The 10 books that most shaped my life

Feb
8
2013
by
Lynne McTaggart
/
0
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I’m sure you’ve heard of the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, which maintains that everyone on earth is only six friends or acquaintances apart from anyone else, and the Hollywood version, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges you to link anyone in Hollywood in six steps, via his or film roles, to actor Kevin Bacon.

That got me thinking about another game: a list of those greatest influences that most shaped me from my college-student self to the author of science books like The Field.  At 18, I knew I wanted to write books, but I never could have predicted the content. Which 10 books were most responsible for taking me from there to here?

This is no mean task, as my husband and I are avid readers and also magpies: fiction, science, non-fiction of every variety, New Age, even cookbooks line shelves in every room in our house.  And of course not only books but also countless interviews with nearly 100 scientists informed my views. 

Nevertheless, this was roughly the process, the 10 degrees of separation between my interest in general literature (I studied English lit at university) and my current work in pioneer science.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, which maintains that everyone on earth is only six friends or acquaintances apart from anyone else, and the Hollywood version, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges you to link anyone in Hollywood in six steps, via his or film roles, to actor Kevin Bacon.

That got me thinking about another game: a list of those greatest influences that most shaped me from my college-student self to the author of science books like The Field.  At 18, I knew I wanted to write books, but I never could have predicted the content. Which 10 books were most responsible for taking me from there to here?

This is no mean task, as my husband and I are avid readers and also magpies: fiction, science, non-fiction of every variety, New Age, even cookbooks line shelves in every room in our house.  And of course not only books but also countless interviews with nearly 100 scientists informed my views. 

Nevertheless, this was roughly the process, the 10 degrees of separation between my interest in general literature (I studied English lit at university) and my current work in pioneer science.

 

1 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

This greatest of coming of age stories – with its experimental forms like stream of consciousness and the themes of the casting off of the old – plus other early 20th century modernist fiction like that of Virginia Woolf, and the explosion of contemporary Latin American literature made me think a great deal about new ways of writing. My senior thesis was on Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar.

2 In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

Writers fall into one of two camps: the Fitzgeralds (with a florid writing style a la Great Gatsby) or the Hemingways (who carefully pare down their language).  I tend toward the Fitzgerald school, and am not a fan of war novels, but Hemingway’s short stories in this early collection and his talent for creating impact through what is left unsaid hugely influenced me.  Hemingway’s style in part came about in part because he’d started his writing life as a journalist. I recognized that becoming a reporter would offer me instant and constant subject matter and help to hone my style.

3 All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

Like most students who came of age in the early 1970s, I was hugely affected by the tumultuous social and political events of the time, particularly the Vietnam War and the Nixon presidency. When Nixon was forced to resign, I marvelled at the thought that this corrupt presidency had been brought down by two junior journalists. It made me realize that reporters have a weighty responsibility to represent the people and expose corruption in any sector of society, without fear or favor.  These two dogged gumshoes convinced me to become an investigative journalist, and that sense of responsibility as a member of the Fourth Estate has never left me.

4 The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe

When I was in college, narrative non-fiction was almost unheard of, until writers like Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer and many others began using the same techniques in non-fiction that were used in a novel and calling it ‘the new journalism’. After reading this collection of pieces by many of its major practitioners, I loved the idea of writing true stories that read like fiction.

5 Confessions of a Medical Heretic by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn

As a young editor at the Chicago-Tribune-New York News Syndicate, I helped to launch a column called ‘The People’s Doctor,’ written by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn.  Reading his book Confessions of a Medical Heretic sent tremors through the very foundations of my belief system.  I had been a product of the post-war American baby boom, the Kennedy New Frontier, brought up to regard American science and technology as the saviours of mankind, and here was a major member of the medical establishment, denouncing medicine as excessive and unproven. Bob focused my thoughts on making medicine and the other sciences my subject matter.

6 Nutritional Medicine by Dr. Stephen Davies

After some major wrong turns, I got ill for a few years and couldn’t find anyone to get me better.  Finding this book, and ultimately its author, both helped me to recover my health and caused me to meditate on the science and art of healing. I learned that healing wasn’t simply a matter of finding the right drug, but a complex process of accepting responsibility for your own life.  Davies’ research into the healing power of food and supplements and his manner of creating a democracy of shared responsibility between doctor and patient convinced my husband and me to launch our publication What Doctors Don’t Tell You, now a magazine.

The Body Electric by Robert O Becker

This book, which recounted research about electrical currents in the body and the ability of certain organisms to regenerate when electrical currents were applied to severed limbs, got me thinking about whether there might be such a thing as energy fields in the body. Ditto Rupert Sheldrake’s a New Science of Life, Larry Dossey’s Meaning and Medicine, Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine and James Oschman’s Energy Medicine.

8. The Quantum Self by Danah Zohar

This beautifully written work of philosophy by a student of both physics and philosophy hugely influenced my thinking about how many of the discoveries of the new physics can inform our understanding of life and our relationship to it. It also helped me to recognize that many of pioneers exploring quantum physics were also philosophers, attempting to understand life in all its complexity.

9 Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm

This seminal work helped me to understand the notion of quantum time as one big smeared out ‘now,’ and space as one big smeared out ‘here’.  Books like Parapsychology by Richard Broughton, a compilation of scientific studies on parapsychology, particularly the Maimonides Dream Lab research, convinced me that dreams as well as consciousness, do not reside inside our heads. Other similar influences:  Psychic Discoveries behind the Iron Curtain and Dean Radin’s Conscious Universe.

10 Chaos by James Gleick

Rather than presenting his story as an essay, Gleick used narrative non-fiction and the stories of his scientists to present a complex argument about a new scienc
e. That gave me the idea to interview the scientists who’d discovered the Zero Point Field and ultimately make them the heroes of my story and my argument through their discoveries. Their extraordinary and profound revelations set me off on the journey I’m on today.

Okay, now tell me here about the 10 books that most shaped your life.

 

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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