I love listing my top 10 books every six months for two reasons. First, it gives me an opportunity to reflect more deeply on how God might be speaking to me through what I have been reading. And secondly, I believe good books can serve as midwives to new ideas, fresh perspectives, and even the voice of God to us.
So here are my top 10 books from the last six months that you may want to consider adding to your reading list this summer:
1. The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded – Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major
This book, now in its fourth edition, sits on a table in our living room. I love picking it up and reading sections on different authors and their books. From Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, to George Orwell, to Dostoyevsky, to William Blake, to Pascal, to Augustine, to Plato, to Confucius, to Homer, the authors offer two to three page summaries of some of the greatest books that have stood the test of time in both the Western and non-Western world. It is so well-written that it may lead you to read some of these great books over your lifetime. I know it has for me.
I reviewed this book in a blog last May so let me refer you to that here. While you may not agree with everything in Dreher’s analysis about the immense pressure the church is under, it will challenge you to wrestle with the enormous discipleship challenge facing us today.
3. Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations – Thomas L. Friedman
I also reviewed this book in a blog last January so click here to read a more in depth review. This is an important work on the rapid changes happening in our world, from artificial intelligence to mobile devices to broadband connectivity. The gospel never changes but culture does. Ours is changing much more rapidly than we realize.
4. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
This is the best, most accessible book on the Enneagram I have read to date. It provides a great framework to take people the next step after The Emotionally Healthy (EH) Spirituality Course to know themselves that they may know God. I find myself referring to this book again and again in my conversations with my daughters and our staff at New Life.
5. Kierkegaard: A Single Life – Stephen Backhouse
I have had a lifelong struggle with Kierkegaard and his writings. His writing is dense and his Danish context foreign to my 21st century world. Backhouse’s excellent biography, however, bridged this gap for me, and I now understand why so many people view him as one the most profound thinkers in the last 200 years. I am now in the process of reading an anthology of his works and discovering his analysis of the cultural Christianity of the Danish church in the mid 1800’s to be profoundly applicable for us in the Western church today.
6. Sinning Like a Christian: A New Look at the 7 Deadly Sins – William H. Willimon
For 1500 years the church has used the list of the 7 deadly sins – pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust – to name the nature of sin so that we might resist her power. I read this devotionally as a companion to my study on the Sermon on the Mount and found it very helpful (convicting may be a better word.)
7. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant – Ronald C. White
I gifted myself with this book as a summer gift for $11.99 from Costco. What a great beach read on leadership! Ronald White traces Grant’s humble beginnings to his rise to General of the Union armies during the Civil War and then to President of the United States. His unlikely rise to leadership, however, is clearly because of his character. Over time it won the day over men with much greater gifts and intellect. Every time I read about the generals from the Civil War, I am reminded that everything, yes everything, rises and falls on leadership.
8. Kissinger: A Biography – Walter Isaacson
Henry Kissinger is most famous for his time as Secretary of State under Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War. Yet his controversial leadership in foreign policy has been significant for over 50 years. However, without understanding his childhood as a persecuted Jew who fled Nazi Germany and his particular family of origin, it is almost impossible to understand Kissinger’s complexities. His biography confirms the adage: as with the roots of a tree, our hometown shapes our horizon. Lesson: if you want to know the people with whom you serve, find out their stories.
9. The Flight of the Romanovs: A Family Saga – John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov
If you want to read a tragic story of how complacency and a sense of entitlement can take down a leader, read this. The Romanov’s were not willing, or interested, in knowing about the pain and poverty in their vast Russian Empire that covered almost 1/6 of the earth. They lost touch with the people and missed clear warning signs. They weren’t interested in learning new things or changing. And they paid for it with their lives.
10. East of Eden – John Steinbeck
I finally read this 600+ page, classic novel at the insistence of multiple family members. And thank God I did! The story is set in the farmlands of California, following the destinies of two families. At one point, one of the characters, Cal, struggles with his dark side, feeling like it is inevitable that he will go down a bad road of evil. This is compounded when he finds out his mother abandoned him at birth to be a prostitute and run a brothel. The creative way Steinbeck weaves in the story of Cain and Abel, expounding on God’s gift to us as humans to choose our destiny (i.e. free will), is nothing short of brilliant.
What books might you want to add to this list?