Some Book Recommendations

Last modified: Wed Aug 6 20:46:10 MDT 2008

All the books listed on this page are works that I have read during the past couple of years, some of them being works that I have read several times over the years. I recommend all of them to anyone interested in a good read. I have written short descriptions of the works for those who many not be familiar with them.

Dayamati Richard Hayes


A Religious History of the American People


Yale University Press

For anyone seeking an exhaustive account of religion in America from the time before the coming of Europeans, to the French and Spanish and English immigrants, down through colonial times, the revolutionary era and everything up to modern times, this classic is the place to start. Furnished with an extensive bibliography, this book will direct the curious reader to countless more detailed studies of each period of time to which it dedicates a chapter. Set aside several months (or years) to read and absorb the entire book.


Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism



Almost all Quakers respond to the image of inward light, and most also are comfortable with the concept of spirit-led testimony and decision making. Not all Quakers are equally comfortable with traditional beliefs in God. This book contains thought-provoking passages from agnostic and atheistic Quakers who reject much or all of traditional Judeo-Christian teachings but who find the Quaker community a source of support for their scientific or humanistic leanings.


What Would the Founders Do?: Our Questions, Their Answers


Perseus Books Group

During the past decade or so there has been in some circles a kind of constitutional fundamentalism based on the conviction that the Constitution of the United States is best interpreted through reconstructions of the mentalities of the men who wrote it. Brookhiser's book is not at all committed to that way of thinking, but it attempts to show how various founders might think about some of the issues that divide Americans today: same-sex marriage, the “war on terror,” stem-cell research, gun control, racial issues, the role of big media, the place of worship in public life and the politics of gender. Written by a knowledgeable historian, the book is full of interesting insights, and not a few surprises.


Religion in American History: A Reader


Oxford University Press, USA

This is a collection of scholarly essays by historians and other observers of the role of religion in the United States. For anyone wishing to have a clearer understanding of the contours and controversies of American religions, this volume has reliable materials on American native religions, American Christianity (Catholic and Protestant, black and white), American Judaism and on such phenomena as feminism, fundamentalism, pluralism, occultism and several flavors of bigotry and intolerance.


Beyond Religion: A Personal Program for Building a Spiritual Life Outside the Walls of Traditional Religion

Observing that the sacred is made up of both the spiritual (which seeks transcendance and triumph) and the soulful (which recognizes and identifies with suffering and defeat), David Elkins explores paths to the sacred other than those found in traditional religious traditions. Some of the avenues he explores are the feminine, art, psychology and nature. Although the book is written primarily for those who seek the sacred outside the walls of traditional religion, it has plenty of insightful material as well for those who seek to enrich their experience of the sacred within traditional religion.


Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation



This highly readable book by one of America's leading historians of the early United States offers fascinating insights into the character of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Vivid and engaging anecdotes of their agreements and disagreements brings the colonial period to life and helps people of our times understand better how the United States took shape and how all generations of Americans have inherited some of the struggles that the founders of the nation underwent.


The Churching Of America, 1776-2005: Winners And Losers In Our Religious Economy


Rutgers University Press

Written by two sociologists, this book explores what accounts for the steady rise in church membership and attendance from the time of the American revolution (when only 17% of Americans belonged to a church and when, as the authors observe, there were probably more people overcoming hangovers on Sunday morning than attending church) to now (when more than 60% Americans belong to a church and attend with some regularity). The authors are interested not only in trying to figure out why church attendance in general has steadily expanded but also in trying to see what kinds of practices have been found in the congregations that have grown as opposed to those that have lost membership over the years. A simplified version of their hypothesis is that churches that make demands on their members—signing of pledges, tithing and other forms of commitment—have consistently thrived better than more laissez-faire organizations. Whther their hypothesis is correct, their statistics certainly show that exclusivist evangelical congregations with perfectionist moral tendencies have gained steadily in membership and influence while theologically liberal and latitudinarian congregations have steadily declined in membership and influence.


Truth of the Heart


Quaker Books

George Fox (1624–1691) founded the movement called Children of the Light, disparagingly called the Quakers, and now called the Religious Society of Friends. Fox kept extensive journals and wrote many letters. This book, edited by Rex Ambler, presents excerpts of Fox's writings, arranged by topic. On the left-hand pages are Fox's words as they were published in the 1830s, and on the right-hand pages are translations of those words into twenty-first century English. The book is provided with a glossary and a helpful essay on the task of interpreting the words of George Fox.


The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics



Bound in a single volume are seven of Lewis's books on spirituality written during the 1940s. In this volume are Mere Christiniaty, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles and A Grief Observed. Rarely has any author made it so clear how an intelligent person can be a believer in Christianity without forfeiting his rational mind and his penchant for skeptical inquiry, and without making one feel a fool if one cannot agree fully with his conclusions. Few authors dare explore uncomfortable issues as profoundly as Lewis or in such elegant prose.


The Cosmic Trilogy


Pan Books

Bound in a single volume are Lewis's science fiction fantasy classics Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, first published in 1938, 1943 and 1945 respectively. Although Lewis explicitly says that the books are not allegorical, they clearly reflect his tendency to ponder theological issues. The issues are presented in these three novels in an engagingly imaginative setting. The novels complement his pondering of these issues in his well-known essays.


Listening Spirituality. Volume I: Personal Practices Among Friends

Openings Press

The first volume in a three-volume set, this book focuses on individual spiritual practices that Quakers have traditionally done and that modern Quakers are experimenting with doing. Patricia Loring offers a rich variety of contemplative practices, ranging from traditional Christian practices of meditating on passages from the Bible and journaling and self-examination guided through questions to traditional Buddhist practices of introspective awareness. The book explores personal prayer taking the form of talking to God and personal prayer taking the form of open-hearted listening. Patricia Loring makes it clear that not everything in this book will speak to everyone's condition, but she offers many practices in the hope that the reader will find some of personal benefit. This first volume sets the stage for the secon volume, which focuses on communal prayer and worship as done in Quaker meetings. The projected third volume of the series will focus on Quaker testimonies and ethical responsibility.


Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System


Fortress Press

An excellent study of America's prison system by authors affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee. The book has chapters on such topics as the history of the US prison system, the dynamics of crime and punishment in America, and the culture of punishment that prevails in American system. After taking a hard look at the American prison system, the authors offer an alternative vision of what a system of justice could be.


American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation


Random House Trade Paperbacks

Jon Meacham is a journalist who has presented a thoughtful and informative series of chapters on how religious beliefs (and prejudices) have shaped public policy in the United States. There are chapters on the colonial period, the time of the American revolution, the civil war ear, the years of the great depression and the civil rights era. Meacham's balanced account is likely to bring both a little comfort and a little dismay to just about everyone who has deeply entrenched positions on the role and value of religion in American political life.


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


Penguin Books

Originally published in 1985, this classic study of the effect of television on American political culture is still as insightful as it was when it first came out. Postman, who studied with Marshall McLuhan, observes that the medium of print is far more conducive to careful argumentation and nuance than is the medium of television, and that as fewer people read and more people get their information (and opinions) from television, democracy can only suffer a decline. The message is sobering, but the writing is witty and worthy of revisiting every four years as Americans put themselves through the farcical circus of choosing a new batch of benchwarmers in the Congress and the White House.


Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity Into Our Lives


Random House UK

This is one of my favorite books of all times. Jim Pym is a British Quaker as well as a Buddhist. He says that he does not like to identify himself as a Quaker Buddhist or as a Buddhist Quaker but as a man who is a Buddhist and a Quaker. This book is mostly about Quaker individual and communal worship, testimonies and decision-making processes. Whether one is a Quaker or just curious about Quaker life, the book is informative and engagingly written.


The universe story: From the primordial flaring forth to the ecozoic era—a celebration of the unfolding of the cosmos


HarperSan Francisco

An astrophysicist and a historian of world religions have collaborated to tell the story of the world in which we live in a way meant to inspire human beings to live creatively in times when our collective behavior threatens large-scale destruction of the planet on which we live. Convinced that every era needs myths—that is, value-bearing stories that shape the way people think and relate to one another morally and aesthetically—designed to cope with the crises of that era, Swimme and Berry have offered up a creation story for a generation of people whose orientation to life has been strongly influenced by science. The Universe Story is a religious myth perfectly suited for those who feel comfortable with the Big Bang, Darwinian evolutionary theory, and geologic time and who are concerned with human ways of dealing with their environment. The book is bound to inspire anyone who wishes to be both scientific and spiritual.


U.S. Constitution (Little Books of Wisdom)


Applewood Books

This compact edition is small enough to carry around on one's person at all times. It is ideally suited for anyone who likes to brush up on the Constitution of the United States while waiting for a bus or digesting a lunch of Vienna sausages, French fries, Canadian bacon and Danish pastries.