A friend tagged me in a “book challenge” on Facebook, which means I am obliged to share ten books that have affected my thinking. This is not much of an obligation, of course, because I love books, and there was never any question of my being able to resist the chance to gab about them.

To keep the number down, I’ve tried to stick to the books and authors that have informed my thinking so much that I can’t seem to resist coming back to them over and over. At any given time two or three can be found on my desk or kitchen counter. These are in no particular order of importance.

  • Beautiful Evidence and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. One of those lovely cases where the books themselves are examples of the principles they teach: using design to drive clear, credible thinking, to remove impediments to understanding, and to show respect for your audience.
  • The Muse in the Machine by David Gelernter. Starting with the question of how to computerize human creativity, Gelernter delves into the very nature of thought, inspiration and dreams. He brings a clear argument and a wide variety of sources to build an elegant (and correct) model of how we think. Most of the authors here are familiar to most people I meet, but Gelernter is one almost no one seems to have heard of and it drives me nuts because he answers so many questions so well.
  • I enjoy anything by C.S. Lewis, right down to his unedited diaries. But the two works I keep by my nighstand are The Great Divorce, which should really be added to the canon of Scripture; and The Discarded Image, about the medieval model of the universe, which is the very sap and gnarled rootlets of Western culture.
  • Planet Narnia by Michael Ward1. Like everyone and their great aunt’s button-eyed rag dolls, I have a soft spot for Lewis’s Narnia chronicles. Planet Narnia took my appreciation of them to a whole new level. For more info, you should read a great review of this book at All Manner of Thing (one of my favourite blogs).
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. This is an undisputed classic among typographers and book designers, and, like Tufte’s books, it is itself a great example of how a well-designed book can draw you in and make you feel eminently comfortable.
  • All of James Herriot’s books, but particularly the collection (get ready for a great title) The Best of James Herriot, drawn from his other books All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Wise and Wonderful. A window into life in 1930s rural England for which I feel, weirdly enough, almost homesick.
  • Zen Mind, Beginner Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I am not Buddhist, and I don’t even pretend to understand or make use of everything in here, but this book taught me a lot and stretched my imagination, as well as informing my understanding of Eastern culture. I bought it after chancing across a reading of it by Peter Coyote on YouTube.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. I have a love-hate relationship with Chesteron’s writing; this one is definitely on the far ‘love’ end of things. A nightmarish allegory revolving around a spy-poet hunting and being hunted, it’s the perfect combination of thrilling, dense, and fantastically sound. Another one that should definitely be added to the Bible.

  1. Probably the favourite thing I learned while typing up this list is that Michael Ward once handed James Bond a pair of X-ray glasses, in the movie The World Is Not Enough