It’s that time of year again. Time to sum up the books I’ve read this year. I might make this a little lengthier by also writing a 1-2 line summary of each book. Hopefully that will make it more helpful.
In order of when I read them, with asterisked books being my favorites for the year…
- Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design by Robert J. Hoekman
Hoekman’s books basically point up a simple interface design principle: Design it so that the user interaction is obvious. As Steve Krug said, don’t make the user think.
- Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West
Diana West makes a convincing argument that our unwillingness to make moral judgments and unwillingness to become grown ups who are willing to take flak for what’s right is bringing down western civilization. This is happening not just by the adults in society being less and less productive (especially of stable families) but because we’re also capitulating to Islam all the while knowing that Islam demands that everything come under Shariah law. As one critic said (and West agreed with him), she’s arguing that “multiculturalism is immature.” It’s a convincing book, but left me feeling pretty empty. I just can’t walk down the Republican path of being a militant agitator against political opponents. The weapons of my warfare are not fleshly (earthly, human). So I raise my family, witness to neighbors and co-workers, etc. I tend to worry about other methods of fighting.
- Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein—As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture by Eric Maddox
Eric Maddox was an Army interrogator in Iraq immediately after the shock and awe campaign. The story of his slow, painstaking uncovering of the network of Saddam’s supporters is a fascinating read.
- Designing the Moment: Web Interface Design Concepts in Action by Robert J. Hoekman
This is basically the same book as Designing the Obvious, although with a slightly tighter focus. Read this one or the other one, but not both.
- The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
Jerry Bridges unpacks the concept of fearing God and how it’s as much of a New Testament concept as an Old Testament one. A good book.
- Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Colin Hansen
A look at the New Calvinist movement from someone who’s in the movement and has access to its leaders (John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, etc.). A pretty fair book.
- John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken
A fascinating account of the life of John Newton from the perspective of his religious development. It’s amazing to realize that after John Newton’s famous tempest “conversion”, he went right back to being a slave ship captain, raping black women, etc. It took him about 10 years of serious religious practice before he was what most of us would think looked like a genuine Christian. It’s as much a category-shaking peek into what different ages have considered acceptable practices as it is a look at God’s amazing grace to someone who fought against Him so much.
- Leading With a Limp: Take Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness by Dan B. Allender
A book mainly about accepting chaos and weakness in leadership. I’m still not sure I was ready to “receive” this book. It talked about so many things I’m not sure I have categories for. I think I’ll need to go back and re-read it in another year or two.
- This Momentary Marriage by John Piper
A good book about the importance of marriage as a reflection of the reality of Christ and the Church. It can really help set your thinking straight about what marriage is for: as nice as it may be, or as painful as it may be, the ultimate purpose is to image-forth a spiritual reality. That’s what gives marriage its significance.
- The Brenner Assignment: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Spy Mission of WWII by Patrick K. O’Donnell
I don’t know that this was the most daring mission, but it certainly was a fun read. Actually spy missions function nothing like you see in a movie. The ops team doesn’t sneak in, blow up something, and then have a running firefight back to the waiting chopper. It’s so much more unbelievable, messy, and… human… than that.
- Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon
I reviewed this book a few months ago. His basic premise (which I’d agree with) is that most preachers are good administrators, leaders, orators, etc. but are rarely good preachers. They don’t know how to exegete texts but instead preach their own moralistic ideas. This stems from years of preachers learning how to understand a text from watching TV, reading shallow literature, etc. Preachers would be better served learning how to study poetry, where extremely careful attention to exact word usage and literary structure would give them some tools to properly exegete God’s Word.
- Tactics: A Gameplan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl
This is a really good book for learning to orient yourself in any apologetics conversation. Koukl does a good job of showing how two simple questions can help you refocus nearly any conversation back to where it needs to be rather than trying to mount a running defense of every point of Christian doctrine.
- * Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney
I read this one every year at my own behest and my wife’s request. It’s just a great, great book for learning to romance your wife (which, I’m man enough to admit, doesn’t come naturally to me).
- * The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
This is an excellent book about the prodigal son parable. Keller does a superb job of showing how modern people can basically be divided into younger-brother lostness (licentiousness, free-living) and elder-brother lostness (law-keeping, religious). He shows how legalism is a far more dangerous sin than libertinism, something which “preaches” very well to post-moderns.
- * The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Quite possibly my favorite book this year. This book introduced me to the underbelly of the agriculture industry and also introduced me to one of my new heroes: Joel Salatin. Joel is a Bob Jones University grad who has been working on his family farm in Virginia all of his life, dedicating himself to sustainable, efficient, organic agriculture. He’s a fundamentalist tree-hugger, basically. He runs Polyface Farm where he “grows grass”—he uses chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows in careful rotation to turn the land into an herbivore’s paradise, thereby healing the land and making it unbelievably productive. Michael Pollan’s book spent a lot of time reporting on Polyface Farm and I absolutely couldn’t put the book down during that section. Joel is also featured strongly in the documentary Food, Inc., which I’d also highly recommend.
- How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons
Explains the Bio-Intensive method of farming. Bio-intensive farming is an organic farming method involving closely-spaced plantings, heavy composting, raised double-dug beds, crop rotation, open-polinated seeds, and calorie-farming. Bio-Intensive is the method popularized by Parisian growers around the 1880-1900s. They could grow unbelievable amounts of food—year round—on tiny plots of land in the middle of Paris. John Jeavons has devoted his life to quantifying this method and conducting research to determine the science behind the success.
- The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller
This is the 21st-Century’s Mere Christianity. Keller spends almost all his time among New York’s young elite, so he knows the current arguments against Christianity and where those arguments are leading. He also knows the best ways to approach genuinely postmodern people. Although his defense of the possibility of God and belief was helpful, I found his defense of Christianity specifically especially insightful.
- Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop it by Ken Hamm & Brit Beemer
Ken Hamm commissioned a survey of 1,000 conservative Christian church dropouts and attempted to quantify why they had left church and exactly when they’d checked out (mentally) from what they were being taught. His findings indicate that most people leaving the church are doing so mentally by the time they finish grade school. Although his survey contains some interesting findings and his recommendations include some helpful ideas, I think his conclusions are too skewed by his own involvement in Creationist apologetics. I’m sure he’s involved in Creationist apologetics because he sees it as the best field to be involved in, but I think he puts too much faith in what those apologetics can do to restore the faith of kids in the church. A much better and more robust understanding of the roadmap for the Church would be a book I’m almost finished, Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, where the emphasis is on preaching the Gospel Word (especially in missions), and Christians living in genuine community.
- * The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it by John Seymour
John Seymour spent his life traveling around the world, living and studying with communities of people living apart from industrial life. He spent much of his time in Ireland on his own small-holding putting his self-sufficiency philosophies into practice.
- The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman
Eliot Coleman lives on the chilly coast of Maine and yet still manages to get exceptional winter harvests from unheated greenhouses using organic techniques. His book is a treasure trove of ideas for using inexpensive greenhouses to produce more crops year-round—especially during winter.
- The Bible (ESV) by God
I did the Back-to-the-Bible chronological daily readings this year and I would heartily recommend it to everyone. You can download the daily audio-podcast and listen on your iPod. It’s great.