Books That Shaped My Life

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Sep 27, 2014

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”
Diane Duane

If I could tell Thomas Jefferson something I would probably let him know that I understand what he meant when he said, “I cannot live without books.” Jane Smiley knew something about me also when she said, “Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

In one way or another, every book I have ever read helped shape my life. Some of them brought me information for travel to another culture and then I set them aside. When I traveled to Kenya for the first time, Jerry Spain recommended that I read “The Lunatic Express” (1971) by Charles Miller, the story of the construction of a railroad in East Africa. From Argentina to Finland and from Korea to Turkey, when I step off the plane my prior reading always makes me feel like I have been there before. 

My love affair with books began when I was in high school and I started reading the Hardy Boys mystery series. I didn’t know then that I was reading books which began as a series in 1927 and would sell more than a million copies a year and would be translated into over 25 languages. 

During those years my grandmother introduced me to the writings of Norman Vincent Peale. In 1952, he published “The Power of Positive Thinking” which sold over 5 million copies and was on the NY Times Best Seller list for 186 consecutive weeks. 

In January 1956 five missionaries were murdered on the riverbanks of a jungle wilderness in eastern Ecuador. Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of one of them wrote their story in her 1957 book “Through Gates of Splendor.” A whole generation of young people was impacted by the story of those five men who died. To this day I still remember Jim Elliot’s words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” 

Little did I know how much Lloyd Perry’s 1965 book, “A Manual for Biblical Preaching,” would weave its way into every part of my life. Since I took that class and read that book, everything I have ever spoken in public or ever written has the fingerprints of that book upon it. I will always be indebted to Dr. Perry for the enormous influence of his simple yet profound book.

There were two books published in 1978 that continue to impact my life. Both of them were written by Quakers. Elton Trueblood wrote 33 books but his book, “The Incendiary Fellowship,” a classic blueprint to rekindle the flames of fervor that so characterized Christianity’s first years. Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” sold over a million copies and the original one I bought is still in my library. 

Though Robert Henri wrote “The Art Spirit” in 1923, it was around 1985 when John Shirk suggested I read it. As soon as I turned the first page, I was hooked. One of my favorite quotes by Henri is “All education is self-education.” Each time I open his book I feel like I am sitting down with a creative artist who sees objects and life with new eyes. 

In 1996, John Kotter’s seminal book on change, titled “Leading Change,” was published. Since 1997 his eight steps helped inform and transform my entire leadership approach to change. 

I have chosen these books because of their place in my development. You notice I did not mention the Bible. If I had, it would be number one. But the Bible must be in a class all its own. Without these other nine my life would be without perspective. Without the Bible, however, my life would be without purpose. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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