Ten Thinkers Who Have Had An Impact On Me

The writers + thinkers who have had the biggest impact on me don't share a ton in common on the surface. The topics range from American history to virtual reality, from sexual desire + motherhood to racism and the politics of love. These are my dream dinner guests but I don't know if they would all get along (cough Hitchens cough).

But if there is a connective tissue in this list of formidable minds, it is a commitment to thinking in its most muscular form. Their brains operate like heat-seeking missiles, ignoring the noise of received wisdom and generating the most interesting, if at times controversial, ideas or interpretations. Reading + listening to these thinkers is not only a delight but often times a revelation.

Neil Postman

Postman's writing (from 1985) about the impact of technology on culture are some of the most accurate insights we have to this day.

Book: Amusing ourselves to Death

Toni Morrison

Morrison writes + speaks so powerfully about the complexities + contradictions of the human spirit, both in her fiction and non-fiction.

Video: Nobel Lecture

Maggie Nelson

Nelson is a fiercely independent thinker whose writing about things like gender, sexual desire, and capitalism makes you see them in radically new ways.

Book: The Argonauts

Christopher Hitchens

Have to compartmentalize a bit on this one but before the Iraq war + "women aren't funny" turn, Hitchens used his wit, encyclopedic knowledge about, well, everything, and moral clarity to hold the powerful to account.

Book: Arguably

Jill Lepore

A historian who illuminates forgotten moments of the American experiment with an unparalleled storytelling ability. But what I love most about her writing is the moral force of her work, her willingness to interrogate the standard history, and her tendency to use insights from the past to ask challenging questions about the present.

Book: If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future

Jaron Lanier

A technologist who believes so deeply in the human capacity for and necessity of love, connection, and community. A thinker who made me think about the possibilities of technology to enable + cultivate the best parts of us.

Book: You Are Not A Gadget

Zadie Smith

After years and years of rolling my eyes at every man who said David Foster Wallace was their favorite writer, Zadie Smith convinced me of his genius (and his heart). Though I love her fiction, her essays are my favorite.

Book: Changing My Mind

James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time really should be required reading for all Americans. Baldwin writes with such clarity, force, and eloquence about the lie at the heart of racism and the dire consequences for a nation that is committed to that lie.

Book: The Fire Next Time

Fran Lebowitz

Fran has had quite a revival lately, and for good reason. A truly contrarian thinker and though she has famously had writers block for decades, her ideas are captured best in interviews. She was also the very good friend of another thinker on this list, Toni Morrison.

Video: Panel with PEN America

David Rakoff

Another satirist + essayist who writes about the seemingly mundane but always evokes the profound. Like several others on this list he has since passed but I revisit his essays often.

Book: Fraud

Special Shoutout To..

Martha Nussbaum, Tyler Cohen, Jerusalem Demsas, Doreen St. Félix, Ezra Klein, Jane Mayer, Andrew Bacevich, Teju Cole, Isaiah Berlin, Cathy O'Neill, Evan Osnos, Ralph Ellison, Matthew Yglesias, among others!