This will be the last installment in my "recommended books" series, per the initial request of a fan and friend -- then we'll move on to some more interesting/controversial subject matter. In this post, I'll list some of the books that have been most influential to me as a person... acknowledging that some such texts were already discussed in my previous two posts,, and I'll thus exclude those from this "top ten."
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis -- Of all of Lewis's works, this is my favorite (though Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, the Narnia series would follow close behind). This fictional depiction of a trip through heaven and hell is wonderful not only for its arresting imagery and high-stakes conversations, but its clever catechesis on virtue and vice.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry -- This fictional story of a French fighter pilot lost in the Sahara desert who encounters a young prince from a far-away planet is delightful in its humor and penetrating analysis of human psychology and behavior. The chapter on the pitiable alcoholic might be my favorite.
Confessions, St. Augustine -- There are few spiritual classics that I've read and re-read, but I've consumed this one at least three times. It is the original spiritual autobiography, and is both theologically profound and spiritually inspiring. And proof that prayer works.
After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre -- Perhaps the best indictment of modernity written in the last fifty years, the Notre Dame philosopher helps us understand why our political, socio-cultural, and even religious debates seem so intractable, and what, if anything, we can do about it. It's a bit of a dense read, especially for those with little philosophical background but well worth the effort.
Ten Philosophical Mistakes, Mortimer J. Adler -- One of the greatest American public philosophers of the twentieth century, Adler concisely and effectively exposes and dismantles some of the most popular (and egregious) errors in modern thought. Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hume, Mill and Dewey all take a well-deserved intellectual thrashing.
The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse -- Sometimes one must read literature solely for delight and amusement. I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as I have reading Wodehouse's short stories, including those of Jeeves and Wooster. Here's a personal favorite quote: “She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say "when". ”
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton -- I read this book my freshman year of college, and it was one of a handful of texts (alongside Mere Christianity and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship) that persuaded me that religious faith, if it is to survive, must be not only emotionally invigorating but intellectually coherent and rhetorically appealing.
The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark Noll -- When I first read this short book as a senior in college who was writing his thesis on African-American religion during the Civil War, I didn't realize what later effect it would have on my spiritual journey. Yes, it is first-rate history, but it also exposes, perhaps unintentionally, the inherent, unresolvable problems with the Protestant doctrines of sola scriptura and clarity (aka perspicuity).
The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis -- Another spiritual classic I've read multiple times. The chapters are short and easily digestible in a few minutes, and contain some of the best Christian quotations ever penned. "Man proposes, but God disposes."
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene -- I'm a big fan of the great English Catholic authors of the twentieth-century (Evelyn Waugh is another favorite). This one, about a "whiskey priest" evading the violent, anti-clerical, secularist Mexican regime of the 1920s, is Greene at his best. A sad, frustrating, and ultimately redemptive tale of faith in all its complexity.