Another year has come to an end, meaning it’s time for me to write another review of my year in books. I finished the year having read fifty books exactly, and I think it included a similar mix of genres as most years do for me. Without further ado, here we go…
I read several more baseball biographies in 2022, starting with Joseph Thomas Moore’s Larry Doby. Doby does not get nearly as much attention as Jackie Robinson, though, as the first African-American player in the American League, joining the Indians just a few months after Robinson broke through with the Dodgers, he endured many similar experiences. He also came maddeningly close to being the first African-American manager in the MLB, though it was not to be. Lonnie Wheeler’s The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell was a fascinating read. Bell must have been quite the player! The book also provides insight into the workings of the Negro Leagues. Lew Freedman’s Warren Spahn was okay, but it had some glaring errors in it which should easily have been caught if not avoided in the first place. Doug Wilson’s Brooks is excellent. Even if you’re not an Orioles fan, there is not much debate that Brooks Robinson was the best third baseman in MLB history—certainly the best defensive third baseman. The book recounts his outstanding baseball career but also describes his personal life. Uppity, by Bill White, is a great baseball book but also a great commentary on society and the inner workings of baseball’s powers that be. White was a player, a radio and television commentator and a league executive, so he has rich and varied perspectives to share. Jim Kaplan’s The Greatest Game Ever Pitched interweaves biographies of Spahn and Juan Marichal with the story of the 1963 game in which the two pitching greats both went sixteen innings, throwing more than 200 pitches each, before the Giants finally won on a Willie Mays solo homer. Great book.
A number of political memoirs were part of my reading. Kayleigh McEnany’s For Such a Time as This was more than a reflection on her time working in the Trump White House. It was polite in references to Trump, sometimes even admiringly so, but it was not as gushy toward him as Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ memoir. Nikki Haley’s Can’t Is Not an Option was her first book, written back in 2012. It describes her growing up years, including unique challenges she faced as the daughter of Sikhs growing up in a small South Carolina town—the first family of Indians to live there, in fact. She describes the challenges she faced being taken seriously in politics, too—challenges she overcame to become not just a state legislator, but the first female and first non-white governor of South Carolina. Kristi Noem’s Not My First Rodeo is a political memoir, but it is a lot more than that. Living in South Dakota likely gives me a greater appreciation for some of what she shares in the book, but its overview of how she grew up and what has influenced her thinking is the main purpose. Of course, as someone widely considered to be a future candidate for national office, it also serves to introduce her to those who don’t know all that much about her.
This is not exactly a political memoir, but it has political relevance, so I will put it here: Fighting for Life by Lila Rose describes how Rose grew up to become one of the most influential anti-abortion activists in the United States and the head of Live Action. It was sad to read that she found such limited support for life among churches she interacted with, leading her to eventually adopt Catholicism, but her perseverance in doing whatever she can to bring an end to abortion is admirable.
The Silencing, by Kirsten Powers, was written in 2015, but I just purchased it last year. It contains a message that is not unlike that in Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted or similar books, but it does not make her revelations about the manipulation of news and the shutting off of certain perspectives and ideologies any less alarming. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote The Coddling of the American Mind, an excellent examination of the flaws in critical theory and the increasingly-common practice of shutting out, or shutting up, speech which is deemed offensive.
Carol Berkin is an excellent historian and her book A Brilliant Solution is a fine overview of the crafting of the U.S. Constitution. David Waldstreicher, however, in Slavery’s Constitution, puts slavery at the heart of that document. While the Constitution did kick slavery down the proverbial road for twenty years and failed to deliver on the soaring rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence for just about anyone but white men, Waldstreicher is guilty of some of the same flawed thinking that is seen in the 1619 Project, though not to the same extent. To his credit, he wrote his book nine years before the 1619 Project, but he did defend it.
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Travels with George is an interesting addition to the vast canon of books about Washington. Philbrick and his wife, and their dog, travel to many of the locations that were significant in Washington’s life, leaving readers with a combination history book and travel log. The book’s subtitle is “In Search of Washington and His Legacy,” and I am not sure that it does much to clarify Washington’s legacy, but it was a fun read. Phyllis Lee Levin’s The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams describes exactly what the title says, but given that Adams was one of the most qualified individuals to ever hold the office of President of the United States, it is worthwhile reading.
Thomas Kidd’s Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh may be the book that has been missing from the voluminous and ever-increasing mountain of scholarship on Jefferson. It is not a biography in the traditional sense, though it contains some of those elements. Rather, Kidd endeavors to explain Jefferson’s thoughts and beliefs. Perhaps identify them would be a better way to put it than explain, because Jefferson was so full of contradictions that one can not really be expected to either explain or understand. But finally someone, in one relatively small volume, elaborates on the ways in which Jefferson was influenced by the Bible and Christianity while also explaining that while Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, he was not claiming to be one in the sense that anyone else would define that word. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to try to understand Jefferson accurately.
Celia, A Slave, by Melton McLaurin, is a book I picked up in the basement of a combination bookstore/convenience store/souvenir shop in Tennessee. It is an incredible story and one I had never before heard. Celia, at the age of 18, killed her master. To tell much of what happened next would certainly be a spoiler, so I will refrain, but it is a story that deserves to be more widely known—and it is short, at less than 200 pages. David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason. It is a sizable book but it is an exceptional biography of a key figure in the abolitionist movement and the fight for equality for blacks. Barracoon, by Zora Neal Hurston, recounts her experience in 1927 visiting and interviewing the last-known surviving slave brought to the United States from Africa. That alone would make the book worth reading, but the combination of the memories shared with her by Cudjo Lewis and Hurston’s own observations, the book is an invaluable part of understanding that sad part of American history.
The Zealot and the Emancipator, by H.W. Brands, is a dual biography of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln and how their lives intertwined in the fight against slavery. The book would have tremendous value even if it only described Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it does much more than that. Reading it shortly after I read Blight’s biography of Douglass was advantageous, too, since the efforts of Brown and Douglass intertwined literally for a time. Caroline Janney’s Ends of War tells the story of what happened to Confederate soldiers after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. I had read a fair amount about the surrender and about what transpired thereafter on the Union side, but Janney shed light on realities I had never before considered. This is a much-needed book for anyone interested in the end of the Civil War.
Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army was tremendously interesting and it is probably not a book I would have picked up on my own; it was recommended, and loaned to me, by a friend. It is a story about football but also about Pop Warner, Dwight Eisenhower and Jim Thorpe. It also includes insight into the Native American schools of the period. It was Anderson’s book that prompted me to put David Maraniss’s recent biography of Thorpe on my to-read list (and since I got it for Christmas, I will likely read it in 2023!)
We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway, is a powerful look at a very small part of the Vietnam War—the battle in the Ia Drang valley. I know it has been made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it. I cannot imagine how a movie could do it justice. Anyone reading it has to come away with an incredible appreciation for what the men sent into that valley did and endured, regardless of opinions on the war itself.
After Queen Elizabeth II died, I decided I would finally read Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, which Smith wrote a decade ago and which had probably been sitting on my shelf almost that long. It was a delightful and enlightening book. Smith is an American, so she had a unique and perhaps more neutral perspective that some other authors might have—though she clearly sided more with Charles than Diana in their marital issues, which surprised me. Obviously, since it was written in 2012, the last years of Elizabeth’s life and reign are not included, but for anyone interested in knowing more about the queen as a person, about her reign and about her approach to her responsibilities as monarch, I would recommend this book. (As an aside, it also helps those who have seen the various movies and television series about the royal family know how much of it is fact and how much is fiction; in the case of The Crown, I would say there is far more fact than fiction).
Leah Wright Rigeur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican was a thought-provoking look at the African-Americans who were part of the Republican party from the 1940s to the 1980s—a group that was a distinct minority among African-Americans and within the Republican party. Sadly, the Republican party has still not, in 2022, done what it could and should do to attract African-Americans to the party.
Thomas Sowell’s Inside American Education is about twenty years old now and some of what he writes about here is no longer pertinent. A surprising amount of it is, however. Sowell expresses real frustration with the American education system, most of it well-justified. Some of his frustration seems to be directed at teachers, and could even be taken as thinking poorly of teachers, but I think he is mostly frustrated with a system that allows ineffective teachers to remain ineffective and employed. I also read his Charter Schools and Their Enemies, which is only a couple of years old. There is a lot to like about charter schools in theory but they are not the perfect solution to the problems that are endemic in American public education. Still, Sowell effectively highlights the way so many of those who oppose charter schools—specifically teachers’ unions and educators—are in fact hurting the educational prospects for the very children they are, at least in theory, supposed to be concerned about educating.
Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner was one of the classics I read in 2022. I do not think it would be my first choice as assigned reading for a high school class if I wanted a fictional work that addresses the relationship between whites and blacks in America, and specifically the way that relationship changed after the Civil War, but it is worth reading.
I have not seen the movie based on the book, but I read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It is quite a tale; not what I expected initially, to be honest. I can see how it could generate good discussion in a class or a reading group.
The Horsewoman, by James Patterson and Mike Lupica, is a different style than most of the other Patterson books I have read, which tend to include police detectives and murders. There were parts of it that were predictable, and it bears many of the hallmarks of Patterson’s writing style, but it was a decent read. The Russian, by Patterson and James O. Born, is the thirteenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series and is much more typical Patterson fare. Sparring Partners, by John Grisham, is a collection of three short stories, the first of which brings back Jake Brigance—a character familiar to Grisham fans. The stories were enjoyable, but I don’t think they rise to the advertised level of “three of the greatest stories Grisham has ever told.” Grisham’s stand-alone novel for the year was The Boys From Biloxi, which I found to be different than many of Grisham’s books and one of his better offerings in recent years. In some ways it reminded me of a Jeffrey Archer book in the way that it looked at the way two individuals grew up in the same town, originally as friends and later as opponents. Speaking of Jeffrey Archer, his Next in Line is the latest installment in the Detective William Warwick series and is what one expects from Archer. Though still dealing with Miles Faulkner, Warwick also gets involved in rooting out problems in the royal protection division. Daniel Silva’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman finds Gabriel Allon finally retired from his position in the Israeli intelligence service, but he still draws on heir resources numerous times to solve the riddle of forged paintings and murder. Along with Archer’s book, Silva provides an enjoyable read along with insight into the world of fine art.
Marie Benedict’s The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a fictional account of what may have happened during the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie for eleven days in 1926. The Washington Post called the ending “ingenious,” but I think that’s a stretch. Still, it was an enjoyable read and it does offer an interesting possible explanation for her disappearance. Kristin Harmel’s The Book of Lost Names is a riveting bit of historical fiction, telling the story of forgers who helped to save Jewish children from the Nazis. The ending is too perfect—predictable but oh-so-unlikely; that aside, it is a book I would highly recommend.
Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Lost Girls of Willowbrook is not a book I would recommend, or not casually. To the right reader I might. It is a work of fiction and the bulk of it is centered on what has to be among the most common nightmare scenarios known to mankind—being wrongly locked up in a mental hospital with no one outside knowing where you are and no one inside believing your story. Mix in a serial killer and you get the book’s gist. What is perhaps most alarming, however, is that Willowbrook was a real place, on Staten Island, survivors of which are still living. Wiseman admittedly takes liberties with the story, but far too much of it is based on reality. If anyone thought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was bad, The Lost Girls of Willowbrook takes it up a notch—or three. Wiseman has Nurse Vic to Kesey’s Nurse Ratched, but she is not the major figure in the story. The book has a lot of profanity, though; far more than I think necessary even given the story.
The Sower, by R. Scott Rodin & Gary Hoag, provides a biblical look at fundraising and financial giving. It is a short book but has valuable insights for those tasked with raising money and those seeking to steward wisely their financial resources. The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, by Steve Ventura, et. al., was an easy read. It does contain some valuable leadership principles but there is nothing there that cannot be found in other leadership books. Leonard Strob’s Mission Directed is written for leaders of Christian schools—namely administrators and board members—but it could be helpful for the leaders of other ministries, too. It would be a helpful resource for board training and development.
Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is subtitled “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.” It is a good book and an important book but it also comes up short. Dreher effectively highlights the similarities that exist between what is happening in America today and what happened in totalitarian regimes, specifically the USSR, in the past. However, other than one brief mention, he either does not see or chooses not to point out that some of the things he points out are done as much by Donald Trump and his America First minions as they are by progressives and the political left. It is a significant misstep. It is a misstep shared by Os Guiness in his The Magna Carta of Humanity. I have more comments on that book that I usually include in these annual rundowns, so see the comments at the end if you are interested.
Dane Ortlund’s Deeper is a book about sanctification, a subject that does not get nearly the attention it should in evangelical churches. It is not about sanctification in the way many would assume, however. His Gentle and Lowly is a study of Matthew 11 and is an effort to understand the mind and heart of Christ. It draws extensively on Puritan writers. Before You Lose Your Faith is edited by Ivan Mesa and includes essays by a dozen or so Christian thinkers, including Trevin Wax, Brett McCracken, Karen Swallow Prior and Jared C. Wilson. It is a book intended to address the “deconstructing” movement and it addresses a variety of topics that those with questions would likely consider. A good read for someone straying into deconstructing or for anyone who wants to be able to effectively provide answers to someone who is doing so. The Believer’s Armor, by John MacArthur, is basically a transcript of MacArthur’s sermons on the fifteen verses in Ephesians 6 that describe the armor of God. Wayne and Elliott Grudem’s Christian Beliefs is a short book with short chapters providing an overview of “twenty basics” of the Christian faith. I don’t agree with the Grudems on all twenty, but it is a helpful book, especially for someone who is a young Christian or who needs reinforcement in the foundational elements of faith.
Sam Storms and Justin Taylor edited For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. As in any such book, some of the essays were better than others. Of course, different people reading the book might also have different opinions about which ones the “better” ones are. I particularly enjoyed a couple of the essays about Piper the man, in a biographical sense, but I think Bruce Ware’s essay, “Prayer and the Sovereignty of God” might be the entry that I found most meaningful and thought-provoking. I also appreciated Justin Taylor’s essay outlining how faithfully and effectively Piper preached against abortion during his years in the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Oddly enough, given his reputation as a Greek scholar, I found William Mounce’s essay the least effective of the book and found myself disagreeing strongly with his recommendations for how to use, and not use, Greek in preaching.
Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas is a short book, one that could easily be read in the days leading up to Christmas, and I would recommend it for that. Keller brings attention to the importance of Christmas and provides unique perspectives on some of the realities of the birth of Christ.
So, there it is, another quick rundown of another fifty books.
The Magna Carta of Humanity, by Os Guinness, is a bit of an odd book. The cover features the famous picture of Washington crossing the Delaware. The book’s subtitle is “Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom.” Guinness dedicates the book to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and indicates at the end that it is a tribute to the exposition of Exodus by Sacks. More than once I wondered if I would have been better off just reading Sacks and Rabbi Heschel, so often and so extensively did Guinness quote them. Guinness endeavors to make the point that the covenant between God and the nation of Israel at Sinai is the real impetus for the design of American government and freedom and that “a rediscovery of the foundational principles of the Exodus Revolution” is what is necessary to heal America. But only in the last two chapters of the book does Guinness ever replace Sinai with Calvary—a hugely significant problem. There are numerous other issues with his contentions as well, but I will confine my comments here to two.
First, Guinness embraces the Jewish understanding of Exodus 3:14, which says, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” Rabbi Sacks and others, he points out, put the emphasis on the future tense, rendering the verse, “I will be who I will be.” Guinness says that the danger of the more commonly Christian interpretation “I Am who I Am” is that it takes the understanding in a “Greek direction” and “mak[es] God into…the ‘pure being,’ or the ‘ground of all being’ who does not, cannot and will not change or feel anything.” The not feeling anything is a stretch, but I see no problem at all with the rest of that. It is in fact imperative that we understand God as unchanging. The idea that God will be who He will be, apart from who He is, leaves open the possibility that God can be anything at all in the future. Oddly, Guinness even states this, writing, “God, as he reveals himself at Sinai and afterward, is faithful and unchanging….”
Second, Guinness either fails to understand or chooses not to acknowledge that much of what he calls the Exodus Revolution was expanded, for the better, by the teachings of Jesus. For example, he quotes Exodus 22:21 as a “command to ‘love the stranger as yourself’” that “flies squarely in the face of the human tendency to care only for ‘people like us’….” But that is not what Exodus 22:21 says. That verse is actually a negative command—“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” So, too, is the next verse—“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Not wronging or mistreating someone is certainly a good thing, but it is not nearly the same as doing good to them. One is not doing a bad thing, the other is doing a good thing. It was not until Jesus’s instruction to “do to others as you would have them do to you” that it became a positive command.
It is not a bad book, but it would not be high on the list of books I would recommend to someone wanting to study the issues Guinness intends to address.