Western Culture's Top 50 Books

"Western Culture's Top 50 Books" Continued...

Issue: "Supreme warning," July 5, 2003

Master and Man

Leo Tolstoy

These 19 beautifully constructed brief tales by the great Russian author leave readers without the stuffed feeling that many have after the multicourse War and Peace. What Men Live By has a strong claim to being the best short story ever written.

20th century

Ash Wednesday

T.S. Eliot

Eliot's poetry is difficult, but it is more than mere fragmentation and it rewards the effort; besides, when one of the most important and most innovative modernist authors converts to Christianity, Christians should notice. While "The Waste Land" explores spiritual barrenness-Eliot realized that modernity had lost something sacred-"Ash Wednesday" is about his conversion, with an emphasis on repentance and on Christ as "the still point of the turning world." Later, Eliot wrote his religious magnum opus, "The Four Quartets." (Russell Kirk considered Eliot to be a major resource for conservative thinkers and offers a guide to his poetry in Eliot and His Age.)

The Bear

William Faulkner

This novella is an accessible introduction to the stream-of-consciousness style of the 20th century's best American novelist and to his Southern gothic characters. Unlike James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, Faulkner grounded his characters in a realistically rendered world, and The Bear basically comes down to just a really good story about hunting.

The Violent Bear It Away

Flannery O'Connor

In an age that is supposedly leery about expressions of explicit Christianity, O'Connor is about as explicit as they come-but this does not prevent her writing from being shocking. (Some say her strategy was to shock complacent secularists with the grace of Christ.) This short novel, a modern rendition of the story of Jonah, is about the struggle between a backwoods preacher and a modern psychologist for the soul of a young boy who is determined to resist God's call.

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien

A colossal work of the imagination, a throw-back from the depressing modernist realism that dominated the century to an evocation of heroism, wonder, and other ancient values.

The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

This British novelist with an affinity for the tropical wreckage of the British Empire writes here about the Mexican revolution and its Marxist persecution of Christianity. This novel is about a priest-alcoholic, sinful, guilt-ridden-who persists in carrying out his ministry to others, while a fanatical socialist police officer is trying to track him down. It is a tale about vocation and God's grace, about sinners, saints, and the connection between them.

The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis

These seven books (beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) should be read repeatedly by parents to children for the enjoyment and edification of both. They make up both a sweeping work of fantasy and a reader-friendly introduction to basic biblical doctrines. In particular, The Magician's Nephew shows creation out of nothing and the entrance of sin to the world, and The Last Battle creates a kid-comprehensible end-times scenario.

Survival in Auschwitz

Primo Levi

A gripping account of depravity that shows how 20th-century totalitarians, believing man is merely an animal, tried to turn all men into animals. Instead of howling, Levi restrainedly wrote of life in hell, and his just-the-facts-ma'am story of survival amplifies the horror of the Holocaust.


Whittaker Chambers

The powerful autobiography and reflective meditation of a communist who became a Christian and, to the scorn of the intellectual establishment, wrote that "I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith." Chambers also explained that he first came to believe in God by looking at his infant daughter's "intricate, perfect ears" after she had smeared porridge on her face: He realized that those ears "could have been created only by immense design," and "design presupposes God … at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead."

The Cypresses Believe in God

Jose Gironella

This moving novel tells of one family in the years preceding the Spanish civil war and shows what happens when communist and fascist ideologies take precedence over the gospel. Gironella understood the forces that push sane men toward murderous activities that prompt the other side to retaliate; those counter-activities then prompt the original perpetrators to see their action as justified.

The Civil War

Shelby Foote

The American Iliad unwinds in three large volumes that are factually accurate but read like fiction. That's because a master storyteller, seeing that the plot laid out by the Master was more fearfully magnificent than anything he could have created, devoted 20 years of his life to telling the tragedy right.


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