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5 Books You Should Read Before You Die

by | May 20, 2022 | Reviews | 0 comments

There are many “lists” of books to read. But if you had to pick just five books to recommend to someone that they should read before they die, what would those books be?

These are my “5 books to read before you die” that I am recommending.

The Bible

The first is the Bible. This is an obvious choice for Christians, but even for nonbelievers, this is my top book to recommend. Thirty-one percent of the entire population of the world (7.3 billion) is Christian.[1] Christianity is the largest religious group in the world. While there is much hand-wringing in the United States about the decline of Christianity (and I would agree that the actions of some claiming to be Christian is cause for concern), according to Gallup, 69 percent of Americans identify as Christians.[2]

By far, Christianity is the majority religion in the U.S. Whether you ascribe to it or not, if you are in any position of leadership, whether that be as a manager or a judicial or political office, it is probably a good idea to know where the majority of the population is coming from and how they understand thing.

Second, if you aren’t familiar with the Bible, it will be next to impossible for you to read any work of Western thought in the past two thousand years and truly understand it because that thought was formed by Judeo-Christian values, and primarily from the lens of Christianity. You will miss references, meaning in passages will completely elude you if you don’t understand the foundation it was written upon. Even the anti-Christian and Enlightenment writers such as Voltaire and Camus were writing against something. How can you really understand their arguments if you don’t understand what they were writing against?

Years ago in a discussion on an online forum, someone signified that there were done trying to explain something with the words “pearls before swine.” The person they were arguing with said, “Are you calling me a pig!?!”  I laughed when I read it, but I really don’t know if the person was serious or not. Were they joking or did they actually not understand the meaning of the metaphor? If they had read the Bible, they would have understood it, but many people, even those sitting in churches weekly, don’t.

Get a Bible and read it!

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

The next on my list is The Abolition of Man  by C.S. Lewis. The book was written in 1943 as both a note of warning and a call by Lewis to his fellow academics to embrace truth and reject relativism. This was in the middle of World War II when Hitler was terrorizing Europe. Lewis makes the argument that if there is no absolute truth and a standard of right and wrong outside of ourselves, that the result is “might makes right” and that no one can condemn the actions of another.

It is listed as one of the most significant works of the 20th century by several organizations. It is a short book, more an essay than a book, but it is a very dense read and can take reading through it several times to really grasp what Lewis is saying. When I was in the cultural apologetics program at HBU, this was a book that everyone in the program read (that has since changed unfortunately) and when we launched An Unexpected Journal in 2018, our first issue was on The Abolition of Man.

If you are reading The Abolition of Man for the first time, you are fortunate in that there is now a great resource to understanding the book. Dr. Michael Ward (of Planet Narnia fame) published a guide to AOM called After Humanity. I did an interview with Dr. Ward last year. Reading After Humanity along with The Abolition of Man will be a great help to really understanding the work. Then be sure to pick up a copy of the AUJ issue on The Abolition of Man. You can either read it online, pick up a free digital copy by signing up for our newsletter, or buy a print version online.

1984 by George Orwell

The next book on my list of 5 books to read before you die is 1984 by George Orwell. In the U.S., this is usually standard assigned reading for high schoolers. Because of that, I would think everyone would be familiar with it. But based on some of the comments I’ve read on social media where people use a term from the book in the completely opposite way  of how it is meant in the book … I have to think that a lot of people skipped English class.

An interesting note about 1984, The Abolition of Man was published in 1943. Lewis published the third book in his Space / Cosmic / Ransom trilogy, That Hideous Strength in 1945 which is a fictionalized representation of the dangers he describes in AOM. George Orwell reviewed the book and liked it — except for the “supernatural parts.[3]

Orwell published 1984 in 1949. 1984 is about the exact same topics Lewis discuss in Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength. The difference is that Orwell, seeing no hope for humanity other than humanity itself, had a very nihilistic view of the outcome. Orwell actually makes Lewis’s point better than Lewis makes himself in That Hideous Strength. Without a firm and solid truth, humanity can’t stand, and without a Redeemer and originator of that truth, there is no hope.

Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

The fourth book on my list is Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I’ve done a review of this in the past, wrote an essay on the book for An Unexpected Journal. This is my favorite book by Lewis (or at least a close tie with The Great Divorce). The point of this book is that we can’t even truly know who we are ourselves until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us and restores us.

Part of our problem in the U.S. today is extreme tribalism. We think right and wrong is determined by who we align ourselves with and groups we are a part of. If we ground our identity in anything other than Christ, that is idolatry and a false gospel. I’ve talked to many Christians over the past couple of years that say they feel detached. That is a hard thing, but I think in the end it is a good thing — because maybe those former attachments were blinding us to the truth we should have in Christ and who he has made us to be.

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

The last book on my list is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and I love a lot of his books like East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, but one of the reasons The Moon is Down is my favorite book by Steinbeck is that in it he shows that even people we think are our enemies are human beings.[4]

I’ve read that Steinbeck was contracted to write the book as propaganda to be distributed in countries occupied by the Nazis. The Norwegians so took the book to heart that Steinbeck was awarded the King Haakon the VII’s Freedom Cross for the story.[5]

Yes, it is a story to motivate to stand for freedom, but Steinbeck does it in a way that he never dehumanizes those he is encouraging to stand against. Just as we don’t truly know who we are until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us, we don’t know the situation the other person is going through, where they have been, or what has brought them to this place.

Those are my recommendations. The common thread through them is that truth is important. It is only when we cling to truth and are willing to let go of the lies that we can truly know who we are, and that everyone is in the same boat.


[1] Harriet Sherwood, “Religion: Why Faith Is Becoming More and More Popular,” The Guardian, August 27, 2018, sec. News, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/27/religion-why-is-faith-growing-and-what-happens-next.

[2] Gallup Inc, “How Religious Are Americans?,” Gallup.Com, last modified December 23, 2021, accessed May 20, 2022, https://news.gallup.com/poll/358364/religious-americans.aspx.

[3] George Orwell’s review of That Hideous Strength was first published in the Manchester Evening News on August 16, 1945. It was reprinted in The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed Peter Davison, Vol XVII (1998) No. 2720 (first half), pp 250-251. It is avaiable online at Lewisiana.nl http://lewisiana.nl/orwell/

[4] Stephanie Forster, “Review of John Steinbeck Goes to War: The Moon Is Down as Propaganda,” The Steinbeck Review 3, no. 2 (2006): 161–164.  This journal article is interesting in that the author points out that Steinbeck was criticized by contemporaries for his “humanistic depiction of German soldiers.”

[5] “How John Steinbeck Inspired the Resistance in WWII | HistoryNet,” accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.historynet.com/how-john-steinbeck-inspired-the-resistance-in-wwii/.