Books That Changed Your World

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean talks about the most influential books in her life, and the Twitter phenomenon she started when she created the #booksthatchangedmyworld hashtag.

Is there a book that changed your world? Whether it's fiction, a picture book or an encyclopedia, tell us what it is and why the book is so important to you.


Susan Orlean

Comments [41]

Jared from New York, NY

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Fundamentally altered the way I look at motivation and lack there of. Also what it means to be an individual.

Jul. 31 2014 08:13 PM

Late to the game but we HAVE to include Ayn Rand "The Fountainhead" a profound statement of individual rights and true laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by a constitutionally limited government.

Jun. 20 2010 11:23 PM
Vic from !

Mid-life +....& at this juncture ~ (?)
REVENGE OF THE LAWN, by Richard Brautigan come to mind... &
Leaning back into this moment in my chair, I am - " feelings...half-scraps of my childhood ...things that just happened like

Jun. 20 2010 03:27 AM
Vic from !

Mid-life +....& at this juncture ~ (?)
REVENGE OF THE LAWN, by Richard Brautigan come to mind... &
Leaning back into this moment in my chair, I am - " feelings...half-scraps of my childhood ...things that just happened like LINT.

Jun. 20 2010 03:17 AM
Vic from !

Mid-life +....& at this juncture ~ (?)
REVENGE OF THE LAWN, by Richard Brautigan come to mind... &
Leaning back into this moment in my chair, I am - " feelings...half-scraps of my childhood ...things that just happened like LINT.

Jun. 20 2010 03:16 AM
Joe from Brooklyn

Proust - "In Search of Lost Time." I spent eight and half months reading all 3,300 pages when I was in my mid-twenties. It was an incredible experience that will always stay with me. It's a work that truly changes you. I highly recommend it

Jun. 18 2010 09:27 PM
Vic Offray from !

Gertrude Stein's, PARIS, FRANCE
I was first given this book in high school, and it taught me how to read, and how else to see and experience my daily life ~ "peaceful and exciting."

Jun. 18 2010 05:28 PM
Mila from el paso, tx

"Being and Nothingness" by Jean-Paul Sartre.

-turned my world upside down, enlarged it from within, made me forget everything I'd known or thought I knew prior, helped me further my aesthetic, and will haunt me the rest of my life i am sure...

Jun. 18 2010 05:00 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Williamsburgh, Brooklyn

Hello, one book that changed my world was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I was 11 when I read it and Francie was a normal girl, just like me. Another one was Act One the memoir by Moss Hart. His rags to riches tale facisnated me especially because he made it to the top in spite of all obstacles. His Aunt Kate was a memorable character. Anne Frank's diary made me cry. Eugenia Renskoff

Jun. 18 2010 04:39 PM
Estelle from Austin

The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. It helped me understand myself as a woman.

Jun. 18 2010 03:02 PM

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem

Jun. 18 2010 02:48 PM
betsy from manhatten

Portrait of a Lady - Henry James. In high school during the mid-70's I was dyslexic (a condition unheard of where I came from) & I had an english teacher who taught me to read & love literature for the first time. He'd recommended Portrait of a Lady to me which I read on my own time - when I was finished I realized that I'd attained a new passion that has lasted me my whole life.

Jun. 18 2010 02:15 PM
Jim from New Jersey

I love that Letters With Character site, too. It's run by Ben Greenman, who works with Susan Orlean at the New Yorker. It's a small world, after all!

Jun. 18 2010 02:05 PM
Susan from Martha's Vineyard, MA

"Elements of Style" by William Strunk and E.B. White profoundly changed the way I write. And it was even fun to read!

Jun. 18 2010 01:45 PM

I believe the caller mentioned:

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. By Gary Taubes (Knopf, September 2007)

Jun. 18 2010 12:16 PM

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. It's about cognitive dissonance theory.

This book helped me understand how people who make mistakes that harm others, are able to sleep at night. It also opened my eyes to wrongful convictions and how the justice system should work.

Jun. 18 2010 12:15 PM
Gladys Jarratt from Manhattan, Harlem

Please e-mail me the book that helped
a listener not need to workout anymore
and live a less stressful life. I got in on the end of his conversation and hear the name of the book but because I was driving could not write it down.

I would appreciate an e-mail back

Jun. 18 2010 11:18 AM
Susan from Manhattan

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. A true story of a middle-aged American woman who decided, when her marriage was falling about, that what she needed most was to travel. And realized, after several years of living as a nomad, that this was the new life she wanted. It inspired me to be more adventurous in my travels and my first trip after that was a 2-month trip to various cities where I knew nobody and focused on trying to live as a local. I am still thinking about what will be my next trip. Not quite ready to make the daring plunge that she made, but still very motivated by it. She has also recently become a champion of trying to inspire young adults to spend a gap year (after high school graduation) traveling and learning about one or more different cultures.

Jun. 18 2010 11:07 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

When I was a kid it was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Hobbit. They introduced me to the world of Fantasy at age 10. Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennet... the strongest argument I've ever encountered in favor of evolution. It expands your horizons of understanding. The philosophy of science is so powerful but few people ever read about it.

Jun. 18 2010 11:04 AM
Ariel Yang from Arverne, NY

"Feed" by M.T. Anderson. This dystopian novel for teens is heartbreaking and eye-opening. During library school, this book made YA librarianship my passion and my cause.

Jun. 18 2010 11:04 AM

Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" and "Technopoly" really changed how I view technology

Jun. 18 2010 11:01 AM
Selina from Upper West Side

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle gave me a true sense of belonging to a brotherhood of common man. It truly reinforced the idea that everyone is just as good as anyone else and arrogance can only beget ignorance. READ THIS BOOK!

Jun. 18 2010 11:00 AM
sumukha from Short Hills, NJ

The book that changed my world was 'Roots'. I read it in my high school in India. Totally changed my world perspective

Jun. 18 2010 10:58 AM

Walden II by B.F. Skinner - I read it when I was 12, didn't realize it was fiction at first. Several years later found out about Twin Oaks, was so excited that it existed! Over a decade later actually went to visit, moved in a year later. Although I only lived there for 2 years, I remained living in intentional communities for 20 years. Twin Oaks has been in existence since 1967 and is still vibrant.

Jun. 18 2010 10:58 AM
Ricardo from Bronx

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, because it provided me with a coherent philosophy for life, from business and work, to love and aesthetics.

Jun. 18 2010 10:58 AM

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. I'm amazed how popular this book remains in print after so many years!

Jun. 18 2010 10:58 AM
jim fouratt from nyc

when I was young

Mao's Little Red Book ...because it taught respect for the comon man.

and much latter in life

Rabbi Michael Lerner's POLITICS OF MEANING

because it shuggested a way out of left/right politics that started with acknowlging human pain was not just the tirf of the poor/

Jun. 18 2010 10:58 AM
nicole from Washington Heights

Don Delillo's Underworld--for helping to connect the little details of life with a broader view of historical forces. This book has changed the way I perceive everything.

Jun. 18 2010 10:57 AM
Cynthia from long island

The unfortunate part about on-line lists like this is that it is an opportnity for social media executives to prop up their clients rather than just sincere folks sharing book experiences

Jun. 18 2010 10:56 AM

All of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I read them all as a preteen in the early 1970's. At that time there were few portrayals of women that showed we could be both smart and pretty...and have a boyfriend....

Jun. 18 2010 10:56 AM
jayr pulga

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. Exposed me to new spiritual possibilities!!!

Jun. 18 2010 10:55 AM

Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving. Wow!

Jun. 18 2010 10:54 AM
Mary Jane from Brooklyn

Diary of Anne Frank!

Jun. 18 2010 10:54 AM
David from New York

The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, 1966.

What we call "reality" is in fact largely socially "invented". I read this book in college and haven't read such an eye opener since.

Also an amazingly good example of academic writing.

Jun. 18 2010 10:52 AM

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, hands down. I was able to take the world (and myself!) a lot less seriously after that.

Jun. 18 2010 10:52 AM

Almost any of the books by Abraham Joshua Heschel are profound, inspiring reads, but I particularly love God In Search of Man.

It turns out that James Carroll, author of the award-winning Constantine's Sword, has mentioned Heschel as one of his mentors (when Carroll was a seminary student in the 1960s)

Jun. 18 2010 10:51 AM
Beth from NYC

Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer. I had already been a vegetarian for several years, but I didn't know much about the movement and I had not yet heard any arguments in favor of animal rights. As I began to read it, I realized that this book was about to articulate and solidify feelings that had been inchoate in me. I closed the cover, and acknowledged to myself that my world view was about to shift, and that nothing would be the same afterwards. And then I plunged in.

Jun. 18 2010 10:51 AM
JimC from Paramus NJ

Actually, the book which changed my life the most was the PARTS MANUAL FOR MODEL 28 TELETYPE MACHINE!

why? because as a teen I was given that book and a box full of parts and told if I could put together the machine I could keep it -- later, in a job interview I was asked if I knew anything about Model 28s and my reply that I built one from parts got me the job, and my career!

Jun. 18 2010 10:50 AM
D from Brooklyn

The book that changed my world: Sophie's Choice.

I suggest everyone that loves books check out this website, it's brilliant!

Jun. 18 2010 10:48 AM
Marielle from Brooklyn

I was raised as a good Catholic girl and never questioned church teaching about abortion. I was rabidly pro-life. Then in college, I read John Irving's Cider House Rules. It completely turned me around. For more than 20 years, I have been as rabidly pro-choice as I was pro-life. My own pregnancy and childbirth, the most joyful experience of my life, only confirmed for me that every child brought into this world should be loved and wanted.

Jun. 18 2010 10:48 AM
Tom from Toronto

40 years ago, 9/10 respondents would have said "The Bible".

Jun. 18 2010 10:48 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.