Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, and it did in 2018. I did not read fifty books during the year. It is the first time since 2007, when I started keeping track, that I did not make it. I finished the year with forty-five. As you can probably tell by the fact that I only blogged four times during 2018, and not at all since March 8, I have been a little busy.
But, as always, my reading for 2018 was mostly in the categories of theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.
The first book I finished in 2018 is one I had started in 2017 and even mentioned in my 2017 book review post, Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”. I certainly do not agree with everything that Bovy said in the book but it is an enlightening look at the utter ridiculousness that is the ways in which we have endeavored to sanitize our own language and interactions (even our lives) in order to avoid possibly offending anyone. Everett Piper’s Not a Daycare and Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult also offer glimpses of the direction America has taken in recent years. Piper writes from the perspective of a college president and focuses on the trigger warnings and other such stupidity on college campuses. Sasse writes as a homeschooling parent who is also a U.S. senator and who wants his children to become responsible, capable adults. Some of his ideas are almost radical and will likely make parents with even a hint of cautiousness say, “No way!” but he has a lot worth considering.
Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family presents some interesting ways families can minimize the infiltration of technology into every aspect of their lives. Some people would likely find many of Crouch’s ideas akin to torture given the nearly inseparable way in which so many cling to their phones. Worth a read, for sure, if you sense that you and/or your children are finding it harder and harder to look each other in the eye and have an actual conversation. In The Flipside of Feminism Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly provide a conservative counter to feminism, arguing that women have actually become less happy despite all of changes that have come about through the feminist movement.
The first history book I read in 2018 was The Golden Age of Piracy. In it, Benerson Little seeks to debunk many of the most familiar images of piracy (walking the plank, flying the Jolly Roger, etc.) that we see in film and fiction and tell, instead, the true stories of some of the world’s most effective pirates. A recommended read for anyone interested in knowing more about pirates that Johnny Depp and friends will ever tell you. Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell is a fascinating look at the process which culminated in the installation of what we now know as the Statue of Liberty. Jack Kelly, in Heaven’s Ditch, weaves together accounts of the building of the Erie Canal, the founding or Mormonism and the devoted secrecy of the Masons in an engrossing read. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss looks at courageous acts and stands by two hundred years of American presidents, while David McCullough puts together decades of his speeches in one volume entitled The American Spirit. As someone who has enjoyed everything I have ever read by McCullough, I enjoyed this thoroughly.
In Defiant Brides Nancy Rubin Stuart simultaneously tells the life stories of Peggy Shippen, who went on to become Mrs. Benedict Arnold, and Lucy Flucker, who married Henry Knox, an important figure in the Revolutionary War and the Secretary of War under President George Washington. In A Kingdom Strange James Horn offers his take on Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony, more commonly known now as the Lost Colony, including his thoughts on what happened to the colonists who disappeared before Governor White could return.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo sat on my shelf for years before I finally read it. There is a reason why it was a National Book Award winner. It is a compelling look at life in a slum (what Boo calls an “undercity”) of Mumbai, just steps from an international airport and luxury hotels.
Susan Orlean, in The Library Book, simultaneously provides a look at the inner workings of a massive library system and tells the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library that damaged or destroyed more than one million books. This was a captivating read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In biography, I first read Jon Kukla’s Patrick Henry. Kukla and I used to be neighbors, while he was the director of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, and I had been anticipating this book for some time. I had actually forgotten about it, though, until I saw it while browsing through a bookstore in Corolla, NC. It is well researched, well written, and a solid contribution to the expanding scholarship on one of America’s lesser-known founding fathers. I have fascinated by the story of Alvin York ever since I saw the Gary Cooper film as a child; thus, John Perry’s Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy was a delightful read. It tells the story of York’s heroism in World War I, but goes far beyond that, telling the story of York’s work after he returned home and the legacy he left for the people of the Tennessee hills.
After a visit to Hershey, PA, last summer I found myself wanting to know more about Milton Hershey. Michael D’Antonio provided that for me in his book Hershey. It is an intriguing read about an intriguing life. Meeting Sue Thomas last spring, and then visiting her last summer, caused me to want to know more about her story, as well, and her autobiography, Silent Night, provides an unvarnished look into her life. If all you know of Sue Thomas is the television series Sue Thomas: FBEye, you don’t know Sue Thomas!
Having watched the series Castle, I decided to finally try one of the books supposedly written by Richard Castle, Driving Heat. The book reads like the show. Somehow, that worked for me as a television show but not as a book. Breaking Point is part of Dana Haynes’ series on airplane crash investigators, though it is the first one I have read. It was interesting overall, though parts of the conclusion were like the ending of so many movies—taken too far. The Promise by Robert Crais is a typical Crais novel, but it has the irritating feature of including a number of chapters told from the perspective of a police dog. In Under a Silent Moon Elizabeth Haynes (no relation to Dana, that I know of) introduces Louisa Smith, a Detective Chief Inspector tasked with solving two seemingly unrelated murders. Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun is another book that sat on my shelf for years. Set in South Africa, it shows how a single act, in a moment of passion, impacts so many people. Jhumpa Lahiri, in The Namesake, tells the story of immigrants from India making successful lives for themselves in the U.S., and how the definition of success for their children looks different than that for their parents.
The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson is exactly what you would expect from a James Patterson Alex Cross novel. Likewise, The Blood Promise and The Paris Librarian are just what you would expect from Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston novels. The Reckoning by John Grisham was one of his better books, I thought. It is very different from most of what he has written before, though it takes place in a familiar setting. Like The House Gun it clearly shows the impact a single decision can have on so many lives. Jeffrey Archer’s Heads You Win was another good read in typical Archer-style. It could easily become a series; I guess we’ll see. Daniel Silva continues to impress me in the second of his books I’ve read, The Other Woman. And of course, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, is a story many people think they know. Suffice it to say that if you have only seen the musical and/or the recent film adaptation, you do not really know the story.
Sing! By Keith and Kristyn Getty is a short book, easy to read, but does a wonderful job explaining the importance of singing in giving praise to God. I would recommend this book for every pastor and worship leader. Jonathan Leeman’s Word Centered Church is a good reminder about the singular importance of Scripture in churches. Donald Whitney’s Family Worship is also a short, easy to read book with good tips for developing family worship times. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson has some good parts and some good reminders for those who may struggle with frustration when they just cannot seem to get the Christian life “right” consistently, but I am not a fan of the smug, smart-alecky, and even sometimes snarky asides that Wilson felt it necessary to include throughout the book. I find this to be an unwelcome trend among too many contemporary, “next-generation” Christian authors.
But there is nothing smug or snarky in R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. There is a reason this is considered a classic work and perhaps Sproul’s best out of the scores of books he wrote. It is recommended reading for every believer. In The Great Omission Dallas Willard addresses the importance of making disciples of all nations, the last command Jesus gave before His ascension. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to God is a magnificent exposition of Isaiah 53. Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson provides some helpful guidance for those seeking to know God’s leading in their lives. Barnabas Piper’s The Curious Christian is a wonderful reminder of the importance of wonder in our lives. If you have read anything by Ken Ham before then not much in Gospel Reset will be new to you, but there are good reminders in the book about the importance of foundations. In Expository Exultation John Piper clearly explains that preaching is worship and he provides terrific guidance for preachers on sermon preparation and delivery. Highly recommended for any pastor.
That’s it for my 2018 recap. I hope you enjoyed my quick overview of my year in books. If you have book recommendations I would love to hear them; please write a comment or send me a message. Hopefully, when the time comes to write next year’s post, I will once again have surpassed my annual goal of fifty books. And just maybe I will have posted more than three times in the interim!