Pictures taken from the books’ public pages on Goodreads. Jonah Recommends:
“I’m an atheist, but I see the great world religions as enormous works of art. As the best way to understand the universe and man’s place in it…the true revolution would have been for the core curriculum of the world to become the great religions of the world. That is the only way to achieve an understanding [of each other].”
1. Holy Bible – I’d recommend ESV for a readable version, and YLT for a word-by-word translation. The Bible is the most read and most referenced book in human history, and should be read by adherents to the major world religions, as well as those seeking to understand Western society.
2. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics edition) – To understand Islamic belief from the original source, this is invaluable. Strict Muslim belief holds that only the original Arabic is valid, but for English learners, this is a great start. The introduction by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem holds some key philosophy about the texts of the world’s religions: “It is the nature of central religious scriptures to be open to endless interpretation and enlisted to justify all shades of opinion…”
3. Tao Te Ching – For understanding Taoism by the original source. I found this containing many similar truths as the Bible. CS Lewis went so far as to label consistent truth, across religious sources and the human experience, “Tao” in his book Abolition of Man.
4. The Book of Mormon: A Biography, by Paul C. Gutjahr – I cannot in good conscience recommend The Book of Mormon. It makes for arduous and clunky reading, and is essentially a knock-off of the Bible (If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself. You’ve been warned). This helpful source explains the essential nature of the BOM, as well as the history of how it came about and its original adherents.
5. On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin – Foundational to modern scientific thought, Darwin’s magnum opus is a must-read. It can be a bit dense, but has insights not often focused on, as well as the monumental original concepts of natural selection.
6. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking – This lays out Hawking’s groundbreaking scientific work on the nature of the universe. It includes the monumental claim that every point in history can be identified, except pre-Big Bang before time began.
7. The Intellectual Devotional, by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim – Other devotionals are useful, but this one filled in a lot of gaps in my education of reality. It goes through seven sections of human thought, and doesn’t miss a beat.
8. The Apochrypha or Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible, as contained in the Catholic Bible – These are books that were in the Bible up until the time of the Reformation of the 16th century. Martin Luther suggested they be taken out because they weren’t contained in the Hebrew Bible. They describe key points in Jewish history, including the Maccabean Revolt of the second century BC.
9. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings – This is probably the best and most complete English translation of the Hadith. The Hadith are writings on the life of Muhammad, and serve as a historical companion to the writings of the Qur’an.
10. The Tudors: The Complete Story England’s Most Notorious Dynasty, by G.J. Meyer – This filled a big gap in my historical understanding of Western civilization, the Reformation, and Protestant theology.
11. Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman – Following my curiosity about the Reformation and the complexity of Martin Luther, I was looking for a balanced account of the man’s life. I found it in Oberman’s account. As the title suggests, this book dives into the good, bad, ugly, and world-changing, of the man that catapulted Protestantism and split Western Christianity.
12. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson – I found Peterson’s work at a time in my life when I was at an end of belief. I couldn’t relate anymore to the terminology and ideologies of organized religion. His explorations, outlined in this book, brought me back to some grounding. The next four books in this list are discussed and/or recommended by Peterson.
13. The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The edition of this book with a foreward by Jordan Peterson is the one I read. It breaks down the multi-volume work into one. I would normally never recommend an abridged version, but this one was approved by Solzhenitsyn himself. I was very ignorant about the Soviet work camps of the 20th century, before diving into this book. It matters.
14. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl – As the above work discusses the history of Soviet Russia and its consequences, this delves into the psyche of a Nazi camp survivor.
15. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky – The great author’s magnum opus contains all the intricacies of the human condition as he saw it. The father-son relationship is explored most critically, a very possible effect of Dostoevsky’s complicated relationship with is own father. For those that get a lot from this work, I would also recommend Crime and Punishment and The Idiot.
16. A Confession, by Leo Tolstoy – This speaks very well to crises of faith, of foundational collapses in one’s life. Tolstoy, post-dawn of his fame and fortune, becomes uncontrollably unmoored from everything he once knew. He fears his own suicidality, and must go through the depths of despair to reach the other side. Namely, peace. It is a comparatively short Tolstoy work. The Kingdom of God is Within You comes after this Tolstoyian conversion, and is one I recommend for a look at alternative Christian theory.
17. My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman – This should probably be higher on the list. Wiman’s work is an essential read for those on the Christian-atheist fence. Trust me, and read it.
18. Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell – A book that challenges common Christian conceptions of the afterlife. Bell asks questions, and provides all the places in the Bible where Heaven and Hell are cited; he does not make strong conclusions that can be fairly labeled “heretical.”
19. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman – An intellectually honest and rigorous assessment of biblical study. This serves as great conversational material for those doubting the validity/importance of the Bible. And its accuracy, for that matter.
20. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – A post-apocalyptic novel that explores the reason why we “keep on.” Simple writing and narrative, intensely complex themes.
21. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis – Perhaps surprising, this is the Lewis book that I’d rate most highly. It dives into the ideas of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory with the clarity and open-mindedness that can be expected from Lewis. Really, I’d recommend every major work of his: Mere Christianity, Abolition of Man, The Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and of course The Chronicles of Narnia series. He was a skeptic and somewhat hesitant convert–honestly assessing theological belief in a postmodern, post-Christian world. Abby Recommends: