Friday, April 16, 2010

10 Most Personally Influential Books

This meme has been going around the blogosphere for a while, and I thought I would take my own shot at it. These are not my favorite books, but, as the title indicates, they are those that have had the most impact on the way that I view the world. I am putting them in the order that I read them.

1. The Bible -- okay, I realize this one is obvious.

2. Solzhenitsyn, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" -- I read this in high school. It reinforced my beliefs regarding the cruelty of Soviet communism and and led me to read other works by Solzhenitsyn, including his great Harvard commencement speech, "A World Split Apart," and "The Gulag Archipelago." "Cancer Ward," a fictional account of life in a Soviet institution, stands as the most depressing book I have ever read.

3. Plato, "The Republic" -- I did not realize the value of this work when I read it in college, but it has provided me with a philosophical framework for opposing the raw naturalism that dominates modern academia.

4. Handlin, "Truth in History" -- gave me an appreciation for the issues of objectivity and ideology in academia. Handlin, a professor of history at Harvard, was -- correctly, I think -- a bitter critic of The New History.

5. Packer, "Knowing God" -- this is one of the few books that I have read multiple times. Packer writes in a way, all too rare, that both stretches the mind and fires the heart. His "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" and "Keep in Step with the Spirit" have also been influential.

6. Manchester, "The Last Lion: Alone" -- this marvelous biography of Winston Churchill inspired me by its portrayal of Churchill during his years as a back bencher enduring scorn by the more enlightened who were sure that Hitler could be reasoned with.

7. Marsden, "Fundamentalism and American Culture" -- this historical work on the emergence of fundamentalism between the years 1875 - 1925 was intensely important to me, as it helped me appreciate the differences between conservative American Christianity, as it emerged in the 20th century, and other manifestations of conservative Christianity that had come before it. In particular, the book helped me to identify -- and ultimately reject -- the separatist mentality that had characterized my own religious upbringing. Christians have a responsibility to engage culture, not merely separate from it.

8. Johnson, "Intellectuals," and Henry, "In Defense of Elitism." I read these two works around the same time, and they provided a nice balance. In the former, historian Paul Johnson weighs the qualifications of leading western intellectuals to lead, and he finds them wanting. In the latter, cultural critic William Henry III opposes the kind of radical egalitarianism that celebrates mediocrity. I have enjoyed other works by Johnson, including "The Birth of the Modern" and "Modern Times."

9. Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities" -- this was the first book I took up after deciding I needed to read more classic literature, and it re-enforced that decision. This remained for years my favorite work of fiction -- until I read "David Copperfield."

10. Horton, "Beyond Culture Wars" -- Horton writes that America is not a battle field; it is a mission field. Engagement, not coercion, should characterize the Christian's relationship with culture.

I will probably think of other books that should have been included as soon as I hit the "publish post" button.


Blogger Norma said...

Now that's heavy duty reading!

3:29 PM  

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