What Book Has Had the Biggest Impact on You?

That was a question all of our incoming freshmen had to answer as part of a summer reading assignment. I just finished reading all of my students’ answers, and I found the responses fascinating, so I thought I would share those responses on my blog.

As you might expect, given that there were over 100 student responses, there was a wide variety of books mentioned. The books ranged from children’s books to Shakespeare, from old classics to modern-day ones, from fiction to non-fiction.

The students were also asked to explain why they had chosen a particular book, and while I can’t include all those responses here, needless to say, there were some thoughtful and very personal responses.

There were some books that were mentioned a few times; the most popular book was The Great Gatsby, with five students choosing it as the book that had the biggest impact on them. There are many books on the list that I have never heard of, but the students certainly made them sound quite appealing.

So without further ado, here is the list, in order of popularity (the vast majority of books only got one “vote”). At the end of the list, I reveal the book that has had the biggest impact on me.

  • Great Gatsby (5 votes)
  • Brave New World (3 votes)
  • Tuesdays with Morrie (3 votes)
  • 1984  (3 votes)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (3 votes)
  • Catcher in the Rye (3 votes)
  • All the Light We Cannot See (2 votes)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (2 votes)
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning thief (2 votes)
  • Outliers (2 votes)
  • Green Eggs and Ham (2 votes)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Geronimo Stilton
  • Billy Budd
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • I’ll Give You the Sun
  • The Kite Runner
  • Once a Runner
  • Moneyball
  • Almanac of World History
  • The Outsiders
  • Successful Women
  • Field Notes on Love
  • Steve Jobs
  • The Giver
  • The Last Lecture
  • Speak
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  • The Alchemist
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing
  • Mindset
  • Unbroken
  • Till We Have Faces
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Things They Carried
  • Moby Dick
  • Native Son
  • Iron War
  • To Live
  • Johnny Got His Gun
  • Make Your Own Bed
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad
  • Made You Up
  • Leading Matters
  • The Art Forger
  • A Boy’s Life
  • Macbeth
  • The Buying Brain
  • Grendel
  • Wooden
  • Doubt
  • Grit
  • Siddhartha
  • Old Man and the Sea
  • The Namesake
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Odyssey
  • A Long Way Gone
  • The Awakening
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Ready Player One
  • Ender’s Game
  • Glass Castle
  • Boys in the Boat
  • Born a Crime
  • The Richest Man in Babylon
  • Into Thin Air
  • 12 Rules for Life
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • The Help
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
  • Unbroken
  • Power of One
  • The Art of Possibility
  • I Am Malala
  • Give and Take
  • Lord of the Flies

And now for my choice. This is really hard; I’ve read so many great books over the past 50 plus years that it is quite difficult to pick THE ONE that had the biggest impact on me. I also realize that the most impactful book is not necessarily the same as my favorite book.

There are several contenders for my favorite book; in no particular order: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Water Is Wide, The Prince of Tides, Shantaram, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Separate Peace (and there are probably a few that I am missing).

And there are several contenders for most impactful: The Food Revolution, Just Mercy, A Whole New Mind, and The Icarus Deception.

But if I had to pick the book that has had the biggest impact on me, it was The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. This was my first “big boy” book. Up until then, I was probably still reading The Hardy Boys books, which I loved.

But The Caine Mutiny was on a different level; the style of writing was so elegant, the multiple plotlines weaved together so beautifully into one epic story, and throughout it all, revealing a world that I knew nothing about and making it seem so magical.

It was the book that made me fall in love with reading, and I can’t think of a better impact than that.

*image from The Telegraph

34 thoughts on “What Book Has Had the Biggest Impact on You?

  1. I enjoyed seeing the students’ book list. There were a few familiar ones: To Kill a Mockingbird, Farenheit 451, Wooden, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Old Man and the Sea. Your students read quite a variety of books. I read a couple books this summer: novel entitled Total Control and a bio about Bob Hope.


      1. Jim, my favorite novel is written with a Montana setting in a small town. I have read it a few times because the characters are real and genuine, which makes this fictional account work.

        Title is Blind Your Ponies
        By Stanley Gordon West


  2. Inspiring you to become a reader is a great impact. It’s interesting to think that the most influential book could be different for everyone. I think I’d have to say Jonathan Livingstone Seagull for me. I love it’s philosophy and think about it often. I don’t think about any other book in quite the same way or as often.


    1. Thanks, Norah. That is interesting that there is such a variety; I thought it would have been much more clustered around a few classic “required high school reading books”. I recall reading Jonathan LIvingstone Seagull a long time ago, and I remember what the buzz around the book, but I can’t seem to recall too much about the book itself. Based on your comment, it sounds like I need to revisit it.


  3. That’s an interesting list of books and if I was asked to pick one of those, it would be Gladwell’s Outliers. That being said, the most influential book in my life was Atlas Shrugged.


    1. Thanks, Ray. I am a big fan of Gladwell’s books as well, and he just had a new book come out two days ago. However, it seems like some of his books have created some controversy and some of his claims have been questioned/debunked. I also enjoyed Atlas Shrugged as well as The Fountainhead. Who is John Galt?!


    1. Hi, Terri. Yes, I felt the same way. It was nice to see so many familiar books on the list, but at the same time having students describe why a book I had never heard of and why it resonated with them so much. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have never read anything from Tolkein!


  4. We saw the movie “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind” last night. Now I want to read the book. 🙂 I had heard of it and then when I saw it listed I remembered how I wanted to see the movie. Was very good!


  5. Count of Monte Cristo is incredible. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu is phenomenal. The 3 Musketeers is a must read. I’m currently reading a lot of entrepreneurship books and need to get back into fiction. Any suggestions?


    1. I have not heard of The Grace of Kings, so thanks for the suggestion. Shantaram is a great book. Eleanor Oliphant is a fun read, as was the series The Rosie Project. My wife, and others, have raved about Where the Crawdads Sing. Happy reading, and writing!


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