Books in 2009 (Best & Worst)

In keeping with the book lists which are common at this time I thought I would list some of my favorite (& least favorite) reads from 2009. This is an idiosyncratic list- just my favorites from what I happened to read. I include here only books that I read straight through (so commentaries and other reference works do not show up here). Also, in the list I keep of books I read each year, I include lecture series as books. I have also indicated where I listened to the audio of a book.  Several of these have showed up in posts throughout the year.


1. The Spartacus War, Barry Straus- A great book! Good example of re-telling an ancient story in a compelling way without fudging the data. Historians (and preachers) tend either to tell a compelling story without clarifying what is certain and what is conjecture or to bore us to tears with lists of possibilities. Strauss gives a good example of how we can handle our ancient texts as well.

2. The Mind of a Patriot: Patrick Henry and the World of Ideas, Kevin Hayes- This was an excellent book! Demolishes T. Jefferson’s picture of Henry as caring little for learning. A very interesting example of the value of learning.

3. Books that Have Made History: Books that Can Change Your Life, Rufus Fears (audio)- A course from The Teaching Company. Fears is a great lecturer so this was a fun listen. He had to give brief overviews of significant books (obviously from his own perspective), but it was worthwhile to get more acquainted with these important books. (list of books covered here, left hand side of page).  The key with the Teaching Company is to watch for sales.

4. They Called Him Stonewall, Burke Davis (audio)- Davis is an engaging writer so I have looked for all his books. This is one is well written and a good presentation of Jackson- an inspiring character.

5. A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign, Edward Larson (audio)- A really good read listen. This was a very significant point in American history.

6. Old Trails and Tales of Tennessee and Tales of Madison: Historical Sketches on Jackson & Madison County, both by Harbert Alexander- Great on local history. Light reads with interesting stories of what has gone on in my area over the years.

7. Zachary Taylor, John S. D. Eisenhower- I did not know much about Taylor before and this gave good information on him and his contribution. Well written.

8. Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine, Brian Hicks & Schuyler Kropf (audio)- A fascinating book about this significant submarine. In various ways it seems the book could have been put together better. However, it was well worthwhile to listen to as I learned very much about the Hunley, its history, its place in the development of naval warfare (first successful attack submarine), the process of finding it (about 130 years later!), and the process of raising and examining it.

9. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, Caroline Alexander (audio)- This book was slow in places but makes this list because it is such an amazing story of perseverance.

10. General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence, John S. D. Eisenhower (audio)- Well done! J. Eisenhower is a good writer (see #7) and the reading by Edward Herrmann was well done. I like history from this sort of angle. Interesting examples of the impact of mentors (see previous post)

11. A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2d ed., Thomas Childers (audio)- This is the first course I listened to from the Teaching Company and I really liked it. Very informative.

12. Gilgamesh, trans. David Ferry- I had never read this key work before and I found it very interesting.

13. George Washington: The Founding Father, Paul Johnson (audio)- Well written, engaged with the subject, sympathetic but not hagiographic. Good on Washington being horrified on how people today think religion should be barred from anything assoc with federal government. Good also on Washington as a thinker as well as man of action- not an intellectual, per se, but thoughtful, articulate, informed etc. Also shows Washington as thinking clearly to his last days (contra charges of some, including Jefferson).

14. The History of the English Language, Seth Lehrer (audio)- Another Teaching Company course. The first part was the most interesting to me as he dealt with the roots of Indo-European languages.

15. Two Little Confederates, Thomas Nelson Page- A good read with much humor as you see Virginia in the Civil War through the eyes of two young boys. It gives a good glimpse of what every day life was like at the time, written by one who grew up in this era.

16. The Life of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen, J. G. deRoulhac Hamilton (originally pub. 1917)- This was a bit of a slow read, but the strength was use of so many primary sources, particularly Lee’s letters.


Full discussions of these are found at my children’s literature blog, so I will just list them here.

1. Bud & Me: The True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys, Alta Abernathy

2. Guns of the Lion, Douglas Bond- historical fiction

3. The Sword Bearer (The Archives of Anthropos 1), John White- allegorical fantasy

4. Roverandom, J. R. R. Tolkien

5. Gaal the Conqueror (The Archives of Anthropos 2), John White- allegorical fantasy

6. The Princess and Curdie, George Macdonald


1. Quitting Church, Julia Duin- I don’t agree with her everywhere, but this is an informative read on the state of many becoming disenfranchised with church.

2. Franchising McChurch, Yeats and White- Great critique of much of what is going on in church today.

3. All of Grace, Spurgeon (audio)- Wonderful! Theologically rich and applied so well. Great example of pastoral preaching.  I think Spurgeon might be best in audio.

4. An Unexpected Journey, Robert Godfrey- Really good, refreshing read. Godfrey’s spiritual autobiography.

5. The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, edited by C. J. Lovik- This is a good new edition. This book is worth regularly re-reading.

6. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, Dale Allison- I did not intend to read this book much less like it! Allison is of course very critical, but it was very interesting seeing how he wrestles with the issues of the faith. There is much to disagree with, but some to appreciate as well.

7. The Blenheim Lectures, Doug Wilson (audio)- Available free at Canon Press website. I particularly liked the personal narrative portion where he discussed shaping a church, learning as you go, seeking to faithfully live out the Scripture in the context of a specific community.


1. They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dip Stick, Todd Starnes- Todd used to work at Union and this is the humorous account his health trouble and weight loss. Reminiscent of Lewis Grizzard.

2. Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories, Harry Lee Poe- Fascinating read. Hal critiques the typical account of Poe and shows his significant impact on literature and science. Along the way, Hal discusses Poe’s journey to faith.

3. The Little Boy Down the Road: Short Stories & Essays on the Beauty of Family Life, Doug Philips’ wonderful, challenging, encouraging book on family.

Lastly, two of the most disappointing books I read. Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Apostle Paul (audio) from the Teaching Company was an entirely secular reading. He seemed to take no account of faith. Then, the worst book I read was Bruce Malina’s Timothy: Paul’s Closest Associate. The current results of social scientific criticism were considered absolute fact and the assertions of Scripture were always suspect.


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