The best books about clerics

6 authors have picked their favorite books about clerics and why they recommend each book.

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Bearing the Cross

By David J. Garrow,

Book cover of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Garrow’s Pulitzer-prize winning biography is the first complete, almost minute-by-minute, account of King’s life based on extensive research in the King documents, interviews with dozens of his associates, and a deep understanding of American history in that period. Garrow picks up the story just as King comes to Montgomery, and there are other books to read about the young King before 1954, but from there forward, Garrow’s is the indispensable account, and was the first book to really delve into the FBI’s surveillance of King.

Who am I?

I have spent my entire academic career researching and teaching about American religious history, particularly focusing on issues of race and religion. I am the author of numerous works on this topic, including The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in American History (co-authored with Edward J. Blum), and Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography. Finally, after thirty years of work, I challenged myself to write a short reader-friendly biography of King that would capture him as fully as possible, but in a brief book that would communicate to general readers the full measure of the man.

I wrote...

Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

By Paul Harvey,

Book cover of Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

What is my book about?

In this new biography of Martin Luther King, we look at his life through the prism of his evolving faith and through his complex, emerging, religious lives.

Readers will learn about Martin Luther King's diverse religious and intellectual influences, of an increasingly radical cast of thought, and of a mélange of intellectual influences that he aligned in becoming the spokesperson for the most important social movement of twentieth-century American history. Not only does Harvey chronicle King's metamorphosis and its impact on American and African American life, but he seeks to explain his "afterlives"--how in American culture King became transformed into a mainstream civil saint, shorn of his radical religious critique of how power functioned in America. Harvey's concise biography will allow readers to see King anew in the context of his time and today.


By Julie Garwood,

Book cover of Heartbreaker

I got soooo hooked on Julie’s contemporary suspense books. In Heartbreaker, as the story opens, we learn our hero agent Nick Buchanan has just saved a young boy’s life by taking out a serial killer who held him captive. Nick then gets to take some time off for a vacation, and as he’s on the plane waiting to depart, he stops an armed man from trying to free a prisoner another lawman has on the plane. He is definitely the white knight showing up at just the right time. When he meets up with his best friend, he learns a serial killer is after his friend’s sister. I couldn’t wait to see how he was going to protect the heroine, Laurant, from the psychopath and bring him in. This is my kind of hero—courageous, up for anything, never afraid to put his life in danger to right a wrong.

Who am I?

I love romances because the stories always end happily, and also because of the heroes! They are my ideal men—handsome, of course, but always strong and honorable. They always do the right thing, even if it requires hardship and sacrifice, and at the end of the story, when they pledge their love to the heroine, we know that love will be forever. I sold my first book back in 1982, and in every one of my stories I feature this kind of hero.

I wrote...

The Lady & the Texan

By Bobbi Smith,

Book cover of The Lady & the Texan

What is my book about?

Among all the books I’ve written, this is one of my favorites because of my hero. After a deadly run-in with the infamous outlaw El Diablo, Jack Logan left the Texas Rangers, no longer able to trust his instincts—or any woman. He knew Dan Taylor’s daughter was trouble, and yet her defiant spirit only spurred his hunger for her. Jack discovered that keeping the dark-haired tigress at bay was a lot harder than outsmarting the outlaws after him—and surrendering to the sweet fury in her arms was a lot riskier.

The Small House at Allington

By Anthony Trollope,

Book cover of The Small House at Allington

The delight of this book is in the characters of the two sisters, and the character development/coming-of-age arc of the hero.

We have two sisters in a little village (living in the Small House at Allington). They are very different, but both delightful - one sought by a cousin she can't care for, the other jilted by a casual gallant.

As I've written elsewhere, the plot is Austenesque and the writing not far inferior - the dialogue instantly transports one to the period, to the village, and every character is cleverly drawn. It was first published in serial form, so there are no boring bits. There's a satirical portrait of high society, too, and the men are much better-developed than is generally the case in the period. There's a HEA, but not necessarily the one expected!! Highly recommended!

Who am I?

I’ve been “big-five-published” in contemporary fiction, Indie-published in speculative thrillers and I – only last year – rejected several publishers in favour of self-publishing books Jane Austen herself might have loved. A Jane Austen fanatic from an early age, I know most of the novels by heart, and appear to have succeeded (to some extent) in understanding her style. My Susan – a unique imagining of Austen’s Lady Susan as a young girl – is both award-winning and bestselling and my Harriet – an imaginative “take” on Austen’s Emma, has just been selected as "Editor's Pick - outstanding" on Publishers Weekly.   

I wrote...

Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

By Alice McVeigh,

Book cover of Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation

What is my book about?

A highly original new “take” on Jane Austen’s Emma, by prizewinning novelist Alice McVeigh. In Harriet , McVeigh imagines a different Harriet Smith: a Harriet clever enough to pretend to be stupid, a Harriet capable of deceiving Miss Emma Woodhouse – a Harriet with a secret. She shares the story with the mysterious Jane Fairfax. 

“A dynamic take on a revered classic. This is still Austen’s Emma—but the story that unfolds through the recollections of these two “side” characters feels remarkably fresh… With or without an understanding of Emma, Harriet contains a fully formed narrative that should satisfy even the choosiest Austen fans… Readers will rarely find the words ‘page-turner’ and 'Jane Austen' in the same sentence, but McVeigh’s impeccably written Harriet certainly fits the bill.” - IndieReader

Scenes of Clerical Life

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Scenes of Clerical Life

For a long time, I assumed that I would find these three novellas about churchmen and parishioners in the English countryside of the late 18th and early 19th centuries sleepy and dull. They’re anything but. Eliot depicts the presence of alcoholism, spousal abuse, loneliness, and life-damaging gossip in her fictional communities. But her signature empathy and wit, already on display in this early work, make it invigorating, not a downer.

Who am I?

I’m a lifelong fan of George Eliot and other classic psychological novelists such as Tolstoy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. I read their fiction over and over again. It deepens my understanding of the way people think and feel, how relationships and communities function, and what makes for a good life. Through these books I sort out my own muddled experiences.

I wrote...

Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life: Bookmarked

By Pamela Erens,

Book cover of Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life: Bookmarked

What is my book about?

I first read Middlemarch (1872) by George Eliot at age 20, and I’ve reread it about every ten years since. It has never stopped being my favorite novel. Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life is the story of how the novel has shaped me as a writer, spouse, and mother, through both rewarding and challenging times. Some people imagine Eliot as daunting (she was a Victorian intellectual! Her books are really long!) and one reason I wrote Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life was to convince people that she’s delightful and entertaining, even as she gets at some of life’s most profound truths.

The Power and the Glory

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene creates a completely convincing scene in just a few words, deftly transporting the reader into a different world. His characters are credible, and tension underlies every word he writes. The Power and the Glory is a master class in demonstrating how a writer can ‘show’ not ‘tell’ the reader what is happening in the world of the book. Although the novel doesn’t fall into the conventional crime genre, Greene writes about people’s ability to treat others with both inhumanity and humanity, exploring the depths and also the best of human potential. 

Who am I?

An avid reader when young, I made the transition from reading to writing relatively late in life. It happened unexpectedly, but once I started writing I found it impossible to stop and have had twenty-eight novels published so far. Fortunately I found a publisher within weeks of completing my first novel, which was shortlisted for several major awards. Currently I am writing the 20th novel in my Geraldine Steel detective series, which has sold over a million copies in the UK alone. As well as writing detective novels, I also support up and coming crime writers as chair of judges for the Crime Writers Association’s Debut Dagger Award.

I wrote...

Fake Alibi

By Leigh Russell,

Book cover of Fake Alibi

What is my book about?

A woman is strangled and her son, Eddy, is arrested. When his alibi falls apart, the police are satisfied he is guilty. Only Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel doubts whether Eddy is cunning enough to kill his mother and cover his tracks so successfully. The situation becomes more complicated when the girl Eddy identified as his girlfriend denies having met him. Shortly after she suspects she is being stalked, her dead body is discovered outside Eddy's house.

As the body count grows, Geraldine finds herself under almost unbearable pressure. She needs to track down the killer before he strikes again.


By Nadia Bolz-Weber,

Book cover of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Founder of a church called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, Nadia Bolz-Weber describes her path from a Fundamentalist upbringing to agnostic comedian to Lutheran pastor. Walking with people who had long been forgotten, dismissed, or condemned by mainstream American Christianity, Bolz-Weber has brought the traditional Reformation message of God’s unconditional love to life in new ways. With stories that range from vulnerable to hilarious, this book is fun to read and full of refreshing insights about God, church, hospitality, and grace.

Who am I?

When I was going to church as a kid, I noticed there were a lot of things about faith that were really important to people but that they rarely talked about. In my work as a pastor, professor, and church historian, I’ve tried to identify and name those core values, so that we can learn from one another, share our beliefs in meaningful and respectful ways, and grow together as we explore life’s big questions and practice living out our beliefs in the here and now.

I wrote...

Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

By Martin Lohrmann,

Book cover of Stories from Global Lutheranism: A Historical Timeline

What is my book about?

There are about 80 million Lutheran in the world today. While Lutheran communities started in central and northern Europe, there are now more Lutherans in Ethiopia than in Sweden, more in Tanzania than the United States, and more in Indonesia than in Norway. Selecting ten vignettes from each of the five centuries since Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517, I wrote this book to show how Lutherans have lived out their faith in a variety of times and places to become a truly global branch of Christianity.

The Seminarian

By Patrick Parr,

Book cover of The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age

Ever wonder how a kid from Atlanta became the leader of the 1960s civil rights movement? This book shows you through its rare photographs and compressed prose. Focusing on the crucial (and overlooked) years in King’s life (when he was training to be the preacher we now know), this book shows him shooting pool as much as studying. Remarkable interviews with his classmates, as well as a stunner with a white woman King seriously considered marrying, make this a real page-turner.

Who am I?

Lost audio reels, archived poetry drafts, personal interviews, and undeveloped photograph negatives spark my compulsive curiosity to tell stories about language that people have never heard. Uncovering what is hidden has led to a digital project dedicated to Martin Luther King’s first “I Have a Dream” speech, a museum exhibit based on never-before-seen images of an 1,800 person KKK march staged in opposition to a King appearance in 1966, and an intimate interview with Dorothy Cotton about her memories of Dr. King. Of my three books, I have written a recent biography, Langston Hughes: Critical Lives. Part of my current research details the poet’s collaborative relationship with jazz singer Nina Simone.  

I wrote...

Origins of the Dream: Hughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

By W. Jason Miller,

Book cover of Origins of the Dream: Hughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

What is my book about?

While uncovering a long-lost reel-to-reel audio tape of MLK’s first “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Rocky Mount, NC over nine months before the March of Washington, I wrote Origins of the Dream to trace King’s use of seven poems by Langston Hughes. I learned that King’s animating metaphor was as much poetic as it was prophetic. In fact, Hughes and King knew each other, exchanged letters, and even traveled together to Nigeria in 1960.

As such, King played a dangerous game of embracing the ideas of a poet who had been the subject of redbaiting and had his reputation tarnished in most circles after testifying on television before Joseph McCarthy in 1953. Hughes’s revolutionary verses were often intentionally concealed within King’s speeches from 1963-66 as King had to be most cautious about publically aligning himself with the left during the years he most hoped to win mainstream political support.

Priest Under Fire

By Peter M. Sánchez,

Book cover of Priest Under Fire: Padre David Rodríguez, the Catholic Church, and El Salvador's Revolutionary Movement

What persuaded a priest to join El Salvador’s largest guerilla organization, the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces)?

This biography explains the metamorphosis of “Padre David,” as he was known. The book also places his experience within the larger context of the role progressive priests and nuns played in helping the poor to realize their worth, which inspired many to then demand change in society. Because the state crushed all peaceful opposition, especially through violence, many Salvadorans concluded that the only way to work for change – and to simultaneously protect themselves – was to join an armed movement. Padre David was no different. He felt an added sense of responsibility because he trained catechists to work for change who were later killed because the state saw them as threats to the status quo.

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the relationship between people’s religious and political identities. As a kindergartner, I heard about the hunger strikers at our local Irish Center, I was taught anti-communist songs at my Catholic Ukrainian school, and I listened as my dad explained Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers as we passed by the grapes while grocery shopping. Catholicism was not something I saw as just happening inside the walls of a church. It was about how one related to the world and was part of a global community. Those early experiences inspired me to become a human rights lawyer and activist, and later, a U.S. foreign relations historian.

I wrote...

Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America

By Theresa Keeley,

Book cover of Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America

What is my book about?

Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns argues that debates among Central American and U.S. Catholics over the church’s direction influenced Ronald Reagan’s policies toward Central America. The flashpoint for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 rape and murder of four U.S. missionaries in El Salvador: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. Once Reagan entered office, conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting U.S. policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan contras, while liberal Catholics protested against it.

Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns highlights religious actors as human rights advocates and decenters U.S. actors in international relations by showing the interplay between Central American and U.S. Catholics. The book won the 2020 Duke University Human Rights Center’s Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America.

Death Comes for the Archbishop

By Willa Cather,

Book cover of Death Comes for the Archbishop

Cather’s love of the land here is apparent here as missionary Father Jean arrives from France in the 1800s following the annexation of New Mexico to bring his faith to the reluctant indigenous people, Spanish settlers, and skeptical Mexican priests set in their own hybrid ways. I had to read this book in high school and as an adult in 2021 I have a wholly different take on its whole colonialism thing. But, by the end, even after he retires Father Jean chooses to stay in New Mexico than go back to France (!!) which truthfully speaks to how New Mexico grabs a hold of you. Plus his life’s dream was to build a grand church in Santa Fe like those he knew in Europe and then when he dies he gets to lie in state, right there, in his dream. 

Who am I?

I was born and raised in New Mexico and it’s a part of me. New Mexicans will tell you that it’s impossible to describe its uniqueness, that you must experience it for yourself. That may be partially true, but writers have done a great job incorporating the majesty of the landscape, the earthiness of the people, the eclectic nature of its values, and ultimately the spell it casts. I’ve set quite a few books in New Mexico and have tried to show how these layers fit together for me. Ultimately, it’s called The Land of Enchantment for many reasons and we do our best to share them with our readers. 

I wrote...

The Reminisce

By H.L. Cherryholmes,

Book cover of The Reminisce

What is my book about?

Curtis has literally dodged a bullet when he heads for Coronado, New Mexico to borrow money from his sister. The dilapidated desert town’s only mansion belongs to 92-year-old Veronica Meeks, in the final stages of what locals call “the reminisce,” for whom Curtis’s sister and her partner are live-in caretakers. Soon Curtis sees things no one else does and is convinced the unresponsive woman isn’t as disconnected as everyone thinks. Tales of Veronica’s associations with the occult lead him to believe she’s manifesting ghosts. As people from the past, including Veronica herself, appear in phantom rooms —he’s no longer certain she’s the cause. Each vision pulls Curtis further into Veronica’s world, until he fears he could become lost in her past.

The Thorn Birds

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The Thorn Birds

I love an epic family saga, and this book has it all—sweeping Australian countryside, forbidden love, family conflict, and, most of all, a struggling girl growing up to find herself, her voice, and her strength through whatever life throws her way. Meggie Cleary may not have been born with any advantages, but she makes the best of what she’s given and overcomes. Her metamorphosis from unfavored girl to strong woman deserves regular re-reads.

Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to stories about underdogs overcoming adversity in different ways. There were times growing up when I didn’t feel like I fit in with my peers, and I’m sure that’s contributed to this fascination. There’s just something so satisfying about a character who others think is down for the count getting back up and winning. As a writer, my women’s fiction stories often center around characters who are in need of personal growth. Overcoming challenges and choosing a truer-to-self path are common themes. That’s why the books on this list found their way to my heart.

I wrote...

These Numbered Days

By Anna E. Collins,

Book cover of These Numbered Days

What is my book about?

When Annie Wolff’s ex-husband dies, she breaks her self-imposed exile and returns home to Washington to make sure her kids are okay. Annie hasn’t seen Grace and Connor in eight years, and with her in-laws making a bid to adopt them, this is her last chance to set things right. She only hopes the depression that once sent her running will remain in check.

As she’s drawn back into the lives of her now-teenage kids, Annie also stumbles into the path of Wic Dubray—the handsome woodworker who leases her a room. Now, Annie must navigate old memories, hostile relatives, her wavering mental health, and a growing fondness for Wic for a chance to win back her children, her life, and maybe find love.

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