Recommended Books


Books can be a tremendous source of inspiration; they can encourage us to go that much deeper into meditation, into looking at and letting go of the negative stuff which stops us seeing ourselves and each other as we really are.

At present, there areeight books we would like to recommend. Three of these I have bracketed together into a single review. We hope you find they provide lasting help and encouragement.

Please scroll down to find the following books:
Being Peace - by Thích Nhất Hạnh
Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea - by Mark Kurlansky
Calming The Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism - by Thích Nhất Hạnh
The Lemon Tree - by Sandy Tolan
Nonviolent Communication - by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Rumi: three books of poetry - translated by Maryam Mafi & Azima Melita Kolin
How the wisdom of the ages is reflected in many world faiths - Pam Evans

bullet point Being Peace by Thích Nhất Hạnh. Copyright 1987, 1996 Parallax Press, Berkeley, California. 115 pp. Reviewed by Steve Gardiner.

The beauty of this book is its simplicity and clarity. Thích Nhất Hạnh emphasises that it is vitally important that we cultivate peace within through meditation, as well as living harmoniously with those around us. This book gives an introduction to Zen Buddhism, and the Community of Interbeing, but I believe its message of peace is highly relevant to all of us, whatever our beliefs. To my mind, Thích Nhất Hạnh certainly practises what he preaches; this is amply demonstrated by his courageous peacebuilding and mediating role in the Vietnam war.

Here are three quotations:

'If we are peaceful, if we are happy,
we can blossom like a flower,
and everyone in our family,
in our entire society,
will benefit from our peace.' [p.1]

'Every day we do things, we are things, that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our lifestyle, our way of consuming, of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment we are alive, the present moment.' [p.66-67]

'In the peace movement there is a lot of anger, frustration, and misunderstanding. The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter. We need to learn to write a letter [to whichever politician or national leader] that they will want to read, and not just throw away. The way you speak, the kind of understanding, the kind of language you use should not turn people off. The [politician/leader] is a person like any of us.' [pp.79-80]

(In June 2009, the Peace Mantra Movement wrote two letter of thanks and encouragement to President Obama, and the Chancellor of Cairo University. The style and content of these letters were inspired by Thích Nhất Hạnh's words quoted above.)

bullet point Non Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky. Published by Vintage 2007. ISBN 9780099494126. 203 pp. Reviewed by Anthony Russell.

With a foreword by the Dalai Lama this book is an exciting read, more than living up to the claim of the title. Looking back through history, Kurlansky examines in depth the endless cycles of warfare and violence that by their very nature were bound to failure, "Wars never end warfare, they lay the ground work for the next." I wish I had read this when I was younger and while instinctually knowing its truth, was trapped in a culture based on principles of violence and domination. As Napoleon said, "History is on the side with the biggest artillery."

A central theme of the book is the belief that it is national desire for power that leads to much of the violence that plagues our species. Kurlansky claims that in their need to control and grow, nation states take the simple spiritual idea at the heart of a religion and corrupt it for their own obsessive purposes. Then equally, "Once the religion began working with the state and became involved in the State's business, it was involved in warfare."

The book makes a powerful and unequivocal case for the pointlessness of war, showing how each generation was hoodwinked into believing in the necessity of violent action, without contemplating the true cost or possible alternatives. He tackles convincingly the myths around the one great conflict still regarded as a 'just war'; the Second World War. He points out that technological advances have had a disproportionate effect, with a rise in the percentage of civilian casualties in modern wars. But there is hope in the realisation that war is becoming ever harder to sell, as many armies struggle to fill their ranks. It is hard to know just how dangerous an idea this is, until you are yourself able to frustrate the intentions of a nation and risk the retribution that history does not like to record, though every Christian should know well by one great example.

bullet point Mary Bray has kindly suggested another book by Thích Nhất Hạnh: Calming The Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism'. This is also published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, ISBN: 1-888375-51-5. We would be grateful if someone would send us a review of this book. Here is a short extract:

'Sometimes our sense of fear and insecurity comes from looking at the destruction of the planet around us. People wonder how we can continue to survive when we are destroying our planet. The environment suffers because we consume too much and without mindfulness. We destroy our environment just as we destroy ourselves because of unmindful consumption. Learning to consume less, learning to consume only the things that can bring peace and health into our body and into our consciousness, we will help heal the planet as well as our bodies.'

bullet point The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. ISBN: 978-0-55215-514-4 Copyright Sandy Tolan 2006. Transworld Publishers: a Black Swan book. Main narrative 393 pp. A further 165 pp. of Bibliography, Notes, Acknowledgments and Index. Recommended by Barrie Wright, and reviewed by Steve Gardiner.

This is a true story of how two families - one Arab, the other Jewish - who have lived in the same house in Ramla, Palestine/Israel have come through an immensely painful and difficult journey to become friends with each other.

In Sandy Tolan's words: 'This book is firmly planted in the soil of non-fiction narrative. Many of the events depicted are from fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago; none the less, their retelling relies, like everything else in the book, entirely on the tools of reporting and research: interviews, archival documents, published and unpublished memoirs, personal diaries, newspaper clippings, and primary and secondary historical accounts.'

Sandy goes on to say: 'I have not taken liberties with the history, no matter how minor. At no point do I imagine what happened ...'.

This is one of the most remarkable and moving books I have ever read. Its power is due to the fact that all the highly charged emotions are based on concrete facts and accounts. I believe that this is the most vivid, painstakingly researched and unbiased story of this (or any other) appalling human tragedy that anyone can possibly write. No wonder The Lemon Tree was Radio 4's Book of the Week in February 2007.

bullet point Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Copyright 1999 Puddle Dancer Press, Encinitas, California. 212 pp. Reviewed by Steve Gardiner.

As the book shows, we often talk down to ourselves and others by saying things like 'I have to', 'you should', 'I ought to', 'you must', etc. It is though we are (or part of us is) speaking or 'bossing' like a teacher, or parent, or judge, to a pupil, child, or someone who is subservient. This kind of language can only help to increase tension. A peaceful and gentle approach is to see everyone and every part of ourselves as worthy of equal respect.

As Rosenberg makes clear, NVC is not a magic formula; there is no guarantee that there will be the outcome we are wanting. However, by using this approach, we are able to be sensitive both to our own and other people's needs, and to communicate them in a clean way, without adding fuel to the fire.

'Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a way of speaking that facilitates the flow of communication needed to exchange information and resolve differences peacefully. It helps us identify our shared values and needs, encourages us to use language that increases goodwill, and avoid language that contributes to resentment or lowers self-esteem.'[p.i]

I cannot recommend this approach too highly, and wish that more spiritual leaders and facilitators would be aware of it and adopt it.

bullet point Rumi - three books translated by Rumi: Whispers of the Beloved; Hidden Music and Gardens of the Beloved - Element/HarperCollins. Copyright 2003.229 pp.

Jalaluddin Rumi lived from 1207-1273 mostly in Konya, Turkey. Although some people describe him as being a Sufi, or Muslim, or mystic, he would have rejected all of these labels. Instead his only religion was that of Unconditional Love, in which all the desires of the ego melt away into perfect union between the Lover and the Beloved: the two becoming One.

All this is so evident in his vast, spontaneous outpouring of poetry which goes straight to the heart; his poetry is immensely popular and widely read and reflected upon in all corners of the world. Many people, including myself, find that he is their greatest teacher.

Much depends upon the skill and sensitivity of the translator. I find these three collections hit the mark consistently and far more poignantly than most others I have read. It is possible to obtain new or used copies of each collection, but beware inflated prices for 'Gardens' and 'Hidden Music'. 'Hidden Music' contains colour reproductions of original paintings by Azima Kolin.

I have chosen a poem from each collection; these poems are centred upon peace, or what may be blocking it.

'Peaceful is the one who's not concerned with having more or less.
Unbound by name and fame
he is free from sorrow from the world
and mostly from himself.'
[Whispers of the Belovedp.35]

'When you see the face of anger
look behind it
and you will see the face of pride.
Bring anger and pride
under your feet, turn them into a ladder
and climb higher.
There is no peace until you become
their master.
Let go of anger, it may taste sweet
but it kills.
Don't become its victim
you need humility to climb to freedom.'
[Hidden Music p.77]

'We may know who we are or we may not.
We may be Muslims, Jews or Christians
but until our hearts
become the mould for every heart
we will see only our differences.'
[Gardens of the Beloved p.95]

bullet point How the wisdom of the ages is reflected in many world faiths by Pam Evans, founder of the Peace Mala educational project. Reviewed by Steve Gardiner 30 pp. ISBN 978-0-9957714-6-8

As the book begins by stating, three major area of teaching or belief are being explored

  • ‘God’ also know as the Absolute, the One-Ness or the Divine
  • Reincarnation and rebirth
  • Life beyond death

The six religions or belief system explored are Theosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

This book is small, clear and concise. It provides a useful platform in which to explore beliefs and religious text in more depth.

All profits go to the Peace Mala project. To order a copy, please go to

bullet point Please send in your recommendations
We would like to encourage you to contribute to this webpage by recommending books which you find helpful in promoting peace. For obvious reasons, we would need to read the book ourselves before including the recommendation on this page. So please get in touch by emailing us at

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From time to time, we recommend books on our active Facebook page: This page has a number of satellite pages dedicated to particular themes, such as People of Peace, The Peace Mantra - Music & Meditation and Peace Mantra Meditations. A special Recommended Books page is planned for the future.