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Best Reads of 2010

Several years ago I began keeping an annotated list of every book I read each year.  It has been a very useful discipline and resource for later.  As part of my own review of this past year I will post here what have been the best books I have read this past year.  Included in this list are only books I read all the way through.  I am not addressing here commentaries or other reference books which might be consulted.  The list is eclectic as it arises simply out of what I have chosen to read over the last year.  I note when I listened to the audio.  Librivox, with their free audio of public domain books, has been a great benefit to me this past year.

I list first the books that have been the most significant to me (for various reasons) over the last year, then some helpful primary source books I read.

Best Reads (in no particular order, largely chronological according to when they were read)

  1. The Integrated Christian Life, Doug Wilson (audio) – excellent!
  2. Life Together, Dietrich Bonheoffer- superb! Truly a classic.  One of the best books on the Christian life
  3. Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, Jay Richards- good explanation of the value of capitalism and why it does not violate Christian principles.  The author handles the bible and theology well.  Good antidote for the soft Marxism creeping into churches today.
  4. The Man Who Was Thursday, G K Chesterton (audio)- a really fun book, good adventure, mystery and suspense plus intellectual challenge. In the end a strongly Christian book and fascinating culmination.  Much like That Hideous Strength in some underlying themes.
  5. The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, James Spiegel- Great book!  Bold, biblical thesis clearly made. This is a valuable book for evangelism as well. He argues that our desire to remain in sin prevents us from belief.
  6. Boyhood and Beyond: Practical Wisdom for Becoming a Man, Bob Schultz- Excellent book on boyhood and growing toward manhood (See posts at Children’s Hour). The sequel, Created for Work: Practical Insights for Young Men, is also good, though not as good as the first volume. A godly older construction worker giving manhood advice to young men- priceless.
  7. The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, Benjamin Merkle- A good biography of a significant character often lost to popular awareness today. The author handles the ancient texts and stories sympathetically.  The part that brought it all together was the last main chapter describing Alfred’s reforms which really solidified his countries, the renewed pursuit of learning in service of piety.  There are models here for rebuilding a culture in various settings, as well as for rebuilding a fallen church culture such as we have today. It was fascinating to see that Alfred was translating the Bible into the vernacular Anglo-Saxon years before Tyndale!  He was working on the Psalms as part of the books that everyman needed and made it through the 1st fifty.
  8. Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible, Robert Alter- very interesting.  The first chapter and last few concluding pages were of most interest to me.  The actual analysis of Melville, Hemingway, Faulkner and a few others was a bit tedious to me.  The point of the influence of the KJV on American fiction writing is well made and quite interesting.  Alter says American fiction has been more shaped by a canonical translation of the Bible than any other Western culture.  Very interesting!
  9. 50 Reasons Why Christ Came to Die, John Piper (Audio)- As expected this is a good example of carefully thinking about specific texts & how they relate to the rest of Scripture and then applying them.
  10. Paul Schneider: The Witness Of Buchenwald, Rudolf Wentorf- translation and editing are poor but the story itself is still very compelling.  This is another hero of the faith not well known today.
  11. John Dewey & Decline Of American Education: How Patron Saint Of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching & Learning, Henry Edmondson III- Really useful read.  It is good for exposing the errors and wide implications of Dewey’s work.  Also along the way the author uses a lot of good material from other sources on education.  This makes this book a gold mine of quotes and useful info for speaking/writing on education.
  12. Ten P’s in a Pod : A Million-Mile Journal of the Arnold Pent Family, Arnold Pent III (June)- A really good, challenging account of a family with 8 children who travelled the US singing and sharing scripture.  Every family member could quote full chapters of the Bible and one could quote any verse in the New Testament.  They never focused on memory work just read so much they eventually knew it.  Also good word on exercise, fatherly leadership, home schooling.
  13. The Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry- Excellent! Powerful. This is the first collection of Berry essays I have read.  I don’t think he takes seriously enough the effect of the fall on creation, but it is still very good and helpful.  It has been good for my soul leading me into more wisdom as I saw reverberations of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs & Psalms.
  14. Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney (audio)- This translation (especially read by the author in his Irish accent!) is very compelling. It was easy to get lost in places but much of value, with good themes of freedom, honor, Christianity.
  15. Spirits In Bondage: A Cycle Of Lyrics, Clive Hamilton [C. S. Lewis] (audio)- This one makes the list because it was particularly interesting to listen to these poems written by Lewis prior to his conversion and to hear how many of the themes which show up in his later works are already here.  In the later works, he has discovered that the Gospel is the orienting truth of these themes.
  16. Strategically Small Church, The: Intimate, Nimble, Authentic, and Effective, Brandon O’Brien- Probably the most significant book I read this year on church matters. O’Brien is right in noting many strengths of the smaller church- internally and externally- and provides a vision for a missional (though I don’t think he used that word), small church which seeks to keep overhead low and plants other churches.  I think this is the way forward. Highly recommended.
  17. The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation, Leland Ryken- This book should be out any day now.  I had the opportunity to read it in proofs, and it is very good.
  18. The Minister and His Greek New Testament, A T Robertson- Brilliant! Some parts are dated now in regards to some Greek particulars but even those show his devotion to the details of the text and his awareness of the latest scholarship of the time.  Most moving to me are the comments on preaching (e.g. on Broadus)
  19. Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People, Constantine Campbell- Wonderful little book, the right size, the right price and the right tone.  Best thing I have seen to encourage and help you to maintain Greek
  20. Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers (audio)- The first Sayers novel I have read. A very fun story, with interesting side points on culture and even Christianity.
  21. Gilead: A Novel, Marilynne Robinson- A powerful, poignant novel which I described as Wendell Berry with more theology. Since it is told in the first person of the main character who is a pastor, it also becomes a good portrait of pastoral ministry. It deals with family, the value of being rooted in a specific place and the brevity of life.
  22. Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel, David Downing- This was a fun book- a fictional account of an American researcher encountering C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, uncovering a plot and discovering an ancient artifact connected to the tales which so interested the Inklings.  It was not a truly great story but a good one providing a helpful introduction to the thought of Lewis, Williams and Tolkien. The strength of the author is that I came away feeling like I had met these three men.

Helpful primary text reading:

Most of these readings were prompted by the school assignments of my older boys. Librivox was immensely helpful allowing me to listen to the books they were reading.

  1. Phillipics, Cicero (audio)- really interesting, slow in places but fascinating to see Cicero mounting essentially a constitutional argument on why certain elected officials must be opposed because they had violated their office.  Obedience to the larger law required disobedience of Antony.  This is exactly the argument Patrick Henry made and there are even direct echoes strongly suggesting Henry knew these speeches and (whether intentionally or not) borrowed from them.
    Also ominous to see how he went out of his way to support Octavius as the antidote to Antony.  But we know that in the end Octavius himself became the emperor Cicero dreaded.
    Also very useful info on the view of slavery in the pre-NT world.  Cicero argues on the basis that free Roman men are appalled at the idea of being slaves (again very much in the line of what we know from Patrick Henry)
  2. The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius (audio)- very informative, useful for NT backgrounds. I was amazed at the depth of wickedness
  3. On the Incarnation, Athanasius (audio)-
  4. Confessions, Augustine (audio & print)- This could be listed in the first group, as this was my first time to read Confessions.  The first half or so was powerful in many ways.  Once he began to postulate on time, it was much more difficult.
  5. The Church History, Eusebius (audio & print)- slow in places, but strong in many others; a record of faithfulness in persecutions, dealing with heresies, etc.
  6. The Art of War, Sun Tzu (Audio)- largely a work on leadership, interesting on a number of levels.  The style is similar to Proverbs and at places very similar points are made. Good parallels can be made in places with pastoral ministry.  Much can be applied to foreign policy today, such as the point often made here that long drawn out wars are unwise as it will drain the country financially and lose support of the people.
  7. Rule of Saint Benedict in English– Good material on the value of work and of the Psalms
  8. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede- This was often slow, but helpful history.

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