Recently Angela Harms asked on twitter for book suggestions.  It turned out that all of my best suggestions were books she had already read.  It made me wonder if the reason I identify so closely with her presentations is because our thinking has been shaped by some of the same realizations.

This got me thinking about how some books have really affected my life.  So I decided to write down this list of books that blew my mind.  I'm also including a short list of which ideas really impacted me from each book since I am curious to know if other people were impacted by the same ideas.

Also I am on the lookout for a new book to blow my mind again so suggestions are welcome.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress ~Robert A. Heinlein
My Dad told my older brother he would give him $25 to read this book.  I read it and never got paid.
Key Concepts:

Speaker for the Dead ~Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game was a great book.  Fun to read and has a few powerful messages, but the next book in the series is the one that really changed how I saw other people.
Key Concepts:

  • If I lived someone else's life I would probably make the same mistakes they do
  • If I get to really know someone I will love them

Stranger in a Strange Land ~Robert A. Heinlein
Definitely one of my all-time favorite books.  I think I have read it 6 times now.  The skeptical view of common moral concepts and attempt to rationalize human interaction made me step-back from my own beliefs and actions and try to justify my own personality.  I found lots of things worth changing.
Key Concepts:

  • You are absolutely accountable for your own life and potential ("Thou art God")
  • Basically everything Jubal Harshaw says
  • Love should never be used to hurt someone
  • The greatest happiness is finding a water brother

Extreme Programming Explained ~Kent Beck
This was actually a pick from Angela Harms on the Ruby Rogues.  After reading the first 3 chapters I brought up the book in a meeting and convinced by boss to buy a copy.  Shortly thereafter it blew his mind and he started pushing for doing Test-Driven-Development at work.  Hallelujah!
Key Concepts:

  • The best way to be a happy developer is to be effective
  • The key to being effective is good communication with the business
  • I should be justifying all of my own development habits to myself so I can figure out which ones make sense and which are just habits

Book of Mormon
So this might be obvious given my religion, but it did have a few key impacts on my thinking.  It is also the only other book on this list that I have read at least 6 times.
Key Concepts:

  • The book is either a giant farse, or inspired by God.  Go figure out which for yourself.
  • Religion is worth thinking about and I need to figure out what I believe.

Doctrine & Covenants
Another religious text? The things I have learned from the Doctrine and Covenants are really different from what I learned from the Book of Mormon.  In fact I probably would have left the church around age 20 if I hadn't bothered to learn from the Doctrine and Covenants because it takes a lot of the core concepts from the Book of Mormon and explains the back story so they actually make sense.
Key Concepts:

  • God did not create me entirely.
    • This is sort of a corollary to "You are absolutely accountable for your own life". If God made all of me, then I can just claim manufacturer's defect when I screw up.  Actually God is someone fundamentally similar to me who wants to help me become better.
  • The key attribute of Jesus Christ is love.  Fundamentally he loves other people more than himself.
  • The primary purpose for this life is for me to choose what I want without immediate feedback.  This way I can learn what I really want.
  • What I really want is to love other people the way Christ does.
  • Commandments are not a checklist to get into heaven.  They are suggestions for becoming a better person. Suggestions made by someone who loves me and knows what they are talking about. Heaven is about becoming the kind of person who loves other people more than myself.
  • The reason we have marriage and family is because loving other people at a distance is much easier than loving them for a long time at close proximity.  Being totally committed to someone for all eternity is really hard, but very awesome.