Chosen by Arthur C. Brooks
Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and the author of 11 books, including The Conservative Heart, a recent best-seller. His latest is Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt.
Caesar and Christ by Will Durant (1944). The third of 11 volumes in Will and Ariel Durant’s Pulitzer Prize–winning series The Story of Civilization deftly captures the forces that catalyzed the twin rises of the Roman Empire and Christianity, as well as those that precipitated Rome’s fall. Impressive in its scope and depth, it calls to mind modern America—and the similarities it evokes prove haunting.
Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright (2017). Wright’s account of Buddhism—supported by a fascinating synthesis of philosophy, psychology, and spiritual practice—has given me valuable insight into what makes for a happier and more meaningful life.
The Dhammapada translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita (1985). The sayings of the Buddha are a treasure trove of simple yet profound moral instruction. Buddharakkhita, a prominent Buddhist monk, writer, and activist who died in 2013, created an elegant and lucid translation of the Dhammapada for first-time readers. I have been reading it semi-continuously for years.
Socrates by Paul Johnson (2011). One of the best accounts I’ve read of the life of this man whose thought still undergirds so much of Western civilization. Johnson situates Socrates in his particular historical context and also illustrates why his contributions to the life of the mind remain as important for us now as they were in the 5th century B.C.
This Tremendous Lover by M. Eugene Boylan (1946). The classic by the renowned Irish priest and Trappist monk is a font of wisdom for those in search of spiritual direction. Boylan explains Catholic theology in clear terms and provides guidance on how to integrate it into one’s life.
The Four Cardinal Virtues by Josef Pieper (1954). Amid the hectic routines of daily life, I find it far too easy to lose sight of the habits and virtues to which I should be paying close attention. This series of masterful essays by the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper has been a steady companion, reminding me both of what is truly significant and what it means to pursue a life of genuine virtue, not just success or mere pleasure. ■