Reading List

Malcolm Tattersall

This short list recommends a few books that may be of value to those interested in religion (particularly Buddhism), philosophy and the environment. It is just a personal list, not a systematic set of references, so use it for what it's worth.

1. Nonfiction books that are mostly about people and society but throw light on Buddhism as practised in Tibet and China.

Bones of the Master by George Crane (1996) *****
George Crane, American poet, meets Tsung Tsai, a Chinese ChÕan (Zen) monk who escaped from the disastrous Great Leap Forward in 1959-60. The two of them travel to Inner Mongolia to re-establish the monastery.

Namma by Kate Karko (2001) ***
An English girl marries a Tibetan and goes to Tibet to live with his still-nomadic family for a year.

Mantras and Misdemeanors by Vanessa Walker (2006) **
A New Zealand girl goes to Dharamsala to study Buddhism and ends up marrying a disrobed monk. Reviewed here.


2. Fiction with a religious and/or environmentalist slant and a sense of humour. A fun way of exploring serious ideas.

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson *****
The President of the USA doesnÕt want to know about global warming but an odd coalition of American scientists and Tibetan diplomats is about to do something about that. It is the first book of a trilogy but can stand alone.
The other two books are very good as well but don't really make sense without their partners. In Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting we get disastrous climate changes, a presidential election which puts an activist in the White House, and the beginnings of wholesale changes to the way the USA operates; also a bunch of sub-plots which any other author would spin off into a whole new book. More:

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (2007) ***
Science fiction about ecological collapse and much more. Review here.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett ***
Gods really do exist on Discworld, but only so long as people believe in them. Their power is proportional to the number of worshippers they have, which makes for some fairly desperate deific competition.

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett ****
Golems are made to serve. Does that mean they should have no rights?

If youÕre hooked on Discworld after these two, read Thief of Time (*****) or Reaper Man (****) next. If youÕre not, you probably never will be. Try Neil GaimanÕs American Gods (*****) instead. ItÕs not as funny but it is very, very good.

If you want a tiny sample of Pratchett's work, visit

3. The serious stuff - books about religion, philosophy and society

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana
Buddhist meditation explained from a Theravada perspective. Very readable at any stage of the path but profound enough to reward re-reading when one has practised for a while longer.

Tao Te Ching
The classic of Taoism. The thoughtful, poetic and beautifully-presented edition from Element translated by Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay is my favourite, but there are many others.

God - the Interview by Terry Lane ****
Against Religion by Tamas Pataki ***
Two attacks on Christianity with occasional swipes at Judaism and Islam. Both make some very good points, though neither plays quite fair. Lane's book is reviewed here.

Three books on environmental themes:

The books are quite different, being respectively a manual for activism, a manual for individual action, and a caustic but entertaining look at some of the policies that have led towards our looming predicament, but they are all worthwhile and all reviewed here.

Created 29 April 2008
updated 11 September 2008