I am reading the biography of a well-known author. Like other biographies, one of the wonderful aspects of such writing is appreciating those people who have had a profound influence on the life of the person whose biography is being read. We all know about the usual influences from family members, teachers, friends, colleagues and sometimes people whose influence was one of those haphazard accidents of circumstance and nature. Sometimes it might be a book or lecture, movie, poem or piece of music that has had such an impact on a person’s life that they attribute who they are, in least in part of that particular person or event.
I can identify a small number of people, events or books that had such a profound influence on my life and I sometimes wonder what would have happened had those influences not occurred. Of course I had a number of teachers in primary and secondary school that were inspirational and supportive of my inquisitive nature as well as some who were quite suppressive of my interests that were somehow outside the formal structure of the school system. One example of a suppressive spirit was an English teacher I had in junior high school who after reviewing the books proposed for in-depth book reports as a special project literally “forbad” me from reading Thomas Wolfe’s classic Look Homeward Angel which I had in fact already read, but because of her dictum was not able to use it for the book report—her motivation was her self-internalized Catholic beliefs and the negative view of such a book by the Catholic Church—such a prohibition would not be acceptable currently, but at that time had a profound influence on me as she told me the book was “evil” when I had found it inspiring—both components of the event influenced my views of the Church which had not been particularly positive as a young Jewish boy knowledgeable of the history of the Church in Jewish history, the events of the Inquisition, and most recently the Holocaust. Wolfe remained one of my favourite authors throughout the rest of my developmental years. The official Catholic prohibition against the reading of certain books was reversed by an official Papal decree published on the 15 June 1966.
The negative influence of certain teachers, books and events which often had the opposite effect of the intended or expected was more than balanced by those individuals, books and events that helped nurture those aspects of my personality and value systems that ultimately were instrumental in my ultimate choice of profession and my deeply ingrained value systems which were incorporated into my personality inclinations.
It was in my first year at Brooklyn College, that I entered in 1958 after graduating from the exceptional Brooklyn Technical High School which set the stage for my life-long interest in science, engineering and the desire and ability to “fix things” a character trait supported by my father’s engineering profession and his personal capabilities as a perpetual “fixer” of all things that had a mechanical source of function. The two first year college teachers were quite different, but their influence was similarly profound. I had entered college as a pre-medical student which was a decisive change in my original post-high school goal that was to apply for a degree in engineering, in the footsteps of my father. This decision was changed by a book I read during my last year of high school which profoundly changed my educational directive and in essence the course of my adult life.
I do not recall the