Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education Review asked 12 scholars what book had most changed their mind. The list was interesting, mostly for the fact that I had not heard of most of the books. But what caught my attention was one of the commenters who raised the question of whether books can “change our minds.” Part of the commenter’s discussion was what we mean by “mind” (typical academic question!) and what it means to “change” this.
Partly, I was grateful for these comments because, surprisingly, I had a hard time with this question as well. My initial thought was that although I cannot think of a book that “changed” my mind, I can certainly think of books that have expanded my mind, or opened up new avenues of thinking about a question. I suppose this can be labelled as change in an incremental sense. But I cannot say there is a single book I think of that has caused a profound revolution in my thinking–at least overnight or in a single reading.
That said, I do think there have been books that have shaped core convictions and the way I live my life. Perhaps one mark of their significance is that they are books to which I return that seem to yield new depths with each reading. It seems with these books that it is not so much that they “change” my mind, but that they “make sense” of my world and give words to what I sense is real and true about life.
Of course for me, The Bible would be at the top of my list. In my youth, it was the stirring language of Romans 8 and a God whose love I could not be separated from. In more recent years, it has been the psalms of lament as I’ve faced loss and seen the evil of the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together continues to speak compellingly to me about the character of Christian community and the possibilities of two people meeting each other uniquely through their common faith in Christ.
I am in the midst of a re-reading of John Stott’s profound work on The Cross of Christ and reminded how “cross-shaped” a truly Christian life is.
Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August persuaded me more than any other book of the follies of war and the great responsibility those in power have for such folly.
Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country and Wendell Berry’s Port William stories helped me understand how important a sense of place and a love of place is to our lives.
Books like Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac reminded me of the intricate ecosystems of our places.
I could go on, but I guess what books have done for me is not so much “change” my mind but rather have given words to make sense of my life and enlarged my view of the world in which I live it.
So what do you think about this question? Is there a book that has changed your mind? How would you describe the significance of important books to your life?