We’re halfway through the year AND it’s summer. What better time to share some of my favorite books I’ve read this year?
My 20 favorites I read in the first half of 2017, ranked:
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity – Francis and Lisa Chan – as one reviewer put it “A bait and switch but in the best possible way.” Not really on marriage – but about living on mission as a couple and family. Such a good book (I listened to it on audiobook). “There are plenty of marriage books that will teach you how to get along and be happy. This is not one of those books. Those books don’t account for the fact that you can have a happy earthly marriage and then be miserable for all eternity. We’ve made happy families our mission. That’s not the mission Jesus gave us. God has entrusted you with children so you’d make them into disciples who will go into every part of the world & make disciples. Our parenting is not exempt from the command to make disciples. You exist to make disciples. Your marriage exists to make disciples. This should dictate where you live/work/spend your $/time—everything!”
The Meaning of the Pentateuch by Sailhamer – everything you think about the Old Testament and the Pentateuch is wrong. It was “not written to teach Israel the law. The Pentateuch was addressed to a people living under the law and failing at every opportunity. The Pentateuch looks beyond the law of God to his grace. The purpose of the Pentateuch is to teach its readers about faith and hope in the new covenant.” Read the free (50 page!) intro and have your mind blown! As a (seminary grad) friend commented – “Just reading the Introduction left me feeling like I had never read the Pentateuch before!” REALLY long and kind of difficult. But so worth it. Great to read during your quiet time over a couple of months.
The Blood of Emmett Till – this should be required reading for every American. The story of the horrific death of a young black boy, and more widely, the civil rights movement.
The Meaning of Marriage – Tim and Kathy Keller – I’ve read over 20 books on marriage/dating/sex and this is by FAR the best (yes, better than the #1 book on my list. I’d recommend this book first as a marriage book. And then You and Me Forever as a follow up. You and Me was just more impactful for me personally this year). Cannot recommend highly enough. This is my second time to read it and I plan to re-read it often. Incredibly practical and insightful. I work in college ministry and I recommend this to every college student I counsel re relationships or dating. Every person who is single should read this book pre-marriage.
Silence by Shūsaku Endō – a fictional book but based on true events. Enthralling and challenging novel based on the real life persecution of Portuguese missionaries in Japan.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike – Had several people recommend this book and what cemented it for me was seeing it on Bill Gates’ top 5 books of 2016. Not your typical Gates’ recommendation (usually his book recs are pretty cerebral!). Shoe Dog did not disappoint. Knight is incredibly honest, not skimming over his regrets and mistakes. And I was surprised by the amount of spiritual searching throughout Knight’s life. The audiobook is particularly good.
Darkness at Noon – Outstanding novel based on real events in Communist Russia in the 1950’s. Really helped me understand the mindset of communism in a way no other book has. As an American, I’ve always discounted communists as idiots. Koestler’s account is not favorable to communists but it does show the very intelligent rationale behind brutal communist policies. Makes me want to learn more about the worldviews of the 20th century (which is why I read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times).
Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties – Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s long. And ambitious. I want to read everything by this author. He has such an unbelievable grasp on an amazing amount of topics. He truly gives a thorough education on the twentieth century. I listened to it on audiobook. Probably would have been better to read but worked fine as audiobook. I probably just missed some of the more profound, difficult ideas.
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future – about the fascinating founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – a LITTLE difficult to read. But a good book to read bit by bit in your Quiet Time. This book was incredibly helpful for me, especially reading it on the heels of Sailhamer’s “The Meaning of the Pentateuch.” Ferguson answers “how do the law and grace relate?” He asserts that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites but “nonidentical twins from the same womb.” “The cure for both legalism and antinomianism is the gospel.”
Dedication and Leadership – a former Communist who becomes a Christian, looks at what we can learn from Communism. In some ways this book is dated. In others, it is particularly well suited for our times. The book is a case study in how a small minority can literally change the world: “It is probably true to say of the Communists that never in man’s history has a small group of people set out to win a world and achieved more in less time.” Caveat: The book is 100% not gospel centered! Definitely “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “if the communists can be so dedicated and sacrifice so much for a lie, how much more so, Christians…Come on Christians! Try harder!” But… taken with a grain of salt, the book is VERY thought provoking. Particularly relevant for my line of work – college ministry- as the book focuses particularly on how the Communist Party mobilizes young people.
Churchill – Paul Johnson – from what I researched, this is the best short biography of Churchill. What an amazing man who almost singlehandedly saved civilization!
Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice – Great, short book. Can easily be read in a week of quiet times.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – great book by one of my favorite authors. Reads like a novel but is 100% historical.
Undaunted Courage: Lewis and Clark and the Opening of the American West – Stephen E. Ambrose – Fascinating book. Name a more iconic duo. Now name one fact about them other than that they were the first to explore the west. I knew nothing about this famous duo before reading this. Their passage across the virgin west is fascinating – their discoveries, their courage, their leadership. The ending of the book was shocking. I won’t spoil anything but I was truly shocked- mostly that I had not heard any of it before.
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety – another fascinating book. It’s only by God’s grace that we haven’t nuked ourselves into a nuclear holocaust by now.
When Breath Becomes Air – VERY well written memoir of a neurosurgeon who gets terminal cancer
Thinking, Fast and Slow – great and fascinating, if a bit academic, insights on how we make decisions
The Pilgrim’s Progress – Mixed feelings on this book. I set out on my pilgrimage to read the book because many great Christian thinkers list it as the book that has most influenced them (apart from the Bible). I did NOT think I would be recommending this book. But as it gets going, you get used to the Old English (if you can’t get over that, there ARE modern English versions). For some tips on how to read it see my full review over on GoodReads
The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study – DA Carson – very helpful for my understanding of ecclesiology
Though I haven’t quite finished it, I can’t help but include the book I’m trudging (in the best possible sense) through right now because it will easily be in the top 5 – Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally. SO good. Not a real easy read. But perfect to bite off a piece every morning in Quiet Times.
“When young leaders in my organization ask me what they can do to grow, my first response is always pretty obvious: read! Leaders are readers. I believe the answer to pretty much every question you can think of is already in a book somewhere.” – Dave Ramsey
If you’re looking for lighter, summer reading (i.e. – not heavy, theological books), the list would be-
Super-easy, fun reads:
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
When Breath Becomes Air
A little more challenging, but not-too-hard reads:
The Blood of Emmett Till (NOT light in subject matter, but easy to read and a very good and important read)
Darkness at Noon
Churchill – Paul Johnson
Undaunted Courage: Lewis and Clark and the Opening of the American West – Stephen E. Ambrose
I just got on GoodReads.com this year and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Great way to track your reading progress and set goals for yourself. Would love to connect over there.
What about you? What are your favorite books you’ve read in 2017?
In his book The Conviction to Lead, Dr. Albert Mohler highlights reading as one of the keystone habits of leaders:
Those who would lead with conviction must read with conviction.
When leaders gather, books are usually part of the conversation.
Leaders are ravenous consumers of historical biographies.
Keep reading and developing the skill of reading over your lifetime. We can train ourselves to enjoy reading.
Insightfully, Dr. Mohler identifies what I believe is the irreplaceable benefit of reading in the life of a leader:
“There is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead. Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.”
Reading keeps my brain flowing with a flood of ideas and intellectual activity. Part of it is that it plays into my strengths – especially Analytical (I like to connect the dots in information) and Ideation (new ideas are exciting to me). I really like chewing on and processing new ideas.
This year I read three times as many books as last year. And I can definitely see the impact on my ability to lead from vision and fresh ideas.
I’m often asked how I read so much and how I choose books. So, my I’ll try my first tweetstorm
1/ I love @naval‘s idea to ask yourself: what that you do looks like hard work from the outside, but doesn’t feel like work to you?
2/ For me, one answer is reading. In most down time, I read.
5/ A new book often makes you realize something essential about an old book.
6/ This is why knowledge compounds. Old stuff that was a 4/10 in value can become a 10/10, unlocked by another book in the future.
9/ Usually, it’s some combination of books that has a non-linear impact.
11/ When you start out reading, you are collecting distant dots in a constellation with no apparent connection
23/ Ten years in, I now have an incomplete but dense set of interconnected dots. It is my most valuable asset.
25/ Reading gets more and more enjoyable the more you do it.
His whole tweetstorm is worth reading for great tips on how to organize book highlights (in Evernote) and other tips on reading.
One of the main things I discovered this year in greatly increasing my reading – A new book often unlocks an older book you read. The faint dots in the constellation suddenly become more clear. Reading multiple books opens up powerful connections. Simultaneously reading Masterplan of Evangelism and Movements that Change the World was incredibly helpful.
Several have asked me what helped me read more:
I sucked it up and subscribed to Audible.com (a ridiculous $15/month). 16 of the 52 books I “read” this year were listened to on Audible. I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving and working out. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. I listen at 1.25x or 1.5x speed (depending on the narrator) and can get through a book every 3 weeks.
I started tracking what I read. For whatever reason, this really helped me. I like to keep score (I have ‘Competition- driven to win’ on Strengths Finder!)
I spent less time on Twitter (still a HUGE fan of Twitter though – see tweet storm above- Twitter spurs me on to be a better leader AND to read more books!)
I got up 30 minutes earlier and used that time to read.
For most of the year I read every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
I started asking every prodigious reader I know for book recommendations. Having a book I’m looking forward to makes me want to read more. And it has greatly increased the quality of the books I read – I’m reading the top books recommended by top readers.
I previously listed my Top 20 books list. Here’s some other good “best of 2016” book lists in which to find great books to read in 2017:
I’ve started piecing together books I want to read in 2017. One of my main goals is to increase the number of serious, Christian books. Much of my reading tends to be Audiobooks or light reading before bed – both lending themselves to an “easy reading” genre of fiction or historical non-fiction. I haven’t figured out a way to carve out more time to read books that require deep thinking and underlining/taking notes.
Here’s what’s on my list so far for 2017:
Devotional/Morning Quiet Time
Discipline of Grace
Courage and calling- Gordon Smith (Calling at different stages of life)
Gordon McDonald – Ordering Your Private World
The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine
Zeal Without Burnout (showed up on several best-of-year book lists)
The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson
The Art of the Commonplace – Wendell Berry
Switch – Heath
Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future by Andy Stanley
Epidemic of narcissism
The Starfish and the Spider
Wendell Berry – Hidden Wound (his personal story of having black servants)
The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism – Yuval Levin (showed up on several best-of-year book lists)
Silence – by Shūsaku Endō
The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
Undaunted courage – Lewis and Clark
Command and control- re nuclear security
A Winston Churchill biography
I’ll leave you with this “encouragement” from Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nominated to be Secretary of Defense by President-elect Trump.
“Mattis’s colleague reportedly asked him about the “importance of reading and military history for officers,” who found themselves “too busy to read.’”
“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience, i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession…
As a result [of my reading], the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.
The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading. Why? Because my voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise. I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.
I’m tracking how many books I read each year
I’ve started listening to audiobooks. I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving.
I’m committed to reading every night before bed. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
It’s April and I’ve already read as many books as I read all last year.
One thing I’ve found challenging – where to find good book recommendations. So in the vein of “do unto others”…
Here’s a few of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year:
SUPER interesting. All Cru staff should read this. Interesting because the author writes as an outside and honestly presents Dr. Bright and Crusade, warts and all. John Turner was not setting out to write a book on Bill Bright. In fact, he knew little of Bill Bright before writing the book. He wanted to write a book on how Evangelicalism became a dominant force in American culture. And as he began to research, he found that few people had a greater influence on the rise of evangelical Christianity in the 20th century, than Bill Bright and Campus Crusade.
“It is written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the United States. Coates recapitulates the American history of violence against black people and the incommensurate policing of black youth.”
The past couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to shift from less input to deeper reading.
I’m reading less blogs, bookmarking less web pages and reading more books (yes, I appreciate the irony that you are reading this on a blog).
It started in 2011 when I read Tim Challies’ book The Next Story. He illuminated a huge idol in my heart (and I believe a chief idol of our age)- informationism:
We have begun to believe that the accumulation of information somehow leads to wisdom, that more information will solve society’s ills and improve our lives. We place our faith in information.
We find joy and life in that information – not in using that information or turning that information into useful action, but simply in its constant flow.
Without the distraction of dealing with vast amounts of information and without overtaxing our brains with hundreds of sources of information, we will have the time to know more about less.
Success in life “is not in the accumulation of facts, but in living a life marked by wisdom, by the application of knowledge.”
What we are finding is that more information does not necessarily lead to more wisdom. In fact, the very opposite may be true.
More information may lead to less wisdom.
That last sentence rocked me. My voracious reading of new blogs and articles is actually making me less wise.
I want to know more about less. It was actually the very secular BBC that reminded me that, primarily, that means I need to read less “news” and soak in God’s Word more:
One of the more embarrassing difficulties of our age is that most of us have quite lost the ability to concentrate, to sit still and do nothing other than focus on certain basic truths of the human condition. We are reluctant to admit that we are simply swamped with information and have lost the ability to make sense of it.
The prestige of the news is founded on the unstated assumption that our lives are forever poised on the verge of a critical transformation. Contrast this with how religions think of what is important. The great stable truths can be carved into stone rather than swilling malleably across hand-held screens. Rather than letting us constantly catch up on “news”, religions prefer to keep reminding us of the same old things.
It is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity.
We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than St Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.
This clip from Portlandia was me in 2009-2013 (and probably me still!):
Here’s what that has looked like for me. I have over 3,000 unread pages saved in Pocket (a save-to-read-later service)!
Not sure when this “later” is when I’m going to find time to read them.
In 2013 I bookmarked 1,500 sites that I never got around to reading. At that point, I was literally checking 75 blogs every week. I even blogged about why you should read a lot of blogs http://www.timcasteel.com/blogs/how-and-why-to-subscribe-to-blogs/! I still read blogs but almost exclusively blogs related to college ministry (my field of work)
In 2014, I had 1,000 unread bookmarked pages.
And 500 in 2015. If you do the math, that’s not exactly a trickle – I’m still bookmarking almost 2 pages a day. But it’s progress!
I’m replacing those “must read” late-breaking-this-is-going-to-change-your-life blogposts and articles with the slow, harder work of reading a book. Trading candy for meat. Books make me slow down and absorb information instead of just letting information go in one ear and out the other.
If I could choose only one habit to pursue growth it would be to develop a love for books. Reading requires focus and commitment. But the payoff is huge. If you want to jumpstart your leadership growth, spend at least thirty minutes a day reading
A few steps I’m taking to read more:
I’m tracking how many books I read each year
I don’t necessarily want a goal of number-of-books-read because, again, the goal is not more information input. It’s deeper, slower reading. Last year I read 17 books. And I want to read more this year. But I feel like a goal will make me rush through books instead of slowly absorbing them.
I’m not finishing every book I start
I’ve found one of the easiest ways to read more is to take advantage of dead time in my schedule – like driving. 15 minutes here and there really adds up. So I sucked it up and subscribed to Audible.com (a ridiculous $22/month for two books). I listen at 1.25 speed and can get through two books in a month.
I’m committed to reading every night. A couple of years ago my wife introduced the new rule of “no blue light an hour before bed” = no checking twitter or reading online. I’m thankful for God’s grace through her! It made me take up the habit of reading before bed every night. A great side-effect: when my head hits the pillow I’m asleep in seconds.
The trick is finding when to read the right kind of book:
In the morning I read a spiritually developmental book (right now I’m reading John Piper’s Bloodlines on ethnicity and racial reconciliation). I need to carve out more time for this category. I rarely read during the day.
In the car on audiobook I can’t listen to any book that I want to take notes on. I need a book that can just wash over me. That’s more of a story/biography. Shadow of the Almighty – the story of martyred missionary Jim Elliott was perfect. Though there’s plenty of quotes I’d want to underline, I’ve read it enough times that I can just let the story and Jim’s singleminded pursuit of Christ and the Great Commission wash over me. How We Got To Now was also a great one for audiobook. VERY interesting stories of the 6 most important innovations – great stuff to inspire your thinking and own innovation. But nothing much that I’d need to write down to remember.
At night, again, I can’t read any book that I’d want to underline or take notes on or that will get my brain’s gears turning. At night my goal is to unwind. So I stick mostly with biographies that inspire. “Readers of good books, particularly books of biography and history, are preparing themselves for leadership. Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.” Harry Truman