I was asked recently what my favorite books are in the Shimer curriculum. Of course, that's as easy a question to answer as: So, have you stopped beating your wife yet? (Just try answering that yes or no.) But I have given the matter some thought, and after a lot of painful agonizing and trying to ignore sighs and indignant yells of other titles on my bookshelf, I've come up with a top five list.
This is entirely subject to change of opinion, time, experience, etc.
1. Godel's Proof. This is the culmination of Integrative Studies 2, and, I would argue, one of the most important books you'll ever read at Shimer. It refuted the idea of absolute mathematical truths and essentially proved that you could not have a non-axiomatic system. I translate that in practical terms to say that you will always have assumptions in an argument; you cannot prove everything. It's a challenging read, even the summary of it that we do cover (the full proof is too complex to get into in the amount of time that we have to read it), but I feel its implications appeal even to the non-mathematically minded. I have been thinking of things in terms of systems and axioms ever since I read this. It applies to any analysis of reading that I care to do.
2. Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway. One James Joyce and one Virginia Woolf, I include these together because they were both parts of an elective that I took last year. My mind exploded with implications for fiction and literature after I read both of these. They've inspired thoughts about how human minds work, and how, as an author, I can communicate this in literary characters. Both novels do stupendous jobs of chronicling one day of ordinary life in such a way as to celebrate that; as much as we as human beings strive for something "special," often our day-to-day life is fuller than any extraordinary event we can possibly imagine.
3. What Is Life? and Mind and Matter. This is part of the Natural Sciences 4 course, and you read it towards the end of the class. Erwin Schrodinger is an amazingly readable scientific author, and while I enjoyed reading his explanations of cellular processes as connected to chemistry (part of What is Life? and the only thing we were actually supposed to read), I found his writing in Mind and Matter to be absolutely brain-blowing. He talks about the separation of mind and body as the inherent assumption in modern science--and how that doesn't exist, and what the implications of that are in terms of how we approach the world and the ideal of "objectivity" in science. It's the best reading I ever read by accident as I thought it was assigned.
4. The Chimpanzees of Gombe. Another Natural Sciences reading, this one from Nat Sci 2. Maybe it seems odd to have Jane Goodall on my top five list, but the study of chimpanzees for me holds a lot of clues as to how we evolved into the human beings we are today. It fits for me the way Shimer studies ideas from the past in order to understand the present; I feel I gained insight into possible interpretations of human nature from reading about chimpanzees. The most interesting speculation I had, that Goodall mentions at the end, is that it was primarily war that caused chimps to evolve into human beings: the chimps that were better-organized and more able to fight and kill off rivals were the ones that survived. If human beings evolved by conflict, what does that say about our current course, and what we can do in the future?
5. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. This choice is equal parts pleasure as much as impact on my thought. It's the first thing you read in Humanities 2, and you spend a week or two discussing selected poems from the anthology. I wish we read more poetry, but this part of Hum 2 was blissful for me. While it's all western poetry, of course, it's got a huge range of authors and dates (including a lot of modern poetry), and we picked from all over the spectrum. I believe in poetry as much as expository writing as a mode of communicating philosophy. But unlike exposition, poetry deliberately lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations, and in a way stimulates the thought in a way that straight-out philosophical prose does not.
These are what I've read so far that have either blown my mind away or changed the way I think. I am always up for discussion on any of these.