This list originated from a request on Facebook from my cousin, Arjun Rajan:
Cosmos by Carl Sagan – one of the most epic tour de forces on the universe and all that is contained within it in Carl Sagan’s irrepressibly optimistic and exquisitely refined prose; a scientific education all by itself more complete than any school can offer.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins – a profound and lucid history of man’s evolution from inanimate matter in Dawkins’ acutely logical style that melts away a lifetime of mental cobwebs; will upset many cherished beliefs. Truly a transformative work.
The Inflationary Universe by Alan Guth – a mind-shattering exposition on the history of our universe for the merest fraction of a second since the big bang. There are explanations in here for things that it shouldn’t be possible for humans to explain given the vast gulfs of space and time that separate us from this cataclysmically fortuitous event.
The moon and sixpence by Somerset Maugham – Captures the obsessive mental state of an artist and a constant reminder that it is never too late to pursue your passion.
Grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck – marvelously vivid prose and toweringly immortal characters – Tom Joad, Ma Joad caught in poignant circumstances out of their control yet never for one second forsaking their human dignity.
2001: a space odyssey by Arthur C Clarke – an epic tale charting man’s lofty ascent from the lowliest simian origins to pure spirit sans flesh with one of the most frightening non-human villains ever created – HAL.
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke – I didn’t finish this but what I read stuck in my mind. Rama’s description and scale is beyond our grandest imagination – the profound depths of silence in space are what I remember and revisit the most.
Nightfall by Isaac Asimov – imagination at it’s absolute limits.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – wildly imaginative and uproariously funny. Oh, and the answer to everything is 42.
Midnight’s children by Salman Rushdie – prose at it’s craziest and zaniest and imagination in sixth gear. Reading this book made me think in flowery prose for a long time.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – love her or hate her, Ayn Rand’s ideal of the unconquerable man resonated a lot with me in my callow youth. Also a unique viewpoint on art but altogether expressed in too icy a sentiment for most people.
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda – Whether or not you are a believer, this book is so readable and Yogananda so lovable, sincere, genuine and driven by his faith that you come away inspired and humbled. If you ever visit the Lake Shrine in Los Angeles, you will find his spirit pervading the place like an invisible fragrance.
Treasure Island by RL Stevenson – comes close to fulfilling every child’s dream (was mine as well) of traveling to distant islands with buried treasure. Long John Silver is without a doubt one of the most complex and menacingly intimidating characters in literature.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – The horror, the horror! The vividness of the prose transports you on a magic carpet to the murky depths of the Congo. And then there is Mr.Kurtz, one of the most broodingly enigmatic characters you will ever encounter in literature.
Beyond a Boundary by CLR James – if you are a cricket aficionado, then you will appreciate the grandeur of James’ unique perspective on cricket as an art form shaped by the social milieu it inhabits. Possibly one of the most erudite books written on cricket. Another of those transportive books that takes you on a journey in space and time back to the early West Indies.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – if you ever are nostalgic for olden times and want to go back in time to America before, during and right after independence, this book will take you there. And bring you face to face with one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived.