I have a lot of interest in theology, layman-philosophy, and history. I also read fiction sometimes. Here are some titles I have recently read (this list will keep changing) and would recommend:
- Where the Crawdads Sing - A very touching masterpiece. It is a coming-of-age story of a girl who lives in a marsh all by herself, and who has been dealt a very tough hand in life. The novel strips away the veneer of civility that masks the brokeness of humans, and in a way ultimately shows the redemptive power of love. My interpretation is, of course, biased by my beliefs, but if you want to get to know human nature a little better and be touched along the way, you need to read this book.
- 7 types of atheism - Oh yes, there are that many! John Gray is an atheist himself, and believes the most intellectually honest position an atheist can have is to acknowledge that there is no such thing as meaning or morality in life. There are several other strands of atheism, ranging from the four horsemen’s “new atheism” to the humanists, who substitute humanity for God. John also shows that the idea of atheism as “believing there is no God” is a position that only makes sense in the context of the monotheistic faiths, and atheism has an older history and a more complicated narrative than that.
- The Reason for God - Tim Keller’s NY Times bestseller takes you through why belief in God still makes sense in the modern (postmodern?) era. Keller’s arguments are aimed at humanists in particular, with particular emphasis on why God is neccessary for one to make sense of human rights and morality and liberal values. However, he presents a number of other arguments from the cosmological to the teleological.
- Sapiens - Yuval Harari’s take on human history. Much of his ideas on how society developed is speculation and cannot be proven, but if one wrote a book that only had airtight arguments it would be a very short and uninteresting read. Harari is a naturalist and his assumptions are quite clear in his reasoning. His explanation of the rise of capitalism and the modern world order are praiseworthy, but his predictions of the future fall back into the realm of speculation. A gripping read, nonetheless.
- The Book Thief - The story of a child in a Germany family that is harboring a Jew during the middle of World War II. The most interesting characteristic of this book is it’s pleasantly surprising use of words and adjectives in the most unexpected ways. Touches on a range of emotions.
- Knowledge and Christian Belief Alvin Plantinga shows that almost all belief systems use circular reasoning. Much depends on the assumptions you begin with and the way in which you think it is possible to find truth (epistemology). Plantinga shows that if you begin with humanistic assumptions, you will arrive at humanistic conclusions, and that the idea that every person is even capable of finding the truth by their reasoning is a humanistic assumption. For a naturalist, there is no such thing as truth, because human reason is guided by evolution and hence truth is only that which is convenient for you to believe to advance evolutionary processes. For a Christian, humans are by nature fallen, and cannot see spiritual truth unless moved to do so by God. All else follows from these assumptions, and hence no conclusion is as airtight as one would have you believe.
I am currently reading Augustine’s masterpiece “The City of God”, which was written as a rebuttal to Roman pagans who blamed Christians for the fall of Rome. This book also emphasizes the fact that Christians are not of any earthly city, and that our identities are not defined by political affiliations.
Two books I recently read but would not really recommend are “1984” and “The Master and Margarita”. Much of 1984’s content is widely known today as a consequence of the fall of the USSR and the dissemination of information about the repression of freedoms in communist countries, and what is not known is not very interesting. Most of the book reads as a lecture, not a story. “The Master and Margarita” has been hailed as a classic of Russian literature, but I believe much of its charm lies in its use of the language, and this charm does not shine through as clearly in the English translation.
Some authors who have profoundly shaped my worldview include C.S. Lewis, Augustine (and then Calvin, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul by Augustinian theology), and Philip Yancey.
When I was younger, I completed Enid Blyton’s series on the Secret Seven and the Famous Five, and would highly recommend them to you if you are of the school-going age (though why you would be in an obscure graduate student’s site and reading this if you were is beyond me ;)). I also have read through Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot series, and the Perry Mason series as well. These are great detective series, and would definitely recommend them in you’re in the mood for a light read.