Recommended Reading

These are some of the books that have helped me most in my journey. For the syllabi for the courses I have taught at the University of Chicago, go here. For a reading list of books in medieval history, go here. For tips on dealing with writer’s block (a.k.a. sorting yourself out and learning to clean your room), go here.

Richard of St. Laurent, De laudibus beatae Mariae virginis libri XII
Wellesley College, MS 19
On Christianity
  • Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (first published 1941). On the real meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (first published 1905); Orthodoxy (first published 1908); The Everlasting Man (first published 1925); Saint Thomas Aquinas (first published 1933); the Father Brown stories. Best apologist ever on the paradoxes (and rationality) of Christian belief. 
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, "Mythopoeia," "On Fairy Tales," "Leaf by Niggle," The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, Letters. On what it means to be a subcreator made in the image and likeness of the Author of all.
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (first published 1952), Surprised by Joy (first published 1955), God in the Dock (first published 1970). On stepping into the beam.
  • Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999). For the deep structures behind the stories. Essential reading.
  • Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005). For a gripping introduction to Calvin and the role of the Puritans in American thought.
  • Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008). For those who doubt but want to know why it makes sense to believe.
  • Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don't Have to Do (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010). For those who want to be religious, not just spiritual.
  • Michael Coren, Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2012).  For answers to some of the claims often made against Christianity (although please note that I do not share all of Coren's views, particularly on homosexuality.)
  • Diane Moczar, Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths About the Church's Past--and How to Answer Them (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2010).  Easy-to-read but accurate rebuttal of seven of the standard myths.  Medievalists take note: the fight is far from over yet. 
  • Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt, eds., Seven Myths of the Crusades (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2015). Essential reading for understanding the ways in which the Crusades have been misrepresented. 
  • Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Galilee, 2006; first published 2004).  For those still tempted by the allure of atheism.
  • Alan Jacobs, The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013). For the history behind the prayers.
On America and "the West"
  • David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). Meet the four major colonial groups that made our nation's culture of liberty: the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of the Delaware Valley, the Anglicans of Virginia, and the Scots Irish Borderers of the backcountry. Absolutely essential reading if you want to understand the tensions in our present-day political and cultural debates. Plus, dialects! 
  • Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011). Extends Fischer's analysis to include all eleven major regional cultures that have come together to make up North America, its ethnicities, and history.
  • Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (New York: Vintage: 2004). The real New York and the reason it is so multicultural and tolerant of diversity. Also the reason we have a Bill of Rights, according to Woodard.
  • Jim Webb, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (New York: Broadway Books, 2004). If you want to know why everyone hates rednecks, but why our country cannot do without them.
  • Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It (New York: MJF Books, 2001). The reason the Scots are the key to modernity: they were savages first--and remembered it.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols. (first published in 1835, 1840). A classic for a reason: both history and prophecy. If you want to know why were are where we are now, you need to know why we were already here then.
  • Daniel Hannan, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World (New York: Broadside, 2013). UK MP to the EU, a succinct history of why our Anglo-American political tradition is actually worth defending.
  • Jonathan Daly, The Rise of Western Power: A Comparative History of Western Civilization (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014). A modern Soviet historian's comparative take on what makes the West distinctive. Disclosure: he and I go to church together, and he talked with me about the medieval parts of his argument.
  • Adam Winkler, Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (New York: Norton, 2011). For further proof that history is always more complicated than Facebook memes want it to be. Winkler shows how both gun rights and gun control have been a feature of American gun culture from the beginning.
  • Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (New York: Crown Forum, 2012). On the social changes driving our current income inequalities.
  • Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (New York: Anchor Books, 2010). In answer to the question, what has the Industrial Revolution ever done for me?
On politics
  • Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007). On the genealogy of fascism and its relationship to progressive liberalism.  Helpful for those (like me) who thought "liberal" meant "J.S. Mill and Co." and so couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
  • Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society, rev. and enlarged ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2011); and The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy (New York: Basic Books, 1995).  Essential reading, especially if you (like me) are among the 1% who tend to think they know how the other 99% should live.  Try his Economics Facts and Fallacies, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2011); The Housing Boom and Bust, rev. ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2009); and Black Rednecks and White Liberals (New York: Encounter Books, 2005), if you need more myths busted.
  • Charles R. Kesler, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism (New York: HarperCollins, 2012).  On the history of liberalism in America, particularly under presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Obama.
  • Monica Crowley, What the (Bleep) Just Happened? The Happy Warrior's Guide to the Great American Comeback (New York: Broadside Books, 2012).  Riveting reading if, like me, you voted for Obama in 2008 and have been wondering why everything seems to have gone to (bleep) since.
  • Diana West, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (New York: St. Martin's, 2007).  On the real-world costs of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and its multicultural offshoots.
  • Peter Schweizer, Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less...and Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals (New York: Doubleday, 2008).  For the statistics on the stereotypes you've doubtless heard.
  • Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (New York: Crown Forum, 2003); Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007); Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America (New York: Crown Forum 2008); Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America (New York: Crown Forum, 2011); and Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama (New York: Sentinel, 2012). Yes, that Ann Coulter.  For when you just can't take the groupthink anymore.  See her Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right (New York: Three Rivers, 2002), if you need any more convincing that the story you've been getting from the mainstream media isn't the whole truth (or, in many cases, even partially true). See Adios, America!: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2015), if you want some insight into what drove Donald Trump's popularity during the run-up to the election; see In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome (New York: Penguin, 2016), if you want to know some of the reasons people actually voted for him.
  • David Harsanyi, Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotalling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children (New York: Broadway Books, 2007); Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2013).  For when you really want to depress yourself about the path we're on.
  • Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Vintage, 2012). Hint: the elephant always wins. (It's not why you think.)
  • Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). For the deep history behind the rhetoric used in our cultural debates. Hard going, but essential if you want to understand why it has become impossible to say anything positive about the West without being called a reactionary. How to Be a Conservative (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). For the truth and where it comes from in the Western tradition. The Uses of Pessimism And the Danger of False Hope (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), on the fallacies that grip our current political conversations and why they are so dangerous to civil society.
  • Milo Yiannopoulos, Dangerous (New York: Dangerous Books, 2017). Because you know you want to know the story of the Dangerous Faggot and his adventures!
On economics
  • Robert Zubrin, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New York: New Atlantis Books, 2012).  On the not-so-hidden antihumanism of efforts to control human population, including through "climate change" activism. 
  • Robert Bryce, Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (New York: Public Affairs, 2010).  A dyed-in-the-wool Austinite gives the real scoop on what's green.  Caution: Involves physics.
  • John R. Lott, Jr., Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007).  For those, like me, persuaded by Steven Levitt the first time through.
  • David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin, The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America's Future (New York: Crown Forum, 2012).  For those who want to know where the money really comes from.  Hint: There are rich people funding the Left, too.
  • Luigi Zingales, A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (New York: Basic Books, 2012). Why you should hate crony capitalism and what we can do about it.
  • Dierdre McCloskey, Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). An economist explains the rhetoric behind the virtues. Essential for understanding the tensions between the townspeople and their clerical detractors.
  • George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty: A New Edition for the Twenty-first Century, 2nd. ed. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2012); Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Captalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2013). On the real sources of wealth, because wealth is a product of creativity, and creativity is an expression of joy.
  • Kevin Williamson, The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure (New York: HarperCollins, 2013). Title is somewhat misleading. "How the iPhone should give us hope" is more to the message.
  • Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). When you're ready for the good stuff. (It took me a while to build up to Smith, now I get it.) Required reading: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). So you don't fall into the trap of thinking Smith was all about greed. He wasn't. He was all about virtue.
On writing, particularly for academics
  • Robert Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure (Westport, CT: 1994). On developing the habit of regular writing.  Essential.
  • Robert Boice, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing (Stillwater, Oklahoma: New Forums, 1990). On assessing your blocks and how to work with them.
  • Paul Silvia, How to Write a Lot: A Guide to Productive Academic Writing (Washington, D.C.: The American Psychological Association, 2007). On making writing part of your regular schedule and, thereby, bringing your whole life into balance
  • Albert Ellis and William J. Knaus, Overcoming Procrastination, or How to Think and Act Rationally in Spite of Life's Inevitable Hassles (New York: Signet, 1977).  Because that's all writer's block really is: procrastinating.  Best read in conjunction with Boice.
On creativity
  • Tony Schwartz, with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy, Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live (New York: Free Press, 2010). On how to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and why it is so important for our ability to work.
  • Jonathan Fields, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (New York: Portfolio, 2011). On dealing with anxiety, uncertainty, and fear.
  • Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self (1992, 2002); Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity (New York: Penguin, 2002). Not where I am at the moment, but where I was when I was writing my first book. I now understand better, thanks to Fields and Schwartz, how some of the tools actually work and am not sure I would think of them in quite the way Cameron suggests any more, but they saved my life ten years ago.
  • Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (New York: Penguin, 2009). How I got my hope back after falling silent for several years.
    On optimism
    • Dennis Prager, Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (Harper Collins e-book, 1998).  Succinct wisdom on why happiness matters and how to think about it.
    • Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990, 2006); What You Can Change...and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement (New York: Vintage Books, 1993, 2007). On the way how we tell stories about ourselves affects our feelings and beliefs about what we can do.
    • Lisa Lane Brown, The Courage to Win: A Revolutionary Mental Toughness Formula (Calgary, Alberta: Lisa Brown & Associates, 2008). The real secret to why I started winning those bouts.
    On sin
    • William H. Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005). On learning to sin as only Christians can.
    • Rebecca Konynyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009). Contemporary wisdom, grounded in Aquinas. (But see below for recommendations on eating and food.)
    • Bob Sorge, Envy: The Enemy Within (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2003). On why it is so tempting to want to bury your talent(s) when others seem to have so many more.
    • R.T. Kendall, Jealousy: The Sin No One Talks About. How to Overcome Envy and Live a Life of Freedom (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010). Practical advice for overcoming this deadliest of sins (not that I have problems with this one, cough cough).
    On eating and food
    • Karen R. Koenig, The Rules of "Normal" Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between! (Carlsbad, CA: Gürze Books, 2005). Practical advice for changing your beliefs about and behaviors surrounding eating and food. Especially good on managing difficult emotions.
    • Geneen Roth, When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy (New York: Plume, 1991); When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair (ePub edition, 2010); Breaking Free from Emotional Eating (New York: Plume, 1984); Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything (New York: Scribner, 2010). I read all of these in a lump, so I don't quite remember what insights I got from which. Roth's message is simple, but it can take time to process. Good on the experience of learning to eat when hungry.
    • Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories (New York: Anchor Books, 2007). For when you are ready for the physiology behind the cravings.
    • Eric C. Westman, Stephen D. Phinney, and Jeff S. Volek, The New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great (New York: Fireside, 2010). For when you are ready to give up the carbs.
    On decluttering
    • Francine Jay, the joy of less: a minimalist living guide. how to declutter, organize, and simplify your life (Medford, NJ: Anja Press, 2010). Profound wisdom, simply put.
    • Karen Kingston, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, ebook ed. (Newbury: Space Clearing International, 2010). Ditto. Especially good on the spiritual effects of living with clutter.
    On asking
    • Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003). On why it is so important to ask.
      On listening
      • Paul J. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel, Are You Really Listening?: Keys to Successful Communication (Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books, 2005). On learning how to listen empathetically. If you read only one book in this list, read this one. It will save the world, one soul at a time.
      On dogs
      • Patricia B. McConnell, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002); For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend (New York: Ballantine Books, 2007).  How to understand your dog--and why "dominance" is not the answer.
      • Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs (New York: Grand Central, 2002).  More on why dogs aren't out for "dominance" and our responsibilities to our dogs.
      • Stanely Coren, How Dogs Think: What the World Looks Like to Them and Why They Act the Way They Do (New York: Free Press, 2004).  Particularly good on the importance of the first twelve weeks of a dog's life and how dogs learn to be dogs.
      • Brenda Aloff, Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide.  Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog (Wenatchee, WI: Dogwise, 2005).  A must-read for all those who want to protect their dogs from other dogs as well as teaching their fellow humans how to "speak" proper dog.
      • Howard Weinstein and Mail Order Annie, Puppy Kisses are Good for the Soul and Other Important Lesson You and Your Dog Can Teach Each Other, rev. ed. (Laceyville, PA: Toad Hall Press and Puppy Paws Press, 2008).  Most important lesson: patience.  And love.  Plus, have the right equipment.

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