My Top Books of 2019

January 3, 2020 — 1 Comment

A key to reading more is to read good books. Good books are hard to put down. The way to find good books? You want book recs from people who read A LOT.

I’d highly recommend all of these books listed below. They’re all good.

Overall, here’s my Top Books I read in 2019:

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
  3. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
  4. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
  5. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz 
  6. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
  7. The Second Mountain – David Brooks

And here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness, by genre (all links are to my full Goodreads review).

Christian Devotional Books

  1. Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture – Mark Sayers
    • Easily my favorite book of 2019.
    • Mark Sayers brings much needed HOPE to the dismal realities of 2019. His most helpful insight: that times of crisis are actually opportunities for God to move in revival.
    • Sayers combines a broad understanding of modern times with a historical pattern of how revivals happen.
    • He thinks 2019 is primed for revival: “history shows it’s precisely at moments like this—when the church appears to be sliding into unalterable decline, when culture is shaken by upheaval, when the world globalizes, opening up new frontiers & fostering chaos/change—that God moves again”
  2. Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture – Alastair J. Roberts
    • Do you want the Old Testament to come alive? Read Echoes of Exodus. The idea is simple- the Exodus story is the key to understanding the Old Testament, even the whole Bible.
    • Roberts takes top shelf, profound thinking & puts it on the bottom shelf. A short book with poetic prose- each sentence packed with insight. He communicates more in 176pgs than most books do in 700.
  3. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
    • What a challenging book. This is the first NT Wright book I’ve ever read and boy did I enjoy him. I now want to read every book he’s written. 
  4. A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story – Michael W. Goheen
    • My favorite type of book – an expert who has done a TON of reading, synthesizes and organizes all his learnings into a cohesive, accessible book (it would take you decades to read all the books that Goheen cites- 622 endnotes in a 226 page book!).
    • Goheen’s book will help you read your Bible better.
      “Mission is . . . a major key that unlocks the whole grand narrative of the canon of Scripture.”
  5. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch
    • Like everything I’ve read by Crouch – profoundly wise.
    • Crouch makes the case that flourishing and abundant life come from the intersection of authority and vulnerability
  6. Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books – Tony Reinke
    • “Reading is a difficult pleasure.”
    • Lit! will make you want to read more and give you practical tips on how to do just that.
  7. Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences – Carey Nieuwhof
    • A great read for middle age ministers (like me!).
    • Worth reading for his chapter on Cynicism:
      • “Cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care. It starts because you poured your heart into something and got little in return.
      • Most cynics are former optimists.
      • Of all people on earth, Christians should be the least cynical. After all, the gospel gives us the greatest reasons to hope.”
  8. The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home – Russell D. Moore
    • “Sometimes people will ask me what I think is the best biblical counsel for parenting. 
    • I choose: ‘For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you’ (2 Chron. 20:12).”

Understanding the Times 

(once again this year, this was my favorite category!)

  1. Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions – Russell Brand
    • Recovery is a vulgar, brutally honest, modern day Ecclesiastes; with Brand, a self-described “half-wit King Solomon”.
    • Drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, fortune- Brand tried it all and found it wanting.
    • Brilliantly insightful into the human condition and very helpful re how to escape the bondage of desire.
    • Fair warning: TONS of cuss words!
  2. The Burnout Society – Byung-Chul Han
    • Crazy insightful. Really difficult 70 page read if you’re (like me) not fluent in psychology and philosophy (Nietzsche, Freud; etc).
    • Han’s greatest insight – we are an achievement society. We are on an achievement treadmill “that is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion” because “the feeling of having achieved a goal never occurs”
    • Anxiety, depression, exhaustion are ALL the flip side of the Achievement coin
  3. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less – Barry Schwartz
    • This book explains so much of our modern world.
    • We are the most prosperous land that has ever existed, yet Americans are less and less happy.
    • The cause? “The overabundance of choice.” Choices are exhausting and make us less happy.
    • The solution: Limit your options/freedom by living according to rules. Rules are the pathway to freedom.
  4. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
    • Haidt wants “to show you that an obsession with righteousness… is the normal human condition…We’re born to be righteous.”
    • Haidt is a lifelong Democrat and Atheist who is VERY fair-minded and unbelievably aligned with Biblical truth.
    • Fascinating book on how people change their mind on two of the most polarizing topics: politics and religion.
    • His conclusion: The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people that we like.
  5. The Second Mountain – David Brooks
    • Full of wisdom.
    • I read two incredible books in 2019 that portrayed the emptiness of the two ways to pursue life apart from God:
      – Russell Brand pursued pleasure to the nth degree and found it lacking
      – David Brooks pursued achievement in work, succeeded, and found it lacking
    • I think the gospel preached to this generation: Work Is the New God.
      A great antidote is reading Brooks’ The Second Mountain.
    • Worth reading if only for his chapter on his Christian conversion (from secular Judaism). It’s beautiful & profound.
  6. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism – Carl F.H. Henry
    • Written in 1947 by one of the fathers of Evangelicalism. If we listened to Henry, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today. A call to not divorce Christian belief and ethics.
  7. Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval – Mark Sayers
    • Sayers is brilliant. My goal for 2020= read everything he’s written.
    • The question that Strange Days answers: “Why has the church failed to address the epidemic of anxiety & depression, the distance between the promises of consumer culture and the reality of life, and the emotional fragility/lack of resilience created by the self-esteem ethos?”
  8. The Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom
    • Though written in 1987, perfectly applicable to the world/college campus today.
    • I hope to one day have 1/100th the breadth of knowledge of Dr. Bloom. Incredibly helpful for understanding who are the key influencers that shape our current intellectual and cultural landscape. 
    • His call is to lay aside our shallow modern certainty and plunge into the depths of the great thinkers and books that asked the “permanent questions” of life: why am I here, who am I?
  9. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community – Robert D. Putnam
    • Putnam describes the adverse effects of the decline of in-person social interactions in America.
    • Quite repetitive and dry. But there are nuggets of gold. Worth reading simply for the fact that few sociology books are referenced more than Bowling.
    • My favorite review of it: “This one’s a doozie. I don’t recommend it unless you are a naturally optimistic and mentally stable person.” 😂
  10. The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis – Alan Jacobs
    • Very challenging read. Very apropos for 2019.
    • Jacobs brings together the 1943 writings of Christian intellectuals Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, who “sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.”


  1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert B. Cialdini
    • Widely regarded as THE book on persuasion. After seeing it on countless “must read” lists, I picked it up.
      It did not disappoint. AND it’s an easy fun read. 
    • Our brains don’t function well with overwhelming input.
      And our modern world has “created an environment so complex we are reverting to animal like instinctual autopilot decisions.” Which is not good. We’re making unthinking decisions.
    • This book will make those techniques visible so you can fight them.
  2. The Lessons of History – Will Durant
    • Packed with pithy wisdom and deep understanding of the human condition.
    • You could either read the Durant’s Pulitzer Prize winning 11 volume ”The Story of Civilization” or you could read this 100 page book that summarizes everything they learned over 50 years of research and writing.
    • This is why we study and learn from history:
      “No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. ”
  3. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation – Jon Meacham
    • Fascinating overview of the religious faith of the founding fathers all the way through modern presidents. A very fair and honest look at what they really believed.
  4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree – James H. Cone
    • As you would guess, not an easy book to read. Cone is a controversial theologian but I found it helpful to read outside of my theological persuasion.
    • “The cross helped me to deal with the brutal legacy of the lynching tree, and the lynching tree helped me to understand the tragic meaning of the cross.”
  5. Letter from the Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Every American should be required to read this short book every MLK day.
    • A letter from MLK to white church leaders in the south.
    • Aside from its brilliant content, the letter is a masterpiece of persuasion (especially among believers).
  6. Educated – Tara Westover
  7. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 – Barbara W. Tuchman
  8. Becoming – Michelle Obama
    • Michelle Obama can WRITE! Fascinating to see the inner workings of the campaign trail and White House.
  9. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism – Doris Kearns Goodwin
    • The early 2000’s is the early 1900’s on steroids: 
      – Overwhelming flood of information 
      – Nonstop pace/noise 
      – Overwhelming/sensationalist news that leaves us sad yet impotent to affect change
    • Great book – just super long (900 pages!)
  10. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – David Grann
    • Especially interesting if you live in or near Oklahoma.
  11. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  12. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
    • Brilliant insight mixed in with LOTS of boring stories.
    • I typically despise Executive Summaries but this is one book you could probably read the executive summary or the chapter headings and walk away with 90% of the helpful content.
  13. Dare to Lead – Brené Brown


  1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
    • Can’t recommend this book enough. It is good on so many levels:
      1. It changed the world. When President Lincoln met Stowe, he remarked: “So you’re the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war!”
      2. It’s a great novel
      3. Stowe powerfully shows both sides of Christianity as it relates to slavery: it’s complicity in slavery (and how that is out of line with true faith) and as the source for emancipation and the brave endurance of countless Christian slaves. Both her villains and her heroes profess Christ. But her villains are sophisticated fools and are shown to be false Christians who have a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Her heroes are unsophisticated, brave, sacrificial and true followers of Christ who are rooted in the Bible and compelled by a deep faith in a just and merciful God.
  2. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin
    • This is the Harry Potter of China- VERY popular. It’s super nerdy. But a great story and actually very spiritual (shocking as it was written by a Chinese and translated to English).
  3. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
    • Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin- a book that shows the power of the pen.
    • Teddy Roosevelt read The Jungle and made sweeping changes to improve life for millions of suffering workers. 
    • As a Christian, one thing that stood out to me is how churches failed to lead the way in fighting inhumane conditions for immigrants.
    • In The Jungle, Socialism is man’s only hope with the church nowhere to be seen.
  4. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
    • Another searing critique of Christianity – how imperialistic Christian missionaries rip apart the family structure of an African village (though the village is rooted in witchcraft and abusive patriarchy). It’s a tragic story and great novel.
  5. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
    • Inspiring and really dark. A father and son trying to survive (and do good) in an apocalyptic world of bad people. “This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up.”
  6. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • Eye opening account of the life of an African immigrant in America. Full of insight on race in America.
    • This one makes an especially good audiobook because of all the African accents.
  7. A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes,1 & 2) – Arthur Conan Doyle
    • First time reading Sherlock Holmes and loved him. Full of so many good quotes:
    • “I cannot live without brain work! What else is there to live for?”
    • “The proper study of man is man”
    • “From long habit the thought came to me instantly”

Would love to hear from you – what were your favorite books you read in 2019?


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  • Andrew

    Wow, so many great-looking books. Congrats on getting through such a quality list; it’s obvious that you enjoyed it and learned a lot.

    Some comments – I am so glad you enjoyed reading Sherlock Holmes, definitely a longtime favorite. I also read Three Body Problem in 2019 because of Obama’s list last year and loved it; read the other 2 in the trilogy which are definitely denser but were worth getting through for me (becomes even nerdier/crazier/more philosophical as it goes along, and I still think the first one is best for most people).

    I also read and enjoyed Strong and Weak and Killers of the Flower Moon.

    I would really like to read the Second Mountain sometime soon.