Scot McKnight's Top 10 Leadership Books
The best books for leaders you won't find at your next ministry conference.

What makes a leader? Ideas. Courage. Contact with great thinkers. What makes a Christian leader? Great ideas, courage, and contact with great thinkers shaped by the gospel. So, I offer to you a list of my top ten books for leaders, and none of the titles of these books have the word "leader" or "leadership" in it. Some of these are overtly Christian classics; others are not. These books have the ability to swell the chest, flood the mind, and reshape how we see the world around us – and a gospel-reshaping of these great works can inspire a leader to new levels.

From the classical world, though one could choose all sorts of great works, I recommend a soaking in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, to see how the great philosopher constructed a set of ethics that shaped the Western world. Homer told the story of Odysseus and Virgil in The Aeneid. Homer's story came into the Roman world and gave to all of us the power of a journey into ideas and ideals, sanctifying place and history. Dante took Homer and Virgil to the next level in his Divine Comedy, and if you follow him all the way down into the inferno, up through purgatory and then climb into the swirling glorious presence of God you will find new dimensions to life's journey.

I've heard the case made that St. Augustine's Confessions reshaped the entire Western world, not least in his probing of his own soul and conscience, but I'm confident that the great North African can lead each of us to the potent truth of original sin and the need to read our lives before God. Not long ago I began to re-read John Milton, Paradise Lost, and was mesmerized not only by his language and meter, but by the brilliance of his vision for the cosmic battle of human life.

No one on this side of the Atlantic can fail to be captured, humbled and even humiliated before God by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It brings into living reality the evil of slavery and the heart of darkness, a heart that was eschewed by the arch-individiual, Henry David Thoreau in On Walden Pond. Americans need to dip into this classic work of human independence and freedom if only to capture again what makes so many Americans still tick.

Hemingway said Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the great American novel. I'm not expert enough on American novels to pose such a conclusion, but I can say that very few have probed more deeply the foibles of the human heart, whether Twain does so with withering wit or raw finger-pointing.

For some reason few today have read C.S. Lewis' Dymer, his first work, a saga, a journey, and a portrait of human hubris at its apex – and the work provides for us a revelation of what Lewis was like, what his yearning was like, before it became Surprised by Joy. I confess to being one of the few who have not read all of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings – I have read The Hobbit – but I return regularly to his short story, "Leaf by Niggle," and often wonder if there is a better way of describing our vocation and its relation to eternity.

October 20, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 15 comments


November 11, 2009  6:50am

Hello This is very good list of Scot McKnight's books.He is a great writer.Thank you very much for sharing this book list with us.

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October 27, 2009  10:22pm

Knight is a great writer. But a leader? This is a vanity list, plain and simple. Invoking Buber and little-known Lewis? Yes, the alpha males really need to check those out. Ivory tower syndrome, heal thyself.

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October 26, 2009  11:27am

Yeah, Scott, you could be right. There is a little ambiguity there and I could have misinterpreted what he was saying. Thanks for pointing that out.

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October 22, 2009  9:49pm

I like the idea of including Thoreau in a book about leaders. I'm not sure people typically think of him that way. Still, he certainly made a difference in the anti-slavery movement in his day. Just as important, he continues to guide people even today to engaging life in the deepest way – getting the most out of our lives. That's leadership. And there's no question Thoreau is still making a difference. if you don't mind, I share here an account of my first trip to visit Thoreau in Concord this month:

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Dan S.

October 21, 2009  8:41pm

Is this a list of 10 books for leaders or is it simply a list of 10 great books for Christians in general? If I've been reading my trendy missional books correctly, it's important to distinguish "leadership" (a particular spiritual gift/calling given to certain believers) from Christian formation/maturity (the fruit of the spirit which applies to all believers)? Either way, I have no quarrel that this book list is a good one.

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tony jones

October 21, 2009  3:43am

Scot, A sentence in the second paragraph is confusingly written (or edited). Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. Virgil wrote the history of Rome (and Aeneas) in the Aeneid.

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Scot McKnight

October 20, 2009  10:15pm

Books like these are classics, and their authors have become leaders in the humanist tradition.

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October 20, 2009  5:42pm

Great list, very inspiring. There's a confusing sentence in there: "Homer told the story of Odysseus and Virgil in The Aeneid." That makes it sound like Homer wrote the Aeneid. Homer wrote the Odyssey and the Iliad, Virgil wrote the Aeneid.

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Wayne Park

October 20, 2009  4:11pm

whether he calls them leaders or not what does it matter? What he's doing is giving us the main course over much of the "leadership lite" we've been getting malnourished on. Or maybe not.

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Henry Zonio

October 20, 2009  2:30pm

Is it just me, or aren't there more than ten books listed? :)

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