“The Books That Shaped Your Life”

02 November 2015 Comments Off on “The Books That Shaped Your Life”

David E. Thornton, Director of Bilkent University Library and Assistant Professor, Department of History


Here is another in our series of interviews with Bilkent faculty members discussing books that have influenced their lives and careers.

“Teach Yourself Swahili,” my favorite book, challenges me intellectually; I find the content very interesting. Swahili is a Bantu language spoken in East Africa. It’s a very important language in that part of the world, but its grammar is very different from that of European languages and Turkish in many ways, so when I first bought the book secondhand, I was excited about learning something new and also very different. It stimulates me intellectually because I’m challenged to learn something different, and it also has interest for me because it was in a way my starting point for learning more about Africa. I’ll come back to that later on.

I come from a small village in northeast Wales where, when I was growing up 40 years ago, there weren’t many people from other parts of the world or other cultures; it was very much a monolithic society. Books like this one helped me study and learn about other parts of the world. I hope that being at Bilkent, as well as being a foreigner at Bilkent, means that I have a fairly international outlook. But reading books like this one was for me one of the first steps in becoming more international and multicultural, in looking at the world from a broader perspective.

In particular, this book was kind of a first step that led me to think more about how important Africa is. I’ve never been to Africa, but I’d very much like to visit it at some point in my life. And that would be essentially because of buying this book. If I hadn’t read it, it’s possible that my interest in African things might never have arisen, and my perspective on humanity might have been a bit more limited that way.

Africa is obviously important historically, or prehistorically, because it’s the part of the world where human beings first evolved. When we think about Africa these days, we think about politics, famine and so on, but in fact the continent has a very rich, varied culture. I like to have an African element in some of my courses. This is something I’ve introduced—not just because I think it’s interesting, but because it’s a way of giving my students a slightly broader perspective.

Going back to the book itself, I should note that it’s a language teaching book; it’s for teaching people the grammar of the language. I still can’t speak Swahili, but I can read some basic Swahili as a result of using this book.