What are the best books you've ever read? What books have had the biggest impact on your thinking? What books have you enjoyed and appreciated enough to read a second time?
For many individuals the Bible tops their list because of its richness in history, literature, wisdom, and personal spiritual significance.
But outside of the Bible itself, what books make your best-ever list?
Some people prefer novels, and there are certainly scores of good ones that have stood the test of time.
My own list of meaningful favorites, however, focuses on nonfiction. In no particular order here are my top five:
• "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. First published in 1936, it is rich in stories and practical wisdom. At its heart it is a book on personal fulfillment and satisfaction in how we relate to others. I first read it in 1998 and underlined meaningful lines in each chapter. I read it again in 2007 and have referred to it again since then. Particularly insightful was Carnegie's discussion on how the right mental attitude goes a long way towards our own happiness and how others perceive us. He cited Abraham Lincoln saying, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
• "Winning Every Day" by Lou Holtz. This is another book I have read twice; both times I underlined a lot and made some notes. Holtz held college head football coaching jobs at William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina, and currently works as an analyst for ESPN. He has also been a highly sought-after motivational speaker. "Winning Every Day" has several football anecdotes, but it's far from simply being a book about football. It is a book about attitude, handling adversity, having purpose, good leadership, hard work, and excellence.
• "Life's Greatest Lessons, 20 Things that Matter" by Hal Urban. Dr. Hal Urban is a teacher, author, speaker and a proponent of character education in schools. His book "Life's Greatest Lessons" is another informative and insightful read that helps clarify the things that are important in life. It is a good book for teachers, parents, grandparents, and young people. Early in his book, Urban wrote, "I discovered long ago that regardless of age, people are eager to learn when it means understanding life more deeply and living it more fully." And as you read each page, you will embrace the idea of doing just that.
• "Citizen Soldiers" by Stephen Ambrose. The late Stephen Ambrose was inspired as a young college student by one of his history professors. Students engaged in historical research so they would, in the professor's words, "be contributing to the world's knowledge." Ambrose was motivated to do original research ever since, adding to the world's knowledge, producing several volumes of fascinating history. His books about World War II helped inspire Steven Spielberg to make the movie "Saving Private Ryan." In my view, "Citizen Soldiers" is Ambrose's best book. It tells the role of American soldiers in Europe in World War II, from their landings on D-Day until the day of the German surrender. It is history that in many places reads as good as a novel. Through his research and through his interviews with World War II veterans, Ambrose gained a deep respect for their service and it shows in the pages of his books. He wrote, "At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn't want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed."
• "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. This is a book in which the brilliant Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis defends his faith, or more accurately, explains how the Christian faith defends itself by being reasonable and logical, and by standing firm in spite of being assailed by critics for centuries. Lewis, as you may recall, authored the series of children's books entitled "The Chronicles of Narnia," which have been made in to three movies since 2005. "Mere Christianity," however, is a book that is deep, intellectual, fascinating, and practical. Lewis begins by going in to great detail to demonstrate that God exists. From there, he explains what Christianity is. Sometimes "Mere Christianity" is deep and you need to bring your thinking cap. At other times it is refreshingly practical and makes perfect sense, leaving the reader thinking, "Wow. That's well-put. Why didn't I understand that before?"
Each of these books had a deep impression on me. Perhaps they would on you as well.
David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.