My eight desert island books

There’s a wonderful programme on BBC radio that’s been broadcasting almost since the time when dinosaurs ruled the world.  Each week Desert Island Discs invites a celebrity to talk about their life – and choose eight pieces of music they couldn’t live without.

You can play a similar game with almost anything; with my own interests in philosophy and spirituality, here are my essential eight books:

  1. The First and Last Freedom by J Krishnamurti: There I was in my local bookshop one day, a lad of 15 clutching book tokens I’d won in a national writing prize.  The bookshelves rose up to the ceiling and fully across the walls – I was looking at the spines of around two thousand books, I suppose – and yet The First and Last Freedom leapt off the shelves.  At the time I’d never heard of Krishnamurti, although I did meet him eventually.  This was the only book he wrote – everything else was either gleaned from notebooks or from talks.
  2. Wisdom and Where to Find It by Barry Long:  A powerful work from a man I knew and spent time with.  Barry was Eckhart Tolle’s guru and this was a book Barry wrote when he was still unknown.  Astonishing stuff.
  3. The World As Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer (he’s the guy whose picture we’ve used):  The second book of philosophy I ever read (the first was Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, as it probably was for many ‘sensitive’ adolescents).  Although it is a little top-heavy on pessimism, it is an extraordinary work of great insight.
  4. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant: This book was the reason (pure or otherwise) I studied philosophy at university.  Its conclusions so startled Kant that he rewrote the entire book – read the first version!
  5. Consciousness Speaks by Ramesh Balsekar:  A modern master of the advaita tradition, this has the potential to give you a real ‘I get it!’ moment.  You could also seek out Balsekar’s guru, Sri Nisagardatta and his classic work ‘I Am That’, but that would make nine selections, and that’s just plain cheating.
  6. The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau:  A book I read and reread when I was around 14.  Not sure how it would stand up today, but it was a constant and faithful companion to a young person trying to make sense of himself and his world.
  7. Ethics by Spinoza:  Einstein’s favourite philosopher, Spinoza is – for me – one of the three greats of Western thought (the other two are Kant and Plato – read him too, but then I would be up to 10 books I’d have chosen).  The book attempts to clarify Descartes, but goes much further.
  8. The New Testament, King James’s version – No matter what I discover, I always come back to the sayings of Jesus, who seems to have already said the same thing, only simpler and better.  It’s an astonishing blueprint for personal and societal change – shall we give true Christianity a go some day?

 OK, that’s my list.  As with all lists, I could have easily replaced them with a different eight.  I’m really sorry I had to miss out Ramana Maharshi, for instance, David Hume and countless others.  You know who you are.

 Now here’s the fun part – tell me your eight favourite books.

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