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10 Best Thomas Merton Books (2024)

Best Thomas Merton Books ReviewBio

Merton was born on the 31st of January, in the year of 1915, in Prades, Pyrenees-Orientales, France. He was a famed and loved American Trappist monk, an author, a mystic, a poet, a scholar of comparative religion, a social activist, and a theologian. Merton, aged thirty-four, was even ordained into priesthood.

Early Life

His father, Owen Merton, was a New Zealand painter that was active in the USA and in Europe. His mother, Ruth Jenkins, was a Quaker with artistic inclinations. As his father desired, Merton was baptized in the Church of England, even though Owen was absent for long periods during Thomas’ childhood.

Best Thomas Merton Books


Before Merton had turned a single-year-old, he and his family relocated to the US in light of the war. When Thomas was only six, his mother died of stomach cancer, and his brother was merely a three-year-old. Nonetheless, his life work speaks for itself. It was on December the 10th, in 1968, following a monastic conference talk, that Merton was discovered to have died, most likely from heart failure. With that said, let’s take a look at the best Thomas Merton books.

The Seven Storey Mountain


What We Relate To

The Seven Storey Mountain is a standalone book and one of the best Thomas Merton books. The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most well-known volumes about a man’s journey towards peace and faith. The Seven Storey Mountain was published in the year of 1948.

We have all struggled at one point or another in our lives with the concepts of belief and peace. Whether the result is worth the toiling journey, whether we are even capable of achieving these states, and whether such states even frankly exist, are questions that have surely bogged down many desires to start. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton talks of the continued uneasiness of a young man with many passions.

Give Everything Up

This young man, aged only twenty-six, accepts the vows in one of, if not the most trying Catholic orders – The Trappist Monk order. At the Gethsemani Abbey, Merton had more than one trouble to overcome as he needed to withdraw from the world, yet this could only be achieved once he has totally immersed himself in this world.

This book was written at the Abbey of Gethsemani and it is a testament to a higher faith and an ability innate in all of us to become free and peaceable. One of the best books by Thomas Merton.

New Seeds of Contemplation


For Everyone

The New Seeds of Contemplation book is one of the most popular Thomas Merton books of all time. The non-fiction book is something that one doesn’t have to be a believer to enjoy, nor is one pressed to be spiritual. New Seeds of Contemplation was published in the year of 1962 and it spans a bit under three-hundred pages. Accordingly, it is one of the best-selling Thomas Merton books, too.

Pondering the Soul

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton begins the journey towards awaking the intrinsic depths that the spirit of man surely holds, but depths that have been so long removed from the light as a result of the Western man’s negligence and refusal to appease them. Merton shows us how we can once more revitalize our spirit, the spirit that has been so ignored. This plane of existence that we all have is something that must never be ignored, yet we have done so quite willingly.

The Depths So Long Denied

Each moment, each event, and each happening results in something changing in the depth of the soul of man. As the rain not only brings drops, the things that happen in our life don’t only bring the good, nor just the bad, but things that we must focus on.

These are seeds planted inside of the soul that must either nourish or perish, but they ought never to be ignored. In one of his most beloved books, Merton reveals the truth he holds steadfast about our souls.

No Man Is an Island


What There Is to Offer

No Man Is an Island is a book that many consider to be a book that ought to be used as a companion to New Seeds of Contemplation. No Man Is an Island was published in the year of 1955. In No Man is an Island, Merton gives us a book wherein he ruminates, ponders, and meditates on the spirituality of man in some a dozen and a third essays.

The insight herein doesn’t represent a rehash of what we have learned from Merton, but a book that broadens the scope that Merton has set for his works before. It speaks on many of the same themes, but expounds his thoughts, while also touching on themes that he has not before spoken of, but now volubly gives his opinion.

The Alienated Soul

No Man Is an Island is a book that can be considered one of the most spiritual books ever. Some parts ought to be digested slowly, in short spans, while others can be devoured with ease, but it all brings the reader closer to the central point of the book.

Merton isn’t someone that just preaches about mysticism as if it’s an answer to everything, but someone that uses his mysticism to make his life easier and to make his life better. One of the top Thomas Merton books.

Contemplative Prayer


Charming Insight

Contemplative Prayer is one of the shortest books of Thomas Merton, but by no means a shallow or an empty volume. The one-hundred-and-forty or so pages are all brimming with the enthusiastic and charming insight that Merton always brings. For one, we would even say that this is the best Thomas Merton book to begin with. It was published in the year of 1969, posthumously.

So Different, Yet All the Same

The book at hand is a classic in the writing of Merton, but also a classic in the writing of spiritual matters. The monastic prayers and the contemplation prayers are two aspects of a spiritual tradition that are alive even today and Merton preaches about them in this fine book of his. However, it is known that contemplative prayers aren’t looked upon in the same way today as they were, say, a century or two ago. Times and things change.

A Timely Outlook on Life

These changes surely bring forth a modification in the general attitude, countenance, disposition, and outlook of society and civilization, but they still don’t change the most essential part of it all. As such, one ought never to look for a way, a quick answer to adopting or espousing a certain way of life, but a means to accept all that there is about us: reverence, belief, love, trust, faithfulness, bliss. One of the author’s most important books.

Thoughts in Solitude


Lonesome, We Are United

The novel that was published in the year of 1956, Thoughts in Solitude, is one of his most intriguing and heartfelt. Thoughts in Solitude is a nigh-one-hundred-and-fifty-page book, but one that we consider being the best-rated Merton books. The timely novel from 1956, Thoughts in Solitude, explains the opinions and the thoughts about a life lived secluded or in one’s solitude.

The writing is elegant and intentional as ever. Merton looks upon the idea of needing to live quietly in a time where less and less is intimate or private by the day, which was the case in 1956, but is even more important and timelier today. In a society where being by one’s lonesome has been banished, there reins only an abusive authority.

The Need for Being Alone

Thoughts in Solitude stands in the same league as The Seven Storey Mountain and one can scarcely pinpoint what the best Thomas Merton book is without considering these two volumes.

As he prods deeper into the crux of a man that knows solitude no longer, we see a man that is no longer free, one that is subject to the whims of a society decaying, on its last legs, one that is right before the collapse.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander


The Flaws of the Spirit

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is a 1966 book from the always great Merton and one that spans about three-hundred-and-seventy or so pages. It was written and published a little while before the Merton’s untimely death.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander collects the most important writings, snippets, experiences, reflecting essays, and own experiences of Merton as he analyzes one of, if not the most pressing and most demanding question of our time and era. With the intensity and the earnestness that only he is capable of, Merton takes the reader to the summit of a mountain where the innumerable issues of the spirit dwell.

The Thoughts That Provoke

Thought-provoking and quarrel-starting questions like the death of God, the politicizing of so many things, the steady and rapid penetration of controversy into the life of man, the racial divide, and the loss of proper evaluation, are things that were relevant then, but ones that have remained important for the length of the time that has passed since. A wonderful book and a great pick for anyone trying to find Thomas Merton’s best book.

Zen and the Birds of Appetite


The Truth About Tranquility

Zen and the Birds of Appetite is a book that was published in the same year as the author’s death, namely in 1968. The one-hundred-and-forty-page book that we have at hand is one of the most important of his career and one we consider to be among the best books of Thomas Merton.

In the opinion of Merton, Zen is not something that enhances anyone. That is, in fact, the opening statement of Zen and the Birds of Appetite. The Zen, as he describes and believes in it, is a state where one is so calm and so in harmony with all around that one could very nearly be considered as being dead, even though one is merely in the midst of the most gratifying and most fulfilling experiences of any life – the Zen.

The Fulfillment of the Calm

Incorporating the humorous and paradoxical aspects of his writing, Merton speaks on the journey towards achieving the Zen that he went through over the course of the later portion of his life.

This bliss he speaks of is of course present in his works. Merton analyzes the link and connection between Christian belief and the Zen while providing intriguing and insightful words from other notable experts on the topic. A great pick for any list of Thomas Merton’s best books.

The Wisdom of the Desert


The Quality of the Writing

One of the shortest volumes in the oeuvre and life’s work of Merton is his The Wisdom of the Desert. The book was published in the year of 1960 and spans a hair under one-hundred-and-thirty pages.

In The Wisdom of the Desert, Merton shows us the things that he has learned from the Christian fathers that lived in the fourth century. The writing, always elegant, eloquent, striking, and humorous, allows for the book to be quite readable and easy to grasp, while also bringing forth concepts and ideas that one surely doesn’t come across commonly in one’s daily life.

The Wise Men of the Secrets

Utilizing the tales, the sayings, the stories, and the parables of the fourth-century Desert Fathers, Merton showcases what each of them mean, how he interpreted them, and what they have to say not just for the people of so long ago, but for his generation as well, and even for our own.

The Screte hermits were a people that gave up on a society so corrupt and in this manner, they were quite similar to the Zen masters in China and Japan. A book not to miss from our Thomas Merton’s books list.

A Book of Hours


The Author’s Words

Of all our Thomas Merton’s book reviews, the book titled A Book of Hours is perhaps the most special of all the writings of the famed and loved author. A Book of Hours is a two-hundred-and-twenty or so page book which was published in the year of 2007.

A Book of Hours is a book credited to Merton because it utilizes the author’s writing, but it was compiled by Kathleen Deignan, an editor, and illustrated by none other than John Giuliani.

The Most Important Volume

The book, to be direct, represents a means for daily prayer and for daily contemplation and brooding on the various walks of life. This devotional, in fact, is one that we recommend to those readers that have read Merton before, preferably one or more of Merton’s books ranked above.

A Book of Hours is not a book that brings forth a certain verse from a Scripture or an excerpt and leaves the reader to ruminate on what this may mean in more ways than one. It is a book that takes out the most important liturgical, devotional writing, one that encompasses the truest theology of Christian life as lived by Merton.

The Sign of Jonas


True Gem

The Sign of Jonas is, in our opinion, one of the best Thomas Merton books that we have had the pleasure and the chance of picking up. It is not one of the most well-known by the author, but a gem that we believe our readers will surely love. It was published in the year of 1953.

Being a Monk

The Sign of Jonas is a book that Merton started writing about half a decade prior to entering into the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. The book at hand is one that offers a keen-eyed view into the life of Merton while he lived in the Trappist monastery as a Trappist monk. Of course, the book’s offerings extend far more than just a peephole into how Merton’s life went while he was in the Gethsemani Abbey.

The Gethsemani Abbey Experiences

The book represents a log, in a sense, of things spiritual and quite meaningful that Merton experienced daily in the Abbey. These were the experiences that assured Merton of his having chosen the correct occupation. His mind grew accordingly as the earthly life of Merton gained new horizons by virtue of him becoming wiser and more in tune with the spirituality that he had so long desired to have and to give into. Spiritual Direction and Meditation is another book we recommend picking up.

Alissa Wynn

Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.