Wednesday, May 04, 2011

120 Influences, Part 1: Essayists

  1. James Baldwin – The preeminent black writer during the Civil Rights movement, Baldwin possessed a rich style, unorthodox and unpredictable viewpoints, and an unending commitment to social justice. Get started with his Collected Essays and The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – This Claremont Graduate University professor and psychologist is the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, two seminal books on what makes the creative mind tick.
  3. Joan Didion – Considered by most to be a masterful sentence writer, Didion has been the go-to analyst of American culture for more than a half-century. Her We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction is a compilation of her first seven nonfiction books.
  4. Will Durant – His work on history and philosophy is nothing short of monumental. Most educated people do not read in a lifetime what this man wrote in his. Read his The Story of Philosophy and co-authored 11-volume magnum opus Story of Civilization, if you have the time.
  5. Albert Einstein – Don’t let the genius of this man fool you. Read Ideas and Opinions to see how well Einstein writes on so many topics.
  6. Edward T. Hall – This sociologist has volumes to say about how we communicate across cultures with and without language. Beyond Culture, The Silent Language, and The Hidden Dimension offer excellent insights into the human condition.
  7. Robert Hughes – This brilliant Australian’s essays sent me to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art on numerous occasions to see retrospectives of Richard Diebenkorn, Arthur Dove, Edward Keinholz, Bill Viola, and many other artists I would not have known if it were not for Hughes’s engaging prose. He writes expertly on politics (The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America) as well as art (Nothing Is Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists).
  8. Pauline Kael – She could be ruthless in her attacks on directors and actors, but she was always smart and entertaining. Kael was the movie critic of her generation to read, and her successors have borrowed immensely from her work Her 1991 5001 Nights at the Movies is an ultimate guide to the movies.
  9. Paul of Tarsus – Whether you are a believer or not, how can anyone living in a Western culture ignore Paul’s literature? The best way to get started on his contributions to the New Testament is at Bible Gateway.
  10. Thomas Sowell – Regardless of one’s politics, Thomas Sowell, Professor at Stanford University and Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a mind to reckon with. Sowell has written prolifically anBulleted Listd masterfully on issues of racial equality, childhood development, and international politics for decades. Recommended are his Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, and A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.