Best Books for Undergrads: Your Picks

3706385071_31d2c4a5dc_m.jpgThanks to everyone who weighed in on my request for the best books for undergrads! Here are the recommendations that we received on the blog, from Facebook, and via email. Tom and I received an amazing variety of responses. Here were some interesting trends:

  • C. S. Lewis was recommended more than any other author, but not a single book of his was mentioned more than once!
  • Only three books were recommended more than once: Augustine’s Confessions, J. I. Packer’s Knowing God, and Tim Keller’s The Reason for God
  • Other highly recommended authors included Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, and Os Guinness.

Photo credit: net_efekt via Flickr

I have tried to group the recommendations to make it easier to read and compare, but all such classifications fall short of the ideal. I have also given C. S. Lewis a category all to himself. Most of the links below are affiliate links to, but I’ve tried to note when the book is available for free online.

A final note: I have not edited the recommendations in any way! If we received a recommendation, I’ve included it below. Disagree with a choice? Think we left out something obvious? Let us know in the comments.

The full list appears after the jump.

Spiritual Formation

The Bible, all the way through [If I can read half the Old Testament in a two-week-long panic before finals, you can read the whole Bible during your undergraduate years. ~ Mike]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour
Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What
Anything by Henri Nouwen [This exact recommendation was made twice. Having read only a pamphlet by Nouwen on the dreary subject of fundraising — and having my spirit shaped profoundly by the experience! — I must take this recommendation seriously.] The Nouwen Society has compiled a list of its Top 10 Books by Nouwen.
Tim Stafford, Knowing the Face of God
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Available online)
John White, Daring to Draw Near: People in Prayer
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ
Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God

Theology, the Bible, and Apologetics

Augustine, Confessions (Available online)
Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Christine Mallouhi, Waging Peace on Islam
J.I. Packer, Knowing God
John Piper, Desiring God (Available online)
N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus — This will be a book of the day at Urbana!
Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, ed., Who Made God?: And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith

Christianity in the Academy

Most of these books relate directly with the intersection of Christian faith and life within the university, but I’m including a few that deal with the life of the mind or the academic life more generally.

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book
Paul Anderson, ed., Professors Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Christian Faculty
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
J. Budzizsewski, How to Stay Christian In College
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God at Harvard
Richard Light, Making the Most of College
George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship
Mark Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Donald Optiz and Derek Melleby, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness
Mary Poplin, Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service
James Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life As a Christian Calling
John Stott, Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life

Calling and Vocation

M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts: Finding New Life Through Unwanted Change
Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior During the University Years
Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life
Guinness, Long Journey Home: A Guide to Your Search for the Meaning of Life
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (Watch “The Last Lecture” online)
Gordon Smith, Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential
Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life

C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity
The Screwtape Letters
The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength)
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold


J. F. Baldwin, The Deadliest Monster: A Christian Introduction to Worldviews
Armand Nicholi, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life
James Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation
Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview

Christianity and Culture

The category “Christianity and culture” usually includes works on cultural theory, Christian responses to cultural trends, explorations of art and literature, etc. Out of a conviction (borrowed from Andy Crouch) that culture includes all that we do, I’ve included a couple of books in this category that address some of our cultural activities (e.g. politics, ownership).

Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions
Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Also recommended from Boyd: The Myth of a Christian Religion, Satan and the Problem of Evil, Letters from a Skeptic)
Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
Robert H. Nelson, Economics as Religion
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture
H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture [Note: No one recommended this book, but every book written about Christianity and culture since 1951 has been influenced by Niebuhr.]
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

Issues in Contemporary Culture

Allan Johnson, The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy
David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Neil Postmas, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

Science and Religion

Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Stephen Godfrey and Christopher R. Smith, Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology and Biblical Interpretation
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The works of John Polkinghorne

Three Other Good Books

Somehow, these three books make sense together.

Plato, Republic (Available online)
Virgil, Aeneid (Available online)
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Whew! That was a lot of books. Now: what did we leave out?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email'

Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:


    Heather commented on December 21, 2009 Reply

    Though I didn’t read them as an undergrad, I’d recommend anything by Jerry Bridges, (particularly The Discipline of Grace), Stott’s The Cross of Christ, and Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There.

    Oh yes, York Moore’s Growing your Faith by Giving it Away.

    Didn’t anyone recommend the Bible? 🙂

    Hannah commented on December 21, 2009 Reply

    I have to put in a plug for Dorothy Sayers, which I seem to do every now and then on this blog (and everywhere else). 🙂 I’ve found her book The Mind of the Maker and the forward to her play cycle The Man Born to Be King to be some of the best things I’ve ever read about the discipline of creative writing as a Christian. I also love her mystery fiction. Among other things, it’s about the value and integrity of work, but that is inherent to the stories. It’s part of the fabric of how they’re made, rather than a moral tacked on (to borrow her own ideas from the foreword to The Man Born to Be King).

    Creed or Chaos, a collection of essays, is also a good general read for students interested in thinking about a wide range of ideas in light of the Christian creeds.

    And I’m not even writing my dissertation on her.

    Harriet Bicksler commented on December 22, 2009 Reply

    Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald J. Sider

    The Upside-Down Kingdom, by Donald Kraybill

    The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder

    Kelly commented on January 14, 2010 Reply

    I definitely agree with Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What – a great book that really does offer good insights.

    Two books that I have enjoyed and that have helped me through my walk with Christ are Hind’s Feet on High Places and Practicing the Presence of God. Sometimes I think I identify more with allegories and personal stories when I’m thinking about my walk, so these have been really neat for me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.