100 books like Back to Beginnings

By Huanchu Daoren, Thomas Cleary (translator),

Here are 100 books that Back to Beginnings fans have personally recommended if you like Back to Beginnings. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Divine Comedy

Dianne Hales Author Of La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

From my list on italy and italian.

Why am I passionate about this?

Decades ago, I fell madly, gladly, and giddily in love with Italian. This passion inspired La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with the World’s Most Enchanting Language, which became a New York Times best-seller and won an Italian knighthood for my contributions to promoting Italy’s language. Intrigued by the world’s most famous portrait, I wrote Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, translated into seven languages. My most recent journeys through Italian culture are La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World and  ‘A’ Is for Amore, an e-book written during the pandemic and available free on my website.

Dianne's book list on italy and italian

Dianne Hales Why did Dianne love this book?

Long after I began studying Italian, I resisted reading Italy’s greatest poet. His classic book seemed too daunting, too distant, too dull. Then, an Italian teacher gave me the first adaptation of the La Divina Commedia that she had read as a girl: a vintage Italian Walt Disney comic book featuring Mickey Mouse (Topolino in Italian) as Dante with Minnie Mouse as his adored Beatrice.   

I was so intrigued that I bought an English translation of the Divine Comedy—several, although I’m partial to John Ciardi’s. My unanticipated reaction: Wow! Like modern readers ensnared by the wizardly world of Harry Potter, I skidded into a fully imagined alternate world. An action-packed, high-adrenalin, breath-taking, rip-roaring yarn leaped off the pages into vivid, writhing, pulsating life. If you love action-packed tales and also seek insights into the Italian soul, read The Inferno. Purgatorio and Paradiso are optional. 

By Dante Alighieri, C.H. Sisson (translator),

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Divine Comedy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Described variously as the greatest poem of the European Middle Ages and, because of the author's evangelical purpose, the `fifth Gospel', the Divine Comedy is central to the culture of the west. The poem is a spiritual autobiography in the form of a journey - the poet travels from the dark circles of the Inferno, up the mountain of Purgatory, where Virgil, his guide leaves him to encounter Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise. Dante conceived the poem as the
new epic of Christendom, and he creates a world in which reason and faith have transformed moral and social chaos into…


Book cover of Hamlet

Karl F. Zender Author Of Shakespeare and Faulkner: Selves and Others

From my list on the most wonderful American, British, and Irish writers.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up on a small farm in southern Ohio, I was the first generation of my family to attend both high school and college. Literature, reading it, talking about it, studying it, was my entry into a world of larger possibilities than my family’s somewhat straitened circumstances had allowed me. Faulkner attracted me because the rural enclave in which we lived, and my neighbors, resembled locales and characters in his fiction. Shakespeare attracted me for many reasons, most notably the beauty of his language and the ability of his plays to reveal new meanings as my life experiences changed.

Karl's book list on the most wonderful American, British, and Irish writers

Karl F. Zender Why did Karl love this book?

Hamlet is one of those literary characters, like Faust, who gains an iconic, extra-literary identity. Moody, hesitant, insolent, and wracked by guilt and doubt, Hamlet marked the eruption into Western literature of self-consciousness as a literary trope. 

Understanding that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are agents of Claudius, not his true friends, Hamlet mockingly says, “You would pluck out the heart of my mystery.”  Whether considered in psychological, social, religious, historical, or political terms, that “mystery” has for centuries intrigued readers and audiences. I invite you to share that intrigue, or to return to it.

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Hamlet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Mona Lisa of literature' T. S. Eliot

In Shakespeare's verbally dazzling and eternally enigmatic exploration of conscience, madness and the nature of humanity, a young prince meets his father's ghost in the middle of the night, who accuses his own brother - now married to his widow - of murdering him. The prince devises a scheme to test the truth of the ghost's accusation, feigning wild insanity while plotting revenge. But his actions soon begin to wreak havoc on innocent and guilty alike.

Used and Recommended by the National Theatre

General Editor Stanley Wells
Edited by T. J. B.…


Book cover of Money and the Meaning of Life

George Kinder Author Of Life Planning for You: How to Design & Deliver the Life of Your Dreams

From my list on influences of the financial life planning movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

I never wanted to have anything to do with money. I wanted to live a life of meaning in nature, of poetry, of spirit, and of relationship. The problem was that I couldn’t get anyone to pay me for it. My relationship with money from the very beginning was how can I accumulate it and manage it so I could deliver this life of freedom to myself in the shortest amount of time possible. In short, how could I “life plan” myself. I am the founder and thought leader of the life planning movement in financial advice now active in 30 cultures around the world with thousands of life planning practitioners. 

George's book list on influences of the financial life planning movement

George Kinder Why did George love this book?

Jacob Needleman’s Money and the Meaning of Life is the most influential and inspiring book by far for the development of life planning movement in financial advice.

A masterful storyteller with his own set of characters, Needleman guides us into the mystery of how money works and what money is really about. Going back and forth between money’s practicalities and the deeper longings we all have for freedom, he challenges us to explore what freedom really means in relation to money.

A page-turner of speculative philosophy, I can still remember how gripping the final 20 pages were. In his exploration of money and meaning, Needleman tells the story of life planning, which is the story of each of our aspirations for freedom, and then the path to accomplish them. 

By Jacob Needleman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Money and the Meaning of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If we understood the true role of money in our lives, writes philosopher Jacob Needleman, we would not think simply in terms of spending it or saving it. Money exerts a deep emotional influence on who we are and what we tell ourselves we can never have. Our long unwillingness to understand the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us is at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Money has everything to do with the pursuit of an idealistic life, while at the same time, it is…


Book cover of A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

George Kinder Author Of Life Planning for You: How to Design & Deliver the Life of Your Dreams

From my list on influences of the financial life planning movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

I never wanted to have anything to do with money. I wanted to live a life of meaning in nature, of poetry, of spirit, and of relationship. The problem was that I couldn’t get anyone to pay me for it. My relationship with money from the very beginning was how can I accumulate it and manage it so I could deliver this life of freedom to myself in the shortest amount of time possible. In short, how could I “life plan” myself. I am the founder and thought leader of the life planning movement in financial advice now active in 30 cultures around the world with thousands of life planning practitioners. 

George's book list on influences of the financial life planning movement

George Kinder Why did George love this book?

This is a fundamental text of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama speaks about it widely. Although it's not well-known in the West, there have been half a dozen to a dozen translations of it in my lifetime. I like them all. Batchelor's was one of the first.

As an 8th-century guidebook to meditation, Shantideva reveals a timeless set of virtues that I mapped against the stages in my book. As a professional, I was a financial adviser, and now I train financial advisers in the listening skills that foster great life planning. Meditation and virtues are the keys to that facilitation. Shantideva helped me bridge those two worlds.

By Shantideva, Stephen Batchelor (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This famous and universally loved poem for daily living has inspired many generations of Buddhists and non-Buddhists since it was first composed in the 8th century by Shantideva. This new translation, made under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight. Reading the verses slowly, while contemplating their meaning, has a profoundly liberating effect on the mind. The poem invokes special positive states of mind, moves us from suffering and conflict to happiness and peace, and gradually introduces us to the entire Mahayana Buddhist…


Book cover of The Cambridge Illustrated History of China

Yang Ye Author Of Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

From my list on understanding China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. I was brought up in the family of a Chinese poetry scholar. Arriving in the States for my graduate studies at Harvard in 1982, I have engaged myself in academia here ever since. Acutely aware of, and deeply fascinated by, the cultural similarities and differences of China and the West, I have continued my learning experience, in my thirty years of college teaching, often from direct exchanges with my students. The books on my list of recommendations include both required texts chosen for my courses, and those I want to share with what Virginia Woolf called the Common Reader.

Yang's book list on understanding China

Yang Ye Why did Yang love this book?

Enriched by more than 200 pictures, mostly in color, as well as maps and line drawings, it is an illuminating and succinct account of Chines civilization from prehistoric times through the rise of the “Three Teachings” (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) to the modern communist state. As someone who taught a popular undergraduate college course on Chinese civilization for many years, I can testify that the overall length (384 pages) of the book and its structure of 12 chapters plus an epilogue make it a perfect choice of required texts.

By Patricia Buckley Ebrey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Illustrated History of China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More populous than any other country on earth, China also occupies a unique place in our modern world for the continuity of its history and culture. In this sumptuously illustrated single-volume history, now in its second edition, noted historian Patricia Buckley Ebrey traces the origins of Chinese culture from prehistoric times to the present. She follows its development from the rise of Confucianism, Buddhism, and the great imperial dynasties to the Mongol, Manchu, and Western intrusions and the modern communist state. Her scope is phenomenal - embracing Chinese arts, culture, economics, society and its treatment of women, foreign policy, emigration,…


Book cover of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao

Jennifer Lin Author Of Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family

From my list on history of Christianity in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I come from a long line of Chinese Christians. My grandfather, the Rev. Lin Pu-chi, was an Ivy League-educated Anglican minister, and my grandmother’s brother was Watchmen Nee, a leading Chinese Christian whose legacy lives on around the world. Library shelves are filled with books by missionaries. But where are the stories of the Chinese people they encountered? That’s the starting point for my family memoir, which spans five generations, starting with the first convert, a fisherman from Fujian. These are the books I relied on to place the family story into the broader context of what was happening in China from the period after the Opium Wars until today.

Jennifer's book list on history of Christianity in China

Jennifer Lin Why did Jennifer love this book?

Let’s start in the present and work backward. And for a look at religion in China today, there is no better authority than Ian Johnson, journalist, author, and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. I knew Ian back in the 1990s when we were both newspaper correspondents in Beijing. Since then, he’s plumbed the depths of the spiritual awakening in China since 1976 and the end of the Cultural Revolution. In The Souls of China, he examines not just the rise of Christianity through the house church movement, but also explores the revival of interest in Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

By Ian Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Souls of China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Masterfully opens up a little explored realm: how the quest for religion and spirituality drives hundreds of millions of Chinese' Pankaj Mishra

'A fascinating odyssey ... a nuanced group portrait of Chinese citizens striving for non-material answers in an era of frenetic materialism' Julia Lovell, Guardian

'The reappearance and flourishing of religion is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the dramatic changes in China in recent decades...this is a beautiful, moving and insightful book' Michael Szonyi

In no society on Earth was there such a ferocious attempt to eradicate all trace of religion as in modern China. But now, following…


Book cover of The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT

Todd Mitchell Author Of Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Be Your Ultimate Creative Self

From my list on fulfilling, successful, and enjoyable creative life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a creative writing professor and the author of five award-winning YA and MG novels. Nevertheless, for decades no matter what I accomplished, I felt like a failure who wasn’t doing enough. Eventually, I drove myself to a breakdown. Having a breakdown (my lucky break!) gave me an opportunity to reassess what creativity is, and to discover better ways to go about it. I’ve since spent the past 5+ years researching creativity, and how to make creative endeavors more effective and enjoyable. I wrote Breakthrough to share some of the life-changing insights and techniques that helped me. Here are a few books that might prove useful in shifting your creative paradigms and enhancing your life. Happy creating!

Todd's book list on fulfilling, successful, and enjoyable creative life

Todd Mitchell Why did Todd love this book?

This might seem an odd book for enhancing your relationship with creativity, but if you struggle with doubts, creative fears (such as a fear of rejection or criticism), the imposter syndrome, anxiety about not being good enough to create what you feel called to create, or other limiting beliefs, the Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) techniques that this book focuses on are just what the doctor ordered. 

Essentially, ACT borrows insights and teachings from older nondual philosophies such as Zen, Buddhism, and Taoism, and puts them in a more conventional, research-based package. Personally, I think ACT doesn’t go nearly far enough to address the root causes of suffering. However, The Happiness Trap gives a quick, easy-to-grasp introduction to some useful techniques that most readers can put into practice right away to create a more “rich and meaningful life.”

By Russ Harris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Happiness Trap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MILLION-COPY BESTSELLER

Do you ever feel worried, miserable or unfulfilled - yet put on a happy face and pretend everything's fine? You are not alone. Stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are all around. Research suggests that many of us get caught in a psychological trap, a vicious circle in which the more we strive for happiness, the more it eludes us.

Fortunately, there is a way to escape from the 'Happiness Trap' in this updated and expanded second edition which unlocks the secrets to a truly fulfilling life. This empowering book presents the insights and techniques of Acceptance…


Book cover of The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain

Sean Prentiss Author Of Crosscut: Poems

From my list on trail building and traildogs.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 1997, I was hired by the Northwest Youth Corps as a trail crew leader. That season, and across five more seasons, I built trails across the Pacific Northwest and Desert Southwest, including in many national parks. Since then, I have been in love with backpacking trails (including hiking the Long Trail and Colorado Trail), building trails, and writing about trails (Crosscut: Poems). I now live in Vermont with my wife and daughter. We have a trail we built that weaves through our woods.

Sean's book list on trail building and traildogs

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

While I could list many great books on backpacking and hiking trails, there are few books devoted to trail building. I’ll leave behind trail building and focus on a poet, Cold Mountain, who, like those of us who were trail builders, lived in the woods. Cold Mountain, an ancient Chinese poet, wrote his poems on rocks and bark and scattered them across his Tiantai Mountains. These poems are beautiful meditations on landscapes, wildness, Taoism/Buddhism, and politics.

By Red Pine (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This authoritative, bilingual edition represents the first time the entirety of Cold Mountain's poetry has been translated into English.

These translations were originally published by Copper Canyon Press nearly twenty years ago. Now, significantly revised and expanded, the collection also includes a new preface by the translator, Red Pine, whose accompanying notes are at once scholarly, accessible, and entertaining. Also included for the first time are poems by two of Cold Mountain's colleagues.

Legendary for his clarity, directness, and lack of pretension, the eight-century hermit-poet Cold Mountain (Han Shan) is a major figure in the history of Chinese literature and…


Book cover of City of Lingering Splendour: A Frank Account of Old Peking's Exotic Pleasures

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

English expat John Blofeld spent two decades in China (1932–51) before living out the last three of his life in Thailand. A renowned scholar of Buddhism and Taoism, Blofeld (like fellow expat Sinologists Edmund Backhouse and E.T.C. Werner) effectively disappeared into the woodwork, consorting almost exclusively with locals and mastering both vernacular and classical Chinese. In his City of Lingering Splendour, he looks back on his sojourn in the capital in the bustling 1930s-40s. But in contrast to standard accounts of Beijing’s palaces and temples (such as by Bredon and Arlington & Lewisohn above), Blofeld evocatively spotlights the often overlooked secular sites, the bathhouses and restaurants, opium dens, and bordellos, along with his connoisseurship of Chinese tea, thus conferring important archival value on his portrait of the city. This is also the side of Beijing I can relate to – the dark side, the underbelly of the great city –…

By John Blofeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City of Lingering Splendour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his early twenties, John Blofeld spent what he describes as "three exquisitely happy years" in Peking during the era of the last emperor, when the breathtaking greatness of China's ancient traditions was still everywhere evident. Arriving in 1934, he found a city imbued with the atmosphere of the recent imperial past and haunted by the powerful spirit of the late Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. He entered a world of magnificent palaces and temples of the Forbidden City, of lotus-covered lakes and lush pleasure-gardens, of bustling bazaars and peaceful bathhouses, and of "flower houses" with their beautiful young courtesans versed…


Book cover of Tao Te Ching

Traci Harding Author Of The Twelve Chapters of the Infinite Night

From my list on inciting the imagination.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was in my teens when I discovered that if I focused on something hard enough I could manifest it. During my investigations into whether others had experienced this, I discovered the Adyar Bookstore in the Strand Arcade in Sydney, and that I had an insatiable thirst for all texts metaphysical, historical, and quantum theory. Turns out that many of the greatest thinkers in history believed that humans hold sway over many of the events and occurrence of their own lives, including Einstein, Plato, Tesla, Carl Sagan, and more. My books are the product of my exploration into the nature of personal reality, spirituality, and the meaning of life.

Traci's book list on inciting the imagination

Traci Harding Why did Traci love this book?

Tao de Ching is the basis of the Taoist belief system, which, unlike other spiritual text, is filled with not just profound, but practical advice for navigating this world in a way that benefits the self, others, and the world at large. 

Tao de Ching simply means ‘The Book of the Way’. The name of the sage to whom this book is attributed, Lao-tzu, could be translated to mean ‘the Old Master’.

I was so inspired by these writings that I wished to create a book about such a Master - based in the time of those great adepts like Confucius, the Buddha, and indeed Lao-Tzu - and weave these life-changing teachings throughout. 

Hence the idea for my own book was ignited.

By Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tao Te Ching as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

' What is rooted is easy to nourish

What is recent is easy to correct'

Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way) is the classic manual on the art of living. In 81 short, poetic chapters, the book looks at the basic predicament of being alive and teaches how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao, or the basic principle of the universe.

Stephen Mitchell' s acclaimed translation is accompanied by ancient Chinese paintings that beautifully reflect Lao Tzu' s timeless words.

An illustrated edition of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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