Five Books That Inspired Me to Be a Better Human

Five Books That Inspired Me to Be a Better Human


This was a tough list to compile because I love to read and have read many great books. These books were majestic in their scope and made me want to be a better writer and a better human being. The list will almost certainly be added to as I read more but let it be said that I love these books. Each one. I can’t prioritize them as they are all great in their own way. 

1.         Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen-I read this book years ago while on vacation in the Caribbean. I couldn’t put it down and didn’t need to so just read it every waking moment to complete the 900 pages. I was totally engrossed! It’s historical fiction about infamous pioneer Edgar J. Watson on the southwest coast of Florida in the early 1900’s. The book was originally one manuscript of some 1500 pages that Matthiessen’s publisher released as three novels. Those books were then whittled down to a single manuscript and rereleased. Watson is a bad guy that knows he’s bad, but just how bad is he? A bunch of characters weigh in with shifting perspectives, personal agendas and from different ethnicities. Great characters, with great dialogue and settings in the not yet paved over Florida.  

2.         Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor, a sprawling historical fiction about the prisoner of war camp hacked out of the Georgia woods by the Rebels during the Civil War. Kantor researched the book meticulously for anywhere from seventeen to twenty-five years depending on who’s doing the talking. In any case, the book deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. It is a bleak read for sure as some 36,000 prisoners were cramped into horrific conditions and some 14,000 died. Perhaps that’s why the intermittent humane acts of some characters are magnificent in their heroism. I loved the ending and felt somehow inspired by this bleak book. 

3.         Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker details a three-day riot in New York City in 1863 in response to Lincoln’s Civil War draft. One gets an up-close look at 1800’s New York from various perspectives including Irish Immigrants escaping the potato famine, Blacks escaping slavery, a hard-boiled newspaper writer and many other well-sketched characters that bring the place and the times to vivid life. There is a description of the Irish potato famine at the beginning of the book which left me breathless in the squalor and deficiencies portrayed.

4.         The Night of the Gun by David Carr is an unflinching examination of one man’s addiction. Investigative reporter Carr had been clean and sober for years when his agent suggested a memoir. Carr felt uninspired by the idea but then decided to investigate his memory of his life as an alcoholic-addict. He found some surprising things that challenged his notion of himself. Do all human beings formulate narratives that neatly characterize ourselves and our pasts as less woeful than the other guy? It’s also fair to say that as a cocaine addict there was so much I related to in this book!

5.          Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe-I’m a big Keefe fan having read most everything he’s written, books, articles etc. It was hard to just choose one of his books. This is the one though. It characterizes The Troubles in Ireland starting back in 1972 when the IRA murders a suspected informer, who is a wife and mother. The book portrays culture, politics, history and morality while examining the various principals on all sides of the conflict. The book makes clear that inflicting trauma on others, traumatizes the perpetrator too. Another great and important read.

 Honorable mentions:

 Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon