I have made a rather modest challenge to myself of reading 30 books in 2016. I thought I’d keep a list here of all my books, more for myself than anything else, but some folks might be interested in what literary offerings float my boat. I’m not recording essays (unless I read an entire book of them) or articles here, just books and perhaps a note as to whether they were worth reading. I’ll add to this list as the year goes on and I finish each book.
1. History of Ancient Greece – Nathaniel Harris.
A fantastic introduction to the life, literature, philosophy, culture and art of ancient Greece – one of the few books I’ve read with pictures!
2. Tricks of the Mind – Derren Brown
Recommended reading for anyone who wants an insight into how various psychic/supernatural charlatans operate and the tricks they use.
3. The Plague – Albert Camus
I don’t read a lot of novels these days, this one is – not surprisingly – excellent. My love for Camus continues.
4. Religions of Ancient China – HA Giles
Published in 1905 this is a charming little book, but doesn’t read terribly well. But it helped fill a small gap in my knowledge of religions.
5. Is The Atheist My Neighbor? – Randal Rauser
Rauser does an excellent job of squeezing so much worthwhile content into such a short book, challenging a very common Christian assumption that atheists really deep down know there’s a God.
6. In Search of the Trojan War – Michael Wood
Although a little bit dated it’s a great read for anyone in love with Homer’s the Iliad who wants to discover the link between the myth and the real world.
7. Discourse on Method & The Meditations – Rene Descartes
Not the first time I’ve read this philosophical classic, and probably not the last time either. This is a must read for any budding philosopher.
8. The War of The Worlds – HG Wells
Short book, short chapters – perfect holiday reading! Of course it’s a classic so well worth reading if you haven’t whether you’re on holiday or not. Martians attack the earth, what more can you ask for?
9. Four Tragedies & Octavia – Seneca, translated by EF Watling
Seneca is one of those classical authors I have managed to avoid all these years. This volume contains his versions of several Greek classics: Thyestes, Phaedra, The Trojan Women, and Oedipus. Seneca is no Sophocles, but if you love the stories of ancient Greece it’s a good read nevertheless.
10. The Greeks, Kenneth Dover
In the author’s words: “This book is a handful of pebbles picked up from a long, bright beach and arranged in a sequence of my own choose.” The book was a but haphazard to me and I would have chosen different pebbles and arranged them differently. Still, it’s not a bad overview of certain aspects of “The Greeks.”
11. Church in Hard Places, Mez McConnell & Mike NcKinley
I read very little popular Christian books, but this one was worth reading and has some interesting, and counter-intuitive, things to say about how churches can best help those in “hard places.”
12. A History of Philosophy – Volume 2 Part 2 – Frederick Copleston (SJ)
This is only one volume of a massive multi-volume work. In this volume Copleston considers the philosophy of several medieval philosophers, giving most of his attention to Aquinas and Scotus. Reading Copleston on Aquinas is a delight, and the book is worth it for those chapters alone. My only beef is that Copleston constantly throws out Latin phrases when he doesn’t need to, and with no translation. It got a bit tiresome, particularly during the treatment of Scotus. That said this book was excellent, and I wouldn’t mind collecting the remaining volumes.
13. The Philosophers: Introducing Great Western Thinkers, Ted Honderich et al
Pretty much what the title suggests. Each essay is written by a different author and gives a very brief overview of the life and work of one particular philosopher. There are some philosophers I wouldn’t have included, and some missing I would have. Generally the essays do the job well, but a few are poorly written, leaving the novice no more wiser than when he began.
14. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
I rarely read devotional books and had this one lying around for a few years. I didn’t read it “devotionally” but it’s structured perfectly for that, and is rightly considered a classic. At times Kempis is just a tad too anti-intellectual for my tastes, but that’s a very minor criticism of an overall very enjoyable and thought-provoking text.
15. Greece and Rome: Myths and Legends, HA Guerber
This was a brilliant collection (and retelling) of the myths of Greece and Rome, with the added bonus of a final chapter that gives an interesting (though not to me persuasive) account of the origin of the myths from an analysis of linguistics. The stories told in the book are interspersed with small sections of poetry from a massive array of poets through the ages, showing just how influential these myths have been. Well worth reading.
16. Moral Philosophy, DD Raphael
This is a relatively short and very readable guide to moral philosophy. It’s recommended for those new to moral philosophy – students or the legendary general reader. It has particularly useful chapters on utilitarianism, justice, and liberty.
17. The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas
I’d read a kids version of this classic when I was about 10, but never Dumas’ original. I loved it from start to finish. I haven’t enjoyed a novel this much in years. It ended too quickly!
18. The Will to Believe & Other Essays, William James
As with any collection of essays this contains a few duds that didn’t particularly interest me. But, there are gems here, not least of all the title essay which is one my favourite pieces of philosophy. James is one of the most influential philosophers on my own approach. If nothing else you must admire any man who, in an effort to refute Hegel, gets himself intoxicated with nitrous oxide!
19. The 39 Steps, John Buchan
A short and enjoyable thriller. It was a bit loose in parts but was a decent yarn worth a read.
20. Miracles and Idolatry, Voltaire
This is basically a collection of short essays – enlightenment blog posts, if you will. The book is very readable, and I particularly enjoyed his rather surprising discussion of atheism and his sarcasm soaked lampooning of church councils. Voltaire’s message is always simple: learn to think well, and then think for yourself.
21. Augustine, Henry Chadwick
This short book is part of OUP’s “Past Masters” series, which is excellent as an introduction to many historical thinkers. During my university days modules in church history were my least favourite, and Chadwick almost single-handedly got me through them. This book is a good introduction to Augustine, with my only minor criticism being that the structure of the book isn’t in any particular logical or historical order (that I could discern), but I unhesitatingly recommend OUP’s entire series.
22. The Religious Experience of Mankind, Ninian Smart
I read parts of this as a student but never start to finish, and what a rollicking romp across time and space it is as Smart documents the ideas and growth of religious traditions, ideas and experiences all over the world over thousands of years. A must-read for theologians and philosophers of religion, or anyone else wanting to learn something about world religions.
23. Philebus, Plato.
What constitutes the good life? Pleasure? Reason? Some mix of the two? You’ll have to read it for Plato’s answer. Not my favourite of Plato’s dialogues, but still, it’s Plato and it’s a dialogue – a form of writing philosophy whose resurrection is long overdue.
24. Judge Not, Todd Friel
Friel is a staunchly conservative Christian. He’s like marmite: love him or hate him. My wife can’t stand him, I like him despite his views being closer to hers than mine. He’s snarky, sarcastic, and often funny – rare traits in conservative Christians. In this book he basically has a go at all the things that drives him a bit nuts in evangelicalism. Some chapters deserve to be torn from the book and burned, but he speaks a fair bit of sense in others, and entertains along the way.
25. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
To my shame I have never read this classic before now. It’s a weighty tome and I confess after 100 pages I was a bit concerned it was going to be a bust, but ultimately Dostevsky didn’t disappoint. Although the main plot doesn’t really begin until 400 pages in, even before this there are flashes of literally brilliance. The book maybe didn’t need to be so long, but it’s well worth the effort. Read it before you turn 38!
26. God: A Guide for the Persplexed, Keith Ward
A very readable book discussing the many approaches to who and what God is. Ward adopts a quasi-agnostic via negativa approach, which I don’t much care for, but cautioning the religious against metaphysical certainties and grand assured systems is to be welcomed.
27. The Norse Myths, retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland
I’ve read other versions of Norse myths, but this one is the best, both in terms of how the stories are told as well as the way they are arranged to tell a longer saga. As a lover of myth I thoroughly recommend this volume.
28. Descartes, Anthony Kenny
Anthony Kenny has seen many a philosophy student safely through their studies, and it’s easy to see why. In this book it’s obvious that Kenny has the utmost respect for Rene Descartes. He lays out Descartes philosophy carefully, and critiques it with fairness and clarity. Make sure you read Descartes works first, though!
29. The Oresteian Trilogy, Aeschylus
I read this one not for the first time and not for the last time. Aeschylus was a master of Greek Tragedy and this volume should appeal to lovers of literature, mythology, and philosophy. I’d love to see it performed live!
30. Mythology of the Celtic People, Charles Squire
This book discusses the two main branches of Celtic mythology: Gaelic and British. The first part – Gaelic – is better written, more coherent, and far more interesting. The second part got a bit boring. I would have rather had more stories than explanation. But, anyone interested in Gaelic mythology could do worse than Part 1.
Bonus Track – “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens
I’ve seen several movie versions but never read the original story. It was amazingly good…delightful…meaningful…and a brilliant way to finish off my 2016 book challenge.
Stephen J Graham