1. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu: This is, at least in my experience, one of the most popular books in prison. Before I actually decided to read it I constantly overheard snippets of it in random rec-yard chatter, the speaker always extolling the greatness of the work. Then it started making appearances whenever I conversed with friends about “good books.” Sometimes, I’d get questioned with that surprised voice, you know what I mean, when the person asking the question puts emphasis on every word, like, “You’ve never read The Art of War?” And so I read it, not just because I kept hearing about it, but because it was directly applicable to my life. I saw every single day as another battle in a 16-year war I was sentenced to. Actually, I didn’t just “read it,” I studied it like a college textbook, like finals were fast approaching. Certain phrases, points, and paragraphs jumped out at me, so I memorized them, knowing I needed to learn those lessons. Sun Tzu told me that “The highest realization of warfare is to attack plans,” it’s not always about attacking the enemy, and that “The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known,” and I learned about the advantage of “taking the higher ground,” but, even when almost all aspects of war are in your favor, Sun Tzu insists that you need to “Leave an outlet,” an escape option for the enemy. What? I put the book down and thought about that strategy. I remembered an Old Timer telling me, “The most dangerous man is a scared man who’s in fear for his life. He’ll fight harder than anybody and will do absolutely anything to save himself.” After recalling those words, Sun Tzu’s advice made more sense to me, and I wondered if the Old Timer ever read The Art of War. 

2. The Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant: Prior to prison I would never have imagined myself reading a book about philosophy. In jail is where I discovered the joys of reading. I mean, I read comic books as a kid and continued reading them into my early teens, but thick books with hundreds of pages did not pique my interest. They just didn’t scream “Fun” to me. And I always thought that reading non-fiction books was more of a scholarly undertaking, something enjoyed by professors and college students, a pastime from another world that could potentially cause narcolepsy. In the brief version of things, “I came, I saw, I conquered” a mountain of books, in prison, and I enjoyed it immensely. Now, we’re still on the brief version of things, so, I wound up in Close Management, which is just a politically correct way of describing extended stays in solitary confinement, and I got my hands on a copy of The Story of Philosophy. I had “heard” of Friedrich Nietsczhe and his Ubermensch philosophy while reading a fiction book by Dean Koontz about a murdering antagonist who liked to spraypaint “Ubermensch” on the walls around his victims. Okay, I’m oversimplifying Koontz’s novel to the point that it sounds ridiculous, which it wasn’t, I’ll have you know, but I must move on, so, if you happen to be Dean Koontz reading this, I apologize for the underwhelming summary of your book. Anyway, I looked for the section of the book that covered Nietszche and found it in the middle. (NOTE: FOR AN OPTIMAL READING EXPERIENCE, NARRATE THE NEXT 3 LINES IN YOUR BEST SHELDON COOPER VOICE) I couldn’t very well start a book in the middle. That would be absurd. I had to start at the beginning until I arrived at the chapter that truly piqued my interest. (NOTE: YOU CAN STOP DOING THE SHELDON COOPER VOICE) And I was glad I read it. I began to understand the allure of reading books on philosophy. The way the philosopher can take you from one simple statement on to a succession of equally simple (and ostensibly undeniable) points to a conclusion so deep, complex and mind-blowing, it’s almost unbelievable that such basic steps guided you there. I’m certain there are tens of thousands of books that could’ve bored me to sleep, forcing me to relinquish my curiosity with philosophy, but I got lucky when I stumbled upon Will Durant. He’s an expert when it comes to explaining the worlds deepest thinkers in an understandable way.

The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi: The samurai who wrote this book is thought by many to have been the greatest swordsman who ever lived. That alone made me want to read The Book of Five Rings. It discussed combat in close quarters, and I was in prison, so, it immediately jumped to the top of my reading list. I was 19 years old, had been incarcerated for 3 years and, since I was serving a 16 year sentence, I knew there’d be quite a few more years before my release, which ensured my days of combat in close quarters were not yet complete. It sounds funny to me now, the way I state it for your reading pleasure but, at the time, it wasn’t a cheerful realization. It was an unfortunate reality, having to constantly prepare for the possibility of sudden bouts of hand-to-hand combat. I don’t remember any direct quotes from the book, but I do remember that Musashi placed much importance on (1) the ability to adapt to different styles and circumstances and (2) maintaining a certain calm in the midst of chaos. The Book of Five Rings is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in war, strategy, and/or close-quarters combat. And it would be in my top 5 if I made a list called “Books Prisoners Should Read.”


*Initially, this post was titled “6 Great Books I Read Inside” but each explanation was more wordy than I initially intended it to be, so, this is the abridged version. I will probably not write another to finish it, so, here are the other books that were on my original list: (4) Awaken the Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins, (5) The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, (6) The Wolf’s Hour, by Robert McCammon (the only fiction book that made the list)





10 thoughts on “3 Great Books I Read Inside

  1. Glad you mentioned “The Art of War, by Sun Tzu”, because I began to look into it and got lost in something else.

    Your interests fascinate me. It makes me wonder (this may be nothing extraordinary, I think “out loud” with you)… is it possible these traits already existed within you in, and it was God’s way of cultivating them?

    We all learn so differently.

    He uses ordinary people to accomplish His purposes. I look forward to seeing where He leads you to shine most brilliantly.

    I hope that made sense. It’s been a very long, strange and difficult two days. It’s called – life.
    Feel free to edit this. (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good afternoon Kat. Why would I edit anything you write? I always appreciate your comments and messages exactly as they are.

      I’m sorry to hear that you had a couple of rough, strange days. What happened? I hope my question doesn’t come off as intrusive. You don’t have to answer. I hope everything is better today.

      Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. God bless.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. #1: I tend to make errors, see them later, and they bother me. I write impromptu.

        #2: My mom was in the ER a couple of times within the span of less than 10 hours. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, added it up – she’s not exactly young. So rebounding is getting harder, and tough to witness as her most loving daughter. I’m also the cornerstone of our family of origin.

        Thanks to your writing and God’s timing, it’s been a blessing in many ways. It’s important others know this. God’s helped strengthen me within by witnessing your being unabashedly bold. It’s gripped me! By that He’s really worked on me.

        You know me better than anyone here. My writing “sounds selfish” to me by writing in the first person or saying “I”, but as I kept doing it, God began to restore me.

        Domestic violence or the offender’s sole purpose is -the predator weakens the prey – with the intent that spouse or whomever “disappears” from all others to establish dominance. The worst case scenario is death.

        It’s like the prison, or solitary confinement trying to break you instead of encouraging you, but with us – God didn’t allow them to succeed!

        I kept watching you write boldly so I stepped out, and did it myself. (I had to be creative and discreet. Plus it took a lot of research outside of that which is written.)

        It was a great relief, yet while my mom was suffering I got a phone call that was very positive. You know God’s work is mainly seen looking back, right? Sometimes He gives us this sense about things, and it still surprises us. Right?

        I’ve waited over a year for this. It also happens in stages, so I have to stop. I’m sharing because it’s a testament to Christ, and how He works in our lives.

        (I began this and took a break.)

        To tie in this portion from above (removing the error), “is it possible these traits already existed within you, and it was God’s way of cultivating them?”

        I stated I “think out loud to you”. I didn’t know why I wrote it, and noticed you didn’t address it. Interesting that I’ll do that, but only with you. The connection is clear now.

        I got the first book as I had planned, but had gotten sidetracked, because God knows I need to occupy my time for a few days.

        The connection to the question? Survival.

        It is my belief after years of observation and reading it appears to be a God-given instinct. Right now God is drawing me to the strongest survivors to whom He knows – I can best relate. One is you.

        John, that’s twice I didn’t receive any notification you replied back. That bothers me. I’ll send an email to you gmail account.

        May God keep you healthy and safe,

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not read the last one on this list, but the first 2 are great, and the first is totally up there in my top 20 (the titles therein tend to play musical chairs and the music depends on what’s going on in my life, of course, haha). The Art of War is one of those books you re-read every few years because there are so many different ways to apply the – you can’t not call it “wisdom,” right?! – but the most poignant, especially in today’s world and sadly, in this country, are his 9 situations. Sadder still is my feeling that, in the U.S., most of us are looking at just ground as described in 8 & 9.

    Was “Tao of Jeet Kun Do” one of the other 3?! That’s definitely a treasure chest of “a-ha!” moments and pieces to ponder. A few others I hope have made your To Read list and, if they haven’t, I highly recommend are: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius; “Outliers” and “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell; Awaken the Giant Within – Tony Robbins; “The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life,” by Deepak Chopra; Republic – Plato; aww crap, this will never end, haha! There are so many!! I love “How to Analyze People On Sight” and “Politics,” too! Anyway, I’m sorry for rambling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Kerissa Savea. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m honored and, by the way, I did not in any way feel as if you were rambling. Down at the very bottom of the post I listed the other 3 books that were originally on my list of 6. The book you mentioned, by Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within, is on that list. And I have read The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I loved it. Great book. You know what? There is a book that I absolutely love called The Four Agreements. Based upon your response and the books you’ve recommended I think you’ll enjoy The Four Agreements (By Don Miguel Ruiz). I might have to write another post called “3 Great Books I’ve Read Since My Release” and include it on the list.
      Thanks again.
      God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank YOU! I’ve read The 4 Agreements and I loved it!! I’ve always got my nose in a book or two, I love reading about people’s experimentations on their personal roads to wherever they want to go. I feel like it helps to keeps me hopeful when things don’t seem to be going how I thought I wanted them to. Thank you, again, for your kind reply and recommendation! My best & warmest blessings are with you, K

        Liked by 1 person

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