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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
The book that changed my life
As I recently blogged, The New York Times recently asked readers to discuss a book that had changed their lives; there were 1,300 submissions and the Times chose 14 to print. (I can't seem to find a link to the story.)
I was one of the submitters who didn't get chosen; here is what I submitted:
I have been influenced for decades by the "Illuminatus!" trilogy of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. (It's really one big book, although it was originally published as three mass market paperbacks by Dell; subsequent editions have been a one book omnibus.) I read it in college, at about the same time I was realizing that my weird mix of "conservative" and "liberal" beliefs actually made me a libertarian. "Illuminatus!" has influenced many libertarians somewhat the same way Ayn Rand has, but the book has influenced me in many other ways, in how I think about literature and what it can do. Unusually for the early 1970s, it mixes popular and serious literary influences; the authors are influenced by James Joyce and William Burroughs, but also by H.P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft even appears as a character.)
The contest did inspire one other online mention of Robert Anton Wilson.
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Well said. I share your sentiments, Tom. I was just beginning to veer off the path of right wing libertarianism/anarchism (towards a more left wing flavor) when I read the trilogy. I’d recently found Karl Hess (who I also love!), and happened upon the talk he and RAW did together. I decided to give Illuminatus! a try after watching that video and the rest is history. Quantum Psych, Prometheus Rising, Schrodinger’s Cat and New Inquisition have had the greatest impact on me, but Illuminatus! blew me away and put me on this wild path. I read something by RAW every day now, usually in the beginning of my day.
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