Perspective Changing Books

I have come up with a list of books that have changed my whole perspective on shit. It is a pretty short list, and each one is still affecting me today, when I see new ideas or data. Since each one of these books has had some lasting effect on me, I wish more people had read each one. I will present them in the order I read them. The first I remember was "The Selfish Gene," by Richard Dawkins:

This book helped me understand Darwinian evolution better than anything I had studied before. After reading it, I applied the thinking of evolutionary biology and selection pressures to so many things. Without an understanding of evolution, I don't think it's possible to truly understand the animal world around us, or even human beings themselves.

This book helped me understand how human beings come to believe things that aren't rational or that there isn't good evidence for. It helped me understand what kind of errors our monkey brains are likely to make and it combined my understanding of logical fallacies with human psychology.  Our brains are not perfect thinking machines, they are inherently biased. We need to understand these biases so we can control for them. This is what science does, control for what our "common sense" tells us about things. If we could figure out things just by thinking about them or judging from our own experiences, we wouldn't need the intellectual rigor of empiricism, the same intellectual rigor that has allowed us to ascend from--to quote another good book title--the "Demon Haunted World."

Besides being the first book I read by someone sharing my first name, this book helped me understand that human beings are much more similar than they are different. The differences in the development of our cultures and histories stems more from environmental conditions than it does actual differences in race. Any racism that I may have picked up growing up in Mormon Utah was completely wiped out. Cultural memes are far more powerful determiners of a person's future or success than their outer appearance.
Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, Marvin Harris
This book helped me think about materialistic reasons for strong cultural phenomenon. Why is infanticide only usually carried out against female babies? Why are cows sacred in Hinduism? Why was there more cannibalism in the new world than the old world? It got me thinking about real physical reasons for strange beliefs in a variety of religions or cultures. There are reasons why women are second class citizens in so many cultures, but more equal in others. There are real causes for many cultural ideas and beliefs. It was a shift in thinking to look for these materialistic reasons.
I grew up in a very religious place and I thought about religion a lot. This book describes in simple terms the most popular view of Jesus in academia. It also points out a lot of discrepancies and issues with the gospel accounts and explains and integrates them very well into the version of history it argues for. For me, this finally made all of the gospels make sense along side of each other, and put Jesus himself into a historical position that makes infinitely more sense than anything I had heard before.
The main thing I took from this book was how much more complicated economics is than the just the invisible hand of the markets. We need to take into consideration the fact that people are irrational in predictable ways. They lie, cheat, steal, procrastinate, and do not behave as one would expect considering only market forces. There are so many interesting studies in this book that will shape how you view people and even yourself. Just like "Why People Believe Weird Things" we need to know where we are deficient in reasoning so we can be wary and control for them, not only for ourselves but the way we structure government programs or public policy.

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