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Book Recommendations

Philip Shepherd holding a stack of encyclopedias in an Irish bookstore

Finding friendship in books

Philip's bookcase is overflowing. There are stacks behind his bed, in his office, on the floor in a doorway. He even built a bookcase on rollerblade wheels so that it could hold two layers of the little wonders.

Yes, books are indeed a passion for him.

Over time he has learned more, been challenged more fruitfully and formed deeper friendships with books than with any formal institutions of learning. Here is a partial list of some of his dearest friends. He’d encourage you to get to know them if you can.


Kleins Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language by Ernest Klein
The author of this book was conversant in over 40 languages, including the extinct Indo-European language Tocharian, and his book is an unending source of insight as it traces words back to their earliest origins, and shows their cousins in contemporary English

The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots by Joseph T. Shipley
This book is a treasure.  Concentrating on English words that derive from Indo-European roots, it reveals layer upon layer of relationship among words we commonly use, and shows how they are empowered by their original etymons.


Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban
A rollicking, funny, deeply compelling novel that bristles with energy.

The Odyssey of Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore
I’ve read four translations of the Odyssey, and this is the one that sings to me the clearest.  Beautiful, shining, unforgettable.

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
I’ve read this book twice, and hope to read it a third time.  The most original, potent and deeply imagined novel I’ve come across.  Yes, it’s a challenging read – but the reward is fabulous

Alden Nowlan: Selected Poems by Alden Nowlan
I included two of Nowlan’s poems in my own book, and he remains one of my favourite poets – his voice so present, pared down, simple – and richly evocative.

War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue
This is an awesome adaptation (not a translation) of books 16 to 19 of Homer’s Illiad.  It’s an incredibly vivid retelling of these books, by a brilliant, daring poet.


Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett
Barrett is a refreshing, brilliant thinker, able to enter the assumptions surrounding some controversy and present a completely turned-around view that is patiently reasoned and deeply substantiated by research.  I wish everyone knew about this book, but especially those who work with human and animal psychology.

Body as spirit: The nature of religious feeling by Charles Davis
A radical book when it was published in 1976, its message could not be more timely today.  But we are a long way from catching up to it.  He looks at the traditional divorce from the body that Christianity committed, and at how contradictory that is to Christ’s message; but he also addresses the necessary recognition of, as the title tells it, body as spirit.

Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community by Kathryn Linn Geurts

This is a book about sensorial anthropology, which is simply about how the influence of culture on the senses radically alters a culture’s evolving sense of what it means to be human.  We don’t even recognize “balance” as one of our senses, for example, and lack balance in our lives and relationships.  It’s an eye-opening read.

Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson
This book offers a deeply insightful, Jungian-informed account of how our consciousness must transform, and is transforming, by the re-emergence of the divine feminine.  A rich, rich read.

The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders by John E. Sarno
Sarno brilliantly shows how unacknowledged emotions express themselves through the body, and talks at length about cases of physical ailments he has treated not with medical intervention, but by enabling a different kind of healing.  An encouraging, liberating and practical read.

Hara: The Vital Center of Man by Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim
This is a classic, and explores the Japanese center of knowing, Hara, which also means “belly”.  In its subject matter, it is a forerunner of my book.  He writes beautifully and evocatively.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) by Joseph Campbell
My copy of this book is battered and bruised, but still holding up.  Through the images of myth, Campbell articulates the forces shifting the tectonic plates of our culture, but also within our individual lives.

The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey
If ever you quaked in despair at what we are doing to our world, find a copy of this book.  The manual to guide us all into Sacred Activism, it will strengthen your resolve for the work to come, and offer you practical advice for carrying it out.

Juicing: Words and Brushwork, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps
Reps is a gentle provocateur.  This inspiring, playful book is filled with brushwork paintings and bits of verse and exercises that prod us into fresh experience.

Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures by Wade Davis
Davis is that rare breed of scientist who can approach another culture with the humility that enables learning.  Reading this book enlarges one’s culturally constrained notions of what it means to be human and live on this earth, and induces a sense of heartache at what is being lost as cultures are trampled under the homogeneity of the Western mindset.

The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Galaxy Books) by I. A. Richards
Delving into what makes language a conveyance of truth, Richards offers a brilliant assessment of metaphor, and the role it plays in thought and expression.  I received this book from my grandmother in 1974 on my birthday, and have cherished it since.

Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air by Theodore Schwenk
This brilliant, highly unusual book looks at how the world’s fluidity gives rise to all the natural forms around us.  It is at the same time a work based in a spiritual appreciation of the mystical power of flow.  If that sounds boring, I’m not doing the book any justice at all.

Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ by Andrew Harvey
One of Andrew Harvey’s finest books (and he’s set the bar very high) this is not about the idea of Christ, it is about the living Christ.  A powerful, inspiring, passionate account of what an experience of Christ asks of us, and offers us.

On Zen by Thomas Merton
Merton is the ablest of Western writers on Zen, and this is a treasure trove of insight on what Zen has to offer the self-induced problems of the West.  My copy is filled with margin notes, and is heavily underlined.

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff
When people sign up for my teachers’ training course, this is the one book I assign for reading.  Wolff takes us with him as he discovers the Sng’oi, an aboriginal culture in Malaysia – and as he discovers them, we discover ourselves, and see what we have lost, and what I strive in my work to regain.  A beautiful, moving, illuminating little book.