The best myth books

21 authors have picked their favorite books about myth and why they recommend each book.

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By David Leeming,

Book cover of Myth: A Biography of Belief

This short book takes a deep dive into the nature of mythology and its relationship to the human mind. As well as the mythologies of past civilizations, Leeming examines modern-day myths and cultural beliefs and shows how myths are living and evolving things that serve a human need to understand the universe. If you have ever wondered what makes a myth a myth, or why everyone seems to have them, this book has some interesting answers.

Who am I?

Graeme Davis has been fascinated by myth and folklore ever since he saw Ray Harryhausen’s creatures in Jason and the Argonauts as a child. While studying archaeology at Durham University, he became far too involved with a new game called Dungeons & Dragons and went on to a career in fantasy games. He has written game sourcebooks on various ancient cultures and their myths, and worked as a researcher and consultant on multiple video games with historical and mythological settings.

I wrote...

Thor: Viking God of Thunder

By Graeme Davis,

Book cover of Thor: Viking God of Thunder

What is my book about?

Thor is best known today as a superhero in Marvel comics and films. In many ways he is the ultimate Viking: bluff, hearty, strong, and direct. And so he was in the earliest surviving stories from Norse myth. The thunder god has survived Roman attempts to conflate him with Classical gods, the bowdlerization of early Christian writers, Nazi attempts to co-opt him and his symbols, and more – and he has done so remarkably unchanged.

Oxford Companion to World Mythology

By David Leeming,

Book cover of Oxford Companion to World Mythology

The Oxford Companion is an encyclopedia, not a narrative, but I love that it includes stories from the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred texts alongside fantastical legends that span the globe. The line between myth and religion is, after all, largely subjective. King David, the nymph Daphne, and the Dayak myths of Borneo all share the same page. For those of us seeking inspiration in myth, the Oxford Companion offers ideas from Abraham to Ziusudra.

Who am I?

Jordanna Max Brodsky is the author of the Olympus Bound trilogy, which follows the Greek goddess Artemis as she stalks the streets of modern Manhattan, and The Wolf in the Whale, a sweeping epic of the Norse and Inuit. Jordanna holds a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University, but she maintains that scholarship is no substitute for lived experience. Her research has taken her from the summit of Mount Olympus to the frozen tundra of Nunavut, and from the Viking ruins of Norway to Artemis’s temples in Turkey.

I wrote...

The Wolf in the Whale

By Jordanna Max Brodsky,

Book cover of The Wolf in the Whale

What is my book about?

A sweeping tale of forbidden love and warring gods, where a young Inuit shaman and a Viking warrior become unwilling allies in a war that will determine the fate of the new world.

A thousand years ago, Omat, born with the soul of a hunter and the spirit of the Wolf, journeys across the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When Omat encounters Brandr, a wounded Viking warrior, they set in motion a conflict that could shatter their icy world... or save it.

Pathways to Bliss

By Joseph Campbell,

Book cover of Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation

The comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell is probably best known for A Hero with a Thousand Faces, but it’s another book—Pathways to Bliss—that I turn to like a travel guide to my own spiritual journey. In prompting readers to explore archetypes to help them create their personal mythology, Campbell believes that life should be a journey to finding our bliss. This is a book about personal growth for people who want to self-discovery in a larger—mythical—context.

Who am I?

In 2010, Sandra A. Miller began hunting for a chest of gold coins buried in New York City soil. In her late forties at the time, she was mired in the process of helping her ailing mother to die, her teenage children to fly, and her writing career to survive the beating it had taken in the Great Recession and beyond. Soon enough, Sandra realized she was not just hunting for a treasure chest full of gold, but rather a different kind of riches. She had lost herself and needed to find a spiritual path that would lead her back home.

I wrote...

Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure

By Sandra A. Miller,

Book cover of Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure

What is my book about?

Trove is the story of a wife, mother, and writer whose life is upended when she begins an armchair treasure hunt—a search for $10,000 worth of gold coins buried in New York City, of all places with a man who, as she points out, is not her husband. In this eloquent, hilarious, multi-award-winning memoir, Sandra A. Miller grapples with the regret and confusion that so often accompanies middle age, and the shame of craving something more when she has so much already.

In a very real way, Miller has spent her life hunting for buried treasure. As a child, she trained herself to find things: dropped hair clips, shiny bits of broken glass, discarded lighters. Looking to escape from her volatile parents and often unhappy childhood, Miller found deeper meaning, and a good deal of hope, in each of these objects. Now an adult and facing the loss of her last living parent her mother who is at once cold, difficult, and wildly funny Miller finds herself, as she so often did as a little girl, pressed against a wall of her own longing. Her search for gold, which soon becomes an obsession, forces her to dredge up painful pieces of her past, confront the true source of her sorrow, and finally discover what it is she has been looking for all these years.

Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature

By S.K. Robisch,

Book cover of Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature

Wolves may be more prevalent in literature and film than they are in reality. For an ecocritical perspective on canid cameos in American narrative, Robisch examines 200 texts to understand the real and imagined wolves and their places across cultures and what that tells us about humans and nature more broadly.

Who am I?

Michelle Lute is a conservation scientist and advocate with fifteen years’ experience in biodiversity conservation on public and private lands around the globe. She dedicates her professional life to promoting human-wildlife coexistence through effective public engagement, equitable participatory processes, and evidence-based decision-making. Michelle is the National Carnivore Conservation Manager for Project Coyote whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.

My project is Project Coyote

What is this project about?

Project Coyote seeks to change negative attitudes toward coyotes, wolves and other misunderstood predators by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation. Our representatives, advisors and supporters include scientists, educators, ranchers and citizen leaders who work together to change laws and policies to protect native carnivores from abuse and mismanagement, advocating coexistence instead of killing. You can help us end cruel and senseless killing contests nationwideWatch the film Wildlife Killing Contests to learn about this important issue and share it to educate, expose, and end wildlife killing contests! Then sign the petition to stop this unconscionable practice on our federal public lands!

Finally, to learn more about why coyotes matter, read Coyote America by Project Coyote Ambassador Dan Flores. "Coyote America is the illuminating five-million-year biography of this extraordinary animal, from its origins to its apotheosis. It is one of the great epics of our time."

The Writer's Journey

By Christopher Vogler,

Book cover of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

This is an indispensable craft book. While Campbell provides in-depth analyses of myth and storytelling, Vogler takes the structural elements of writing a hero’s journey and provides detailed practical guidance about how to write using this narrative structure. In a sense, Campbell tells us what the ingredients are, but Vogler gives writers, such as myself, an instruction guide on how to mix these ingredients in plot and character arcs. 

Until I heard him speak and understood the depth and detail of this essential guide, I didn’t realize how influential Vogler is. I see that influence in books and movies all the time. Many screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists have benefitted from reading his manual. In so many ways, my writer’s journey is captured by the narrative of a hero’s journey—a call to go on a creative journey, fraught with many challenges and frustrations, and it continues to this day. As Vogler…

Who am I?

I have come to better understand myself as a character in a wonderful story called life. That story, in this lifetime, is bookended by birth and death. It’s my own personal narrative of transformation and it’s ongoing. What will come next on my individual Hero’s Journey? Understanding this story structure provides me with insights and inspiration to make it a good story with a happy ending. It also helps me appreciate that there are many challenges to be overcome along the way.

I wrote...

Serpent Rising

By Victor Acquista,

Book cover of Serpent Rising

What is my book about?

Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards for Best New Age Fiction. A blend of mystery, suspense, adventure, and thriller, book one of The Saga of Venom and Flame recounts a heroine's journey of transformation into a warrior for truth in the great War of the Two Serpents.

Serena Mendez is a pill-popping dysfunctional who is haunted by trauma she experienced in her youth. She is unaware of her latent potential. A clandestine brotherhood hunts her for the threat she represents. To fulfill her true destiny and unleash the power within her blood, Serena journeys to six continents where she uncovers the truth of who she is, and what she must do. A warrior stirs—a Lightbringer… She is Serena Mendez… She is a Candelaria.

The Power of Myth

By Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers,

Book cover of The Power of Myth

The essence of negotiation is being willing and able to challenge everything. This is the message of Campbell’s insightful work. The Power of Myth shows us how to negotiate with the system as it tries to manipulate us to behave in ways that do not always serve our interests. “It’s a very grim thing to be a modern human being,” Campbell says. I revisit this book every couple of years and always find new ways to make the world a better place to live.

Who am I?

Ed Brodow is one of the world’s leading experts on the art of negotiation and the bestselling author of eight books, including the business classic Negotiation Boot Camp. SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt dubbed Ed “The King of Negotiators.” Forbes Magazine agreed, ranking Ed as one of the nation’s leading dealmakers. A nationally recognized television personality, Ed has appeared as a negotiation guru on ABC National News, Fox News, PBS, Inside Edition, and Fortune Business Report. For more than two decades, his acclaimed seminars have set the standard for "how to make a deal" in Corporate America. Ed is a former U.S. Marine officer, Fortune 500 sales manager, and Hollywood movie actor.

I wrote...

Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals

By Ed Brodow,

Book cover of Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals

What is my book about?

Negotiation expert Ed Brodow arms readers with the same proven strategies and tactics he teaches to the professional negotiators at Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, The Hartford, Learjet, McKinsey, Starbucks, British Aerospace, the IRS, and the Pentagon. Using a wealth of examples from real-life encounters, Brodow reveals how to develop the skills and confidence you need to achieve your goals at work and in your personal life. After completing Brodow’s basic training program, you will have learned how to conquer your fear of confrontation, develop your personal negotiation style, assess the other side’s strengths and weaknesses, master the art of listening, break through impasses, and create an atmosphere of trust in which the other party is a collaborator rather than a competitor.

The Myth Gap

By Alex Evans,

Book cover of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren't Enough?

This short punchy book is written by ex-policy advisor Alex Evans, following his disillusionment with high power international climate politics. Having worked for the British Government and for the UN Secretary-General in the 2000s, Evans realised that scientific evidence and rational arguments were not enough to change the world for the better. In The Myth Gap, he therefore makes the case to recognise – or else to create – different stories, or myths, which provide the orientation and motivation for different people groups to act out change in their own different worlds. No one story will do the job; we need many.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by the weather since as a schoolboy I avidly followed the cricket scores and the fate of tomorrow’s match. This co-dependence of my passion for cricket with the state of the weather turned into a professional career as, first, a research scientist and then later a professor of geography, I studied the idea of climate and the many ways in which it intersects with our social, ecological and imaginative worlds. As human-caused climate change became a defining public and political issue for the new century, my interests increasingly focused on understanding why people think so differently about the climate, its changes, its future trajectory—and what to do about it. 

I wrote...

Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity

By Mike Hulme,

Book cover of Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity

What is my book about?

Climate change is an environmental, cultural, and political phenomenon which is changing the way we think about ourselves, our societies, and humanity's place on Earth. But changing us not in the same way. In this book, I explain the different ways in which climate change is understood by different people, but even more so why our responses to climate change are so different—why the idea of climate change can inspire technological innovation, the overthrow of capitalism, the emergence of a global government, the unweaving of western civilisation. 

Climate change is more than a singular ‘problem' waiting for a universal ‘solution'. The book uses the standpoints of science, economics, faith, psychology, communication, sociology, politics, and development to explain why we disagree about climate change.  

The Origins of the World's Mythologies

By E.J. Michael Witzel,

Book cover of The Origins of the World's Mythologies

A controversial, scholarly attempt at synthesizing and organizing the foundations of world mythologies may seem a strange selection. It’s certainly an enormous task, and Witzel could be wrong, but this sweeping book tantalizes and enriches any open mind with an interest in mankind’s story on Earth: two great separate migrations out of Africa carried differing concepts of the world’s origins. The first made its way around India to Australia. In this story, the world had no origin, it always existed in Dreamtime. Mankind emerged into time and joined all creatures and their landscapes. The second migration into Europe and Asia brought the foundations of Western traditions. The story is more familiar: an all-powerful deity created the world out of chaos or primordial waters, fashioned and breathed life into human beings, and thrust them into a world of constant struggle and conflict. If for some reason that doesn't sound familiar, reread…

Who am I?

I was an avid reader of science fiction as a teenager and developed a love of science and how elegantly and yet how alive and ever-changing it is as we learn more. It explains the world. I couldn’t settle on any one field: physics, biology, neuroscience, astronomy, geology? So I began a writing career where I could draw on my faithful reading of Science News and popular science books. Scientific inaccuracies in fiction still irritate me (don’t get me started), and to the best of my ability Ι ground stories in what we know with some confidence, though science will always be a moving target. My recent book, Mixed Harvest, embeds fiction in archaeology and anthropology.

I wrote...

Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past

By Rob Swigart,

Book cover of Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past

What is my book about?

These short stories, grounded in prehistory, archaeology, and anthropology, dramatize a possible history of our species’ wandering journey from African hunter-gatherer to global farmer. They cover 60,000 years, ending with the emergence of the first cities in Mesopotamia.

Today we enjoy the benefits of the civilization they bequeathed us; we also confront the unintended consequences of their decisions. We went from hunting and gathering, painting on cave walls, and swapping lies around a fire, to writing our own histories, plowing fields, herding animals, and fighting contagions and our neighbors. Agriculture gave us organized religion, Mozart, international travel, gourmet food, higher education, as well as pollution, inequality, climate change, and war. Hence, the harvest is mixed.

Myth-ion Improbable

By Robert Asprin,

Book cover of Myth-ion Improbable

Although this isn’t the first book in the series, I find it the most fun. I have a deep love for the myth series because it was the first series of books I ever read. They are a very traditional fantasy story about a wizard, his dragon, and a demon he pals around with. But, it is a tongue-in-cheek comedy rather than a serious epic tale.

The series reads fine out of order and you could start anywhere, but this one is my favorite.

Who am I?

Although I write in many genres, fantasy was my first love in reading. I fell in love with the possibilities of a boundless world. And as the years went on, I realized that fantasy could be more than just dragons and sorcery. Fantasy was this big umbrella that housed all the impossible dreams. So, I gravitated toward the genre. I also have an affinity for fun things. I don’t like to be sad, so I prefer movies, music, games, and books that revolve around fun and humor.

I wrote...

The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby

By Richard W. Kelly,

Book cover of The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby

What is my book about?

Drew Darby was an average high school kid. Well, an average, dorky, loner, high school kid whose parents made him get a part time job. Little did he know, when he stepped into the building for his new job, he was taking the first step on his way to becoming a soldier in the United States Army's Psychic Operations. Before long Drew would be facing an adventure that could change the face of the planet.

A fun young adult fantasy that turns up the fun and keeps the reader guessing as to what will happen next. A page-turner that draws you in before you realize it.

The Dream of the Ridiculous Man

By Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky,

Book cover of The Dream of the Ridiculous Man

Another story we discuss in my mental health and literature class, and easily found in any collection of Dostoevsky, The Dream of the Ridiculous Man recounts one desperate and momentous night in the life of the titular depressive and proto-absurdist. His experience revolves around a faith-restoring dream in which (spoiler alert) the narrator shoots himself, is buried alive, pulled from the grave by a black angel, then flown through outer space to an alternate sun with an alternate earth where the local population is enjoying a shamelessly Edinic existence—that is, until the narrator contaminates them with his ego, causing them all to fall from grace, the description of which provides Dostoevsky the opportunity to recap the whole of human history in roughly three pages. Accurately no less. It’s a bravura performance.

Who am I?

I like history. I also like myth. And I revere the imagination, the liberal use of which can lead to what many call “fantasy.” Though the portions change, almost all the fiction I’ve written—from The Chess Garden to John the Baptizer to my latest, The Unknown Woman of the Seine—is the product of this recipe. Some moment from the past captures my attention, digs its hooks in, invites research, which begets questions, which beget answers that only the imagination can provide, informed both by experience and by the oldest illustrations of why we are the way we are. Dice these up, let simmer until you’re not sure which is which, and serve.

I wrote...

The Unknown Woman of the Seine

By Brooks Hansen,

Book cover of The Unknown Woman of the Seine

What is my book about?

In the late 1880s, the body of a young woman washed up on the banks of the Seine, was taken directly to the morgue and publicly displayed in hopes that someone would recognize her. None did, but her face was thought to be so beautiful and enigmatic, a mask was made that grew quite famous, first for being an artist’s study tool, then a writer’s muse, then the template for the first CPR dummy.

That is the story we know. Set during the final three days of the World Exposition, 1889, The Unknown Woman of the Seine tells the story we don’t—not just of the life that led to the expression on that young maiden’s face, but even more mysteriously, the death.

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