The best books that add magic, mystery, and meaning to 21st century secular lives

Who am I?

I am an author, theologian, musician, historian, and college professor who has written more than twenty books about ancient and alternative history, religion in modern culture, and long-distance, meditative bicycling. My study of the past convinced me that modern life has, for far too many of us, grown one-dimensional. It lacks the magic and mystery that imbued the ancients with the deep and rich mythology which we inherited from them, but then allowed to grow dormant within our sheltered lives. Remembering their vision and experience is a key to restoring our own sense of self-worth and essence. Maybe we all need to meet a “Wizard in the Wood!”

I wrote...

The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

By Jim Willis,

Book cover of The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

What is my book about?

I have come to suspect that life is magical. It’s silly to pretend that magic doesn’t exist because we think we are too sophisticated to acknowledge it. Michael knew that. He lived his life with the certainty that magic surrounded him, through his every word and action. As I moved through my adulthood, I forgot how to see magic. I am the poorer for it. But now that I have finally, and fortunately, discovered it again, I feel the need to tell you about how at least one man lived in the glow of magic, and taught a young boy how to do the same.

Let me tell you the strange story of the wizard in the wood. If you’re lucky, it might change your life.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Return of Merlin

By Deepak Chopra,

Book cover of The Return of Merlin

Why this book?

I have been inspired by Deepak Chopra’s spiritual wisdom for more than thirty years. This is one of his rare novels, a wonderful story of time and magic. Merlin the Magician is the quintessential wizard, inspiring such modern-day spin-offs as Gandalf and Dumbledore. What would happen if he were to return today, bringing a message of earthy magic to a world of informative but increasingly sterile, materialistic science? And what if he has, indeed, done just that already?

The Last Rainbow

By Parke Godwin,

Book cover of The Last Rainbow

Why this book?

This is a novel about Saint Patrick and the end of an age of magic in Great Britain. What made St. Patrick so effective, spreading his faith where others failed? Might it be that he was first tutored by the mysterious “people of the hollow hills,” north of Hadrian’s Wall? When Patrick went to Ireland, was his brand of Christianity infused with a pagan spirituality based on the wisdom gleaned from Mother Earth herself? Did he combine two systems of religion into a faith that was universal in scope and effectiveness? Did that spirituality manage to make its way to America, long before the voyages of Columbus? And is that the Christianity we so need to recapture today?   

The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Why this book?

Every Arthurian, professional or not, needs to read Mary Stewart's classic and engaging Merlin trilogy, of which The Crystal Cave is the first book, that offers a compelling take on the Merlin/Arthur saga. This is the work that, more than any other, transformed me from a child enthusiast to a full-fledged Arthurian scholar.  Magic merges with mysticism in a totally believable and compelling story. It offers a logical and historical explanation of how Christianity might have slowly replaced paganism in Arthurian England, after which the metaphorical “dragon” himself, Merlin, just like another famous dragon, “sadly slipped into his cave.”  


By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of Stonehenge

Why this book?

Why was Stonehenge built? What was its function? Cornwell offers a new interpretation that is both eminently possible and completely believable. Transporting us back to a time long forgotten, he makes us believe. And that is no easy task! When I first gazed in person upon Stonehenge, my thoughts, like those of almost everyone else, were consumed with “Why” and “How.” But this book takes us further into the mystery by asking “Who?” What motivated the first builders, and those who followed after them for thousands of years? They were “just folks,” like us. But they must have been motivated by something that we, sad to say, are lacking.    

The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry

By Christopher Knight, Robert Lomas,

Book cover of The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry

Why this book?

Combining some of the greatest conspiracy subjects ever put forth, this book offers a fresh take on the familiar, compelling secret history of what might have been, rivaling even Dan Brown in the process. How might the Templars have interacted with the Shroud? What might they have done with it? What are the secrets of Freemasonry that were known to so many of America’s Founding Fathers, and why is the world still interested? This is a book that made me think. And, more importantly, wonder! 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in prehistory, wizards, and magic-supernatural?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about prehistory, wizards, and magic-supernatural.

Prehistory Explore 27 books about prehistory
Wizards Explore 68 books about wizards
Magic-Supernatural Explore 345 books about magic-supernatural

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Eagle of the Ninth, Flashman, and A Wind in the Door if you like this list.