Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top Books of 2014

Another annual summary of the top books of the year. This year I had a goal of reading 60 books, but didn't quite make it, instead landing somewhere in the mid 50s. 

Anna Karenina – One of the most revered novels of all time. I was inspired to read it because of Teddy Roosevelt’s interest in the book (There's a story in Edward Murrow’s biography of TR describing how he read the book during a river boat journey while in pursuit of thieves). Definitely worth reading and a great reminder to not let sin grow, but bring it out in the open.

Command and Control – Recounts the many near misses in the atomic weapons program, centering on the tale of a missile silo explosion in Arkansas in the 80s (one of my co-workers lived nearby at the time and remembers feeling the explosion some 30 miles away). Fascinating read. Given all that is covered in this book, It really is amazing that there has not been an accidental explosion of a Nuclear weapon. 

Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry – Great, great book for putting in the hands of those who question whether one can be both for the preservation of marriage and yet also extend love towards those who would find a homosexual lifestly acceptable biblically. Allberry lays out the biblical case for traditional heterosexual ethic, and does it from his own perspective of being a same-sex attracted man who is fiercly committed to a life of celibacy. I had a chance to interview him last fall for a project we’re working on at FamilyLife and was VERY impressed with his compassionate, humble spirit.

Defiance by Tec – Reading this book was ridiculously inspiring and humbling at the same time. It recounts the brave leadership the Bielski brothers gave to hiding upwards of 1500 Jews from Nazi persecution in the Bellarussian forest. What incredible men! Made me feel very small, and yet emboldened to do brave things. You can watch the movie version of the book by the same name starring Daniel Craig. Very inspiring as well and fairly accurate.

Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards – Wow this book blew my mind. It was much more influential than I could have ever imagined. And I am under no illusion that I even really comprehended the main point of the book. In fact, most of it was very difficult to follow and tedious in its repetiion. But after completing it I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the soul and the various factors that weigh in on every motivation and decision we make. How ‘free’ are we truly? It deepend my trust and faith in God’s sovereign hand to guide me through life. Definitely worth taking the time to read. I read it with a couple of other guys (and was the only one of the three to finish it... and if one of you two are reading this I hope you feel just a twinge of guilt) and it was a great forum for reading and making better sense of it. I think this was honestly one of the most influential books I've read in the last few years in terms of understanding the human soul.

Bomb by J. Shankin – Tells the story of the building of the atomic bomb and also weaves in the espionage efforts by the Russians to steal the key program secrets as they happened. Written for a High School student, but a great read for anyone. Reads like a novel. Enjoyed the audio version during the daily commute.

Pensees by Pascal – one of the most widely read books of all time. Pascal’s theological ponderings are thought provoking and soul enriching. I read this in small daily doses over the course of the year (some of which are posted on this blog) and found that to be a tremendously enriching approach.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry - Not my favorite of Berry's books, but still good. I think the whole book is worth the essay from which the title is drawn (the last half of the book), as well as the essay on tobacco. 

A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry - Started reading this book because of a friend's
recommendation. He had heard Tim Keller say this book was the best single summary of why we think the way we do today. Written by an atheist French philosophy professor, you wouldn't know it (that he's an atheist) till nearly the end of the book, as he treats Christianity pretty fairly, even emphasizing the importance of it in shaping western thought. Readable, interesting, accessible. Need to read it again. If anyone wants to read/discuss, let me know.

Mastery by Robert Greene – Every young man or woman should read this book. It is so good at outlining some of the basic principles that lead to someone becoming a “Master” in their field. In fact, Greene presents these more as laws than principles, showing how they work time and time again, even debunking the belief that only ‘geniuses’ really become masters in their fields. Instead, he seems to make the case that those who work hard to become Masters in their field also become geniuses. Great read, though laced with some evolutionary mumbo-jumbo, but one can sort through that and still benefit greatly from the book. I was put on to Greene by reading some of Ryan Holiday (who reads like crazy and publishes an excellent monthly reading list – sign up for his email here). Ryan points to Greene as his mentor and as the man who taught him everything he knows about his research method. I'd put this book at the top of your reading list for 2015 if you are under 30. If that is you, then don't let the year end without reading it.

Other good books I'm working on right now:

J.R.R. Tolkien Bio by Humphrey Carpenter - wow. what an amazing biography. I love, love, love reading about his life. Most fascinating part about him is learning that he wrote LOTR to make sense of the languages he had created (and not the other way around).

Strange Glory - Another excellent bio on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In some ways I like this better than the one by Metaxas.

"S" by J.J. Abrams and some other guy - fascinating approach to a novel. Amazing design detail. I don't think I've ever seen a book quite like this.

As always you can check my Shelfari feed to see what I’m reading right now. The theme for reading this year will be “Book discussion groups.” Right now I’m reading 5 different books in discussion groups, sometimes only covering a chapter or two a month. They are as follows:

  1. Center Church by Tim Keller
  2. Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
  3. Lost in the Middle by Paul David Tripp
  4. The Story of Christianity Vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez
  5. Slaughter House Five (finished the book but waiting to discuss...)

Discussion groups are a GREAT way to trick yourself 


Dan J said...

Great recommendations. I'm really hesitant on Robert Greene, given his other work, but I'm very interested in finally reading through Anna Karenina.

John C. Majors said...

I feel you on this. I've not read his other books, as the titles were enough to give me pause. But this one is pretty good. Let me know what you think of AK.