Books that Changed My Life

I am a member of the so-called silent generation, sandwiched between the greatest generation and the baby boomers. We remember World War II, and came of age during the post-war boom, the advent of rock-n-roll, and the Cold War. Many of us were too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam. We pioneered the sexual revolution but not for the most part the social and political upheavals of the 1960s -- most of which occurred in the 1970s -- as we were married with young children. The world we grew up in was frightening because of World War II, the Holocaust, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. It was also exhilarating because of greater access to education, good jobs, foreign travel, and a naive faith in the future.
This was the context in which I learned to read, I began with the usual children's books, and by the end of the War was reading the daily newspaper. In the 1950s I read widely in the hope of acquiring the kind of education and intellectual and cultural sophistication I was not getting in school or at home. The five books I list below shaped my thinking, and my thinking very much shaped my life. The first three books on the list speak to everyone, regardless of generation, because they address fundamental questions of human existence, aspirations, and proper ways of seeing oneself and others. The last two were particularly relevant to the McCarthy period but, alas, are relevant again given the return of paranoia and conspiracy to American politics.
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