My favorite books

Here’s a compilation of my favorite books. I’ll keep updating this list because I’m sure I’ve forgotten some books and I’m sure I’ll read more books.

Favorite books

  • All of Grace (Spurgeon). A book instrumental in my conversion. It helped me see and receive “the free gift of God”. Thanks, indeed, all to God’s grace toward me in Christ, I shall meet Spurgeon in heaven, as Spurgeon pleaded for readers to do!
  • Animal Farm (Orwell). I went to a very politically and socially liberal college. In fact, arguably the most leftist college in the nation. And I had strong sympathies toward socialism at the time. I better grasped the evils of socialism and communism after reading this book. Sometimes it is more persuasive to tell the truth via story (allegory) than to tell the truth plainly.
  • A Backward Providence (Hays). A memoir of merit from a personal friend and tremendous mentor. I sorely miss him.
  • Beginnings (Helm). An aid in the assurance of salvation – which is a struggle I often have.
  • Behind a Frowning Providence (Murray). Such an edifying booklet on grief.
  • Beowulf (Heaney). A stunning achievement in translation. Bible translators could learn from it. Indeed Don Carson has pointed out: “One thinks, by analogy, of the brilliant recent translation of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney. Within the constraints of terms and idioms that simply must be preserved, Heaney manages to bring to life an astonishingly ‘contemporary’ translation that nevertheless pulsates with the life of ancient Scandinavian mythological heroes.”
  • The Bruised Reed (Sibbes). Salve to a sin-sick soul.
  • Can We Trust the Gospels? (Williams). Packs quite a punch despite its small size! Fantastic introduction to the historical reliability of the Gospels, among other things. It’s filled with tons of textual, literary, historical, archeological, and other relevant information (e.g. Lydia McGrew’s resurrection of the argument from undesigned coincidences) to support the reliability of the canonical Gospels. Again, a great starting point for a layperson to issues around the historicity of the Gospels and the NT in general.
  • The Character of Physical Law (Feynman). This helped establish a foundation in scientific thinking. Ironically there’s considerable meta-science from a scientist who eschewed philosophy of science.
  • Charlotte’s Web (White). Death affects the littlest children too. As death did me when it took my father. A reason to point them to Jesus who said: “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.”
  • The Civil War: A Narrative (Foote). Admittedly I’ve only dipped in and out of it for various famed passages and sections; still, it’s been enough to appreciate its craftsmanship, and I intend to complete this behemoth someday. Quite arguably the Civil War defines us as a nation more than any other war in our history. Perhaps even more than the Revolutionary War. It vividly brings front and center our most perennial issues. What is the United States? What is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”? Who are “we the people”? How committed are we to the truth that “all men are created equal”? What is the citizen-soldier? Why preserve the Union? As Foote has said, before the Civil War, it was possible to speak of the United States in the plural (“the United States are…”), but after the Civil War we began to speak of the United States in the singular (“the United States is…”). I’m aware Foote tilts toward the South, that he’s sympathetic to the Lost Cause, that he sometimes romanticizes the war, and that some anecdotes may make historians raise their eyebrows to say the least. Still, all things considered, I think Foote’s work itself is narrative history at its finest. Epic in scope, lyrical in style, achingly human. Foote has an eye for people and places (like a painter) as well as an ear for words (like a bard) that most trained historians simply lack. Foote conveys the richness of history in ways academics rarely can. I think only Bruce Catton may near or equal Foote in terms of narrative history of the Civil War (e.g. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, A Stillness at Appomattox in his three volume Army of the Potomac series, his three volume The Centennial History of the Civil War, This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War, Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command). That said, Foote wasn’t a trained historian so it would be prudent to read Foote’s trilogy alongside a scholarly work like Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War by Williamson Murray and Wayne Hsieh, This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War by Steven Woodworth (who is an evangelical Christian), or The American War: A History of the Civil War Era by Gary Gallagher and Joan Waugh. (In my view, almost anything by Gallagher, McPherson, or Woodworth on the Civil War is worth reading. Of course, the historian’s approach would be to read the primary sources and visit the sites. For example, regarding military history, read The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant and Company Aytch by Sam Watkins as well as visit Shiloh and Gettysburg.) Finally, much of this has a broader relevance or implication in how we think about history in general (cf. Civil War memory studies, e.g., David Blight, Joan Waugh). This is very relevant to biblical history too.
  • Code (Petzold). How to build a computer. Such fun. It may be dated now, but it was perhaps only a few years old when I first heard of it and purchased it to read. Then again, maybe it’s not dated, considering the book starts with the most fundamental principles and fundamental principles rarely tend to change.
  • Complete Poems (Christina Rossetti). The words flow so freely and easily from her pen. She’s a delight to read. Not only her poems, but her letters are worth reading too. It may be instructive to compare Rossetti with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who seemed more technically studied in her poetry than Rossetti (and “Cowper’s Grave” is indeed poetic perfection).
  • Confessions (Augustine). I read this at a time when I was utterly restless in life, i.e., when I was in college. As such, it spoke deeply to me, beginning with, “our heart is restless until it rests in you”. I read Henry Chadwick’s translation, but these days I hear Thomas Williams’ translation is the one to read.
  • The Doctor Himself (Lloyd-Jones). On Christian physicians and the care of souls – their own and that of others. Lloyd-Jones had a very interesting mind.
  • Faith and Life (Warfield). Warfield was a giant among theologians. He combined world class biblical studies, systematics, and apologetics or “polemics” – no mean feat! Perhaps our greatest theologian excepting Edwards. Certainly Warfield was the preeminent intellectual standout of Old Princeton. It goes without saying how much I appreciate his work on inerrancy and Christology. Not to mention I found his brief article on the Trinity to be a terrific overview of issues still relevant today. But my favorite from his corpus is Faith and Life, a collection of preached sermons. Among other things, it shows Warfield was not an old stuffy academic, but also a passionately devoted disciple of our great king, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Four Quartets (Eliot). Time and memory. Echoes of eternity. The “still-point of the turning world” in the Word of God made flesh. In a sense Eliot is autobiographical in his writings, for he moved from a bleak nihilism in The Waste Land to a sacramental high church Anglicanism in Four Quartets.
  • Frankenstein (Shelley). A Gothic tale in the Romantic era. Dark, moody. Grim. Arguably the first science fiction novel and one of the first modern horror novels. Explores many themes, not least of which is the Promethean rebellion of the created against their creator. Atheistic to the core. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. It’s not a favorite in the same sense as most the other books on this list are favorites. Rather, it’s a “favorite” in part because it reminds me of my own dark and rebellious atheistic mindset prior to Christ. Who I once was and why I never wish to return. Shudder. I may not be the man I wish to be, but by God’s grace I’m no longer the man I was.
  • The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Calvin). Full disclaimer: I haven’t read all of it, though I do aim to read it in its entirety someday. Yet what I’ve read is wonderful. Not only is it solidly scriptural and theological, and quite philosophical in the best sense, but I was surprised to find it edifying in a devotional sense too. The Institutes is not a staid theological textbook written for eggheads, but an immensely practical book for Christians in general. For his time and place, Calvin was a first rate exegete, a strong philosophical theologian, and a pious pastor. And his Institutes is proof positive of all this.
  • Letters Along the Way (Carson & Woodbridge). Practical advice from a seasoned Christian to a new believer in an epistolary format and style. Edifying.
  • The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Rutherford). Rutherford’s life was a life of constant turmoil in a tumultuous period of history. He suffered the death of his wife at an early age as well as the loss of all save one of his children. He was perpetually hounded and persecuted by established state churchmen; he would have been tried for treason and executed had he not died. Yet through it all Rutherford was a devoted pastor who dearly loved his flock. Ironically, the bulk of his letters (approximately 220 out of 365 letters) were written while Rutherford was in exile away from his flock. His flock lived in and around the little town of Anwoth in southwest Scotland near the English border. However, Rutherford was forced to move away from Anwoth by the ecclesiastical powers-that-be of the day. They forced Rutherford to live far north in Aberdeen where they thought he’d be silenced. Yet thanks to God’s providence, thanks to God who can bring good out of evil, Rutherford’s exile did the opposite of silencing him inasmuch as his exile led him to pen his letters. And his letters still benefit us today so that we can say: “though he died, he still speaks” (Heb 11:4).
  • The Little Prince (Saint-Exupéry). In my view, the stand-out quotation is: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” That goes for many truths in life, but perhaps most especially love. That is, love should be deep, not merely skin deep.
  • Long Journey Home (Guinness). Modern existential apologetics at its best.
  • The Lord Our Shepherd (MacMillan). The sheep follow their great shepherd as they take steps toward heaven. Something of a memoir too.
  • Memories of Sandfields (Bethan Lloyd-Jones). God’s wonderful work in the lives of his saints. I never fail to be encouraged to hear how God rescued people from themselves. That’s in part because I know how often I need to be rescued.
  • Miracles (Lewis). Along with Mere Christianity, introduced me to apologetics. Both books are good, but I think Miracles is the significantly better of the two. It clearly contrasts naturalism with supernaturalism and as such points to a world which is ultimately impersonal vs. one which is ultimately personal. Given naturalism, one must ask how can the personal arise from the impersonal, from mere matter in motion? It makes far more sense to see the impersonal arising from the personal rather than the other way around.
  • Musica Mundana (Hays). A unique novel written in a unique style. Three stories woven into a single thread: life in an unfallen world, life in a fallen world with no hope of redemption, and life in a fallen world with redemption. The end is open-ended. Thought-provoking. Beautiful. Much more could be said. Take up and read!
  • The Once and Future King (White). A gentle story written by a gentle soul in a harsh world, though tyrant shades lurk between its sheaves.
  • One, Two, Three…Infinity (Gamow). Dated, but still compelling to see how a brilliant scientist approaches problems. Among other things, the idea of infinity impresses upon the mind.
  • Orthodoxy (Chesterton). Why Chesterton believes. Witty, clever, chock full of common sense. Cf. The excellent “Why I Believe” (parts 1 & 2) by Steve Hays.
  • Out of the Depths (Newton). Larger than life, almost too hard to believe, but all true. Full of adventure, full of sin, full of grace. A man’s man. The Banner of Truth has a collection of Newton’s letters that I’d like to read in full someday. And I appreciate Newton’s friendship and brotherly love toward William Cowper. The stronger brother helping the weaker brother. Newton was a real-life Mr. Great-heart for Cowper and many others.
  • Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (Longmore, et al). There are many celebrated medical books and resources, but the OHCM (aka the “Cheese and Onion” for its yellow and green cover) possesses a quality which few other medical books possess – it is a delight to read. It’s perfect for physicians-in-training (med students in their clinical years) and even physicians (especially interns). There are some differences for Americans (e.g. units of measurement, some different medical treatments), but most these differences are easily overcome or relatively minor. And I love that the OHCM is not solely about the medical science, for it includes historical and literary anecdotes as well, because this makes medicine out to be what it truly is, both art and science, and altogether human. Compare the OHCM to, say, Pocket Medicine: The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Internal Medicine which is also a fine medical book but far more matter of fact and to the point.
  • Pensées (Pascal). Insightful, stimulating, cynical. Existentially probing. Pascal was a polymath among polymaths. Fire.
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan). The Christian life mapped out in allegorical vignettes, as Christian journeys toward the celestial city. Probably my single all-time favorite work of fiction.
  • Proslogion (Anselm). The ontological argument is a very stimulating argument for the existence of God, whether or not it’s entirely successful. I think Alvin Plantinga may have the best version of it, though Plantinga later became skeptical of his own argument. In any case, I appreciate Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum project. His reflections on the relationship between faith and reason are most stimulating. John Frame argues it may be a proto-presuppositionalism.
  • The Screwtape Letters (Lewis). An urbane devil teaches a youngling how to tempt the Christian. Satirical, shrewd.
  • The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Edwards). Most people only know Edwards as the supposed “fire and brimstone” preacher responsible for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. However, at best, that’s a lopsided image of Edwards. Edwards was a leading figure in the Great Awakening. A missionary to the Native Americans. President of what would become Princeton University. A Renaissance man in the same generation as one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. (By the way, see George Marsden’s shorter biography on Edwards for more about this tantalizing connection.) Edwards was a scholar conversant with the cutting edge philosophy and science of his day (e.g. Locke, Newton). Quite arguably Edwards was America’s greatest theologian, even above the great B. B. Warfield (pace Edwards’ flirtations with occasionalism and idealism). Certainly few people in history have had a sharp a mind as Edwards. In my view, Edwards deserves to be ranked only slightly below theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. His many works testify to all this. A sweet introduction to this fuller Edwards would be in sermons like “Heaven Is a World of Love”, “The Pleasantness of Religion”, “A Farewell Sermon”, “The Excellency of Christ”, and (my favorite) “A Divine and Supernatural Light”. Most of Edwards’ works can be read for free at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.
  • Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones). The good doctor brings light to bear on our soul’s darkness. If only I could constantly remember and apply its many lessons!
  • The Temple (Herbert). Lyrical, devotional. Good to dip into once in a while. I could say similar things regarding a lot of Christina Rossetti’s poetry and letters.
  • Theology of My Life (Frame). An autobiography and an apologetic for the Christian faith from arguably the foremost living theologian today. I have likewise enjoyed and benefited from several of Frame’s other books (e.g. Nature’s Case for God, Christianity Considered, some of the essays in his 3-volume collection of shorter writings, his film criticisms, his Lordship series).
  • To Be Near Unto God (Kuyper). Our soul’s thirst for the living God. I would write a devotional like this is if God had graced me with the talent to write such reflective and edifying words for others.
  • The Universe in Zero Words (Mackenzie). The equations, illustrations, and other images are half the reason the book is so good. A lovely combination of math and art. Beauty in numbers. In a roundabout way it’s an argument from numbers and/or beauty to God.
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis). A baptized children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey, and so much more. Some of the most beautiful words written in the whole of modern English literature are found toward the close of the book. My favorite of the Narnia tales, though I also enjoyed the others, especially the first – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis’ Perelandra likewise conveys tremendous beauty in word-images. Lewis aspired to be a great poet in his youth. He never achieved his goal. Yet his prose is often richly poetic, saturated with Sehnsucht, which is a large part of what made Lewis such a wonderful writer. In that respect, God had something better in mind for Lewis than Lewis had in mind for himself.
  • The Wind in the Willows (Grahame). A father (Kenneth Grahame) writes bedtime stories to tell his only child, a sickly son (Alastair Grahame) who would die in his youth. These stories are set along the river Thames, in Edwardian England. Several heartachingly moving stories. A nostalgic voice in a nostalgic time. Beautifully told. Poetic.
  • Of course, it goes without saying the Bible is my absolute favorite book. The only book I could truly never live without. The only book which I would be utterly lost without. The only book I come back to again and again, without exhausting its treasures, without losing its sweetness. It refreshes me, it rejuvenates me, it strengthens me. It’s my life. The undying tree of life. The fountain of youth. There is no other book like it, for it alone is God’s word. In particular, I enjoy reading: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Ruth, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Daniel, Luke-Acts, John, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Hebrews, Revelation. I think I like Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and John best of all.

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