What follows, then, is a list of books I've read that did one of the above for me. The only thing they have in common is that I loved reading them. I offer them here because I think they're all worth reading and whenever I come across something good, because good is so rare, I want to share it. With the disclaimer that I receive no remuneration for the purchase of any, here they are:
- Not As A Stranger by Morton Thompson (fiction). A book about a man's obsession with becoming a doctor. It not only gives you an idea about what it takes (even back in the time period in which the book takes place) but also is a gripping story about what it means to have character. I read this when I was in high school and it sealed my fate: I was going to become a doctor.
- This Far and No More by Andrew Malcolm (non-fiction). A gut-wrenching book about a woman dying of ALS who must fight for the right to die at a time of her own choosing. One of the few books that ever made me cry.
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (fiction). As many people have vilified Ayn Rand's books as have enshrined them. In my view, this book deserves both treatments. The characters seem to come from another planet and the philosophy they espouse is deeply flawed. But no other book inspired me to think for myself as much as this one. And Rand somehow makes philosophical conflict gripping.
- Eternal Fire by Calder Willingham (fiction). With outrageous characters that still somehow live and breathe, a hapless hero and tragic heroine, and one of the most fascinating villains in the history of literature, the story grips you and won't let you go. You find yourself rooting for (almost) everyone to get what they want. And a rare treat of an ending: it both satisfies and moves.
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (non-fiction). Such a simple idea: tasks in the modern world have become too complex for one person to do well alone, yet each of us is still responsible for doing so much we often forget to do the basic things—which are simultaneously the most important. The solution? A checklist. Elegant in its simplicity, this may be one of the most brilliant books I've read in a decade. And surprisingly interesting to read.
- Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom (non-fiction). Psychiatrist Yalom tells ten tales of psychotherapy, providing startlingly honest insight into how a therapist helps patients and exactly what goes through his mind as he does so. The stories have the urgency of fiction.
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (fiction). A fictionalized tale of a character with the same name as the Buddha who also seeks and eventually finds enlightenment. A fast, easy, and enjoyable read that I found irresistible. A book that set me off on my own adventure with Buddhism.
- A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness by V.S. Ramanchandran (non-fiction). If you want to get inside the mind of a brilliant neurologist to get an idea of just how bizarre and wonderful our minds really are, how some modules in our brains really work, then this book will provide a perspective on consciousness and thinking beyond what you're currently able even to imagine.
- Killer Instinct by Jane Hamsher (non-fiction). Want to know what it's like to produce a movie? How about a movie about two serial killers you end up liking? How about a movie about two serial killers you end up liking directed by Oliver Stone? Funny, true, fascinating—a must-read for anyone interested in writing, making, or watching movies.
- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (non-fiction). The story of how psychiatrist Frankl survived the Holocaust and from his experience developed logotherapy, a form of therapy that argues humankind's primary drive is to find meaning in life.
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris (non-fiction). A brilliant book that exhorts us all to examine our beliefs and asks why we would believe anything without evidence. Further, a book that points out the dangers of doing so.
Though far from an exhaustive list of my favorite books, the above represents a good sample. I'd invite readers to leave similar lists in the comments so we can all meet other interesting minds and expand our horizons together.