Archives For Reading

My Top Books of 2017

January 2, 2018 — 5 Comments
Dr. Albert Mohler in his book The Conviction to Lead describes 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.”

I’m constantly on the lookout for book recommendations from friends who read a lot. I get to benefit as they filter out the best of the best for me to read. So in the spirit of “do unto others” I typed up my favorite books I read this past year.

 

I thought it would be helpful to rank my favorites in genres. Because how do you compare Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch with To Kill a Mockingbird or The Blood of Emmett Till? They were all deeply moving on completely different levels.

 

I split Christian Devotional and Ministry into two lists. The Ministry books were particularly helpful for my job as a college pastor. The Devo books changed my heart and moved me closer to Jesus. I also split non-fiction into Historical and Leadership/Modern non-fiction. The latter helped me be a better leader in that they are purely Leadership books or they better helped me understand our times we live in.

 

So here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness.

 

Top 10 Christian Devotional Books

  1. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation – John H. Sailhamer
    • This is the book of which John Piper said “Sell all of your Piper books & buy this.” I’d keep all your Piper books, but… I found Sailhamer’s book to be incredibly enlightening and truly groundbreaking (as in – I’ve been studying God’s Word and listening to Biblical preaching for 20 years and Sailhamer shares hundreds of things that I have never heard taught nor have seen for myself in Scripture). Not an easy read. Boring at times. But fascinating. What I wish: that someone would take this book and edit it to be readable by the masses. It’s unnecessarily repetitive and dense. Definitely written to seminarians. But those willing to plod through it will be rewarded with gold. He is thorough in his exegesis and I never found myself thinking – “well, that is a bit of a stretch.”
    • 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.” 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.
  2. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity – Francis 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.
    • “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. Your marriage exists to make disciples.”
  3. The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
    • Haven’t read this in years. This book is so foundational to understanding Christian growth that I plan on re-reading it regularly.
  4. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture – John Piper
    • Not a real easy read. But perfect to bite off a piece every morning in Quiet Times. Not difficult to understand, but just very detailed and methodical. I can think of few authors who are better than Piper at laying out a logical argument from Scripture.
  5. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Tim Keller
    • I’ve read over 20 books on marriage/dating/sex and this is by FAR the best (yes, better than the #2 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. Incredibly practical and insightful. Especially helpful for singles to read pre-marriage and even pre-dating.
  6. The Holy Spirit- Sinclair Ferguson
    • Incredibly insightful on a topic(person!), I confess, I don’t understand very well.
  7. Mere Christianity – CS Lewis –
    • Ever feel < as a Christian (believing the world- ‘only foolish, uneducated people believe those old myths’)? Read Mere Christianity and be swept up in the beauty and intellectual viability of the Christian Truth. CS Lewis makes you proud to be a Christian. His arguments are compelling AND beautiful. Makes you WANT to believe them. Not just because they are logical and sound. But because in Christianity the world & life finally makes sense.
    • I hadn’t read Mere Christianity since college. I had put off reading it because I assumed it would be a difficult read. It is not at all. That is not to say that there weren’t some parts that were over my head. There are logical arguments that will probably take 10 readings before I really get them.
  8. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters – Sinclair Ferguson
    • A LITTLE difficult to read (if you got it free via christianaudio.com, RESIST the urge to listen to it. It’s too difficult to take in as an audiobook). But a good book to read bit by bit in your Quiet Time. 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.”
  9. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
    • 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
  10. The Mortification of Sin – John Owen
    • Owen puts on a master class of how to study the Bible and ask questions of a passage – most of this classic book being an extended meditation on one verse – Romans 8:13. Owen is difficult to read but not impossible.

 

Top 10 Christian Ministry Books

  1. A Grander Story: An Invitation to Christian Professors
    • liked it so much, this fall I started doing some ministry focused on Professors. Great mix of vision and practical ministry tips.
  2. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South
    • A game-changing book that explains how the heart of Christianity is in the Global South. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South and it makes me hopeful for the future of Christianity, led by these Global Southerners.
  3. Dedication and Leadership – Douglas Hyde
    • A friend of mine on staff with Cru read 25 books on Movements. This book was in the top 2. (The other: Movements That Change the World by Addison). A former Communist who becomes a Christian, looks at what we can learn from Communism. 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.
  4. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry
    • A little technical but very helpful on a difficult topic. Written to youth pastors but easily translates to college ministry.
  5. The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study – edited by DA Carson
    • Very helpful for my understanding of ecclesiology.
  6. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World – Tim Keller
  7. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
    • The only non-Christian book in this genre. Though a secular book, the content is incredibly relevant for those in ministry (especially college) on the power of community, especially in times of difficulty. My favorite type of book – concise and insightful.
  8. Discovering God’s Will – Sinclair B. Ferguson
  9. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place – Andy Crouch
  10. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion – Tim Challies
    • Imho – much better than Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. When I first read this in 2011, it truly changed my life. Opened my eyes to my iPhone addiction and how it was affecting me, my relationship with God and my family. The two chapters on distraction and the flood of information are worth the price of the book. Distraction is the biggest threat to my walk with God and deep thinking. “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.”

 

Top 10 Historical/Biography

  1. Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow
    • I may be biased because my family LOVES the Hamilton play that was based on this book. But I found it absolutely fascinating.
  2. 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.
  3. Churchill- Paul Johnson
    • From what I researched, this is the best short biography of Churchill. What an amazing man who almost singlehandedly saved civilization!
  4. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
    • It’s only by God’s grace that we haven’t nuked ourselves into a nuclear holocaust by now.
  5. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.- Paul Johnson
    • It’s long and ambitious. But Johnson brilliantly provides a thorough education on the twentieth century and plainly explains complex issues.
  6. How the Irish Saved Civilization
    • I’ve often heard references to CS Lewis’s warning against chronological snobbery. But I didn’t really believe him. And now I think I understand why- I think it comes from a false view of history as linear and progressive. Reading How the Irish Saved Civilization was eye opening. For 1,000 years knowledge and human learning trended straight upward – great works of architecture, reasoned works of literature, great cities. And then in 500 it all crashed. And all of the wisdom of Western Civilization would have been lost if not for the Irish.
  7. Undaunted Courage: Lewis and Clark’s Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier
    • 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. I won’t spoil anything but I was truly shocked by the ending – mostly that I had not heard any of it before.
  8. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
    • Truly seems Providential that Winston lived long enough to later save the world.
  9. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation – Michael Reeves
    • Easy and fun to read summary of the Reformation. Interesting note: college campuses figured prominently in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Puritans)
  10. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
    • Great book by one of my favorite authors. Reads like a novel but is 100% historical.

 

Top Leadership/Modern Non-Fiction

  1. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge
    • HIGHLY recommend this unfortunately named book. From the title, I assumed it would be a book about how to have good work/life boundaries.It is not at all about personal boundaries. It’s one of the best leaders books I’ve ever read. In some ways a best of the best book – bringing together ideas from some of the best leadership books out there – Thinking Fast and Slow, Death by Meeting, 4 Disciplines of Execution. Dr. Cloud is concise and very practical. One thing Dr. Cloud addresses like no other book I’ve read: The Emotional Climate that a leader creates. This one makes a great audiobook.
  2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
    • 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. Have recommended this to many and all have loved it.
  3. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance – Senator Ben Sasse
    • How do you turn children into adults? Senator Sasse is incredibly accurate on his diagnosis AND his prescription. I’m voting for this guy when/if he runs for president. [Update: just found out he was a student leader in Cru at Harvard and his wife used to be on staff with Cru. I knew there was a reason I liked the guy!]
  4. Next Generation Leader – Andy Stanley
    • A small book packed with incredibly leadership insight. Best insight I’ve ever seen on how to lead in the face of uncertainty.
  5. Team of Teams: The Power of Small Groups in a Fragmented World – General Stanley McChrystal
    • This book accomplishes a rare feat – combining incredible insight while being an easy/fun read. It’s the story of how the military had to totally restructure to fight Al Quaeda in Iraq. Which, by itself, makes for fascinating reading. But on top of that, the authors have great insight into how sharing ideas is THE key to managing complexity and achieving organization-wide focus. I particularly liked their insights on how to build trust/sharing when resources are scarce.
  6. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies
    • This is more like an extended blog post than a book. But lets be honest, I wouldn’t take the time to read a series of blog posts on productivity. That’s the beauty of books. Books force you to slow down and consider – to think deeply on one topic. And because this book is so incredibly practical, I feel like it will actually change my life more than other, better productivity books like Essentialism and What’s Best Next. My advice: read Essentialism and What’s Best Next first. To change your heart and beliefs. To convince you of the need to: focus/prioritize (Essentialism), understand the Biblical and God-honoring motives for productivity (What’s Best Next). Then read Do More Better to actually start making real changes in your schedule and life.
  7. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson
    • How the Jim Crow south forced southern African Americans to migrate to the north and west. Long but really eye opening.
  8. Elon Musk: Inventing the Future – Ashlee Vance
    • About the fascinating founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
  9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
    • Would have been all the more powerful if she could have trimmed it to a concise 200 pages rather than a repetitive 300. Nonetheless it was incredibly eye-opening and I’m very glad to see that it has effected change. I’d never say this with most books – but you’d get the same effect from watching the movie/documentary – 13th on Netflix. This book makes you wonder what in the world our government is doing (when compared to other modern states) – appalling and immoral.
  10. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football
    • Great (and shocking) read for any college football fan. Basically the story of how deeply flawed young men act when given absolute power.

 

Top 10 Fiction

  1. Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
    • 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).
  2. Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry
    • This book was good for my soul. I value efficiency and speed and productivity. Wendell Berry describes community in an age before TV’s and cell phones – a life of slowness and anti-efficiency. I think I want what they had. It truly made me consider what life is about – work/productivity or relationships. Makes you contemplate the brevity of life and what truly matters – what you will leave behind. Apart from the theological and interpersonal insights, this book would be worth reading just to wonder at Berry’s writing ability. Like Jared Wilson said – “Reading this book is like laying in cool grass under a spring sun by a lazy brook.”
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird
    • Not much I can say about this classic that hasn’t already been written. As you can see from my list, I’m trying to go back and read the classic novels and, I must say, enjoying them FAR more than I thought I would. I thought they would be difficult and dry. They’re Classics for good reason. They have great plots and great writing. The best of the best.
  4. Silence – 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.
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front
    • Man. What a great, gripping & thoroughly depressing book. I think I was forced to read this book in high school. A good friend, John Majors, recommended the audiobook to me recently. I echo his thoughts on the book: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better performance on an audio book (the narrator was Frank Muller). There were many times I was completely gripped by the drama of the story. I had read this a few years ago and enjoyed it, but it didn’t have near the affect of the audio book. Definitely put this on your listening list. The quality of the writing is among the best of all novels I’ve experienced. And the way he captures the thought life of the soldier is art at its finest.” Loved all the classic books on this list.
  6. Jane Eyre
  7. The Great Gatsby
  8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  9. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

I just got on GoodReads.com this year and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Great way to track your reading progress, set goals for yourself, and see what other avid readers are reading. Would love to connect over there.

What were your favorite books you read in 2017?

 

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:

  1. 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!”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. Elon Musk: Inventing the Future –  about the fascinating founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
  10. 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.”
  11. 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.
  12. Churchill – Paul Johnson – from what I researched, this is the best short biography of Churchill. What an amazing man who almost singlehandedly saved civilization!
  13. 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.
  14. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – great book by one of my favorite authors. Reads like a novel but is 100% historical.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. When Breath Becomes Air – VERY well written memoir of a neurosurgeon who gets terminal cancer
  18. Thinking, Fast and Slow – great and fascinating, if a bit academic, insights on how we make decisions
  19. 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
  20. 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:
  1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
  2. Elon Musk: Inventing the Future
  3. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
  4. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
  5. When Breath Becomes Air
 
A little more challenging, but not-too-hard reads:
  1. The Blood of Emmett Till (NOT light in subject matter, but easy to read and a very good and important read)
  2. Silence
  3. Darkness at Noon
  4. Churchill – Paul Johnson
  5. 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?

image via quotefancy
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.
9435974561_815b1cb291_zInsightfully, 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.

 

A lot of what reading has done for me is captured in this Tweetstorm from Patrick O’Shaughnessy:
  • 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
Leadership/Growth
  • 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)
Audiobooks
  • Invisible Man
  • 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.’” 
He responded:
“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.
Semper Fi, Mattis”
Read the full transcript here.
Sobering words.

What were some of your favorite books you read in 2016? What’s on your list of books to read in 2017?

 

image courtesy of Pimthida

One of my chief goals for this year is to read more. I wrote about why and how here: Read Less Blogs and More Books.
Very briefly-
Why:
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.
How:
  • 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:

Christian:
Historical non-fiction:
Leadership/Business

What are some of your favorite books you’ve read recently?

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.

Randy Gravitt says:

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
    • Bonhoeffer was a great nighttime read. Or my current bedtime book- River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. On deck:
  • I’m keeping an Evernote on books I want to read in each of these categories (audiobook, morning, and night reading)

What about you? What helps you read more books?

In what ways have you bought into “informationism”?

Would LOVE book recommendations. List some of your favorites in the comments.