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5+ Personally Influential Books (Re: Public Affairs)

March 23, 2010

A question I liked from a recent internship application (with additional comments):

List five intellectual figures or books that have most influenced you and a single sentence for each stating how it has influenced your thinking on public affairs.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: I found this book to be a rallying cry for the power of youth to make change in the world as we follow three young characters thrust into a world spinning out of control and we watch them step up and take the world in new and better directions.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: My family and I have long considered this to be a kind of intellectual’s bible, an epic work that calls “thinkers” and “doers” to take a hard look at the ways in which we are sometimes complacent about systems that don’t work now and maybe never did. [I’m aware that some people really, really hate Ayn Rand, and I can understand that, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a thinker/doer-type who didn’t sometimes want to be Atlas shrugging, even if they wouldn’t phrase it that way.]

The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson: In APM, Ferguson applies a critical analytic to both the concept and the implementation of third-world “development,” a model that I would like to use to deconstruct and demystify problematic policy discourses in North America.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: This is an elegantly worded adventure through the vagaries of the English language, revealing how we can get tangled up in communication, but I also think it convincingly demonstrates how easy it is to get lost when we have no direction in mind.

Candide by Voltaire: This classic text parodies the philosophies of those who presume that “everything is always for the best,” a refreshingly humorous way to confront the consequences of combining inaction with blind optimism. [For the record, I am someone with a significant amount of both faith and optimism, but I do not personally believe that it is sensible to live in a way that divorces faith from action or optimism from effort. We do not live in “the best of all possible worlds” and even if somehow we did, I think it would still be worthwhile to work to make it even better.]

BONUS! The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine: I consider this to be the new millennium’s best upgrade of Covey’s 7 Habits, because on these pages I found more effective tools with which to reshape my life’s roadmap in a way that better reflects my values, strengths, and goals.

~ALJ

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