Last year I looked at my reading over the previous five years, since I had started to keep track. I figure it will be easier to look back annually now rather than wait another five years. So, what did I read in 2012? The total was sixty-one books (not counting all the books I read to my children!) and here is a brief overview…
I started the year with Tullian Tchividjian’s Surprised by Grace. This is a short book but provides an interesting look at the book of Jonah, and brings some perspectives I had never before considered. Tchividjian also includes a number of artistic works that have been inspired by Jonah over the years, and weaves those into the text, providing another unique perspective on its own.
Next was John Paul Stevens’ Five Chiefs, a look at the history of the Supreme Court and, in particular, the Chief Justices that Stevens served under. I found the book to a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes workings of the nation’s highest court.
Both of those books were Christmas presents, which is probably why I started with them. One thing that is a guaranteed perfect fit for me anytime is a book (or a giftcard for books).
I read my share of fiction throughout the year, as I usually do, mixing it in with my other reading. I read the latest offerings from several authors I enjoy, including David Baldacci’s Zero Day, Tom Clancy’s Locked On (written with M. Greaney), John Grisham’s Calico Joe (a departure from what Grisham most often writes, but consistent with his occasional foray into sports-themed stories, and a pleasant read for a baseball fan), Jeffrey Archer’s The Sins of the Father (part two of a series set to continue early this year), the third installment in Grisham’s detective series for teens, Theodore Boone: The Accused, and Baldacci’s The Innocent. Elizabeth George’s This Body of Death is another installment in her Inspector Lynley series, though I don’t know that it was the most recent one. James Patterson’s Private Games used the London Olympics as the setting for a private detective agency that was in charge of Olympics security dealing with the assassination of several athletes. By way of classic fiction I read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, an interesting look at the Mexican persecution of the Catholic church, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, an excellent book. A few other fiction selections were sprinkled in, as well.
In the area of history, several excellent books made my list in 2012. Laurence Bergreen’s Columbus provides a thorough yet entirely readable look at the life of Christopher Columbus, from his early years to his efforts to find backing for his voyage heading west from Europe, to his resulting multiple voyages made under the Spanish flag. Robert Seager II’s And Tyler Too is a nice biography of president John Tyler–the vice president who became president just one month into his term after William Henry Harrison got sick on inauguration day and never recovered. Black Hills Believables by John Hafnor is a short book, easy to read, and full of fun and interesting facts about South Dakota’s Black Hills. I had no idea that the Black Hills has been considered as the site for UN headquarters. Michael Lind’s What Lincoln Believed is a book that I found to be not only not well written, but difficult to accept as accurate. Lind introduces many things about Lincoln’s faith and attitude toward religion that I have never read anywhere else or ever heard, and given the overwhelming number of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln it just seems to stretch plausibility that Lind has access to materials, or some profound insights, that no one else has. Edward Larson’s A Magnificent Catastrophe is a fascinating look at the election of 1800, the first presidential “campaign” in American history. William Hallahan’s The Day The American Revolution Began provides a unique perspective of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War from various angles and in various geographic locations. Thomas Fleming’s The Perils of Peace makes clear that life in America was not all fine and dandy after the Revolutionary War ended. In fact, there were major struggles that the young nation faced, sometimes threatening its survival. Jeffrey St. John’s Forge of Union, Anvil of Liberty is the last in his three-volume work on early American history. Written in a journalistic style, the book is full of short “reports” from the perspective of live reporting. And Robert Merry’s A Country of Vast Designs is an extensive but very good look at the presidency of James K. Polk, the process of American annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the expansion of the U.S. to include not only Texas, but most of the southwest and northwest.
In biography and autobiography my reading included William Hague’s William Wilberforce, an exhaustive look at the life of Britain’s strongest opponent of slavery; David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies (I think I come down somewhere in the middle on the controversy surrounding this book; I don’t think Barton made up some of the “facts” in his book, as has been suggested by some, but I think he may have taken unjustifiable liberty with his interpretation of some of them); Ira Stoll’s Samuel Adams: A Life, a good biography of one of the more important yet often overlooked founders of the country; and the autobiographies of two Olympic gymnasts, Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu and Winning Balance by Shawn Johnson. The difference in experiences presented in these two books is incredible. Johnson grew up doing gymnastics for fun, with parents who were supportive but not focused on world-level success and a coach who was understanding, caring and recognized that Shawn was a teenage girl, not a machine. Moceanu, on the other hand, grew up with a domineering father focused almost exclusively on seeing her become an Olympic gymnast. She loved gymnastics, but it is nothing short of incredible that she did–and still does–after what she went through because of it. Her book also provides a very different perspective of Bela and Marta Karolyi than comes through in the NBC vignettes during the summer Olympics and reveals serious flaws in the selection process for Olympic gymnasts in the U.S.
I read a variety of books in the area of spiritual and personal growth, too. Erwin Raphael McManus’s Soul Cravings is a collection of essays that read like journal entries and focuses on the fact that only God’s love can fulfill the cravings of our souls; Bob Lepine’s The Christian Husband is a good overview and reminder of what it means to be a Christian husband; A.W. Tozer’s classic The Knowledge of the Holy is a classic for a reason; John MacArthur’s Worship: The Ultimate Priority is a good reminder of some things that seem to get lost at times in the world of PowerPoint slides and praise teams; Louie Giglio’s i am not, but i know I AM is a short and easy to read yet profound book that very powerfully points out how little we are, how awesome God is, and yet the relationship that is still available between Him and us; Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness is another classic book for good reason, and is, like most of Bridges’ writing, short while packing a theological punch; John Piper’s Think is an excellent reminder of why intellectual strength is so important for believers; Joshua Harris’s book Dug Down Deep is a good reminder of the importance of really knowing what we believe and why, even though Harris and I do not agree on every detail; James Dobson’s Bringing Up Girls was a helpful reminder for me as the father of a daughter, though I do not remember anything earth shattering in the book and, overall, I thought it was an unimpressive product for something that he claims to have spent five years working on; John MacArthur’s Twelve Unlikely Heroes provides interesting looks into some of the less-well-known heroes of the Bible; and Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel was a good reminder of the fact that we often fail to grasp how awesome God’s grace and mercy are and to remember that there is truly nothing we can do to merit it.
There were a few books that did not fall easily into any of the above categories: Lighthouse Families was written by a husband and wife team and contains fascinating looks back at the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families; Ronald Davis’s The Gift of Dyslexia and Brock and Fernette Eide’s The Dyslexic Advantage both provided unique and interesting insights into what it means to have dyslexia and why that is not necessarily a disability; Gerald Twombley’s Funding Your Vision is an easy-to-read primer for anyone involved in fund raising and development; Larry Sabato’s A More Perfect Constitution offers a stimulating look at the Constitution and possibilities for improvement–I did not agree with all of them, but the book is very thought-provoking; Oliver Van DeMille’s A Thomas Jefferson Education provides a fascinating look at what education could be like if approached completely differently than it usually is (though I found it interesting to learn after reading it that DeMille is no longer with the school he founded and the school denies any remaining connection with him); Peter Schweitzer’s Throw Them All Out provides a startling overview of how our elected officials (in Washington) leave office much more wealthy than they enter it; Rick Santorum’s American Patriots offers a brief look at some of the influential but lesser-known figures in America’s founding era; and Marita Littauer’s Wired That Way offers insight into how the personality types impact our behavior, our interactions with each other, and even our spiritual development–though little in the book will be new to anyone who has read other books analyzing the personality types.
This list doesn’t name all sixty-one books (though it comes close) but it gives a good idea of what interest me and what I thought of the books I read. Probably the only one I would not recommend (or, more accurately, would recommend not reading) is Lind’s look at Lincoln. Happy reading!