This was original called “Books that Changed Me” but should have been called “Books that I Highly Recommend”, “Mark’s Canon”, or maybe “Books that I Think Should Change Me”. I now have a separate list which is Books that Really Changed Me. For books on other topics check out my reviews on goodreads.
All of these books enriched my life… but most didn’t result in a concrete change in my life. Most of the books on this list did refine my perspective or values in some way. Just because a book is on this list doesn’t mean I agree 100% with it’s content, often it’s books that I don’t agree with that force me to look deeper into issues and learn.
Before I list individual books, I should note that Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World exposed me to a wide range of literature. I grew up taking this series for granted since my home, and the homes of several of my friends had this series on the bookshelf. I just assumed everyone has at least skimmed this great body of literature. I have since learned that isn’t the case. These days, most of these text are online in places like access foundation great books and the great books index. I would suggest taking a look at this great series. Have you read a book that changed your life? Drop me a line, I will add it to my reading list.
General Topics: For a nice list of life lessons, check out Life’s Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky scientifically examines what factors result in happiness and discovers Americans are pretty clueless. Do you want to be effective in your life? Try applying 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Some people would say principles are obvious… but it’s surprising how many of us forget to follow them. Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern helped me tame piles of paperwork and organize our house. Please Understand Me II by Keirsey & Choiniere will help you understand people who are different from you and maybe give you insight into yourself.
Education & Thinking: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler is a classic text which will help you become a better reader. How to Solve It by George Polya is one of the classic books about heuristic. Examples come mostly from geometry, but applicable to almost everything. De Bono’s Thinking Course by Edward de Bono will challenge you to actually think rather than just react. The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer discusses the interplay between fears, a person’s sense of identity, epistemology, and community.
Heath: The Spectrum by Dean Ornish, MD. The most balanced, and scientifically based discussion of nutrition and health that I have come across.
Marriage: I think the bery best single book on marriage is The Meaning of Marriage by the Kellers. Thinking about getting married? The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver examines what factors have an emperical connection to good marriages. Fit to Be Tied: Making Marriage Last a Lifetime by the Hybels is filled with good advise and stories to get you started on the right foot. Build your relationship on the right foundation. Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb reveals that we often look to our spouse for needs they can’t possibly meet. Ed Wheat in Love Life describing the different forms of love that should be found in a health marriage. His Need, Her Need by the Harleys explores how men and women often expect different things from a marriage, and suggests that both people learn to meet the needs of their partner. Deborah Tannen explores how men and women use different communication strategies in You Just Don’t Understand.
Family and Children: The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward Hallowell discusses five key steps which lead to contented life. How to Really Love Your Children by Ross Campbell will help you connect with your children and touch your their hearts. Never Mind the Joneses by Tim Stafford is a gracious and encouraging book which suggests 14 core values than any family would be well served to embrace. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elzine Mazlish is a good book on parent child communications, even if it is difficult to read. Want to build you child’s self esteem? Help them develop responsibility, trust, and honor. Discipline Them, Love Them by Betty Chase is fill with practice suggestions. Want to get a concise guide to development? Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton does a good job covering the first few years. Your “X” Year Old Series by Louise Bates Ames & Frances Ilg of the Gesell Institute of Human Development are even better, but they start at the first year. For more books on parenting, see my parenting shelf on goodreads.
Finances and Investing: Want a reminder of all the best principles when it comes to managing your money? Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson is excellent. I normally hate “dummies” book, but this book is an exception. Even “smart” people will benefit from this book. This has all the solid advice you would hope a parent would pass onto their children. Unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t know many of the things found in this book. Buffettology by Mary Buffet will encourage disciplined investment based on the real value of a stock… but A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel will argue that you are likely get better long term returns (not to mention spend a lot less time) by investing in a few broad index funds. Real Prosperity by Gene Getz looks at finances from a Biblical perspective and asked the question what super-cultural principles govern our relationship to money and possessions.
Essays & Biographies: Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard will remind to embrace wonder in your daily life. Abandoned to God by David McCasland is an inspiring biography about Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest. Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L’Engle shows the beauty of life. Light Force by Brother Andrew is a heart breaking and encouraging story of the church in the Middle East and the need to love the people their.
COMPUTER SCIENCE (AND RELATED STUFF)
Programming: Every programmer should read Donald Knuth’s landmark series The Art of Computer Programming. These books lay the foundations of computer science. Pick up a copy of Code Complete by Steve McConnell. This massive tome is filled with lessons all programmers should learn. If this is too huge, and your mostly work in C read Writing Solid Code by Steve Maguire. Be defensive (it not paranoid). Don’t worry about the specific examples, learn the attitude. If you are so anti-Microsoft that you can’t bring yourself to read Writing Solid Code, then try The Practice of Programming by Brian Kerninghan & Rob Pike. I would recommend any of the books by Jon Bentley, especially Writing Efficient Programs and Programming Pearls, Section Edition which will remind you to work on what will make a difference.
Software Engineering: Rob Reed’s ebook How to be a Programmer ebook is a very practical intro into the challenges of working with others on a software project. If you are working with more than a couple of people, Debugging the Development Process by Steve Maguire could save you some headaches. This book is filled with hard won (but often common sense) wisdom about how to organize and supervise effective software development teams. Is your project going to run for more than a couple of weeks? The Mythical Man Month by Frederick P. Brooks is filled with twenty year old lessons which are still applicable today… will we ever learn? Do you manage a team of software developers? Peopleware by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister will help you appreciate how much the environment you create will effect productivity (and therefore success or failure of your project). Extreme Programming by Ken Beck pushes a number of development principles to their logical conclusion advocating a light weight, incremental development methodology for small and medium size teams.
UNIX, and Networking: Want to learn how the UNIX environment was designed to be used? Pick up a copy of The UNIX Programming Environment Rob Pike & Brian Kernighan. This book won’t tell you about the hundreds of binaries found on Linux or Solaris, but it will teach you how to use a few tools to do a huge amount. Are you a UNIX system programmer? Pick up a copy of Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment by W. Richard Stevens. The best book to understand the core of TCP/IP is TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume I by W. Richard Stevens.
Systems: If you are thinking about writing a server or build a complex system you must read Hints to System Designer by Butler Lampson. If you are serious about architecting complex systems and pick up a copy of Systems Architecting by Eberhardt Rechtin. Systems Engineering and Analysis by Blanchard & Fabrycky is a wellspring of useful information for system builders. Want to write an operating system and don’t know how to get started? Operating System Design: The Xinu Approach by Doug Comer is just want you want. This textbook was designed for classes which took a holistic approach to teaching operating systems. If you have to implement any crypto, Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier is excellent: explanations are clear, source code is provided along side the mathematical formulas.
Science and Technology: If you collect data, look at data, or analyze data, pick up at least one of the books by Edward R.Tufte. Tufte has described the three books as being about, respectively, “pictures of numbers, pictures of nouns, and pictures of verbs.” I most often use what I learned in his third book Visual Explanations : Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman will remind you that things should be designed for use. The Ecology of Computationedited by B.A. Huberman gives hints as to where computing systems might go in the future.
CAREER & BUSINESS
Not happy with your job? Try working through the exercises in What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. This book will encourage you to figure out what you love to do (your vocation) and do that. The money (or at least enough for you survive) will follow. Your career might not change, but you will have a deeper sense of purpose in your day to day work experience. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham to help you think about what drives you. Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller is the best book I have read on vocation. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen will help you appreciate how radical change can come from technology that is “worse” than the current state of the art, and why companies need to be prepared to cannibalize their own markets. Good to Great by Jim Collins examines how humble leadership and simple methods can turn good companies into great ones. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is an interesting analysis of how changes occur among people and provides insight into how small things can make a big difference. Leading Change by John Kotter is a must read (or his article which has the same content but briefer) for anyone who is trying to make big changes within an organization. Process Redesign by Arthur Tenner & Irving DeToro is a very practical guide ideal for someone who needs to update and/or formalize organizational processes. Leadership is an Art by Max Depree is one of the best books about making a humane and empowering workplace. All I Really Need to Know in Business I Learned at Microsoft by Julie Bick does a great job of capturing the spirit of Microsoft, which I think is one of the best run companies in the world. Most books about IS/IT are useless. One exception is Structural Cybernetics by N. Dean Meyers. This book examines how organizational structure can dramatically effect how well a team can perform. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki provides a good survey of the issues related to doing a start-up.
DEVELOPMENT, SOCIAL ACTION, THE POLITICAL WORLD
My philosophy of government has been largely influenced by Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. The State, Justice, and the Common Good by B.J. Diggs is a college reader which helped me think through the core issue of political justice. I tend to agree with Hobbes… that in the natural world, life is poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The question is, how does the transition take place. The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod explores how cooperation can emerge in a world ruled by selfishness with no central authority or rule. Most Americans don’t know a lot about US foreign policy. Rise to Globalism by Stephen Ambrose is a good summary and analysis the US foreign policy in the 20th century. If you haven’t studied US foreign policy, you will learn why a lot of people in the “3rd world” dislike the US. When the world turns ugly can we do anything? Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie suggests there can be hope. During WWII, the entire community of Le Chambon refused to cooperate with the Nazis and helped more than 5,000 Jews escape Nazi camps. This is particularly impressive when you realize that the Le Chambon population before they started their activities was 5,000.
Hmm… just added this to my list so a bit undeveloped yet :-).
- Forces for Good – Leslie Crutchfield & Heather Grant
- Knowledge for Action: A Guide for Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change – Chris Argyris
- Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations – Raymond Fisman, Edward Miguel
- The Birth of Plenty – William Bernstein
- Tribes – Seth Godin
The Bible: Anything calling itself Christian needs to stand on the Bible. Written over a period of more than 2000 years. God used many humans, in numerous professions, life situations, times, and languages to convey a common theme. Purist will read the Bible in the original languages Hebrew and Greek. Textual analysis has produced texts which are very close to the original text. There are a number of good English translations. The New International Version (NIV) seems to be the most popular for everyday reading. New American Standard (NASB) seems to be one of the more popular for serious study. King James was a great translation in the 1600-1700’s, but it’s language is dated, and it is no more (maybe less) accurate than the more modern translations. If you are investigating Christianity, Don’t start from the beginning. Try reading the book of John, then the book of Romans, and then Genesis.
Seeking Spiritual Truth & Christianity: A Search for the Spiritual by James White and The God You’re Looking for by Bill Hybels are excellent guides to the process of exploring spiritual issues. The identity of Jesus of Nazareth is the single most important issue when considering Christianity. Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God? The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel attempts to answer this question with interviews between Strobel (a former legal editor at the Chicago Tribune) and scholars on a variety of topics. Together, these interviews explore Jesus’ divinity, and urge readers to reach a verdict of their own. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis contains an engaging enquiry into the reasonableness of Christianity. Basic Christianity by John Stott has one of the clearest explanations of the core of the Christian faith.
Christian Living: In recent years, the book that has most effected my is A Praying Life by Paul Miller. We live by grace depending on God’s power. No Condemnation by Bruce Narrmore exposes how we all tend to use guilt to motivate, how guilt is hugely damaging, and what are the alternatives. Walking in Victory by Dennis McCallum will teach you fundamental truths which are the basis of spiritual growth. This book is the bedrock on top of which my early spiritual life was formed. Green Letters by Miles Stanford covers in more depth but less systematically the topics found in Walking in Victory. Experiencing God by Blackaby & King will help you discover what it means to live for God on a minute by minute basis. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster will encourage you to develop a number of basic disciplines. Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee is a great reminded that growth often involves pain and difficulty, but the fruit is always wonderful. Finding God by Larry Crabb reminds us that nothing is more important that knowing God. The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis & John Eldredge will remind you that a dangerous walk with God is better than what looks to be a “safe” path. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence taught me that prayer can be like breathing. The only daily devotional which I have found consistently helpful is the Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants by Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck. The Believer’s School of Prayer by Andrew Murray will encourage you to be devoted to communication with God. Hearing God by Dallas Willard is one of the more practical books on understand and living within “God’s will”. God’s Strategies in Human History by Roger Forester and V Paul Marston examines God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. This is one of the most exegetical books I have ever read. It has gone in and out of print at least twice, so if you find it, buy it. There are a number of excellent books by Kenneth Bailey which will give insight into Jesus’ teachings, life, and costly sacrifice.
A Life of Service: Many Christians have an extremely vital and dynamic spiritual life during their colleges years. This experience is often lose as people transition to the real world of a job, house, family, etc. Following Jesus in the ‘Real World’ by Richard Lamb will encourage you to wrap your life around servicing people. Don’t let career, material success, or your living situation erode your spiritual life. All Christians are called to a life of discipleship. The Dynamics of Personal Follow-up by Gary Kuhne is the best book I have found describing how to help establish a new Christian. This book is out of print, but you can pick up a similar book by sending an order form. Discipleship edited by Billie Hanks and William Shell is a collection of writing on discipleship from leading lights of the twentieth century. An important ministry is helping people become disciples of Jesus. Effective Biblical Counseling by Lawrence Crabb will help you understand why people do things which seem self-defeating, and how to change thinking (and the heart). If you aspire to leadership, you will find Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders and The Character of God’s Workman by Watchman Nee extremely challenging. The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen will help you understand how to serve out of your weakness. Christian Leadership by Bruce Powers examines how to help people see the need for change and them to step up the the challenge before them.
Evangelism and Apologetics: Understanding the basic shape of someone’s beliefs, their world view, is the bedrock of effective communication. We should strive to understand before we say anything. The Universe Next Door by James Sire examines the major world views that deal with the nature of the world we live in. Inside the Mind of the Unchurched Harry and Mary by Lee Strobel is a great help in crossing the cultural gap which exists between many Christians and the contemporary culture. The book is refreshing and direct, with a good grasp of middle America culture. Francis Schaeffer more than any simple individual shaped in intellectual development of popular Christian thinking and apologetics in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. His books were extremely influential on college campuses. Pickup The Complete Works of Schaeffer.
Church and Missions: Too often, the “Church” becomes an hide bound institution that cares more about maintaining the status quo, that to demonstrate God’s love and greatness. The church is the people of God, not a building, a program, or the pastor. There are many books which have been written on this topic. Unleashing the Church by Frank Tilapaugh is the best to explain how one lets the Lord reveal his will for the church by seeing how he is moving the individuals of the church. Without the Lord, the approach found in this book would be considered “bottom up”, but since we have an active and sovereign Lord, this is a book about seeking what the head of the church is doing. Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace examines the factors which drive renewal. Other excellent books on the church include Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours? (free the people and let God work), The Body (principles explained through stories), and The Problem of Wineskins (the interaction between man made structure and God’s kingdom). Glorifying God, praising God’s name (that’s recounting who He is and what He has done… not running around saying “Praise God”) should be the center of a Christian life. A direct outflow of this great purpose is concern for people who have not heard about our Lord. Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper is a call for Christian missions which is centered around glorifying God’s name. Eternity in Their Hearts by Ron Richardson is a mind-blowing book about how God has revealed Himself to many peoples in the world. This book suggests that a careful cultural study should be done because you will be able to discover culturally relevant ways in which God has prepared to communicate the gospel clearly to people.
FICTION & DRAMA
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury explores what happens when books are outlawed, and TV rules. Shockwave Rider by Jon Brunner took the increasing rate of change being experienced in the 1970s and extrapolated into the future. He envisioned a world wide data network which was used by everyone. This was one of the first books which examined the interaction between the “web” and society. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin examines the question What is Utopia? Can there really be a stable anarchy among humans? Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Boll. The Plague by Albert Camus. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Lilith by George MacDonald. 1984 by George Orwell. King Lear, Hamlet, and MacBeth by William Shakespeare. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.