10 Books to Take to a Deserted Island

reading on an island

by John Ellis

While claiming to be a beach connoisseur may be a stretch, having grown up in Florida does give my opinions about all things beach related some validity[1] – likewise, if someone grew up in Canada, I’ll defer to their opinions about the best types of snowshoes and maple syrup. In other words, growing up in Florida means that I’m probably better qualified than most to determine which items should be taken along in the event that an individual finds himself or herself exiled to a deserted island.

I love reading books while listening to music; since I’ve already decided which ten albums to take to my island exile, my sandy and lonely private beach resort now needs some good reading material. Ten books aren’t nearly enough, and I’ll be the first to admit that, but the rules clearly say “ten.” The rules also say that The Complete Works of Shakespeare do NOT count as one book – as much as I wish it did. Or should it be “does NOT count?” I can’t even decide on which verb tense to use; “does” sounds better, to me, but I would much prefer “do.” Regardless, whenever I read lists like “100 books you should read before dying” or “25 books that make for great bathroom reading,” the treatment of The Complete Works of Shakespeare as one book feels like cheating.

In the issue of full disclosure, the whole “ten books” thing isn’t entirely true. You see, not long ago I wrote the post “5 Books that Every Christian Should be Reading on a Regular Basis.” A clunky title, I know; but, in order to keep from reselecting books that I just wrote about, I’m operating under the assumption that when I arrive at the deserted island, I make the happy discovery that those five books are already there. That means, technically, I will have fifteen books on the island, but “10 Books to Take to a Deserted Island” makes for a snazzier title.

The Holy Bible

If you need an explanation for my inclusion of The Bible, many of the posts on this blog probably confuse you. Or you haven’t read any other posts on this blog.


The Tempest – William Shakespeare

I mean, come on. The greatest writer in Western history wrote a play about a group of people stranded on an island and I’m not going to bring it along to my island exile? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s in my “top five favorite Shakespeare plays.”[2] The play itself is marvelous, but The Tempest has the extra dimension as being (most likely) Shakespeare’s last solo work; and, as Shakespeare scholar Anne Barton once wrote about The Tempest, the play has the distinction of being the work in which Shakespeare acknowledges that “he had reached a point in his investigation of the capabilities of words beyond which he found it difficult to proceed.” Prospero’s apology in the Epilogue takes on multi-faceted (even for Shakespeare) layers when viewed in the possibility that the words may be Shakespeare’s most personal statement in his entire canon. By no means do I believe that I could ever unlock all the mysteries of The Tempest, but being stuck on a deserted island will certainly give me the time needed to try.


Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

This list is almost writing itself.


Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco

Being exiled to a deserted island is not good, but I’m not sure if it’s as bad as thinking that books like The Da Vinci Code are true. With Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco not only crafted an engaging, entertaining, and intricate book, but, as a bonus, reading it will afford me the opportunity to continue to feel smug as I laugh at gullible saps[3].

War and Peace – Tolstoy

I love this book and I want to read it far more often than I have[4], but it’s soooo long. Being stuck on a deserted island, I would have zero excuse to not read it at least a couple of more times during the remainder of my life.

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

Picking which Thomas Hardy book to take was not fun. You know what is fun? Thomas Hardy. Thomas Hardy is a delight to read, and I unashamedly admit that his books are my go-to guilty pleasure reading[5]. As far as Jude the Obscure, it’s probably my favorite novel by Hardy, mainly because I’m tired of trying to figure it out. I freely admit that I willfully ignore the anti-Christian theme in the novel, and, instead, focus on the beautiful ways in which Hardy weaves broken human failings together into a heartbreaking story that resonates with me.

The City of God – Saint Augustine

Just because I’ll be stuck on an island doesn’t mean that I will no longer be tempted to conflate the City of Rome and the City of God. I mean, chances are that whatever government I form with the sand crabs, seagulls, and empty coconut shells will be where I place my identity and hope. I’ll need to read The City of God from time to time to remind myself which kingdom I belong to.

The Works of Lucian of Samosata – Lucian

I know that I disallowed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare from counting as one book, but this is different; I think. The surviving works of the ancient satirist, novelist, and philosopher have been on my to-read list for roughly five years now. Being stuck on an island should provide me the opportunity to finally read it.

Theism and Humanism – Arthur J. Balfour

C.S. Lewis stated that Theism and Humanism is “a book too little read.” That endorsement, in and of itself, is enough to at least consider taking Balfour’s apologetic lectures attacking naturalism to the deserted island. The fact that having read it once and being left with the longing to read it again and again until I master the ideas and thoughts of Balfour, who was much smarter than either you or I, means that it’s going in my suitcase.

The Essence of Christianity – Ludwig Feuerbach

Speaking of people much smarter than you or I, Feuerbach, with his seminal book, lays the foundation as well as building the walls for most of the arguments propagated by subsequent humanists and materialists. As Sun Tzu wrote, “Know thy enemy.” Being exiled to a deserted island will provide the requisite time needed to get inside of Feuerbach’s big brain via his dense writing and, hence, in the off-chance that I ever get off the island, I will know my enemy.

While compiling the list, I seriously considered Measure for Measure, The Brothers Karamazov, a Solzhenitsyn biography, and The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. I will miss all those books, and more, but the rules were clear – only ten. Honestly, considering the books that I’ve chosen (plus the five already on the island), I probably have a full year’s worth of reading. And, all the books that I’ve chosen lend themselves quite well to repeated readings. I think I’ll be fine. One final note, I would’ve included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I basically have the play memorized. Is that cheating?

[1] We won’t talk about how I’ve had sun poisoning twice due to the fact that I didn’t believe that it was necessary for me to put sun screen on while lying on Pensacola Beach.

[2] 1. Hamlet (duh) 2. The Tempest 3. The Winter’s Tale 4. King Lear 5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. – so, technically it’s in my “top two.”

[3] The book is far more than that. If you haven’t read it, you should.

[4] Twice. I’ve only read it twice.

[5] And I promise that nowhere else will you find the words “guilty pleasure” used to describe Thomas Hardy novels. That’s how awesome the books I read are.


5 thoughts on “10 Books to Take to a Deserted Island

  1. Love this. 😉

    My list:
    – You make a strong argument for Tempest. I really love Hamlet, though. I think I’d take Hamlet but look you up after your desert adventure to see if you figured out Tempest …and save me the work. However, I think anthologies DO count, so I’d just bring my tiny print Unabridged Works.. 😉
    – One volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. He is the greatest 20th c church theologian in the eyes of many, and my introduction to him a couple years ago (in a class) was stunning. So much joy seeps through his writing, meanwhile you’re beating your head against a concept that’s totally worth beating your way into. There’s no one-volume CD so I guess I’d ask around for which volume is best if I have to pick only one.
    – Crime and Punishment, because I never finished it. *ducks for cover*
    – The Last Lion, v1 – Wm Manchester’s legendary 3v biography of Winston Churchill. Coart considers it awesome, so that’s good enough for me to get a start. And it’s like 1,000 pages (per volume) so it’s going to take me a while.
    – Dune, by Frank Herbert. Another one of those “everyone tells me I should read it because it’s awesome an the ideas are interesting and the movie was total bullshit”
    – Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card. The entire book is a conversation among 3 characters about an ethical dilemma following up the events in Ender’s Game. I think that sounds pretty ridiculous so let’s find out….
    – something by Ursula LeGuin, maybe Left Hand of Darkness. Because beautiful writing deserves a spot in the suitcase

    …That’s a start.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your literary choices are better than your music choices in my view from the “Old Geezer Seats”. I just watched a production of The Tempest with Helen Mirren as Prospera (instead of Prospero). It renewed my appreciation for the Bard.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love lists like this. Carl Trueman says that Jude the Obscure is his favorite novel ever. You should listen to 5 minutes in Church History podcast where Dr Stephen Nichols brings guests on every once in a while to list the 5 books they would bring to a deserted island, and one book of theirs that they would leave on the island. Also that deserted island gets the complete works of Luther, Calvin, and Augustine I think, so it starts off with a years worth of reading from the get go.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s