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John Mark Reynolds’s Top 20 Life-changing Books

John Mark Reynolds, 2004.

I am reminded by the folk at America’s best magazine, Touchstone, that C.S. Lewis published a famous “top ten list” of the books which most influenced his life. Let me take a shot at this and request other lists from readers. I am not listing the best books or the books that impact me now, but the books that have influenced the course of my life. To make the top ten list (or the close 20) is to have read the book more than five times, carefully, and not for work. The top ten list must have influenced my life for more than five of my forty years. Books in the top ten list should still be meaningful, thus giving some slight preference to the grown up me. The only rule for those playing along is that you must provide one sentence (no more than two!) of what the book meant to you.

1. The Bible. I don’t remember a time when the stories of this book were not being read to me and I read it every day. My parents raised me in an atmosphere super-saturated with this Book of Books.

2. That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis). Torrey is based on the image of Saint Anne’s in this book. This is the truest account of the state of the West written in the last one hundred years.

3. Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). I have read this book every year of my life since seventh grade. Even the smallest hobbit can do great things for God.

4. Republic (Plato). The two years spent with this book and Al Geier were the most academically productive of my life. Since then, I have come to find almost every truth needed in the pages of this book, saving only the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5. Nicholas and Alexandra (Massie). This book seized my imagination and shaped my view of politics forever.

6. A Severe Mercy (Vanauken). My favorite book on love, marriage, and the problem of pain.

7. Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis). I still hope the elevator in Sutherland will open to Narnia someday.

8. Divine Comedy (Dante). The most influential book of the last four years of my life.

9. Timaeus (Plato). This is the first and last word on science for me.

10. Reason in the Balance (Johnson). The book that still shapes the educational experience at Torrey.


11. Abolition of Man (Lewis). The best essay ever written? I have never stopped arguing with it.

12. A Night to Remember (Lord). My dreams are still haunted from reading this book as a young boy. My views of cultural decline are captured by the death of the White Star liner.

13. Symposium (Plato). It nearly helped destroy my life when I misunderstood its profound message about the nature of love.

14. The Complete Sherlock Holmes (especially Hound) (Doyle). I wish I could live in London in 1890 with Mrs. Hudson bringing me breakfast on a silver tray.

15. The Death of Arthur (Malory). Not a week goes by when I do not think on the Matter of Britain. Sin destroys even Camelot.

16. Complete Poems (Blake). Not good for my soul, but at one time I was guided by them. Fading, but still a powerful influence.

17. Jane Eyre (Brontë). My favorite novel in English (of the Great Books) and a true account of Christian love.

18. Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories/Bible Stories (Maxwell). I read these again and again. Moralistic, maudlin, and true.

19. The Dark is Rising Series (Cooper). Like Blake, generally a bad influence, but read and read again. Summary: What if pagans took over all the good parts of Christianity?


20. How Should We Then Live? (Schaeffer). Cultural apologetics god-father. Fading influence on my life, but at one time was a masterwork in my thinking.

and 20. Christianity and the Nature of Science (Moreland). I kept it by my bed in grad school. It was a model to me for what was possible.

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