Sunday, 14 August 2005

Books for a 21 year old

What four books might you recommend to a twenty-one year old boy with a brain but few if any passions; an interest in science and how the world works, but little enthusiasm for really investigating it; and a reading ability that allows him to consume lots of reading matter, but of a type that is mostly of little substance and no challenge.

I hit on the following list:
  • Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead opens up a world in which great passions are played out on a broad stage. More than one person has found that this book has given them a reason to live -- this scene on its own for many readers gives the inspiration it itself describes. Great for readers old and young, especially as an antidote to today's fashionable cynicism and too-cool-to-move languor.
  • It might be better to introduce the more analytical young twenty-one year old to Rand's Atlas Shrugged. "Might be" because Atlas touches the parts other novels don't even acknowledge, and explains how all those parts fit together to make the world move ... or not. An analytical brain looking for or needing inspiration should eat this up, as they will the adventure story that keeps building and rebuilding on itself. Magnificent fuel for a young fire needing a spark.
  • Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon was recommended to me when I was just a teenager, and although I didn't read it until much later it would have fitted the teenaged me like a glove, as it should any youngster with even a passing interest in politics and idealism. This perfectly crafted novel proves, as Nat Hentoff famously described it, "that dishonest means irredeemably corrupt all ends, no matter how noble." And that doesn't just describe the Stalinism of the story, as we older ones soon come to realise.
  • If science fiction is already your youngster's bag, then Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love should be their introduction to adult science fiction. The long life of protagonist Lazarus Long and the struggle to give the old Lazarus meaning in that life allow Heinlein to muse rhapsodically on themes of life, death and sex, and what it all means for each of us.
So there you have it. Don't buy that twenty-one year old a book or CD voucher (they'd only waste it). Buy them something to introduce them to the life of an adult, and to show them it's all worth it.


  1. Darkness At Noon? Never heard of that. Trade that one in for Faith Of The Fallen- Terry Goodkind.

    A major wake-up call in recognising the critical urgency of philosophical munitions. There's your passion. This book retells the great fables directly from Atlas and Fountainhead. War, revolution, sword-fighting, magic, philosophy, and entreprenership are all part of the story- 21yo guys dig can that.

  2. I really grok Heinlein - can't go wrong there. Fountainhead is probably a better launching point for the 21 year old you described.

    Thanks Rick, for the recommendation. I'm heading down to the library to try Faith of the Fallen.

  3. If you're going to do "Faith of the Fallen", read the whole series. Start with "Wizards First Rule", then "The Stone of Tears", "Blood of the Fold", "" and "Temple of The Winds". Then go for "Faith of the Fallen".

  4. I think you under-estimate the power of "We the Living". It is one of my absolute favourites - and teenage girls love it. The thwarted love is far more approachable than any others you mention. IMO.

  5. On a completely different track, try Jack Kerouac's On the Road - it might open his mind up to the possibilities and freedom life offers. Or send him on an Outward Bound course.

  6. michael fasher14 Aug 2005, 18:40:00

    I would add The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins as a sure fire way to put anybody off religion.
    Two of the greatest science fiction books are A for Adromeda and The Black Cloud by astronomer Fred Hoyle

  7. Nah Tigger, just jump in there with Faith Of The Fallen, there's nothing to gain or loose from the forerunners. You wont be able to put this one down.

    Hey! Ruth! You're not meant to be reading this one, boys only! Boys books! Get lost!! Go back to suffragete city with your girly Nancy-Drew-thwarted-love-Sweet-Vally-High sissy stuff!

    Right men? :)

  8. Hey Rick - I know that. I am still reeling from PC's result from the humour test. You men are so disappointing.

  9. agreed Rick, most of Goodkind is painfully slow and verbose. For classic scifi read Asimov's Foundation series or any of his stuff. Also, don't miss the Culture novels by Iain M Banks. PC would probably like the anarchic society portrayed. Some lesser known but wonderful fantasy authors are Robin Hobb and Stephen Lawhead.

    As to religion, here's a review of the Left Behind series. Avoid. Some quality Christian authors are C.S. Lewis, Stanley Jaki, G.K. Chesterton, John Polkinghorne, Ravi Zacharias, Alvin Plantinga. Or why not just read the Bible.. ;)

  10. 'Time Enough for Love' would have to rate as the most influencial books I read (at about 16-17)

    I think I have owned about 4 copies of it and quote bits all the time, from the musings of Lazarus Long!

  11. Uh, Heinlein was great when I was growing up. At 14 I loved Time Enough for Love. But for a bright 21-yr old? Hmmm...

    Read about some utopias, dystopias and failed utopias. You learn a lot about people by thinking about why utopias fail.

    Animal Farm by George Orwell, about a failed communist utopia.

    Neuromancer by William Gibson, about a failed libertarian utopia.

    The Use of Weapons by Iain Banks (or any of the other books about his socialist-anarchist utopia the Culture).

    Glory Season by David Brin.

  12. "At 14 I loved Time Enough for Love. But for a bright 21-yr old? Hmmm..."

    Unfortunately, I think the reading material youngsters can handle today is less than it was when, ahem, yourself and meself were young Icehawk. TEOL would be difficult for most contemporary 14-year-olds methinks?

    Perhaps too that's why Harry Potter is so popular with adults??


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