Prashanth Gopalan

Founder & Curator, TEDxUW


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What's that one book, movie or work of the human imagination that will make a thinking person think more deeply?

I still remember reading Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy at the age of 10, Jack Whyte's "A Dream of Eagles" septology at age 16, "God's Debris" by Scott Adams at age 19 and Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" at age 20.

These works changed the way I looked at things, and there was simply no going back. They gave me the the opportunity to experience a vision of something awe-inspiring in scope for the first time, knowing that it was vastly larger than myself. I remember that magical feeling I experienced reading these works, and knowing that great things were in store for me just waiting to be discovered.

Very few things I've read or watched have been able to evoke that sense of wonder and amazement in me since. I'd like your help changing that.

I'm looking for suggestions of works - books, essays, movies, poems, art, speeches etc - that have helped you experience a similar sense of wonder and delight - the highest expressions of a thinking mind.

I'm open to anything: Works of human thought and reflection that are grand in scope and sweeping in their narrative. Nuggets of philosophical reflection, contemplation and spiritual rumination that have helped us understand ourselves and the (in)humanity of others with more clarity. Works that are cathartic, illuminating or inspiring. Really any product of the human mind that would make a thinking person think more deeply, cohesively and understand.

I'm hoping that together, we'll be able to create a new selection of curated works of the human imagination that others can bookmark, use and follow in turn.

I look forward to your suggestions. Thanks in advance for all your support.

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    Nov 13 2012: The best thing I know of is 'The Prophet' by Khalil Gibran.
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    Nov 12 2012: I'm not sure this is what you're after, but for me "that book" was Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". In an intelligent, but lighthearted way, it called to question the absurdities of the way we see and consider the universe...and ourselves. Or at least, it did for me. :)
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      Nov 14 2012: I'm just curious, Rachel, and I hope you won't hear this as criticism because it's not, but why do you say you're not sure if this is what he's after? To me it seems like his question is pretty straightforward: What book would make a thinking person think more? If the book you think would make a thinking person think more is "Hitchhiker's Guide," then you've answered his question. Maybe I'm reading you wrong, but the way you answered you sound a little apologetic.

      Truthfully, it's a wonderful question, and I think people should be confident enough to put whatever they think. If the book they think would make thinking people think more is "Pinocchio," or "Three Little Hens," then that's what they ought to put. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
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        Nov 14 2012: Haha, not at all. I wasn't sure if the question was geared toward more "serious" literature, or scientific and political publications. I rarely read any of that. As a dreamer and an idealist, I read mostly fiction, and lighthearted fiction at that. I tend to shy away from things that don't speak to my soul. And very austere publications I avoid almost entirely. :)
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          Nov 15 2012: Oh yeah, I see. Are you afraid of being treated snobbishly? Well, if Hitchhiker's meant that much to you, it must have some depth to it, even if it seems light on the surface. I've never read it, what's it about? (i believe our thread has run out here, if you want to answer that you might have to answer me above, where I accidentally put another copy of my first question to you; or you can email me since i got my profile set up)

          Also, if you like, check a couple of conversations i started and leave some comments, although they are somewhat practical questions one's called "No School" and the other is "Organic Food"
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    Nov 13 2012: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding was the first book to capture my mind and imagination.

    There is a wonderful little film fitting well into this request, .
    "MindWalk", a theatrical lesson in Systems Theory.
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    Nov 13 2012: '1984' by George Orwell; John Grisham's 'The Testament' (about a woman who would not abandon her calling for billions of dollars inheritance) and the TV series 'Terra Nova'
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    Nov 12 2012: Prashanth, there are numerous books with nuggets of wisdom. I have found the following books to be philosophical, spiritual and thought provoking.
    As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
    The story of my experiments with truth by M.K. Gandhi
    A New Earth: Awakening to your life's purpose by Eckhart Tolle
    Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

    I agree with Fritzie that 'who we are' ,'where we are in life' determines what we derive from a book.
    Poetry can be inspiring and intriguing as well.
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    Nov 11 2012: What works for each of us depends on "where we are" when we read the work. For example, work by Rachel Naomi Remens on ways of experiencing the end of life positively would not, probably, be a meaningful read for a twenty year old.

    A book series I liked for my children when they were young was the Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, which has a timeless plot about good and evil.

    I have known several people who were terrifically inspired in shaping their own lives or understanding their lives by Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

    A book that made an impression on me as a young teenager was Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi.

    For an adult who loves to learn but has not had a great opportunity to cultivate his/her critical thinking in a serious way, Edge published a book last year called This Will Make You Smarter. It's not a good title. It is a collection of very short essays by about 150 of the most insightful and path-breaking people alive today in which each picks and explains the one analytical concept he/she thinks would most powerfully improve a person's ability to think critically about a range of issues. You will find there people like Daniel Kahneman, Clay Shirky, Steven Pinker, Lisa Randall and others of that caliber.

    An excellent source of curation of worthwhile reading, delivered free into the inboxes of the interested, is Brainpickings.
  • Dec 10 2012: I like the books and speeches of Leo Buscaglia & Tony Campolo.
    Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" (much better than "Practicing the Power of Now" or "A New Earth"!)

    Watching Gordy Ohlinger play the banjo!
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    Nov 30 2012: The movie "Magnolia" is a beautiful piece of art in my opinion.
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    Nov 18 2012: I recently wrote one called "The Merging of Two Worlds". Everyone who has read it tells me that it makes you think, and that its philosophy runs deep. It presents differences between scientific and religious thought that didn't seem connected and yet were in ways that few noticed. I had spiritual experiences stemming from childhood that led me into quantum physics. They were very much connected. I don't know how it compares to the books you read, but you might want to check it out.
  • Nov 17 2012: In response to your delightfully wonderful question, I offer up things that made me think: so, in no particular order:

    Publications and Articles:
    Declaration of (American) Independence
    Constitution of the United States
    Emancipation Proclamation
    writings by Abraham Lincoln

    Books and short stories:
    Aristotle's "Poetics" (and other practical philosophies)
    Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud (while the writing itself isn't highly intellectual, the essence impacted me)
    Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    1984 by George Orwell (mentioned previously)
    the Old Testament of the Bible for a history lesson that we haven't learned
    the New Testament of the Bible (sans Revelation) for a story of hope and courage
    any book by Sir Ken Robinson (focus is on the need for a change in our education system)
    Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol
    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    The Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now

    Tales from the Mississippi Delta by Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland
    Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley
    A Raisin in the Son by Lorraine Hansberry
    Coyote on the Fence by Bruce Graham

    A Passion of the Christ (yes, it has spiritual significance, but for a 'thinking man' it is so much more than mere religion)
    Schindler's List
    A Beautiful Mind
    And The Band Played On (book to film regarding AIDS in the 80's)

    on TV:
    Discovery Health network: Amazing Families: the Kirtons (all six children with some degree of Autism)
    Temple Grandin (HBO special, an "extra-ordinary" person who happens to have Autism)

    and of course TED - in any form
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    Nov 13 2012: Well, one book that certainly changed me was Maasai Days, can't remember the author, a female, anyway. It really changed me, I moved from the suburb where I was living to an agricultural area and spent three years trying to get a job on a dairy farm. Changed my diet and started drinking huge amounts of milk. But I'm not sure if the book that changes one person will change anybody else, as what you bring to any book is the combination of everything you've done before, which is unique to you.

    One piece of writing that might change you is your local noise ordinances. When I lived in Los Angeles, Chapter 11 of the L.A. municipal code was the Noise Regulations. It's really interesting to know what experts consider the reasonable amount of noise you should have to bear in your environment, in other words, what the laws say. Now I live in Glendale, CA, just north of Los Angeles, and I have several copies of the Glendale noise laws, which constitute one chapter of the Glendale Municipal Code.

    As far as movies go, I probably watch more for entertainment than mental stimulation. Occasionally i'll watch a documentary to try to learn something, like i saw a good one on phil ochs, the folksinger. But wanting to learn something is not quite like wanting to be stimulated to think.
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    Nov 13 2012: I will vote for Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving".
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    Nov 12 2012: When I came across Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami it had a profound effect on me and left me pondering post the last page... Other than that, I'd go with HHG2G trilogy, Plato's Republic, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance... for a light but soulful read I'll go with the popularized Alchemist of Coelho...

    Movies: Dogville by Lars for a good mental stir and Inception for someone who wants something commercial but thought-proving (in a way) as well eternal sunshine and little ms. sunshine.
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    Nov 12 2012: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. The book, not the movie. A saga of rugged individualism unfettered by government micromanagement. Capitalism and Free Enterprise reified.
  • Nov 12 2012: Choose a good list, but that varies from person to person. What do you want to learn? As was noted earlier Gandhi is always good. Science and Sanity goes a number of places. The Brits are wise using Buzan and Debono with students. Taleb and Deming are good at telling people stuff that they don't want to think about. However, the greatest help in becoming a thinker is to have a NT in your Meyers-Briggs. Is that encouraging? Sadly no. REally the greatest model to us might be Winston Churchill who had Jones to take care of physics and other p;eople to do other things. One person can't cover all aspects that are important alone. To do what you need to do team Gopolan would need to read,study, and learn everything So I am advocating a think tank or graduate bull session
  • Nov 12 2012: I do not think it can be one book, movie or work. Thinking more deeply involves intellectual curiosity, environment, work ethic, and experiences. Being driven by fear, curiosity, passion, love, or power will provoke or force new thought.

    Wikipedia is a great site. My recommendation is to look up some very general subjects like arts, science, thought, engineering, etc. and look at how the subjects are organized. Look at the Air Forces site on Critical thinking (, MIT's site for an open university (, and any number of other similar web sites.

    Books that inspire thought? About any Science book, the Harvard classics, books that define the greatest problem facing mankind, books that ask you to question yourself. Books that tell you about neuroscience, psychiatry, or about the human body. The allows us to understand ourselves and what is biological and what is creative thought.

    I think extreme experiences and variety of experiences, particularly if they are extreme, might be as influential as some recorded thought provoking devices. Certainly our first thoughts were about which plants could be eaten, which animals could be eaten, and how to survive.

    As people have different combinations of experiences, they need to communicate this information to others, and learn form others, so communications media (TV, Internet, etc.) might be the most thought provoking influence.