The best books on spiritual breakthrough

Jerome A. Miller Author Of Sobering Wisdom: Philosophical Explorations of Twelve Step Spirituality
By Jerome A. Miller

The Books I Picked & Why

The Death Of Ivan Ilych

By Leo Tolstoy

The Death Of Ivan Ilych

Why this book?

Though written 150 years ago, Tolstoy’s novella describes the life of an intensely goal-oriented person who is very much like many of our contemporaries—perhaps very much like us. Intent on marrying well, ascending to the top of social order, achieving wealth and power, he is marvelously successful—until he begins to have a pain in his side that turns out to be world-shattering. This may seem to be too dark for a “best book on spiritual breakthrough.” But perhaps such breakthroughs happen differently from how we imagine them.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life And Letters From Westerbork

By Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life And Letters From Westerbork

Why this book?

Why include on this list the diaries of a secular Jewish woman who is in the grip of self-centered anxieties and an unusual, if not bizarre, relationship with her analyst? Because spiritual transformation begins and evolves in uncanny ways, leading one to find transcendence where one never would have expected it. Etty’s diaries and letters allow us to follow the process by which she became so profoundly lucid and open-hearted that she was able to see the humanity even in the Nazis organizing extermination.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning

By Ernest Kurtz, Katherine Ketcham

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning

Why this book?

Drawing upon stories from all the great spiritual traditions, Kurtz and Ketcham keep shocking us out of our assumptions about the spiritual life, and inviting us to abandon the pursuit of perfection that many of us identify with it. They pull the rug out from under us, telling us what we don’t expect to hear. There’s something comical about embracing imperfection. But if they’re right, it’s the only real alternative to living tragically. I suggest watching Chaplin’s City Lights and Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box, as you make your way through the chapters of this book.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Praisesong for the Widow

By Paule Marshall

Praisesong for the Widow

Why this book?

A cruise ship is, perhaps, the least likely of all possible venues for the beginning of a spiritual breakthrough. But this is where spiritual transformation starts for Avey Johnson, the 64-year-old African American woman who is the central character in this Marshall novel. Breakthroughs are often set in motion deep down inside us, below the surface of our ordinary awareness. In fact, a real breakthrough can’t happen unless it goes all the way down in us. I know of no book that conveys this truth more effectively.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation

By Jonathan Lear

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation

Why this book?

Because Lear is a philosopher and a psychoanalyst, his book has a more academic flavor than the others on my list. But because he’s a philosopher and psychoanalyst attentive to lived experience, his book draws us into the devastating loss suffered by the Crow Nation, and especially by Plenty Coups, their last great chief, when their culture was stripped from them. This was, of course, an irreparable trauma from which it was impossible to recover. But instead of trying to retrieve what was unrecoverable, Plenty Coups turned to the unknowable, unprecedented future with the “radical hope” that it could be charged with transcendent meaning for his people. Perhaps the spiritual life, especially in these crisis-ridden days, consists in learning how to practice such hope.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists