Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

A Brief Guide to Spiritual Classics: From Dark Night of the Soul to The Power of Now

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Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
June 2017
Fred's Rating: 
James M. Russell
Total Pages: 

James M. Russell, with a philosophy degree from U. of Cambridge and a post-graduate qualification in critical theory, has taught at the UK’s Open U. He also wrote A Brief Guide to Philosophy. This was a gift book.

Amazon’s website for this paperback book is

But this website is nearly a blank. All I got from it was the ISBN-10 number and the note that “it is only available from third-party sellers.” So I will extract some information from the 4-pp Introduction and then add a few comments about the contents.

From the Introduction: “The aim of this book is to provide brief introductions to some of the world’s spiritual classics. The first question we had to face was how widely we should cast our net in choosing the selection of the books to be covered.

“There is no simple answer to the question of what makes a book a spiritual classic. We have made a deliberate choice not to include any religious scripture; in other words, there are no selections from the Bible, or from the sacred books of any other religion. Instead these are books that are in one way or another concerned with spirituality, theology or matters of faith.

“By necessity the choice is an eclectic one. Every editor would make a different selection when presented with this task, and no one can claim that their choice is definitive. A brief list of those whose books haven’t been included makes it clear how difficult the choice was. [I decided not to list the names the author listed, but stick to his general comments.] Every one of these writers (and a hundred more besides) has written books that can rightly be regarded as classics. Meanwhile some books that are widely regarded as spiritual classics may, upon closer examination, prove to be less profound than they might have seemed.

“Rather than attempt the impossible we have chosen to celebrate the wide range of spiritual writing that can be read for enjoyment or inspiration, including books from outside of the mainstream religious tradition, such as novels, and more than one title that can be regarded as a book for children. We have tried to focus on important works while recognizing that people find spiritual enlightenment and succor in a wide variety of books.

“This leads us on to the second question confronted in making selections for this book. We are writing from within the Christian tradition, but there is an argument for taking a wider approach, and trying to present a neutral view of ‘spirituality around the world.’ Even within Christianity, we had to decide how we would deal with the many different strands and beliefs that exist.”

Since Amazon’s nearly blank website doesn’t yet show the book’s contents, I give here the Titles of the seven Sections of this book, with the number of books within each Section in parentheses. (Note that the books in a Section appear in chronological order.) 1: Early Christian Classics (10). 2: Later Christian Writings (6). 3: Approaches to Prayer (6). 4: Meditations and Praise of Solitude (6). 5: Lives of Inspiration (8). 6: Secular Texts (9). 7: Alternative Approaches (9). The total number of books is 54. I have read 24 of these books, often long before I began my WhatFredHasRead website. Also I have read excerpts of their ‘take’ on spirituality in about half of other books of the remaining 30. But I have never heard of a few of these 54 books.

Back to the Introduction: “Each book that we have chosen is described in a few pages. It can be hard to capture the essence of a book in such a short space. [Amen!] Our guiding principle was to try to explain the books in such a way as to convey a brief idea of what each one has to offer the interested reader. But also we wanted to answer the question ‘Would I enjoy and understand this book?’ which sometimes involves trying to explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book for a modern reader.

“The ‘Speed Reads’ included at the end of each entry aim to deliver a quick sense of what the writer is like to read. They also provide a highly compressed, and occasionally somewhat flippant, summary of the book in question. [Too often the ‘Speed Read’ content was already well covered, leading to a wasted chance to give the style and emphasis of the book’s author.]

“Overall we have aimed for a chatty and comprehensible style, even if this occasionally risks criticism for being insufficiently serious. We have tried to explain the books as we would to an interested friend, rather than taking too academic a viewpoint, and we hope that this makes for a readable and interesting journey.”

This book has, in part, accomplished what I had expected of it – which was to discover an author that I felt I should read sometimes in the future. But the brevity seldom convinced me to add the book to my reading list. Instead it made me want to check out more thoroughly the author’s book elsewhere (such as reviews on Amazon) before adding it to my to-be-read list. In rating this book I hesitated in choosing between 3 and 4 stars, but then decided to give it four stars since it might steer me to other books by authors I hadn’t read before.

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