A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine in which we brainstormed about a “top ten list” of the most influential books in our lives, excepting sacred texts. It may be old-fashioned in an age of kindles and nooks to think that everyone ought to have their own personal library ““ and I realize, of course, that such libraries can be virtual ““ but I’d like to think that every Trinity graduate could construct a similar list. So, with classes swiftly drawing to a close, I thought I would share some recommendations for summer reading, if not from my own top ten list, at least from my top hundred (or thousand).
“The Abolition of Man”
by C. S. Lewis
This short book may be the finest book about the natural law written in the 20th century. Lewis takes what at first seems to be a rather technical critique of modern educational practices and uses it to explain the importance of a transcendent standard of truth and virtue, and the danger to humanity of ignoring that standard. You’ll see this book mentioned frequently by critics of cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and other biotechnology issues. The fictional working out of Lewis’ thesis can be found in his space trilogy, particularly the third volume, “That Hideous Strength” (which makes this a two-fer recommendation).
“Once an Eagle”
by Anton Myrer
Where my Lewis choice is very short, this one is very long, even epic. This book is a magnificent novel about what it means to be a soldier. Tracking the career of its central character from World War I to Vietnam, it helped me understand how to think about things like duty, honor, and integrity in my very brief “first career” in the army. More than one service branch places this novel on its recommended reading list for its officers. In an era in which an increasingly smaller percentage of the population has military experience, books like this should be more widely read.
“The Socialist Phenomenon”
by Igor Shafarevich
Written by a Soviet dissident, this trenchant analysis of the collectivist impulse focuses particular attention on the self-destructive goals of the socialist project. I know students today have no conscious memory of the Soviet Union, but there are still plenty of examples of this impulse out there. For those who look with bewilderment at my own ideological proclivities, you can start here. Or just read some Solzhenitsyn.
“The Divine Conspiracy”
by Dallas Willard
If we take for granted that Jesus of Nazareth is one of the more influential figures in human history, one could then argue that his Sermon on the Mount is one of the more important discourses in human history. Willard’s book is a profound meditation on that discourse, and it transformed my perspective on the Christian life.
It’s a badly translated title, but everyone ought to have some Greek stuff in their bookcases, and you can’t go wrong with Plato, even if I tend to side more with Aristotle in my politics. But Plato invented utopian literature before Thomas More, social contracts before Locke and Hobbes, and invisibility rings before Wagner and Tolkien. There’s something here for everyone, but it takes time and reflection to approach understanding, which are at a premium in our society today.
by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
Yes, I’m a sci-fi geek, and I enjoy post-apocalyptic tales, but this one does a great job of vividly portraying Hobbes’ state of nature. One of these days when the zombie apocalypse occurs, we’re going to need books like this to help us rebuild civilization. And this is just a cracking-good yarn.
“Between Heaven and Hell”
by Peter Kreeft
Everyone knows that John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963. Did you know that Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis also died on that same day? Peter Kreeft is a Boston College professor of philosophy who uses this coincidence to craft an imaginary conversation among these three individuals in that nether region after death, concerning such topics as the meaning of life, faith and reason, and truth in religion. Lewis is the Western theist, Kennedy the modern humanist, and Huxley the Eastern pantheist. It’s written in Socratic style, and is very accessible, even to those who shun such topics.
There you go ““ seven books you might not otherwise consider, two novels, two on religion, and three on philosophy. Buy them new or used, paper or e-book, or check them out of the library. Trinity’s library has all but the last one. You’ll find them interesting and thought-provoking. After all, education does not end just because classes are out.
David Crockett is an associate professor of political science.