Looking at my bookshelf recently, I was thinking of books that have shaped my view of the world over the last two decades. A few came to mind.
Book: Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl’s book about surviving the concentration camps in Germany during World War II. The latter section in the book introduces some philosophical stuff, but the first 90% is outstanding. It’s not just about the concentration camps being evil places where people were undernourished, overworked, and ultimately killed.
It gives you a riveting portrayal and account of how living with meaning provides hope — and that made the difference, in Frankl’s mind, between who DID live or die at the work camps. It’s difficult to read because of the sadness of the subject matter. But it’s triumphant to read in that it shows what we’re capable of enduring when we have a strong internal reason for enduring it — something we believe in or hope for.
Book: Undaunted Courage
Stephen Ambrose’s book about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific. I guess over time I forgot what happened to Meriwether Lewis in the end. Learning about the sheer courage, perseverance, and desire to explore that these men had is awe-inspiring. The foresight the men had planning for an expedition in which they really didn’t know how long it would take or what they would encounter is stunning. I read it while living in Oregon and frequently driving out on I-84, straight through the last leg of their journey before hitting the Pacific Ocean near Astoria.
Because so much of the Gorge is still undeveloped along the river, it’s neat to imagine seeing the very sights these men saw at the conclusion of one of the more arduous journeys across the U.S. that has occurred. But in the end, to know that Lewis quite probably took his own life (there are conspiracy theorists who say he was poisoned or killed), rocked me to my core, when my eyes read those words. That great man, who accomplished so much and helped forge the future of this country in an important way, ended his life in the most lonely of ways.
Stephen Ambrose’s book on the assault on Normandy by the Allied Forces. I read it AFTER going to those beaches in-person, unfortunately. When you learn of the extraordinary, against-all-odds taking of Pointe du Hoc by the Army Rangers, or about 23-year-olds leading teenage and fellow twentysomething soldiers to safety with half of their own jaws ripped off by gunfire, or of just how difficult the planning, and emotional the final decision-making were, you cannot help but love the sacrifices that have been made for us.
Walking through the American Cemetery in Normandy nearly brings you to your knees in gratitude — while reading about the actual sacrifices made that put those men in those graves does that and more. It will be required reading for my boys. Today you can still walk down into the massive craters our naval ships created while softening up the German forces prior to us landing…you can look down the straight-drop, 90-degree incline those Rangers had to hoist rope ladders and climb up, in the face of enemy gunfire, to take Pointe du Hoc…It’s hallowed ground.
Movie: Chariots of Fire
I made fun of this movie for years…but that was because I hadn’t seen it…and only thought it was about a bunch of stuffy British gentlemen runners who like tea and crumpets with their pinkies lifted. I fell in love with it the first time I finally saw it. Based loosely on a true story, about the dichotomy of one man with something to prove, seeking fame and glory for himself, and coming up only partially triumphant in the end…vs. another man who seeks none of the glory for himself, is a man of deep spiritual principle and commitment above all, and comes out triumphant, character and dignity intact.
Eric Liddell is the latter. A great comment he makes to a Lord Cadogan and the Duke of Sutherland, when he’s pressed to run on a Sunday, which would violate his desire to keep the Sabbath day holy: “God made countries. God makes kings, and the rules by which they govern. And those rules say that the Sabbath is His. And I for one intend to keep it that way.” It’s as much about the priorities (for me personally) as it is the sticking to principles that trump running even an Olympic race.
Movie: The Prince of Tides
Just kidding. Seeing if you were paying attention.
Book: Les Miserables
Victor Hugo’s MASSIVE undertaking. You may know the musical or soundtrack, but the novel adds so much more depth to the characters, the pain, the reversal of fortune, even the storyline itself. It’s such a beautiful, epic story about the imperfection of life, and yet the amazing capacity we each have, no matter our past “sins,” for forgiveness, selflessness, charity, redemption, and love.
We may all have our own El Guapos in life, but we are all Jean Valjeans as well. Do yourselves a favor: do NOT watch the Liam Nesson/Uma Thurman movie, even though I just linked to it. You will hate the story and it will taint your appreciation for even the musical. Do yourselves another favor: DO get the soundtrack from the musical and pay attention. It WILL help prep you for reading the 1,000+ page tome.
What books or movies have done the same for you?