The thing about the book that everyone knows—even if they haven't read it—is the reference to Big Brother. It just became part of the lexicon. But the part that isn't discussed much is about the leader who convinced the people that they were in dire threat of being killed by an enemy who was essentially invisible. The leader made a pact with his people that if they gave up freedom and civil liberties, he would protect them. To see Americans so willing to give up their rights to privacy and freedom of expression because of a terrorist threat is a crazy thing to me. I feel that the way to fight back against those who want to deny you your freedom is not to reduce it, but to show the world that no matter how many attacks, we are not going to sacrifice our basic principles.
Johnny Got His Gun By Dalton Trumbo
Trumbo's novel about a wounded soldier is a very powerful antiwar statement. Ironically, it's set in the war to end all wars, World War I, and I read it while the United States was in Vietnam. When I was a boy, war was romanticized: Nobody really important got hurt, and the good guys always won. The movies and the books were all John Wayne! Gung ho! Let's go to war! At first you don't realize the situation the soldier is in—that he's lying in a hospital bed. The book was an eye-opener, and I've always encouraged teenagers to read it.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee By Dee Brown
This book had more of an impact on me than maybe any I've read in my life. I was stunned to realize the planning that went into the genocide of an entire race of people. It's only been 113 years since Wounded Knee, which is considered by many historians the last "Indian battle." But it wasn't a battle—it was a slaughter of old men, women and children on December 29, 1890. The end of the book is so chilling. As they brought the corpses into the church, a banner hanging from the rafters read: peace on Earth, good will to men. It's not surprising to me that in a country born of racial genocide, the issue of race is still an open wound on the American soul. We haven't dealt with it. And we owe it to ourselves to do that in our lifetime.
Rules for Radicals By Saul D. Alinsky
The title is a bit of a misnomer. It's actually a handbook for the average citizen to become politically involved. I remember thinking, "Now that's a good idea!" or "Oh, I could do that, and I'm just sitting here in Flint, Michigan!" The beauty of the book—and I live by this to this day—is that we will never accomplish anything as long as we, those of us who are politically active, separate ourselves from the mass of people. I see the Left doing this constantly. Whenever I speak to a group of liberals, or granola heads, or whatever, I ask, "How many of you watch Friends? Or ER?" Only a couple of hands go up. I say, "How do you expect to change anything in this country if you don't have a clue what your fellow Americans are watching every night? They're never going to listen to you because you don't want to live in their world and they know it. They sense the arrogance of that." The Soft Revolution By Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
The thing I like about this book is the idea of using the tactics of judo to make changes. This is what I do. I don't have $3 million for my next film, so how do I get that money from media machines that are diametrically opposed to everything I stand for? I have to identify their weakness and turn it into my strength. Their weakness is "the bottom line." If I can make them money, they don't really care what the film is about. It's the inherent flaw of capitalism. They think, "Michael Moore could make a film, even about our company and what horrible people we are, but if he can guarantee us that we're going to show a profit of $10 million on our $3 million investment, okay!" You have to look for those weaknesses within the system if you're going to accomplish what you want to get done.
How Children Learn By John Holt
I read this book and its companion, How Children Fail, when I was in my early 20's. I was elected to the school board when I was 18, and I had been doing a lot of thinking about how we educate people. Both books present incredible insight in terms of how to treat children and how to educate them. I went to hear Holt speak once. He was a fairly elderly man at that point. He came out on the stage with a cello, which he played. He said he took up the cello when he was 40 because he wanted to examine why it is that as we get older we don't want to learn new things. He had decided that he wasn't going to let that happen, and that education was going to be a lifelong experience, not something confined to 12 or 16 years in a classroom. I loved that. I think his books are great for teachers to read.
Fit from Within By Victoria Moran
I grew up in a Midwestern industrial city: Flint, Michigan. If you were to fly there today, get off the plane, and walk out of the airport, you would say to me, "Mike, you're one of the skinniest people here." I wasn't an overweight kid, but in the mid to late 1980s I was collecting unemployment, about $99 a week. When you are on such a low income, you end up eating foods that are cheap, fast and starchy because they fill you up. I put on the bulk of my weight during that time, and it didn't come off. I've read everything and done all the things everybody does. Then I started to think, "Maybe I should put all these diet books away." My sister gave me Fit from Within, and it's made me think that instead of starting on the outside appearance—you know, the pants size—what if I just forget about that? I read a chapter a day. I love the one titled "Get Up, Get Dressed, Get Going." I've started to do some of the things the book suggests. I think it's important that we take care of ourselves mentally and physically. All the things I want to do, well, they don't mean anything if I'm not here to do them. This life is a gift, and to reject that gift or abuse that gift is not human and not worthy of us.