5 Books that Changed the Way I Think by Helen Smith

It’s fascinating to spend time thinking about books and the impact they have had on us. How a book has changed the way we think, impacted our perceptions or revolutionised how we ourselves write about the world we inhabit.

Hay Writers’ Circle member, Helen Smith, lists 5 miraculous volumes and discusses the lasting effect each has had on her.

Radical Wholeness by Philip Shepherd

Most of the books on this list challenge assumptions or norms in one way or another, and this one is no exception. Have you ever questioned how we think with our heads, or perceive the world with the 5 senses? Having been so strongly socialised into these norms, it can be impossible to imagine how it feels to think with the belly, or to perceive the world with a different set of primary senses, but there are cultures out there that do. This book introduces new ways of relating to the world, challenging assumptions we never realised were just that – assumptions – and not the universal reality of human experience. By coming into a new kind of relationship to the world around us, we can heal the relationships we have with our own bodies, with each other, and with our planet.

Bitch by Lucy Cooke

As a zoology graduate, this book totally turned on its head so much of what I was taught. It made me aware of so much bias that was inherent in the theories and ‘facts’ I was given, and prompted a total re-examination of everything I thought I knew about animal biology. Not only that, but I’ve rarely had so much fun reading a book as I did with this one – there was something on almost every page that had me stopping to read out loud to friends and family, and then relaying in conversations for weeks afterwards. Talk to me about opossums, and you’ll never look at one in the same way again. Better still, read the book, and you’ll never look at the animal kingdom (including humans) in the same way again.

The Music of the Primes by Marcus du Sautoy

I was always good at maths, but what came naturally was learning and applying the rules – I have a harder time getting my head around the broader concepts that underlie them. Read over a summer in France, this book about the Riemann Hypothesis (an unsolved problems in mathematics, with a $1 million prize resting on its proof) brought it all alive in a new way. For the first time, I actually understood the background to the rules and formulas I’d learnt, and it opened up the world of maths into a rich, complex and fascinating landscape. Even if you think maths isn’t for you, this book might just change your mind.

How the World Thinks by Julian Baggini

Before I read this I had never enjoyed philosophy, considering it a subject based on old white men sitting around thinking and pontificating. But this book takes a much wider view, exploring the philosophies that societies from all corners of the world have been built on. It’s not just about the thoughts of philosophers and mystics, but the underlying cultural philosophies and beliefs of everyday citizens, and the way they’ve structured how people navigate and understand the world. From the Zen understanding of virtue to the Islamic and Australian Aboriginal concepts of time, this book really opened my eyes to how narrow our Western thinking and assumptions about the world actually are.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez / The Trouble With Women by Jackie Fleming

I couldn’t choose between these two, both of them tackling the same subject but in very different ways. Invisible Women made me angry. Very angry. But it really is incredibly important and I believe it should be required reading in schools. I knew the world was built for men, but I had no idea of just how deeply this went, or the severity of the consequences. Ever since I read it, I’ve been much more aware of all the little ways in which my life is impacted by these things, and I’m much less willing to just let it stand. I will question, and I will speak out. The Trouble With Women is a much lighter take on the subject, but no less impactful. Full of hilarious illustrations, it’s one of those books that makes you laugh out loud, and then makes you think. And you won’t view the world in the same way again.

Helen Smith
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About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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