On Facebook Nathan Pearson challenged me to name 10 books that have stuck with me. Many of you have probably been tagged on this challenge. For what it’s worth, here’s the list:
Principles of Population Genetics* (Hartl & Clark)
From Dawn to Decadence* (Jacques Barzun)
The Language Instinct* (Steven Pinker)
History and Geography of Human Genes* (L. L. Cavalli-Sforza)
Prelude to Foundation* (Isaac Asimov)
In Gods We Trust (Scott Atran)
The First Man in Rome (Colleen McCullough)
Genome (Matt Ridley)
The Rise of Western Christendom (Peter Brown)
The Bible with Sources Revealed (Richard Elliott Friedman)
The challenge stipulated that you not think too long, and I came up with the list in less than two minutes. But the first five, which I’ve placed asterisks next to, came to mind within 10 seconds. I’m rather sure that these five would be on any list of 10 books of note from my own perspective. The History and Geography of Human Genes and Principles of Population Genetics probably explain to some extent why I’m where I am professionally. From Dawn to Decadence is a testament to the continuity of the life of mind of a sort which I aspire to attain (though I doubt I will). Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct opened up for me a window to a world where disciplinary boundaries are violated for both fun and profit. The last five took me longer because there are many books which have stuck with me with at the next tier of salience. These might change from instance to instance, though the set isn’t that large.
Which brings me to Prelude to Foundation. Why is it in the top five? It’s not even the best of the Foundation novels (I would probably go with Foundation and Empire for that). As Nathan pointed out my list leaned toward non-fiction. Prelude to Foundation is on this list because it is the first fiction book I proactively selected at the library at the age of 13. The main reason I picked it is because I’d read some of the author’s non-fiction works for children when I was younger, and was curious that he’d written science fiction (only later did I find out that he was originally known as a science fiction author). But I have to be specific here. After responding to Nathan I realized that I’d read two works of fiction before Prelude to Foundation, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, when I was 12, and Clan of the Cave Bear, when I was 9. My reading Clan of the Cave Bear was something of a mistake. I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and he had a copy of the book, which I mistook for a work of paleontology. I began reading it sometime around 9-10 PM, and kept going until the sun came up, when I was done. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH I read over an extremely boring Christmas vacation where my parents visited old friends for a week, and I forgot to bring any books and had to find something to read in the house we were staying at.
This is autobiographical trivia, but I thought I’d submit it into the record because as you can tell by the precision of my recollections I had very little interest in fiction when I was younger. To some extent this remains true, when I have little marginal time I continue to read non-fiction and basically cut out fiction totally. From interacting with people as I grew older I began to realize this was a little strange. I wonder how many other children are the same as me? I’m also curious how my children will turn out.
Addendum: To be clear, I was a huge reader of non-fiction from about the age of 7 onward.