was a materialist: I thought everything was just matter in motion, that science, in the end, could explain everything.
Till I read the Bible it was easy for me to assume that it was full of pious fables, that there was no need to take any of it seriously. But once I read it, I found it difficult to explain away. For three years I tried but failed.
5. Plotinus, “Enneads” (+250)
Plotinus blew a hole in my comfortable materialism. I thought only materialism could explain life, the universe and everything. Plotinus showed me that Plato’s idealism could do it too.
6. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy” (1908)
In the New York I lived in Christianity was not intellectually respectable. It was assumed that anyone with enough intelligence, education and freedom from his upbringing could not possibly believe in it. Chesterton showed me otherwise. So did Augustine, C.S. Lewis and:
7. Aquinas, “Summa Theologica” (1274)
Aquinas puts Aristotle and the Bible together into one complete system of thought. I did not always agree with Aquinas, but I did see that Christian thought was not merely respectable, it was much better than anything I knew. Certainly much better than the mix of Marxism and science that I lived by.
– Abagond, 2007.