It’s December, which means it’s top ten books of the year time! Here are my top books of the year with mini-reviews pulled from previous posts or my Goodreads account.
Don’t forget my go-to verses to remind me what’s more important than reading:
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:12–14)
1. Out of the Black Shadows by Stephen Lungu and Anne Coomes
Stephen Lungu, “The African Billy Graham”, has an amazing story of God’s grace and power to tell. I’m so tempted to retell it here, but I won’t. If you want your faith strengthened, read this book. If you want motivation to evangelize, read this book. If you want dozens of incredible sermon illustrations, read this book. Lungu had me in tears several times. And if you don’t read this book, at least hear his better-than-fiction story from his lips. (While we’re at it, here are 100+ great Christian biographies.)
2. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri
Boy, did I enjoy this book. It’s definitely a top ten book of my lifetime so far. It took me a while to get into it, since Daniel Nayeri didn’t use chapters and spent nearly 360 pages bouncing around from one story to another from his childhood as an Iranian refugee growing up in Oklahoma. (The book is from the perspective of his twelve-year-old self.) But once I saw the mosaic he was putting together with stories of cultural differences, longing for acceptance, bullies, poop, and memories of his childhood fleeing Iran, I couldn’t put it down.
Daniel (or should I say Khosrou) evoked so many emotions in me: nostalgia of childhood (I was a 90s kid, too), sadness of unjust experiences, laugh-out-loud humor (did I mention poop stories?–And, yes, I now want a bidet). There’s also the amazing spiritual thread of his mom’s faith, which is what got his family expelled from Iran in the first place. (Side note: Nayeri is a part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, founded by Tim Keller. I found out about the book on the Gospelbound podcast.) This is one of those books I didn’t want to ever end. And it’s bittersweet to think that there will never be another book like it since it took Nayeri half of his lifetime to write this one. I would love this to be a movie, but imagine the way it’s put together means it would be incredibly complicated. As a book reviewer, I’m tempted to give far too many 5 star ratings. This one’s a six.
3. The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski
In early January, I finished the book The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski, his 300K-word magnum opus that I consider it the ultimate baseball history book. I read its almost 900 pages in three days!
The book provides short but substantive biographies of players the author considers the best 100 of all-time. There is something powerful about seeing the life journeys of so many people back-to-back-to-back 100x over.
I expected great anecdotes, statistical analysis, and minor squabbles with Posnanski’s choices or ranking, and I was not disappointed. I didn’t expect the way it made me reflect on life in God’s world. Throughout the book, several themes that stuck with me.
No, this isn’t a book, but heck, I run this blog and I choose the rules for what makes this list! I’ve had the PBS Documentaries channel on my Amazon Fire Stick for about a year now and have really enjoyed many of their documentaries on US presidents. Nothing is ever truly without bias (although these documentaries are more historical than overtly political), but I feel like PBS did a commendable job sharing the story of presidents and how their lives and time in office unfolded. I watched documentaries in reverse chronological order, starting with George W. Bush, and then moving on to Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, and The Roosevelts. (It’s always a good time to bring up one of my favorite trivia facts: Teddy Roosevelt had a pet bear named Jonathan Edwards.)
A few interesting themes I noticed:
- No president (generally) knows what they’re doing at first.
- Public perception is often more important than doing what’s best for the nation. Unfortunately!
- Some first ladies have had a huge impact on the nation.
- Never get involved in a land war in Asia. (You might call it a classic blunder.)
5. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
First-rate storytelling that gripped me just like Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken did several years ago. If you’re into historical narrative and sports, you’ll enjoy this one. Note: there’s a PBS documentary on this Olympic team and a movie coming out directed by George Clooney, but nothing will beat the experience of going through the book.
6. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff
Really, really, really helpful. I don’t agree with all assertions or beliefs of the authors, but they diagnose many of society’s ills and provide a helpful path forward (albeit from a secular perspective). I wish this was required reading for college administrators and students.
7. Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan
Wow. Just wow. Prodan is a modern day Corrie ten Boom, and this is a wonderful true story about the power of the gospel in dark places. Here’s a description:
As a young attorney under Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, Virginia had spent her entire life searching for the truth. When she finally found it in the pages of the most forbidden book in all of Romania, Virginia accepted the divine call to defend fellow followers of Christ against unjust persecution in an otherwise ungodly land.
Read a short summary of her story here, but I encourage you to read the whole book, you won’t regret it.
8. Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation by Nancy Guthrie
I’ll admit that some books on Revelation gives me less confidence in reading Revelation myself. It’s a shame, and one that certainly would have made John the apostle mad! But I’m grateful for books like Nancy Guthrie’s Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation because it opens up the message of Revelation that is actually very clear. She doesn’t get into all of the different views of every detail of the book, but rather sticks to a high level approach that focuses on helping readers receive the blessing promised in the third verse of the book (and reiterated at the end in 22:7): “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).
One helpful comment from Guthrie that frames the way I read the book now is that it was written to the first century church who would have heard the message read aloud in church. That audience didn’t have all of the scholars, theology textbooks, or knowledge of 21st century events for their interpretations; the transforming message of the book would have been clear to them, and it can be clear to us. Jesus is King. We will suffer in this world and need to persevere. One day the full reign of King Jesus will be consummated and His enemies vanquished. We need to worship the King and persevere in standing firm against the enemy to be blessed. I found this book and the accompanying podcast interviews very helpful.
9. Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher
In Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher warns of coming totalitarianism in the west and helps us learn from those who endured persecution in the former Soviet Union. Dreher offers apt analysis of current events and many compelling stories to help followers of Jesus see the path forward in challenging times. Dreher is not an evangelical (I believe he’s an orthodox Christian) and does not start much of his analysis from Scripture. (For that, I’d recommend Being the Bad Guys by Stephen McAlpine.)
Even so, what Dreher presents is thought-provoking and helpful. Some have criticized the book as somewhat joyless and fear-inducing, and I think that is partially correct. But it’s worth thinking through how we might respond if our nation takes a sharp turn for the worse. Live Not By Lies challenged me, gripped my imagination, and made me realize I need to repent of the idol of comfort!
Here’s a challenging quote: “The choices we will make when put to the ultimate test depend on the choices we make today, in a time of peace.”
Lord, help us live not by lies, no matter how popular or safe they seem.
10. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier
Here’s a book I wish the world didn’t need. Shrier is a progressive Jewish journalist who shares this devastating critique of the transgender movement. She’s done humanity a service in investigating the many layers of destruction pushed by gender ideology. This book broke my heart and grew my compassion for the broken souls buying the lies of the transgender movement.
- Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God by William R. Osborne
- God, Technology, and the Christian Life by Tony Reinke (my review)
- Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter
- Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop
- The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality by Glen Scrivener