Top 10 Books of the 2010s

January 26, 2020 — 12 Comments

The 2010s were for me the decade I learned to love reading. In 2015 I decided I wanted to read more – I read 17 books. The next year 52. In 2017, 100. And 100 again in 2018. In 2019 I wanted to read less and synthesize more, so I read 67.

Of the close to 400 books I read this decade, these are the 10 best. Or I should say – these 10 books changed my life in the 2010’s. They’re ranked in order of impact on my life. Because one thing I like more than reading, is sharing life-changing books with others!

1) The Next Story by Tim Challies

Of all the books on this list, this one probably changed me the most. When I read this in 2011 I was very addicted to this new technology called an iPhone.

The key to loosening its hold – trying to understand the “why.” What was I looking for in constantly checking my phone?

For me it was Informationism. Informationism is “a non-discerning vacuous faith in the collection and dissemination of information as a route to…personal happiness.” If I just read one more blog post on marriage, parenting, ministry…THAT would be the key that solves everything (can any other Enneagram 5s relate?).

Major takeaways:

Distraction is the biggest threat to my walk with God. “Distraction is the enemy of deep thinking.” A distracted life is a shallow life.

I believe that more information is what I need. When in fact, “More information may lead to less wisdom.” I need to take in less information and seek more wisdom.

“We need to devote more time to less things.”

The two chapters on distraction and the flood of information are worth the price of the book.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

2) 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

No one has shaped my thinking more in the past few years than Jordan Peterson. In 12 Rules, Peterson is essentially asking – “How can one live the good life?” Though not a Christian, Jordan Peterson gets so much right. SO much. In his words:

  • We all fall short of the glory of God
  • We have missed the mark because of original sin
  • And the goal is to get back to walking with God
  • What do we do with our falling short?
  • Dr. Peterson’s answer is “grow the hell up.” He is unable to see grace.

The foreword by Dr. Norman Doidge ends on this intriguing note: “Perhaps, as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds, in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged.”

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

3) The Epidemic by Robert Shaw M.D.

This is my favorite parenting book. As I spent much of the 2010’s parenting our 5 kids, this book was incredibly helpful. It’s not a Christian book but it provides a framework for parenting that is very helpful. A few key concepts:

  • Ages 1-4 are foundational
  • Children crave firm, consistent boundaries (they want to know what is permissible).
  • A child’s world must not revolve around themselves (they need to hear no in order to develop empathy and to learn to think of others first).
  • “There is almost no normal situation in which you should be asking your child’s permission” (ending sentences with “OK?”).
  • The key is always choosing to engage- to follow through on what you said you were going to do (and not ignore small disobedience). Even when you’re exhausted, if you said, “if you do that one more time I’m gonna_____” then if they do it one more time you must follow through.

4) The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

Besides being my all-time favorite work of fiction, this series, more than anything else, made me a reader.

I started reading it out of a combination of wanting to keep up with what my kids were reading (and loving!) and my wife encouraging me that I would really like it. I discovered something – reading is fun! Before reading Harry Potter, I hadn’t read a fiction book in over 15 years. I thought it was a waste of time. I’d read an occasional leadership or devotional book. But I was not a reader. 

Takeaway- the way to be a reader is to read what you want to, and slowly work your way into more challenging books!

5) Atomic Habits by James Clear

A major key to life is “to emphasize any single moment less and the accumulation of moments more.”

Few things have shaped my learning this decade more than the idea of habit: we are what we repeatedly do. I could have also listed The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Power of Habit is more stories and the “why” behind habits. Atomic habits gives very practical ways to make small changes that will yield big results.

“If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, [just] follow the curve of tiny gains/losses…how your daily choices will compound 10 years down the line. Are you spending less than you earn each month? Are you reading books & learning something new each day?”

6) The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Maybe more than any other secular book, Paradox of Choice gets to the heart of our current malaise.

“As a culture we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, & variety, & we are reluctant to give up any of our options. But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, & dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression.”

“If unrestricted freedom can impede pursuit of what we value most then it may be that some restrictions make everyone better off. If ‘constraint’ sometimes affords liberation while ‘freedom’ affords enslavement then we’d be wise to seek out some measure of appropriate constraint”

5 keys:

  1. We’d be better off embracing voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.
  2. We’d be better off seeking what’s “good enough” instead of seeking the best
  3. We’d be better off lowering our expectations about the results of decisions
  4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible.
  5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

7) Reappearing Church by Mark Sayers

Mark Sayers brings much needed HOPE to the dismal realities of our modern world. His most helpful insight: 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 we are time 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”

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

8) Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by 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.

Almost daily, I find myself thinking about the wisdom in this book. Especially his “Step 1” (from Alcoholics Anonymous): I am “powerless over this and my life has become unmanageable.”
Fair warning: LOTS of cuss words!

“Counterintuitively, in our culture of individualism and self-centred valour, it is by surrendering that we can begin to succeed. It is by ‘admitting that we have no power’ that we can begin the process of accessing all the power we will ever need.Where I have found this program most rewarding and yet most challenging is in the way that it has unravelled my unquestioned faith that I was the centre of the universe and that the purpose of my life was to fulfill my drives…Can I now accept there is a power greater than me at work in this cosmos? I don’t have to ally with it yet, all I have to do is accept that my thoughts and I are not the apex of human experience.” 

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

9) Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Written in 1985, Amusing could not be more relevant to our modern world and humankind’s endless appetite for distraction. Postman has an incredible ability to make sense of vast amounts of history- to explain how (and why) we got to now, especially as it relates to technology.

Postman explains so much of our world- how technology affects our ability to think, and the resulting effects: anxiety and outrage (instead of reasoned discourse).

Postman puts into words what many of us feel – the glut of information causes anxiety, incoherence, and impotence. In the place of meaning, technology gives us amusement. 

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

10) The Next Evangelicalism – Soong-Chan Rah

Dr. Rah makes a compelling case that the future of Christianity in America rests on the shoulders of immigrants and ethnic minority leaders (owing much to their “liminality”- ability to move fluidly in between cultures). He opened my eyes to the work God is doing in our country and around the world (along with the book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South). A few key takeaways:

“Unless [churches/parachurches] see growth among the ethnic minority population within their [congregation] they will experience steady decline.”

“Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive & well among the immigrant & ethnic minority communities”

The flood of immigrants in the past few decades has been a God-ordained action to save the American church.

You can read my full GoodReads review here.

Honorable Mention: For the Love of God by DA Carson

Not a traditional book – more so a Bible reading plan/devo. But truly life changing. I’ve read the Bible using Carson’s plan/devo for each of the last 5 years. NOTHING has changed my life more than consistently reading through the Bible. And Carson’s devo/plan was the key to making that a reality in my life.

I’d love to hear from you – what books changed your life in the last decade?


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  • Thanks for these, Tim. I will think about what books I would name. But I do hope your reading in the next decade includes some books by women!

    • timcasteel

      Thanks Judy! I’d love to see your list.

      I really do try to make a point to read non-white/western and female authors! That’s one of the reasons I read is to gain a new perspective on the world. I’m such a book nerd that I track what % of the books I read every year are written by non-white/western and female authors. Every year I aim for at least 33%.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • timcasteel

      Thanks Judy! I’d love to see your list.

      I really try to make it a point to read non-white/western and female authors! That’s one of the reasons I read is to gain a new perspective on the world. I’m such a book nerd that I track what % of the books I read every year are written by non-white/western and female authors. Every year I aim for at least 33%.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • So, Tim, here are some books that have impacted me over the past couple of years. I do much of my reading on long flights, and often, after a conference of non-stop people and speaking and interacting, I like to read novels. I love historical novels, or ones based on true stories turned into novels.

        Books that Impacted Me

        A Prayer for Orion Katherine James (Katie and Rick James)
        Whisper Mark Batterson
        Paper Wife Laila Ibrahm
        A Million Little Things Emily Freeman
        Jayber Crow Wendell Berry
        A Sojourner’s Truth Natasha Robinson
        Life Without Lack Dallas Willard
        Someone Knows My Name Lawrence Hill
        Dream with Me John Perkins
        The Blue Notebook James Levine
        The Beautiful Struggle Ta-Nahisi Coates
        The Heaven Promise Scot McKnight
        Keeping Place Jen Michel

        • timcasteel

          That’s a great list! Thanks for taking the time to share that. Do you mind if I share it on Workplace (or you can!)? I’m sure other staff would want to see it.

          Jayber Crow is definitely in my top 10 all-time favorite novels! I’ll have to check out the others.

          I enjoyed Katherine James’ first book, so Orion is high on my to-read list – just ordered it online!

          • I’d be glad for you to share it. New people for me. I’ve hardly read–it seems to me–for the past year because of my book coming out. Much of the reading I’ve done has been new books from young writers to endorse them. Blessings, Tim.

        • Susie Richardson

          Good to see your list too, Judy. I read Coates’ Between the World and Me, and everything I can get my hands on by Wendell Berry. Willard’s Divine Conspiracy leads me to gems I’d failed to see. Haven’t read any of the others however — yet!

          • Thanks, Susie. What I especially liked about Willard’s Life without Lack is that I can understand it as I read it. And it is a powerful look at the Lord’s Prayer. I so wish I had time to read more.

  • Susie Richardson

    Enjoyed browsing your list. Great job summarizing! Have you read any of Fleming Rutledge. How about Ross Douthat? (Bad Religion)

    • timcasteel

      Rutledge’s book on Crucifixion has been on my to-read list for a couple years but it’s so dang long, it’s daunting! Do you have any recommendations for books to start with by her?

      I’m a big fan of Douthat’s writing in the NYT but have never read his books. I’ll have to check out Bad Religion – what did you like about it?

      • Susie Richardson

        Was hoping you could help me w/ Rutledge! My pastor recommended her to me, but I’ve only gotten as far as Amazon reviews of her work. Douthat’s Bad Religion? Strikes me as ballast for Kurt Anderson’s Fantasyland. Douthat skillfully chronicles the past 7 decades, showing how we’ve inflated certain scriptural truths disproportionately … seeds for the harvest of political polarity we’re now reaping, among other things

        • timcasteel

          Interesting re Douthat – I’ll have to read it!