Books That Changed Me

What do I primarily believe in, as a Puritan believes in Hell? I believe in liberty. And when I say liberty, I mean the thing in its widest imaginable sense – liberty up to the extreme limits of the feasible and the tolerable. I am against forbidding anybody to do anything, or say anything, or think anything, so long as it is at all possible to imagine a habitable world in which he would be free to do, say and think it. The burden of proof, as I see it, is always upon the lawmaker, the theologian, the right-thinker. He must prove his case doubly, triply, quadruply, and then he must start all over and prove it again. The eye through which I view him is watery and jaundiced. I do not pretend to be “just” to him – any more than a Christian pretends to be just to the Devil. He is the enemy of everything I admire and respect in this world – of everything that makes it various and amusing and charming. He impedes every honest search for the truth. He stands against every sort of good will and common decency. His ideal is that of an animal trainer, an archbishop, a major-general in the Army. I am against him until the last galoot’s ashore.

This simple and childlike faith in the freedom and dignity of man – here, perhaps, stated with undue rhetoric – should be obvious, I should think, to every critic above the mental backwardness of a Federal judge. Nevertheless, very few of them, anatomizing my books, have ever showed any sign of detecting it…

For liberty, when one ascends to the levels where ideas swish by and men pursue Truth to grab her by the tail, is the first thing and the last thing. So long as it prevails the show is thrilling and stupendous; the moment it fails the show is a dull and dirty farce.

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins. Since reading this book, I have met Dawkins several times, shared amiable conversation and had a dispute or two. But this book remains as one of the best books ever written on the subject of evolution and common descent.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. One of the best popular treatments of science and rational thinking ever written. And even before that, Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science had a similar influence on me.

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