Books I recommend to young adults
James Schall, Another Sort of Learning. Read this while you’re still in college. Its primary value rests in the writers Schall introduces (the lists of books in the back of each chapter are excellent).
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. All of Lewis’ books should be read, but I highly suggest this book and think you should read it early in your studies. It helps you think like an intelligent Christian. I also highly recommend The Screwtape Letters. For commentaries on Lewis, I suggest Gilbert Meilaender’s A Taste for the Other and Peter Kreeft’s C.S. Lewis: A Critical Essay.
Montague Brown, The One-Minute Philosopher. This easy book will provide you with a coherent explanation of virtues and vices. Highly recommended, especially if you’re just starting your studies. I wouldn’t read it front to back; just pick it up and read the entries that interest you. I suspect you’ll eventually read all of them.
Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, and The End of Christendom. Muggeridge savagely slashed against the errors of modernity, but with love. I know that seems inconsistent, but he did it. I’m assuming the cultural errors of the 1960s and 1970s will continue to be the cultural errors of the near future.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind. This is not a handbook about becoming a good little Republican. It’s a parade of biographies that illustrate how to apply the highest truths to societal and political issues. Another Kirk book I loved: Enemies of the Permanent Things.
Charles Rice, Beyond Abortion. Professor Rice was one of my earliest Catholic intellectual influences. He was my torts and jurisprudence professor at Notre Dame. This book is a neat (though strident) look at modern legalistic errors (you don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate it).
Dinesh D’Souza, The Catholic Classics (volumes I and II). These books introduce you to twenty Catholic classics. Whether you follow his advice to read these classics, the background information and summary of the books is invaluable to understanding some of the best Catholic literature.
E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed. A great way to begin to understand some of the highest (and mystical) truths of our existence.
Understanding Fiction and Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. Two indispensable books if you want to understand the fiction writer’s and poet’s crafts. Flannery O’Connor (thought by some to be the best fiction writer of the twentieth century) relied on Understanding Fiction when developing her art. If you are interested in writing, I also suggest you read Barbara Ueland’s If You Want To Write; it’s a little sappy, but it explains the type of attitude you must have if you expect to write well.
E. Michael Jones, Degenerate Moderns. This is a great book for understanding the sinful roots of modern intellectual errors. Very well written.
Henry Veatch, Aristotle, A Contemporary Appreciation. This is an excellent introduction into Aristotle’s thought and it will help tell you how you should think. Although it’s an introductory book, it’s not written at such an elementary level that it’s painful to read. A similar book by Mortimer Adler suffers from that problem.
Herbert A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. This book isn’t nearly as narrow in scope as the title implies. The title of the first two chapters (“The Theology of Fallen Man” and “The Psychology of Fallen Man”) should adequately indicate the broad scope of its analysis.
Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain. The questions with which Merton struggled and the answer he found (the monastic life) are relevant to any Christian in any age.
Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being. These are the collected letters of Flannery O’Connor. They will give you insight into writing, religion, and how to live. Of all the books listed here, this is probably the lightest read.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. Chesterton is not easy to read, but the effort of getting used to him will be amply rewarded. He was a powerful thinker who grappled with the heaviest issues lightly. Any of his other books are also highly recommended, especially The Dumb Ox and The Thing: Why I Am A Catholic.
Josef Pieper, Leisure, The Basis of Culture. This is a difficult book and it must be read slowly and carefully, but its message is indispensable: Don’t be busy all the time; take time to do nothing. He explains the reasons as only a first-rate philosopher can. Also highly recommended: A Guide to Thomas Aquinas.
Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts. A neat and somewhat inspiring book about a series of converts to the Catholic faith in twentieth-century England.
John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture. This might be a quixotic book, but at least it shows how things could be and how they should be. Beautifully written.
Etienne Gilson, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages and God and Philosophy. These are good introductory books into metaphysics. Also try Jacques Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy.
Paul Vitz, Psychology as Religion. This book will help make sure you avoid much of pop (and false) psychology that passes for wisdom today.
Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way. This book provides a good overview of the Orthodox Church’s religious and spiritual practices. I’ve always enjoyed Eastern spirituality, and this book is an excellent introduction to it. In this vein, I would also recommend John Meyendorff’s St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality.
This list may seem daunting. Indeed, it is daunting if you commit yourself to read these books, then also read all the good books listed in these books—and also commit yourself to read the great books of civilization (like Aristotle and Pascal). You shouldn’t do that. No one, Fr. James Schall likes to point out, has time in one life to read all the great books that ought to be read. That’s all right, though, because there are many paths to the truth. When you read, you ought to be accumulating knowledge and familiarity with great writers and ideas—but most important, you ought to be trying to discern truth, to figure out how and why things are, and how to live your life. Read particular books closely, attentively, and don’t worry about the other books that you cannot read because you’re spending so much time with the book at hand. Such worrying is a sure way to ruin the delightful pursuit of wisdom.