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A List of Influential, Useful, and Entertaining Books

  • Rob Shearer Owner of Greenleaf Press and Home-Schooling Father
  • Updated Apr 04, 2002
A List of Influential, Useful, and Entertaining Books

I admit it - I’m a biblio-holic. I actually take seriously Erasmus’ motto, "When I get a little money, I buy books; if any is left over, I buy food and clothes." In my teenage years, I literally spent the clothing allowance that my parents gave me on books. I read voraciously and rapidly. I’m too impatient to read in any way other than rapidly. Unless they are extremely intricate, I can polish off most novels in an evening or two. My only complaint about The Lord of the Rings (at 1500+ pages) is that it is too short.

My voracious appetite has led me to read many things that turned out to be less than completely productive or edifying. "Of the making of books there is no end." I have a CD-ROM version of Books-In-Print, and it tells me that there is, at present, something like 1.2 million books in print. Most of them are not worth my time. But, based on my own eccentric tastes and dabbling, I thought I would share some of the cream of the crop. In future columns (if there is enough interest), I’ll try to review more recently published books and recommend the best of the more recently published titles.

The books I have listed below have been those I continue to refer back to. Some, I first read over twenty years ago, but the ideas I gleaned from them continue to influence my thinking. My list of "most influential" reflects my convictions as a Christian, a lover of history and learning, and as a father and a husband. Here they are, with some notes on each one.

The Most Influential Books

Confessions, St. Augustine
Augustine is one of the giants of church history. He was a successful, pagan professor of philosophy when he was captivated by the gospel and converted by the preaching of Ambrose of Milan. Interestingly, what first drew him to church was the beauty of the congregational singing at the cathedral. And what prevented him for a long while from becoming a Christian were not intellectual doubts, but the prospect of having to reform his licentious ways. The prayers of his mother, Saint Monica, availed much, and the Spirit did bring him to faith. He then used his formidable intellect in the service of the faith and the church. The Confessions is his autobiography, brutally honest and very compelling. The tone is reverent, grateful, and full of praise and worship for God.

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
100 years from now, there are few 20th century authors who will still be read, but C.S. Lewis is almost certain to be one of them - much to the chagrin of more "progressive" intellectuals. Lewis was Oxford Professor of Renaissance Literature and one of the great intellects of our time. Yet he had an incredible ability to present the gospel in terms understandable by everyone. My faculty advisor in college became a Christian listening to the radio addresses that were the basis for this book. Many others have as well.

The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer
Dr. Schaeffer is another 20th century writer whose books show signs of surviving the test of time. I read this book first when I was 17 and it opened my eyes to the answers that the Bible provides to the tough questions posed by 20th century philosophy. Schaeffer deals with the questions honestly - and they are good questions - but shows how the answers provided by the modern world are totally inadequate to the reality of man and his history. God is real, He is there, and He has spoken.

Men and Marriage, George Gilder
A brilliant analysis of the sexual revolution that clearly shows how and why the institution of marriage is central to the survival of civilization. Men are barbarians and women tame them. They do this by using the institution of marriage. Destroy marriage and men will remain barbarians.

The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom
The shocking truth about the mind of "generation X." The one thing they know is that there are no absolutes. Bloom gives examples from his own dealings with students of how much learning and culture has disappeared in the last few generations.

For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
One of Dr. Schaeffer’s daughters provides practical suggestions on how to best educate children. This book is almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of interest in the writings and teaching methods of Charlotte Mason.

Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto
"Real education reform would cost so little, that it will never be done." Strong words from the former NY State Teacher of the Year. From the inside he describes why public education cannot be reformed. But he does point to hopeful alternatives, among them home schooling and teaching co-ops.

Favorite History Books

Luther’s Progress to the Diet of Worms, E. Gordon Rupp
A short, brilliant, and fascinating account of the turbulent 3 years in Luther’s life from the time he posted the 95 theses to the moment he stood before the Emperor, threatened with death if he did not recant his views.

The Armada, Garrett Mattingly
One of the best written historical accounts ever. It begins with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and concludes with the return of the (few) surviving Spanish ships and sailors.

Struggle for a Continent: The French & Indian Wars, Albert Marrin
Ever wonder why George Washington was chosen to lead the Continental Army? This book tells why. Colonel Washington served as commander of the Virginia militia attached to the British regulars sent to fight the French and Indians in the Ohio Valley. He was with them at their greatest defeat at Ft. Duquesne (now the site of Pittsburgh). A great writer, and a part of our history that is too much overlooked.

Lee’s Lieutenants, Douglas Southall Freeman
Freeman won the Pulitzer Prize for his 4-volume biography of Lee. The material he had left over, he then compiled in this 3-volume study of every officer of general rank who served under Lee during the war. After each battle he discusses the performance of Lee’s subordinates.

Favorite Popular Literature

Patriot Games, Tom Clancy
I like techno-thrillers. And Clancy is the best in the genre.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard
Take two obscure characters from Hamlet and re-tell events from their perspective. Along the way play with the ideas of chance, fate, free will, and predestination. Oh, and include lots of puns and word play.

Brother Cadfael’s Penance, Ellis Peters
Brother Cadfael of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul at Shrewsbury is not your ordinary medieval monk. He entered the monastery at 40, after having served as a knight in the crusades. His experience in the world, as well as his knowledge of plants and herbs (at the monastery, he is in charge of the infirmary), is a great help whenever he is called upon by his friend the sheriff to solve a murder mystery.

Pigs Have Wings, P.G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse is the author who gave us Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, his butler, two of the most comic characters of the 20th century. All of his books are delightful, complicated comedy-of-manners with hilarious and barely-to-be-believed plot resolutions.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien was an Oxford Professor and still one of the authorities on medieval literature, especially Beowulf. In this epic tale, he creates races, languages, and peoples, each with their own character and history. The most admirable are the hobbits, simple folk, who succeed in a quest in spite of long odds, not by strength of arms, but by determination and devotion to duty.

Rob and Cyndy Shearer are the owners of Greenleaf Press,, and have been home schooling their 10 children forever. Rob attended Davidson College in North Carolina where he majored in history (spending his junior year as an exchange student in Germany). After college, he and Cyndy married and moved to the west coast where Rob attended Stanford University and worked towards a doctorate in History and Humanities. Cyndy received her undergraduate degree in English from Queens College in Charlotte and then a masters degree in English from the University of Virginia.

You can e-mail Rob and Cyndy at or call them at either 1-800-311-1508  or 1-615-449-1617.