Authors & Thought Leaders

Dan Millman’s 14 Favorite Books

Published on September 22, 2017

Article by Dan Millman for Bodhi Tree

I’ve read many books since my preteen years, which have delighted, informed and inspired me. In compiling the short list below, I do an injustice to the many books not included, including fiction and nonfiction works, memoirs—including classics like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or his wife Laura Archera Huxley’s You Are Not the Target, or Sidney Jourard’s The Transparent Self [Editor’s note: both titles are out of print], or the work of so many popular authors familiar to us all. But when asked for a list of favorites, the books below came first to mind. A more extensive one would be in the hundreds.

On Identity by Amin Maalouf [out of print]

The author, a man of mixed heritage and geography, is the perfect writer to articulate this clear and cogent consideration of identity—its positive and negative elements, its origins and perhaps future, and how it impacts the relationships between changing cultures, nations and people, told with unusual insight and understanding. It’s the kind of book I wish I could have written. Essential reading for any educated person.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

A classic story told by a master that addresses the universal spiritual quest for transcendence as young Siddhartha leaves his wealthy home enclave to become a renunciate before finding the middle way, bridging heaven and earth, flesh and spirit. This is Hesse’s love letter to humanity, his fictional guidepost pointing the way to balance for all seekers.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This heart-wrenching story of poor migrant workers during the Great Depression, seeking to find a way out of the dust bowl, a family piled into an old car, what might become a maudlin or depressive tale turns into an uplifting testimonial to the human spirit and reminds us about what is important in life.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

This radical book for its time by sci-fi maestro Heinlein introduces Valentine Michael Smith, a Martian in the form of a beautiful and delicate human male who finds the ways of Earth and humanity extraordinarily strange, but who ends up attracting a cult of followers as he teaches a way of love that leads to—well, I’ve said enough. It may (or may not) feel dated.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

What can one say about this trilogy that first became a cult classic among fantasy buffs in the ’60s, the kind of book one doesn’t just read, but enters like the magical wardrobe of Tolkien’s drinking mate, C.S. Lewis, or the rabbit hole of their creative colleague Lewis Carroll. Now, Peter Jackson has brought the story to a wide public, and film creatures have overshadowed those of our imagination. But Tolkien drew it all from the fabric of his life’s work and imagination.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Who has not wondered what might have been and what could be if Camelot had been a real place, that lofty peak of our highest ideals of valor and honor, heart and service represented by the knights, in a story woven around a little boy named Arthur and his old mentor, Merlin? When magic, wisdom and insight combine, Camelot was born in the fertile mind of T.H. White and shared with us all as a reminder of a time that (perhaps) was, and might, still be.

The Cowboy and the Cossack by Clair Huffaker

Chances are this title is new and unfamiliar to nearly all readers, but Huffaker was also the author of High Noon, which was made into an old classic film with Gary Cooper as a marshal torn by love and duty, fear and honor. Like that better-known book, but in my view far surpassing it, this is one of the great adventure tales in which cultures collide then find common ground, and men face their mortality and learn what it means to fight and sometimes sacrifice for a higher cause. Similar in tone to the wonderful book Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, but narrowly edging it into my top 10.

The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

I am drawn to speculative, imaginative, iconoclastic books that ask why, why not, and what if, and that look beyond accepted truths. This heretical, loving portrait of not only the divinity but the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth touched my heart and opened me to higher truths and to new possibilities beyond consensus reality. It seems a sort of litmus test that sorts true believers from the open-minded, and religious dogmas from spiritual truths. It is simply a novel that explores one possible reality of many in the inner life of the man we call Christ.

The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

In the abject poverty of Calcutta’s slums emerged, like the lotus growing from the mud, love and caring and kindness. A city of joy born of human connection and mutual support and survival as the emaciated denizens reached out to one another. Here is a novel based upon and reflecting acts of selfless service, and gives us empathic entry into the lives of those to whom life has given little and asked much. It breaks the belief that “those who are willing to work can make something of themselves” and shows how circumstance, fate and karma may corral, propel and condemn some souls to heavy labors and great sorrows. But even in the worse of places and times, The City of Joy reveals the beauty of the human spirit.

Constructive Living by David K. Reynolds

After I had been writing and teaching for some years, and imagined myself as pretty wise and sophisticated, a simple book by anthropological psychologist and expert in Japanese psychotherapies, David K. Reynolds, shook me “up” and took me to the next level of my work—back down to earth from metaphysical theories and abstract concepts to a new grasp of reality and how it applies to everyday life. His book and the “life-way” it describes, is sane and sensible, and points out (much like the little boy who spoke the truth about the “emperor’s new clothes”) that we do not need to fix our insides to live well; that focusing on constructive action (no matter what contrary thoughts or feelings arise) leads to a functional life. The book is full of aha moments and useful reminders, a breath of fresh air and antidote to a sea of new-age magical, wishful and consoling thinking so popular today.

The Mighty Atom by Ed Spielman [out of print]

Why would I read a book about a modern-day strongman to my young daughters at bedtime? (I did). And why would I choose a book such as this as one of my favorites? (I do.) Because it is written by Ed Spielman, who created the Kung Fu TV series, and who was a personal friend of Joseph Greenstein, born as a wizened, extremely premature baby on a freezing winter night in Poland—not expected to live through the night but the baby found his way into a frail and sickly childhood until one day as an emaciated youth, Joe saw a circus strongman standing naked except for a loincloth in the snow, and his life changed. So does ours in reading this true story of mind over matter, and the development of a true Renaissance man who was perhaps the strongest man in history, but also something more.

Story by Robert McKee

McKee himself is something of a curmudgeon with no shortage of opinions about nearly anything. But he is also a master analyst who has written the best work ever about what constitutes a good story. We tell stories (jokes, anecdotes, relating what happened to us or someone we know) all the time. But few of us—not even many aspiring writers—truly understand story itself. McKee’s work is a revelation, and for me, was a joy to read. And then listen to him on audio. And then sign up for his weekend seminar in which he almost repeats his book word for word and still holds his audience captive.

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

There’s sitting Zen and then there’s moving Zen. Stillness in action, action in stillness. Plenty of excellent books on sitting meditation (try Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen) or on Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig). But to understand the essence of Zen—transcending the separate self-sense through immersion in a practice—you can’t beat this pithy volume that gets right to the heart of the matter like an arrow to its target. It is not as much about archery as it is about life.

Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week by Laurence Morehouse, PhD [out of print]

The title of this paperback book first struck me as hyperbole, but since it was written by a medical and physiological professor and researcher, I started reading. The author quickly won me over with his common-sense approach to integrating “exercise” into an active lifestyle. His influence in my own practical teachings and in my lifestyle was immense. Morehouse states early on, “If you want to be fit, your training will depend upon what you wish to be fit for.” In other words, if you aim for the Olympic triathlon, that requires one kind of training; but if your aim is a sense of general vitality and wellbeing in everyday life, then he proposes a workable approach for anyone.

Published on: September 22, 2017

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