Top 20 Books To Give For Gifts This Holiday Season

Via Todd Mayville
on Dec 7, 2008
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If you’re a regular reader of Elephant Journal, then by now you’ve gotten a sense that I’m a pretty voracious reader.  So while I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an expert on books, I do know what I like, and from time to time, people do ask me for a recommendation for reading material. Now one thing to realize is that this list actually started out as a top ten, then jumped to 15, then 20, and finally 25 before my sometimes-partner-in-crime got me to trim it back to 20.  So without further ado, here is my list of the top 20 books that would make great holiday gifts this year.  Also included are links to my reviews of them as well as links to where you can buy them.  Click on the title for the review; click on the author’s name to be taken to the product listing to purchase it.

1. The Compassionate Carnivore: Or How To Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald’s Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint and Still Eat Meat by Catherine Friend. This is one of the best books on food and sustainability out there. It definitely made a huge impact on me and how I approach the food I buy, especially meat…. I even wrote a follow up blog about it.

2. Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester Brown.  I still stand by my statement that this is one of the most important book on the planet.  Strapped for cash?  No sweat… download the .pdf from the website, burn it to cd or email it to someone.

3. Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality by B. Alan Wallace and Brian Hodel.  This is a great book for someone that is interested in the split between Western science and spirituality or for someone interested in quantum physics and its implications.

4. The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You by Paramahansa Yogananda.  Dense and thought-provoking, Yogananda’s efforts to bring Man closer to God should be recognized, as should his blending of Christianity and yogic philosophy.

5. The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine by Matthew Fox.  Fox’s book represents a sincere connection to the struggle that most men feel around their spirituality.  Spirituality without squishy softness.

6. The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess; edited by Alan Drengson and Bill DeVall.  There have been several books around the environment this year, but not many around the Deep Ecology movement.  This book represents one of the best of those.

7. A Truthful Heart: Buddhist Practices for Connecting With Others by Jeffrey Hopkins.  An excellent book about relationships, presenting a Buddhist approach to them without platitudes or mushiness.  Hopkins admits that relationships take work, but also feels that the work is worth it.

8. Hurry Up and Meditate: your starter kit for inner peace and mental health by David Michie. The book for that busy executive type that says s/he really wants more out of life but just doesn’t have the time to make for it.  Michie will take their excuses for what they are, and help them realize that living mindfully is worth permanently etching time for it into their Blackberry.

9. Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body by Dr. Reggie Ray.  Dr. Ray is one of the more controversial teachers in Buddhism, but his message that seeking enlightenment within the mind is only half of it; the body needs to be listened to as well. In addition to my review, Ele:blogger Caroline Treadway’s review can be found right here.

10. Light Comes Through: Buddhist Teachings on Awakening to Our Natural Intelligence by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.  A short, but dense book about our own emotions and dealing with them effectively. I had the pleasure of attending a teaching by Rinpoche this summer, and his book is just as approachable and full of depth as he is.

11. The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Another work of elegance and gentle yet forceful challenges to move us toward a more enlightened society.

12. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mindfulness by Anne Ihnen and Carolyn Flynn.  Don’t let the title mislead you.  This book is simple without being simplistic, and is worth the money, regardless of how much or little experience with mindful living that someone may have.

13. Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life by Alan Watts.  A great collection of essays by Alan Watts; perfect for a fan of Watts’ work or to gift to someone to make them into a fan of his work.

14. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau; Bill McKibben, editor.  Another perfect book for the environmentalist on your list, especially since it offers a historical retrospective of environmental writing over the the past 200 years.

15. The Inner Tradition of Yoga: A Guide to Yoga Philosophy for the Contemporary Practitioner by Michael Stone.  A must-read for anyone that does yoga, no matter how long they’ve been doing it.

16. Quiet Mind: A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation; Susan Piver, editor.  The ideal gift book for anyone considering meditation but doesn’t know where to start.  It comes with a cd of guided meditations.

17. The Mythic Bestiary: The Illustrated Guide to the World’s Fantastical Creatures by Tony Allan.  A wonderful book for anyone interested in mythical creatures, no matter how old they are.

18. Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World A Better Place; Melvin McLeod, editor.  Yeah, it’s an older book, and yeah, the election season is over, but that doesn’t mean this book is no longer relevant.  The insights gained from this book apply equally well to the dinner table dynamic, the water cooler, and the campaign trail.

19. Defining Moments in Science. (Various editors) Got a budding scientist on your list?  This is the book for them. Covering the past century of pivotal moments, people, discoveries and inventions in the world of science, this is the stuff of sugar plum dreams for any Mr. Wizard.

20. Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion by The Dalai Lama and Dr. Paul Ekman.  Fans of the work of the Dalai Lama and students of human relationships and emotions will appreciate this book for sure.  The warmth, intellect, and humor of His Holiness shines through these conversations, and the dynamic between the two men also brings forth valuable insights and reflections.

That’s it! There’s my list of some of the best books I’ve read this year.  What did I miss? What books would you recommend?


About Todd Mayville

Todd is a single dad of four diverse and lively kids, and is an English teacher and climbing team coach at a local public high school. A rock climber, cyclist and avid reader, Todd also practices yoga and meditation as often as he possibly can, which helps him stay at least a little centered and sane.


14 Responses to “Top 20 Books To Give For Gifts This Holiday Season”

  1. admin says:

    What about Dreams from my Fathers? Might seem to be a ‘book of the year.’ What about Hot, Flat and Crowded by Friedman, who’s doing more to get global warming education out there than anyone except Al Gore, or the grassroots conscious consumerism movement as a whole. What about Outliers, just out from Malcolm Gladwell? Or Dangerous Book for Boys, or whatever it’s called? I know we didn’t review any of these…the list above is stellar…but you and I and our lil’editorial team oughta try and get some more mainstream, obvious books that are out of our ‘LOHAS’ or ‘spiritual’ or ‘eco’ spheres once in awhile–

    Great list, great work, great writing—a service to readers.



  2. Todd says:

    Yeah… there were a whole bunch more books that I read that I wanted to add to the list… it was a real struggle cutting it to 20 as it was. :p Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite writers, and his newest, The Graveyard Book, isn’t here, for example.

    I totally agree that we need to stretch ourselves a bit… definitely need to keep it in mind for next year! 🙂

    Thanks for the feedback, Way!

  3. Adriane says:

    This list is great- I am always looking for new, interesting books to read to increase my awareness of environmental impacts, sustainability, mindfulness and spirituality.

    Right now I’m reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I highly recommend it!


  4. Heather says:

    Green Collar Economy by Van Jones?

  5. el carg says:

    Love the recommendations, but wonder where the imagination, romance, wierdness and other craziness of fiction is?

  6. Todd says:

    You’re 100% right about the lack of fiction. There was a noticeable dearth of that both on this list and in my life over the past year… that will be fixed for next year’s list for sure. In the meantime, I definitely recommend the one fiction book I did read this year: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. It’s a “young adult” novel, but still a good, fun read.

  7. rusty says:

    top 20 list!? how rad is this! thanks for putting in all the great research!

  8. Todd says:

    You’re very welcome… I’ve already started my list for 2009! 🙂

  9. Lynn says:

    Wow – I am bookmarking this one for the next time that I find myself with a few free hours and access to the library. Thanks! 🙂

  10. Devin says:

    Wow, that’s quite the list. I wonder, who do I know that could use the mindfulness presented in these books?….Oh wait, that’s everyone. 😀
    Great list, Todd. I am eagerly awaiting this upcoming year’s list, so READ LOTS!!

  11. Janet C says:

    Maybe you could give us two lists next year? One for fiction and one for non-fiction. Of course, I tend to view those two as very separate beasts so you could ignore this suggestion. It would allow you to post more of your favourites though!

  12. will says:

    i’m noticing a theme, here. did you limit which books you’d put on the list based on the fact that it was going in elephant journal, or is that really most of what you’ve been reading this year?

  13. Todd says:

    It has been pretty much what I’ve read this year; there’s been a noticeable dearth of fiction in my life of late, with the exception of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and most recently, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief… both of which I heartily recommend, by the way. Perhaps I will do two lists next year, or get more motivated to read more fiction this year… stay tuned! 🙂

  14. […] year I created a top 20 list of books to give as gifts, but I realized pretty quickly that a list of 20 was pretty overwhelming […]