This article, from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, asks this question to a number of scholars. Not surprisingly, many of the books that are listed are dense reads. Some are overtly political; others have to do with culture, or the arts, or even the place of humans in a world of algorithms. I am definitely going to put some of these on my reading list. And of course, I started wondering what books I think are important. There are two ways to think about this. Which recent book or books are most influential to my own way of thinking? And which recent books or books are most influential to people in our society in general? What would you list? I am all ears, because I might find even more books to add to my already staggeringly long to-read list.
The New Canon
What’s the most influential book of the past 20 years?
The theme of recent book club book was loneliness, which led to a discussion of whether we felt lonely, if we saw loneliness looming in the future, how we reacted to people we viewed as lonely, and whether we were acting taking steps to counteract loneliness.
Do you fear loneliness in the present or future?
Ben Sasse has a new book out on loneliness and the crumbling of ties in modern society. While this is not exactly a ground breaking idea, I think it is important because I think loneliness and isolation underlies so many current health problems – not just the obvious problems like drug addiction and suicide, but also other chronic diseases like diabetes, which are hard to manage for people with no family or friends.
The problem is, we can’t go back to a world of small towns where everyone knows everyone else – and honestly, I am not sure how universal that ever was. Yes, we have this image of America in the 19th century as being made up of friendly little towns – but the reality was different. There were a lot of socially disconnected young men prowling the West, and people trapped out on homesteads far from everyone, and hordes of immigrants in unwelcoming big cities.
George Will’s review of Sasse’s book hits on all of these themes, and ends by saying we need new habits
The crumbling of America’s social infrastructure presents a daunting challenge: We do not know how to develop what Sasse wants, “new habits of mind and heart . . . new practices of neighborliness.”
and also this
Sasse, a fifth-generation Nebraskan who dedicates his book to the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and other little platoons of Fremont, Neb., (population 26,000), wants to rekindle the “hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night feeling.” But Americans can’t go home again to Fremont.
And I think he is right