I like to read more broadly than usual in the summer months to stretch me and to open up doors for God to speak in unexpected ways. The following are my top 10 picks for the first half of 2016:
1. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age – Sheryl Turkle
I consider this the most important leadership book I’ve read so far this year because of the implications of her research on how digital technology is impacting our culture. I find myself returning to her insights in discussions on building community, discipleship, preaching, and developing next generation leaders. Click here to read the blog I wrote on this book.
2. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
At the age of 36, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. A brilliant neurosurgeon and excellent writer, he records for us, with penetrating insight and clarity, his process of dying with a humility that is deeply moving. I returned to praying Psalm 91, considering afresh how I think about time and what is important for the rest of my time on earth.
3. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild
This well-written book is a very painful record of how King Leopold II, of Belgium, colonized and plundered the large territory of the Congo in the 1880’s through early 1900’s. Like the other European countries that were carving up Africa at that time, Belgium joined in the pillaging of Africa’s land and people for her own wealth and comfort. Sadly, Leopold presented himself, during that entire time, as a great humanitarian. King Leopold’s Ghost will give you insights into present day tribal tensions (e.g. Rwanda), the insidious nature of structural evil, and the suffering soil out of which Christianity has exploded in Africa.
4. Three Impossible Promises: The Inspiring True Story of Olympic Gold and How Organizational Culture Means Everything – Gerry Preece and Lynne Ruhl
This is an outstanding case study of what it means to build a healthy organizational culture and team. Lynne Ruhl was a mom in 1983 who, in order to serve her daughter, founded a gymnastics school based on values of integrity, team, respect, etc. Her courage, tenacity, and commitment to enforce her values are a wonder to behold as they unfold under external pressure. Is it any wonder two of their students won Olympic gold medals? I bought copies of this for our New Life Fellowship executive team.
5. Creating a Life with God: The Call to Ancient Prayer Practices – Daniel Wolpert
If I were teaching a course on prayer or ancient spiritual practices, I would use this book as a text. It provides an outstanding summary of and applications for the best of prayer practices taught through church history. I actually prayed my way, slowly, through this book. I also recommend Wolpert’s Leading a Life with God: The Practice of Spiritual Leadership as an excellent follow up.
6. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise – Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
Ericsson studied brilliant, expert performers–scientists, athletes, surgeons, Olympian gymnasts, chess masters, composers, etc.–- over a period of 30 years. His question was, how did they get to this level? He discovered it was not due to simple innate brilliance but a tremendous amount of deliberate practice, getting feedback from excellent coaches, and learning key skills. I keep coming back to his learnings for my thinking around discipleship. Click here to read my blog on this.
7. I Love Growing Older But I’ll Never Grow Old – J. Ellsworth Kalas
In preparation for my 60th birthday I read this book twice! Kalas, a former pastor, seminary president, and leader, offers innumerable insights on aging. In my present quest to be a disciple in growing older as a Christ-follower (over and against our culture), this has been a gift.
After reading this book, Geri and I attended a recent weekend conference with the author and his wife. It was excellent. He brings together the best of neuroscience research with attachment theory to look at what makes love within couples work. While he is not working within a biblical framework, his insights and practical suggestions are worth the price of the book.
9. The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood – Helene Cooper
Helene Cooper is a NY Times journalist with the writing skills that make this an easy, enjoyable read. More importantly, her story will give you an incarnational feel of life in Liberia before, during, and after their 14-year civil war. I was also enriched by the complex history of the USA and Liberia, and how this is still working itself out today on the streets of America.
While I have been reading a number of books by Hull and others on discipleship, I recommend this one as an excellent overview. Hull lays out before us what it will take for the church to make disciples who make disciples. It is a clear call away from a compartmentalized gospel that says you can become a Christian and not follow Jesus. His work forms a nice backdrop for what I believe is our primary mission and gift at Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – to equip the church in a discipleship that deeply changes lives for the sake of the world.
These are my top 10. I would love to hear from you about your top 1 or 2 books from 2016. Send them to me on Twitter at @petescazzero.