The best classic sci-fi and fiction books that offer profound nuggets of wisdom

The Books I Picked & Why

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Dune

Why this book?

This classic, powerful SF saga leads with the message that we human beings can train ourselves to be deeply perceptive and in control of our emotions. There are many, many lessons in this book, but perhaps the most famous is about fear, how it blinds and disables sensible thought. As a child, this taught me that my fear and my self were not one thing, that I could move through fear to another place. That changed me.

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


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The Lord of the Rings

By J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

Who does not know the prophetic poem that opens this famous trilogy?

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

I still feel chills as I read these words and speak them aloud. As a child, I felt their urging to look beyond what first catches the eye, to listen to the meaning behind words. I resolved to refrain from discounting the wanderer, the elder, and the forest, because each could be far more than it seemed.

I learned to look beyond the obvious, and the skill has served me well.


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The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

By William Goldman

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

Why this book?

The Princess Bride was a novel long before it was a movie. Both book and subsequent screenplay were written by this brilliant master storyteller. As is often the case, the book contains depths the movie only dips its toes into.

"Life is not fair, but adventure is worth having," says the narrator to his grandson, to whom he is telling this tale. That is a profound bit of wisdom if one chews on it. But the key thing I took from the book is this: if you're willing to put your fist in your wound--to refuse to be a victim--and give everything you have to your mission, no one can stop you.

"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya..."


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A Wizard of Earthsea, 1

By Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea, 1

Why this book?

This children's book is beloved by all ages and filled with Le Guin's lyrical power. The tale inspired my child's imagination and was one of my earliest fantasy influences, encouraging me to dream and create stories of my own.

One of the wisdoms I gained here was this: our darkest parts are essential to us, and to be whole, we must know them, name them, and accept them.


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Stranger in a Strange Land

By Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land

Why this book?

Written in 1961, this novel is still provocative today. This story pushed me to examine my cultural assumptions, wrenching my certainty about many things that were easy to take as given.

Heinlein coined the word "grok" in this story, which had the (fictional) literal meaning "to drink," or to know a thing so well that you could love, hate, fear, and nearly merge with it, whether it was a concept, a person, a culture, or anything else.

That word is now in the zeitgeist, as well as the Oxford English Dictionary.


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