Books to Prod One’s Conscience

Extollager

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A thread about books you have actually read and that seem to you good to quicken one’s sense of ethical behavior. This isn’t a thread for religious books including sacred scriptures, nor books about political controversies, nor a thread for confession, self-examination, etc. Certain historical books might be appropriate, e.g. to name one I haven’t read, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There . Feel free to say something about books that can stir us from complacency.

To start with, at least, maybe we could stick to books, not essays, short stories, etc. However, something like Plato’s dialogues would be OK.

That’s what I’ll start with. The dialogues about the last days of Socrates, for example, make one feel like living in closer conformity, if one can, to sound values, and being willing to be unpopular for that reason. Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Phaedo. These are all in one Penguin Classics paperback, or used to be.

Henry and the Great Society, by H. L. Roush. Novella. The seduction of living beyond our means, succumbing to false values. After the story that makes up most of the pages, the author has some religious reflections, but I think the focus of most of the book is pretty much universal.

Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully.
 
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Toby Frost

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Well, the first things that come to mind are the great dystopias: 1984 in particular, but also Brave New World, Brave New World Revisited and Farenheit 451, which all give very good examples of how life ought not to be lived. I only read The Handmaid's Tale in my 30s, but was disgusted by its setting and thought "Yes, this is what it would be like", so it clearly did its job.

Orwell once said that the great lesson of 1984 was "Don't let this happen" (I think it's more than that, but fair enough), which probably applies to a lot of books that are testament to bad periods of history, like Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl.

There are authors who seem vaguely, but seriously, concerned with ethics while never stating much outright. Iain M Banks' Culture books feel like this, as do some of John le Carre's spy novels. I wonder if Dune, with its interest in living with the environment, would count.
 

Rodders

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I thought Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dogs of War and Bear Head really made you think about the nature of freedom and what it means to have your freedom of choice and action removed.
 

Toby Frost

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That reminds me of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's comic book We 3, which mixes a pretty wild storyline with some thought-provoking points about the way in which humans treat animals.
 

Toby Frost

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I'd also mention Thirteen (aka Black Man) by Richard Morgan. It's overlong, but it's one of the best novels of ideas I've read in a long time, ranging from the downright political (the US splitting into a democracy and a theocracy) to the sociological ("normal" men being weirdly attraction to violent cavemen). It suggests a link between revenge, masculinity and an attraction to tyranny, and is both very violent and quite unsettling. Definitely one to stir the brain and perhaps the conscience, if you can wade through the carnage.
 

tobl

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robert heinlein specially stranger in a strange land, starship troopers, lazarus long books
conversations with god - Neale Donald Walsch
there are many other books that taught me something or made me think but it would be a enormous list. lets say that i believe you can learn something in almost every book. anita blake series is a good example also.
 

SilentRoamer

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I think Flowers For Algernon was the one which prodded me most.

It completely changed the way I look at and value intelligence.
 

Parson

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I've had several starting with the Bible. The most recent one was Jesus and John Wayne: How white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation. In the S.F. realm it would be Speaker for the Dead. It changed the way I did funerals.
 

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