The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher


The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen both came to my attention around the same time before they were published. I knew I wanted to read them as soon as they were published. I knewDreher as the author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, a memoir on Dante’s influence on Dreher and Esolen as a translator of and lecturer on (Catholic Courses) Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradise, as well as a translator of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things: De rerum natura. In The Benedict Option, Dreher dreadfully diagnoses the malady that ails America today, including it’s intellectual history, gives a poignant prognosis of it, and prescribes a contrarian cure to counter our current cultural carelessness. If you read only one of the two books (Dreher’s or Esolen’s), read Dreher’s. It describes in detail the problem and the solution.

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen


Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen and The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher both came to my attention around the same time before they were published. I knew I wanted to read them as soon as they were published. I knew Esolen as a translator of and lecturer on (Catholic Courses) Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradise, as well as a translator of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things: De rerum natura, and Dreher as the author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, a memoir on Dante’s influence on Dreher. In Out of the Ashes, Esolen issues a scathing critique of American culture or, rather, lack thereof since, Esolen argues, America has no culture, only mass habits and calls for a return to apple pie, baseball, and church. Esolen is not as detailed as Dreher in his diagnosis or treatment of the malady that ails America today, but is worth reading along with Dreher.

The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy by Heinrich A. Rommen

First published in German in 1936 and in English translation in 1947, Rommen’s book is a excellent primer on the natural law. This edition is a 1998 reprint published by Liberty Fund. In Part I, Rommen covers the history of the idea of natural law from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Age of Scholasticism, the turning point in Hugo Grotius, and the Age of Individualism and Rationalism to a turning away from natural law in favor of positivism. In Part II, Rommen argues that the idea of natural law is nevertheless perennial and is the only way positivism is legitimated. Rommen argues against the positivist view that will makes law in favor of the natural law view that truth makes law, while arguing against the rationalist individualist natural law of the Skeptics and Stoics in favor of the metaphysical natural law of St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s a tour de force.

I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead by Byron Katie

I love Byron Katie! And I love her husband, Stephen Mitchell! Her work is Buddhist. His is Taoist. They make a great couple! Like Loving What Is, I listened to the abridged edition of this book because it is narrated by Katie herself. Since the book is dialogue-based, and features Katie doing “The Work,” it has to be experienced in her own sweet voice. “The Work” is deceptively simple: “Judge your neigbor. Write it down. Ask four questions. Turn it around.” Yet it is powerful. Like Roman Stoicism, Katie’s Buddhism offers freedom in assenting only to truth and loving what is.

Genesis: A New Translation of the Classic Biblical Stories by Stephen Mitchell

Stephen Mitchell is one of my favorite translators of classic biblical literature, Robert Alter being the other. Mitchell’s translation of Job was the first in verse (The Hebrew original is in verse.) Alter’s translation of Job was the second in verse. As is the case in Mitchell’s translation of Job, his introduction alone is worth the price of the book. In Genesis, Mitchell is erudite and poetic as always. As usual, he does not hesitate to make emendations to the text whenever he deems them necessary and, as always, he makes note of them, giving ample justification, when he does.

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

The thesis of Walton’s book is that Genesis 1 is not about material origins, but rather functional origins. He argues persuasively that Genesis 1 is a temple text in the context of ancient cosmology. A four-page summary of the argument of the book can be found in Genesis 1 as Temple Text in the Context of Ancient Cosmology Summary Description by the author. Walton provides Biblical and ancient Near Eastern evidence to back up his thesis. Walton demonstrates that a correct interpretation of Genesis 1 depends on a correct understanding of the worldview of its author(s).

The Love Poems of Rumi by Rumi and Nader Khalili

Thanks in large part to Coleman Barks, Rumi is the bestselling poet in America today. But the Persian poet has been perennial worldwide for centuries. Born in modern-day Afghanistan, Rumi met his Sufi master, Shams al-Tabrizi while studying Islamic jurisprudence in Syria. From there he went to Konya in modern-day Turkey where he wrote his Masnavi, one of the most important pieces of Persian literature. Like Barks, Iranian-American architect and Cal-Earth Institute founder, Nader Khalili, translates Rumi with the sensitivity of a poet, but from the original Persian.

Caesarean Moon Births: Calculations, Moon Sighting, and the Prophetic Way by Hamza Yusuf

This book is an excellent example of Islamic scholarship by an erudite scholar who is one of The Muslim 500. Notwithstanding, it is written for the lay person. While its intended audience is Muslim American, it is of interest to anyone who would like to get inside the mind of a Muslim scholar and learn how the 1,400-year-old tradition of Islamic scholarship works. Since the sources the author draws upon are the Qur’an and the Sunnah, this is technically a legal treatise. So, if you’re intestested in sharia and how it is interpreted, this book will give you a sense of that.

The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit: A Collection of Essays About Changing the World by AJ Leon

I first saw AJ Leon interviewed on Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. Next I watched AJ’s TED Talk, This Is Not Your Practice Life and some interviews of him and his wife, Melissa on YouTube. One of the things that really struck me about AJ was his relationship with his wife. I decided to read his book. My key takeaway from AJ’s book was that “Confidence is not nearly as important as courage” and “acting like you can.” I recommend AJ’s book to anyone who hates their job and, like AJ was before he quit his, is living for the weekend.

Lit: How to Get Your Soul Back by Bryan Ward

Lit: How to Get Your Soul Back by Bryan Ward is only available on the author’s website. I stumbled upon an article by the author online and ended up on his website where I read through one of those long sales pitches and wasn’t about to buy. Certainly not for $9.99. But the copy was so well-written, I sent a link to my friend Shiloh Logan. Shiloh bought the book and shared it with me. I’m glad I read it. My key takeaway from it was not to expect my wife to be my muse but to make her my masterpiece instead and to cultivate my art to cultivate my marriage and family.

On the Shortness of Life: Life is Long if You Know How to use It by Seneca and C. D. N. Costa

This book contains three of Seneca’s Moral Essays: “On the Shortness of Life,” “Consolation to Helvia,” and “On Tranquility of Mind.” As in the first of the Letters from a Stoic, in “On the Shortness on Life,” written to his friend Paulinus, Seneca will wake you up from your slumber and call on you to live your life fully. In “Consolation to Helvia,” written to his mother upon his being exiled to Corsica after being accused of adultery with the Emperor Caligula’s sister Julia Livilla, Seneca will call into question the value you place on national identity and material possessions and remind you things can always be worse. In “On Tranquility of Mind,” written to his friend Serenus, Seneca will make you question your priorities.

The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno (Pt. 1) (English and Italian Edition) by Dante Alighieri and Robin Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick’s is one of the two best English verse translations of Dante’s Inferno. Robert Pinsky’s is the other, but he only translated the Inferno. Merwin’s translation of the Purgatorio only a perfect companion to Pinsky’s Inferno, but there’s no translation of the Paradiso only to complete the Comedy. Though not in terza rima like Dante’s original or even some English verse translations like Dorothy Sayers’ or, Robert Pinsky’s, Kirkpatrick’s poetry sings, and it sings in tune with Dante’s original. Kirkpatrick’s translation moves along with Dante’s and matches his tone and diction, and even his highs and lows of register, throughout. Kirkpatrick also translated the Purgatorio and Paradiso.

The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam by Thomas Cleary

Cleary is one of the best translators of the Qur’an. While his translation of the entire Qur’an, The Qur’an: A New Translation, is out of print and costly, this “rosary of readings and recitations” is in print and economical. The selected chapters and verses represent “the heart of Islam” inasmuch as they demonstrate what preeminent Islamic theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111) called “the six aims of the Qur’an.” The selections portray “the essential wisdom, beauty, and majesty” of the Qur’an. In addition to Cleary’s translation in verse, which captures some of the aesthetic value of the Qur’an, especially when read aloud, Cleary’s copious linguistic notes expand on his translation, elucidating key Qur’anic terms.

Martial’s Epigrams: A Selection by Garry Wills

Martial ranges from bold to bawdy, from irreverant to iredeemable and from racy to raunchy in his poetry and Garry Wills captures the whole gamut in rhyming verse. Martial deals with baldness, banqueting, and body odor; marital fidelity, marital infidelity, and misogyny; tributes to emperors, tributes to friends, and tributes to the dead, but the best of the best of his epigrams are on the simple life and on the writing profession. His epigrams on the simple life are as fresh as Marie Kondo’s or The Minimalists’ and his epigrams on the the writing profession are as incisive, insightful, and inspiring as Ann Lamott’s or Steven Pressfield’s. Martial mockingly rhymes like a rapper in denigrating his detractors.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Clayne

The War of Art is a tour de force on overcoming Resistance and doing the work you were born to do. As Ryan Holiday learned from Robert Greene, there’s alive time (the time you are “passive and biding,” or “Resistance” in Pressfield’s terms) and dead time (the time you are “learning and acting and leveraging every second,” or “work” in Pressfield’s terms. “Which are you in?,” asks Holiday. Pressfield walks you through identifying the work you were born to do and recognizing and the Resistance you have to it (he points out that Resistance actually points to the work) before walking you through how to overcome Resistance and do your life’s work. If you’re stuck in Resistance, read this and overcome it!

Meditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius and Gregory Hays

Originally untitled, what we now know as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius were once known as To Himself (Greek: τον αυτόν), both fitting titles for what were meditations of Stoic Emperor-philosopher written to himself. While Hays’ translation is easy to read, he doesn’t do as well as other translators when it comes to handling the technical terms of Stoicism. The reader who prefers “to study texts with precision, without being content just to skim over them in a general, approximate way” would do well to read Robin Hard’s translation (Oxford) or Martin Hammond’s (Penguin). For comparisons of passages with key technical terms of Stoicism see my commonplaces from The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot.

Dante’s Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri and Mark Musa

Dante’s Vita Nuova is a strange, but beautiful book. Dante fell hard for Beatrice Portinari when he and she were both only nine years old and never got over her. She married someone else and so did he. She died young, and he was exiled from Florence. He wrote the Vita Nuova to showcase poems and sonnets he wrote about her. He then wrote the Divine Comedy to be led by her up through the nine circles of Heaven after being led down through the nine circles of Hell and up the seven terraces of Purgatory to the Earthly Paradise, or Garden of Eden, atop Mount Purgatory by the poet Virgil (the author of the Aeneid) at her bidding to be defied with her in Heaven.

Dante: A Life (Penguin Lives) by R. W. B. Lewis

Lewis’ brief biography of Dante is an excellent introduction to the Sommo Poeta and his works. It deals with both in chronological fashion, treating each of Dante’s works in turn as it is written, including the texture of Dante’s life and times surrounding the writing of each work. Includied in this treatment is a picture of the places and politics influencing Dante. The treatment of each of Dante’s works is detailed enough to give the reader a good sense of the overall content and structure of the works. Lewis ends with a brief overview of Dante’s influence on the later poets. A even more brief biography of Dante without the detailed treatment of each of his works is A Life of Dante by Benedict Flynn.

College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco

This book contains a useful concise history of higher education in America from colonial times to the present. This history is helpful in contextualizing the current state of higher education in America. Additionally, this book raises challenging questions about the nature of education in a democratic society and offers answers. You may not agree with the author’s assessment of the challenges facing higher education in American today, or with his answers to those challenges, but you will be challenged yourself. The author knows his history and has a good handle on the current situation, if not the exact causes of it.

Make Her Chase You: The Guide to Attracting Girls Who Are “Out of Your League” Even If You’re Not Rich or Handsome by Tynan

This book, as indicated by its title and vulgar cover image, contains helpful advice for attracting women, but is not vulgar as its cover image suggests and isn’t limited in its usefulness to the subject of its title alone. In fact, It is cleverly marketed to attract men lacking confidence in themselves when it comes to striking up conversation with the fairer sex, but contains principles for How to Win Friends and Influence People in general, to borrow Dale Carnegie’s title. Tynan developed these principles fully in his later book, Superhuman Social Skills. His insights into human nature in both books are invaluable.

Around the World in Fifteen Friends: Fifteen Short Stories of Love, Crime, and Kindness by Tynan

This book was better than I thought it would be. Tynan is a master storyteller and his meditations on travel and friendship demonstrates it while giving insight into human nature and the nature of friendship. The stories exemplify the author’s mastery of the art of storytelling detailed in his earlier books, Superhuman Social Skills and Make Her Chase You. It is a tour de force. In addition to its keen observations on human nature, it contains insights into the kinds of experiences that make long-term travel worthwhile.

Superhuman Social Skills: A Guide to Becoming Likeable, Winning Friends, and Building Your Social Circle by Tynan

This book is a contemporary How to Win Friends and Influence People. Tynan, like Dale Carnegie before him, has keen insights into human nature and knows how to apply them to building relationships. In this book, Tynan fully develops the ideas he earlier exposed in Make Her Chase You, demonstrating that the same skills used by pick-up artists apply to building relationships with people in general. Tynan brings to bear his own experience of stepping outside his comfort zone to talk to strangers and convert to friends when it didn’t come naturally to him and teaches his reader how to do the same.

Life Nomadic by Tynan

If you’ve always wanted to travel the world and think can’t afford to, think again: you can. In fact, it costs less than staying put. Tynan’s book is your passport. In it, he details his own experience of living the dream and walks his reader through how to do it step by step. Even if you’re not interested in vagabonding, you’ll find tips and tricks to buying cheaper fares and saving money on all kinds of other travel expenses as well. You’ll also learn how to have the best experience traveling abroad. As an experienced world traveler and sometimes vagabond I can tell you, “[n]ot all those who wander are lost” (Tolkien), and the experience of long-term travel is unbeatable when it comes to getting an education.

The Tiniest Mansion – How to Live in Luxury On the Side of the Road in an RV by Tynan

This is one of those books that stretches your imagination and calls convention into question. Would I live in an RV? Maye, maybe not. Regardless, I found value in the provocative ideas in Tynan’s book and know better what it would take to do it in style. Tynan recounts his years-long experience of living a minimalist lifestyle in an RV that can fit in any parking spot anywhere and the modifications in his lifestyle and the RV itself it took to make it possible. I’ve lived aboard a 26-foot sloop and have considered living in what is sometimes aptly called a land yacht. After reading this book, I’m considering the possibility of living in two smaller RVs instead of one large one when my son is old enough to drive one.

Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time by Tynan

This book contains the secrets to successful habit building. If you like Leo Babauta, you’ll love Tynan, whom Leo has turned to support him in building habits. I know of no better book on the subject than Tynans. This book was mentioned in Charles Chu’s Quartz article, “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books.” After reading Chu’s article, I shared it on Facebook where I found it, deleted the app and read all of Tynans’ books, starting with this one, in one weekend.

The Inferno of Dante Alighieri (The Temple Classics) by Dante Alighieri and John Carlyle

The Temple Classics edition of the Carlyle-Oakey-Wicksteed translation of Dante’s Commedia is out of print, so I’ve linked to this Vintage Classics edition instead. This is the best public domain prose translation of the Commedia. Dante is one of the three philosophical poets detailed in Three Philosophical Poets by Santayana. Dante’s Inferno, the first of three Canticas in the Commedia, details Dante’s descent through the nine circles of Hell to reach the center of the Earth before emerging in the Southern Hemisphere to climb the seven terraces of Purgatory to the Earthly Paradise, or Garden of Eden, in his Purgatorio, then to fly through the nine spheres of Heaven to be deified in his Paradiso.

Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings by Cynthia King and William B. Irvine

Musonius Rufus is the least well-known Roman Stoic philosopher, his student, the Roman slave philosopher Epictetus, and his student, the Roman Emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius, being better known. Yet Musonius Rufus, my favorite Stoic philosopher, has a lot to offer. He was avant-garde in so many ways and very much a product of his time in others. Reading Musonius Rufus can give you a sense not only of Roman Stoicism and it’s applicability to life today, but of Roman life and it’s surprising parallels with life today. This volume is the best English edictionary of Musonius Rufus’ writings in print.

The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimony (Hackett Classics) by Epicurus and Lloyd P. Gerson

Epicureanism is less read and even lesser understood than Stoicism. Although I recommend reading Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura for a fuller exposition of Epicureanism, I also recommend reading this, one of the few English language renditions of the few extant writings of Epicurus himself. Less popular than Stoicism, Epicureanism had proponents as luminary as Thomas Jefferson. Additionally, in its exposition in Lucretius, Epicureanism was pivotal in fueling  Renaissance after a thousand years of neglect, as compellingly exposed in Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt.

The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness by Epictetus and Sharon Lebell

This interpretation of Epictetus’ Enchiridion is sublime! I highly recommend it as an introduction to Stoicism. I recommend following up the reading of this with the writings of Epictetus himself, those of his little-known teacher, Musonius Rufus, and those of his well-known student, Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism has much to offer today as witnessed by the recent publications of The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Tim Ferrris, The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings by Cynthia King and William B. Irvine and A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine.

On the Nature of Things by Lucretius and Ian Johnston

This book, a translation of De Rerum Natura, contains the fullest exposition of Epicureanism and is written in verse. The author, Lucretius, one of the three philosophical poets subject of Santayana’s book, Three Philosophical Poets, was influential on Virgil, who in turn was influential on Dante, another of the three philosophical poets covered by Santayana. Johnston’s is one of my two favorite contemporary English verse renditions of Lucretius, the other being Alicia Stallings’. Johnston’s translation is also available in audiobook from Naxos and can be sampled or even read in its entirety on Johnston’s personal Web page, Johnstonia.


Why Read? by Mark Edmundson

The Mainspring of Human Progress by Henry Grady Weaver

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie

Enchiridion (Dover Thrift Editions) by Epictetus and George Long

In a Dark Wood: A Memoir by Joseph Luzzi

Three Philosphical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe by George Santayana

The Beginning of Guidance by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf

The Islamic Vision of Development in Light of Maqasid al-Shariah by Muhammad Chapra

The Christians and the Fall of Rome (Penguin Great Ideas) by Edward Gibbon

Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther

The Paradiso (Signet Classics) by Dante Alighieri and John Ciardi

The Purgatorio (Signet Classics) by Dante Alighieri and John Ciardi

The Inferno (Signet Classics) by Dante Alighieri and John Ciardi

A Life of Dante by Benedict Flynn

Maqasid al-Shariah: A Beginner’s Guide by Jasser Auda

Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life by Nick Vujicic

A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century by Oliver DeMille

Ibn Rajab’s Refutation of Those Who Do Not Follow the Four Schools by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and Musa Furber

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri and Clive James

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books by Matti Friedman

Lucretius: The Way Things Are: The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus by Lucretius (Author), Rolfe Humphries (Translator)

Cicero: De re Publica (On the Republic) , De Legibus (On the Laws) (Loeb Classical Library No. 213) by Cicero (Author), Clinton W. Keyes (Translator)

Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds by Joel L. Kramer

Plato’s Republic by Plato and Benjamin Jowett

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1 by Edward Gibbom and J. B. Bury

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Joseph Spider and the Fallacy Farm by David Grant

Politics (Dover Thrift Editions) by Aristotle and Benjamin Jowett

The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle and David Ross

The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey by Muhammad Ali and Hana Yasmeen Ali

Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) by Marcus Aurelius and George Long

The Law by Frederic Bastiat

The Inferno of Dante by Dante Alighieri and Robert Pinsky

The Communist Manifesto: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Karl Marx (Author), Friedrich Engels (Author), Killoffer (Illustrator), Marshall Berman (Introduction), Samuel Moore (Translator)

Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

The Prince (Dover Thrift Editions) by Machiavelli and N. H. Thompson

The Trojan Epic: Posthomerica (Johns Hopkins New Translations from Antiquity) by Quintus of Smyrna (Author), Alan James (Editor)

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem by Rod Dreher

The Alchemy of Happiness by Al-Ghazzali and Claud Field

Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto and Thomas Moore

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Educating Your Child in Modern Times: How to Raise an Intelligent, Sovereign & Ethical Human Being by John Taylor Gatto (Author), Hamza Yusuf Hanson (Author), Nabila Hanson (Author), Dorothy Sayers (Author)

The Book of Job by Stephen Mitchell

Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident: 12 Natural Laws of Freedom, Progress, and Success by Oliver DeMille

Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays) by James B. Stockdale

Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System by Leo Babauta

Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris