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20 Brilliant Books To Influence And Inspire You

20 Brilliant Books To Influence And Inspire You

You don’t need to head for the contemporary Best Sellers shelf for an excellent read. I’ve always taken the stance looking for acknowledged classics within the literary canon is a near certain way to find books which deserve to be on your bookshelf. This tactic has worked well for me over the years, and the following 20 are from my collection. All make for dramatic reading, and I consider each one to be a classic worthy of anyone’s time. If you love reading, or want to take it up, these are all perfect texts for new inspiration.

1. Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

    George Orwell is famous for 1984 and Animal Farm, but long before these two came this semi-autobiographical tale (published in 1933) which dabbled with his views on social injustice. Set in the late 1920s, a young Orwell is living near penniless in a seedy hotel in Paris. Keeping him out of destitution are a series of jobs in the kitchens of several hotels; the absurd working conditions are vividly recounted with an impartial eye and great humour. Eventually he relocates to London and hits poverty head on, with unusually inspiring results.

    2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

      Neurologist Dr. Sacks recalls a selection of some of the most mystifying disorders to have afflicted humans, in a million seller first published in 1985. The eponymous patient (who does indeed mistake his wife for a hat) has a form of visual aphasia. Other patients Dr. Sacks administers to are stricken with seemingly baffling issues; “disembodied” people, alien limbs, tourettes syndrome, startling mathematical abilities, and phantom limbs all abound. It’s all related with great morality and, frankly, every bookshelf should have a copy.

      3. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

        Perhaps the most famous book on this list, In Cold Blood catapulted Capote to stardom back in 1966. Rightly so, too, as his investigative piece on the murder of the Clutter family in 1959 is a thrilling, and simultaneously frightening, portrayal of killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Their motives are laid bare and it makes for an incredible character study, all of it presided over by Capote’s clinical writing style.

        4. The Plague – Albert Camus

          As rats pour into the streets to die, Oran comes under the grip of a virulent plague. Authorities cut the town off from the rest of the world and the fight for survival begins, with Oran’s inhabitants questioning their place in life when surrounded by the threat of imminent, arbitrary death. The Plague (1947) can be seen as an existential novel, but Camus rejected the term and preferred the concept of “absurdity” in life.

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          5. The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre

            Here is a story of personal conflict, with middle aged university professor Mathieu bumbling through numerous areas of his life. Already struggling with money problems, he suddenly has to fund an abortion for his mistress Marcelle. Amongst this personal turmoil are his students and friends, all of them distorting Mathieu’s vulnerable state of mind as attempts to solve his woes.

            The Age of Reason (1945) is a perfect showcase of Sartre’s sensational writing style, and is also an existential classic.

            6. The Mandarins – Simone de Beauvoir

              Simone de Beauvoir is every bit as legendary as her long-term partner Sartre, with her writing taking in polemics, novels, philosophy, and feminism.

              This roman à clef was published in 1954 and immediately found high praise. It follows the lives of several French intellectuals (the characters likely being based on Sarte, Camus, and de Beauvoir, amongst others) who consider their place in society after the impact of the Second World War. It’s a stylish, intelligent novel based around a sense of morality and self-awareness.

              7. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers

                As a writer she wasn’t prolific, but her impact on the literary scene was impressive. It’s a quirky novella from 1951, and McCullers wastes no time challenging the reader’s concepts of gender roles. Protagonist Miss Amelia Evans possesses numerous masculine traits, with her cousin Lymon and local hoodlum Macy (who is baffled by Evan’s dismissal of his advances) being dominated by her unusual attributes. Dabbling with themes of loneliness, masculinity, and feminism, it makes for a unique read.

                8. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

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                  The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, is the story of Gregor Samsa. He heads off to bed one evening as normal, but awakes to find he has transformed into a “monstrous vermin”. This has often been presumed to be a giant beetle of some sort, which has been the case in numerous stage adaptations. After the transformation Samsa finds himself increasingly rejected by his shocked family, who dismiss him based on his appearance. It’s moving stuff, and a defining novel for many writers (notably Sartre and Camus).

                  9. Cancer Ward – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

                    Russian author Solzhenitsyn (another Nobel Prize winner, this time in 1970) suffered through endless issues in his life, but one notable moment was turned into an allegory about the state of Soviet Russia. This is Cancer Ward, from 1967, and it landed him in trouble with the authorities. The allegory aside, it also stands as a devastating, but inspiring, narrative for cancer patients. It’s the intriguing characters who drive the story, with a fabulous array of debates leading the patients towards their ultimate demise, or liberation.

                    10. Moscow Stations – Venedikt Yerofeev

                      Yerofeev writes about a very drunken man (likely to be himself) who is capable of tremendous intellect and wit, but is drowning himself in vodka. It’s set in Russia during the 1960s and finds our protagonist, Venya, recently fired for accidentally revealing his drinking habits at work. He subsequently sets out to see his son in Petushki, but his drunken antics lead him increasingly astray.

                      Written circa 1969, it wasn’t published until twenty years later. Eventually Moscow Stations made it to the West, was developed into a play, and found its author some success. It’s an obscure find, so dedicated readers should check independent book stores for this.

                      11. The Last Shots – Yuri Bondarev

                        A best seller in Russia from 1959, Bondarev’s novella on the Second World War is now a very obscure find (independent book stores may have copies). It’s an excellent book, with the sense of humanity making for a riveting war novel. Rather than focusing on the “good” or “evil” people, it is instead a look at the psychology of war. Young protagonist Captain Novikov displays all the fear, uncertainty, and bravery of people forced into an impossible situation, and the story is all the more incredible as a result.

                        12. Voices From Chernobyl – Svetlana Alexeivich

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                          Russian journalist Svetlana Alexeivich’s work is an extensive collection of monologues regarding the Chernobyl Disaster of April 1986. As the Russian government have remained so reticent about the incident, this is one of the few sources available which exposes the true results of the radioactive fallout. Her interviews reveal a shocking world within the areas stricken by the disaster – namely Ukraine and Belarus. It’s a difficult read, but Alexeivich’s investigative work shows off numerous moments of tremendous human bravery.

                          13. The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

                            This prolific American science-fiction author penned novels which would become films such as Blade Runner and Minority Report, but The Man In The High Castle is his best novel. Published in 1962, it considers the aftermath following the Nazi’s success in World War II. Displayed is a different world of fascist regimes and inequality, but It’s written very intelligently, doesn’t kowtow to sensationalism, and is enthralling as a result.

                            14. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

                              This was Plath’s only novel, and in it she semi-autobiographically covers a character’s descent into mental illness. Plath, who suffered from probable clinical depression, turns the book into a deeply personal and revealing portrait of a talented woman fighting an overwhelming condition. It’s cultural impact was such The Bell Jar was adapted into a 1979 film.

                              15. Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov

                                A modern classic from 1996, Ukrainian author Kurkov spins a tale about an obituary writer (Viktor) for a newspaper in post-Soviet Russia, and his pet penguin Misha. An initially lucrative writing deal, as time passes it becomes apparent Viktor’s writing is being used by devious sources to bump off individuals he writes about – this in turn threatens the humble protagonist and his unusual pet.

                                16. The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck

                                  One of the most important female writers of the last 100 years is Pearl S. Buck (she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938), and it is this book which made her name. It’s a fantastic work of fiction and a sweeping novel about family life in a quiet village in China, before the conflict of World War II changed the world.

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                                  17. The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

                                    This masterpiece was published in 1922 and has since been hailed by National Geographic Adventure as the best travel book ever. It is Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s detailed account of his time with the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, headed by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and is a captivating explanation of the legendary journey. A must read.

                                    18. Miracle in the Andes – Nando Parrado

                                      In 1972 a plane carrying an amateur rugby team crashed violently into the Andes. Stranded in the freezing conditions, to stay alive survivors resorted to eating the flesh of friends killed in the crash. Following two months in the wilderness Parrado, along with Roberto Canessa, decided to make a heroic trek out of the Andean cordillera, with the first obstacle being a 15,000 ft mountain.

                                      Much has been written about the Andes Plane Crash, but this truly inspiring 2006 text is from survivor Parrado and offers a first-person insight into the tragedy.

                                      19. The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Thesiger

                                        Here we have a hugely enjoyable literary portrait of life in Iraq’s marshes during the 1950s, although Thesiger’s account of his life with the Madan wasn’t published until 1964. At the time this was a way of life which had been unchanged for thousands of years in Southern Iraq. English explorer Thesiger became well respected by the marshes’ inhabitants due to his medical skills, and he was able to spend many years in this fascinating culture learning its way of life.

                                        20. Over The Edge of the World – Laurence Bergreen

                                          Acclaimed historian Laurence Bergreen writes of a terrifying attempt to find the Spice Islands. The voyage was spearheaded by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and in 1519 he set sail from Spain with an impressive fleet of 270 men and five ships. Three years later one decrepit boat returned, complete with just 18 survivors. These lucky few completed the first circumnavigation of the globe, and their story makes for dramatic reading.

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                                          Last Updated on June 15, 2018

                                          What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

                                          What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

                                          Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

                                          Video Summary

                                          Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

                                          Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

                                          Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

                                          Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

                                          This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

                                          Sitting Is the New Smoking

                                          Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

                                          The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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                                          Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

                                            Sit Properly

                                            If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

                                            Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

                                              Credit: StayWow

                                              Stand Up More

                                              Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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                                              Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

                                              Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

                                              Or get a standing desk.

                                              One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

                                              Exercise for Lower Back Pain

                                              Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

                                              But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

                                              The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

                                              Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

                                              Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

                                              This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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                                              Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

                                              Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

                                              There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

                                              Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

                                              I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

                                              Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

                                              If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

                                              Where to Start

                                              The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

                                              Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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                                              If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

                                              Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

                                              Keep a straight back.

                                              Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

                                              Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

                                              I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

                                              If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

                                              Stay Away From the Back Pain League

                                              Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

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