The Books I Read in 2016

 

I love books. If you've been to my house, you know that. I have them everywhere. Recently, the stack next to my chair got so tall that my wife feared for the children's safety. Three weeks later, I finally put them away on the shelves. There are currently only two books there now, but it'll grow again.

2016 was a fun year of reading for me. The year isn't quite over yet, but so far I've read 107 books. I suppose I'll finish one more before the ball drops.

I also happen to love lists, especially lists of books. The end of the year is special for me, in part, because everyone reviews the best books of the year. Then I add them all to my Amazon wish list.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the best books I read in 2016. Just a note, not all of these were published in 2016, that's just when I got around to read them. I also did not include books I had previously read (e.g. The Great Gatsby, and Between the World and Me - easily two of the best books I've ever read.) These are also not in any particular order.

Also, I've included the full list of what I read in 2016 below.

True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer


Each year, I choose an author and read all his/her works. 2016 was the year of Francis Schaeffer. I read all 22 of his major works. It was a good year.

I’ve been asked by several people which book of Schaeffer’s I would recommend. This is always the first book I suggest. I'm forever changed by his writing ministry as a whole, but this book helped me see the way of the spiritual Christian life. It’s not mysticism. It’s biblical. It’s not inward looking. It’s outward, and upward-looking, to Christ. Not all of it was new to me, but the totality of it helped me more than any other book this year. If you want to know what the moment-by-moment-ness of the Christian life looks like, this will show you. Schaeffer wrote many great books, but this is the one I give to people who want to read him.

John Adams by David McCullough


2016 was the year of Alexander Hamilton and Ron Chernow's biography is great (I read this in 2016, as well), but McCullough's John Adams is my favorite biography this year. Hamilton was a genius and his life is more than fascinating. Adams was a genius in his own right, with a story a bit more boring. What drew me in, though, was not necessarily the strengths of Adams but his weaknesses. He was a vain man and he was aware of that. His mind was sharp and his tongue was sharper. He foresaw the leadership prowess of George Washington and recommended him as both commander of the Continental Army and first President of the U.S. But he worried too much about his place in history. In the end, however, Adams is firmly planted as one of the foremost influences in American history, and McCullough captured it well enough to win a Pulitzer for the work.

HBO also used this book to create the miniseries John Adams, which I recommend as well.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee


My favorite novel of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. I've loved it since I was a child. It's the only novel I've read more than 3 times. It's an American masterpiece. And so, when it was announced that Mockingbird's sequel was going to be released, I was, naturally, very excited. But the reviews tempered my excitement. I bought the book on June 9, 2015 (thanks, Amazon purchase history) but didn't read it until February of 2016. I kept putting it off because I was afraid to lose Atticus Finch, the protagonist of To Kill A Mockingbird. I shouldn't have waited so long.

Yes, this book fails to reach masterpiece status. But I wasn't expecting a masterpiece. What I got was a really good book – even with its flaws. As a stand-alone, this book would have disappointed. But as a sequel to a well-loved book, it pleased me. It didn't please because Atticus is revealed to have racial biases. I, like the rest of America, am disappointed by that. But to be able to be disappointed in a fictional character, to me, proves the genius of the creation. A complex, fictional man with moral inconsistencies is a man far more real than most novelists can dream up.

This book made me think about my own life and my own moral and value complexities. And I'm not sure what more you could ask of a novel.

Unparalleled: How Christianity's Uniqueness Makes It Compelling by Jared Wilson


Full disclosure, Jared is one of my best friends. Even if he wasn't, though, this book would make the list. It's absolutely wonderful. It's an apologetics book without the rigidity. I would classify it as a devotional apologetics book. Maybe that category doesn't exist and, if not, Jared created it. It is the perfect balance of solid truth wrapped in loving adoration. The reader feels Jared's love for Jesus, and, honestly, there is no better apologetic than that.

The last chapter is, through my most objective lens possible, a masterpiece. Jared is one of, if not the, best pure writers in the Christian world. If you haven't read him, do yourself a favor and do so immediately. If you’re a Christian, you can't read this book and not love Jesus more. And if you’re not a Christian, maybe this is the book that can help you understand why so many people love Jesus.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne


This book was flat-out captivating. The Comanche Native American tribe was harsh, violent, and tragic. Gwynne tells the story as if it was a novel. It's amazing that any of it is real. The vividness of the events takes you inside the terror this tribe could illicit.

Just a warning: don't read right before bed. It has staying power.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance


This book got a lot of airplay this year, and for good reason. It's very well-written. Vance is in his early thirties - even he admits that's an early age for a memoir - but his life and insight demand an audience. He never mentions our current political climate (the book was released before the rise of Trump), but if you want to understand how we got here, this book helps us see.

Focusing on a largely forgotten and ignored people group in America, especially in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, Vance takes us inside the complex history and present reality of the subgroup of Americans known as the hillbillies. They’re simple people in some ways, and extremely complicated in others. Vance’s place in the family of such people gives the story a first-hand account, and what he reveals is fascinating.

Tragic, enlightening, insightful, and captivating, this is one of those books that stays with you. Along with Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, I think this should be required reading for all Americans. If you want to understand our times, pick it up.

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund


Ray was my pastor for 7+ years, he's my dear friend, and he's written perhaps the finest book available on Paul's words in Ephesians 5:32, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

Ray is insightful and pastoral, as always. This book not only puts on display the beauty of marriage but also the beauty of Christ, the one who makes all things beautiful. I loved my wife more after reading this and I loved God more. This book is a theological juggernaut. It's short enough to read in one sitting and profound enough to think on for a lifetime. It is a fresh word for an ancient gift.

Oh, and by the way, I don't know anyone whose marriage I want to emulate more than Ray and Jani's. They're the real deal. For that reason, too, I can read this book without even a question in my mind as to his heart on this subject.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah


Talk about a book that sticks with you! I read this in January and I still think about it. The characters have depth and complexity. The story is heartbreaking and powerful. Set in France during the German occupation in World War II, this is the story of a woman and her children doing their best to survive. Murder, death, suffering, and hope mix together to make a compelling read.

It does have many very sad episodes. So sad, in fact, that I recommended my wife not read it. It depicts the harshness of war and makes me long for the return of Jesus. But if you can handle heartbreak in a book, this is well worth your time.

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John Frame


Man, I'm thankful for John Frame. He takes really complex ideas and says them simply. I have no education at all in philosophy and I feel so behind in the philosophical ideas that have shaped the Western world. Frame's big book made me feel competent. He surveys the landscape of Western philosophy and theology from as far back as he can go with the Greeks all the way to the 21st century. If you're like me and need some help understanding these things, this book is the answer. It is the best I've seen.

Just a helpful tip on big books like this. I take them 10 pages at a time. For example, last year I read John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. It's massive, and one of those books I feel I have to read. 10 pages a day had me finishing that mammoth in three months. If I can do it, you can too.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


I think Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the finest novelists and short-story writers today. Her characters are lovable and fallible, rich and complex, morally-alive and prone to temptation. She does justice to the mundane much the same way John Updike used to. I recently saw where she said, "I like to be plain. It appeals to me more. I don't want to sit around and have my language just be beuatiful." But her writing is both plain and beautiful.

This book takes you through the life of two brothers from India whose closeness is ruptured by a move to America and a sudden death. It is a story that engrosses you in their lives, takes you inside their homes, and shows you the feelings of their heart. It accomplishes all that a great novel should.

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke


This was the first of the Theologians on the Christian Life books I've read. And perhaps that's a good thing. This book is simply wonderful. If you want to understand the ministry of John Newton and his impact on the world, this book succeeds. I found myself highlighting so much that I wonder why I didn't just put a big mark on the cover saying, "Visit Often".

Reinke both understands Newton well and is himself a wonderful writer. This book is fantastic. It is a diagnostic for the soul. It is helpful and beautiful. I can't recommend it enough.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


A flight from Russia brings a deadly disease to America. It spreads quickly, and the end of the world seems to be at hand. The characters are put in the precarious position of fending for their lives and making life work after most people have disappeared. What do you do when cities become empty? A Shapkespearian travelling symphony gives us the answer.

I'm not usually much for post-apocalyptic novels. I had this on the shelf for a while before I finally picked it up, and I'm glad I did. The pace is quick, the story is evolving, and the resolution is satisfying. If you're into this kind of end-of-the-world story, this is for you.

The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine


If you're a pastor, or serving heavily in church leadership, this book is like a fresh drink of water. It's so soul-refreshing. None of us are the perfect leader. We all have limits and ministry takes us to those limits on a regular basis. How do you rest in your limitedness while serving Christ? How do you follow Jesus closely while serving people tirelessly?

This is one of those books that can serve two purposes really well: it feeds pastors, and it helps church members understand the pastorate. So even if you're not in church leadership it is worth reading to better help you pray for your leaders.

Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer


I could put about five more Schaeffer books here but this book really helped me. It is prophetic. Written 30+ years ago, this book shows us what a post-Christian world looks like. If you want to understand the age we live in now, visit this book from the past. It will show you what's going on. If someone released it today I would be amazed at their insight into our modern plight. That it was released in a different century altogether amazes me.

Silence: A Novel by Endo Shusaku


This book is getting a lot of pub right now, and rightfully so. It’s amazing that I hadn’t heard of it until this year. It was written in the 1960s and yet has made a move to popularity in 2016 – even having a movie released late this year.

The setting is Japan in the 17th century. Jesuit missionaries sail the ocean to find another priest who supposedly has apostazied. On their jounrey to find their friend, they visit village after village to find Christians in each. Japan is rife with persecution. Christians are being killed left and right. When these priests encounter the mastermind behind all the terror, they too have a choice to make. Will they stay faithful, or will they lose their faith? Can the gospel take root in the swamps of Japan, or will it rot?

It is incredibly well-written and deeply insightful. It has many layers, and therefore is not a book to pick up and read quickly and thoughtlessly. I wish I had read it slower.

Redeployment by Phil Klay


I had this one on my list for a few years. Finally, I saw it on sale for Kindle and picked it up. In the same vein as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (which also makes my list – see below), Redeployment is a series of stories of soldiers making their way in the world during and after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The stories are compelling and well-told. This book won the National Book Award in 2014, and I now see why. My only regret is that I waited so long to read it.

The heartbreak of war doesn’t end when the last gun is fired. It comes home with the men and women who were sent. We would do well with so many veterans in our midst, and without a war big enough to call most of our country into its battlefields, to know what these few brave soldiers face on a daily basis.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien


The best book on war I've read. A friend loaned this to me over a year ago, and I finally picked it up. O’Brien writes on the complexities of war: the glory, the horror, the comradery, the ugliness, the beauty, the heartbreak, and the lasting effects. The events take place during the Vietnam War. It’s not about the war itself as it is about the men who fought it. Taking us inside the soldier’s mind is a hard thing to do, but O’Brien does it well. As much as I was able, I felt like I was standing there beside him.

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton


A fascinating look into a man who spewed hate – especially hate towards Christians. Taunton was a good, and surprising, friend of Hitchens. Their friendship revolved around debates but went much deeper. Hitchens would defend the character of his friend even if he could not defend his faith. Hitchens had no time for fakers but he did make time for sincere believers – even though he hated all that they believe.

What Taunton relates in these pages garnered lots of attention. Many thought he was intimating a death-bed conversion of Hitchens. He does not such thing. Instead, he shows us a man who was thinking things through as he neared death but who never would believe. He’s the example of the hardened heart. He dies without accepting Christ. If you want to see what a man looks like who refuses to believe and the hopelessness that creates, this book will show you.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower


So intriguing. I read this because I couldn’t think of anything else to read at the time. Turns out, it’s the Downton Abbey of books. I had no idea the White House staff (butlers, cooks, maids, etc.) stayed on from administration to administration. But they do. And the stories they tell, which are actually quite few due to their vow of silence and regard for privacy of the families, are incredibly interesting. This book humanizes the presidents in a way very few other things could do for me. To see these folks love one president only to see him move out a few years later and then accept another family made me feel their anguish, and wonder at their determination and resilience in their work. This book shows their sacrifice and humanity. Turns out Washington is filled with humans after all.



And here's the full list of what I read in 2016. This is listed in the order that I finished the book.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah


The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer


Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen Ambrose


Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer


He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer


Back to Freedom and Dignity by Francis Schaeffer


Silas Marner by George Eliot


Animal Farm by George Orwell


Genesis in Space and Time: The Flow of Biblical History by Francis Schaeffer


No Final Conflict by Francis Schaeffer


The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark


John Adams by David McCullough


The Martian by Andy Weir


The Wright Brothers by David McCullough


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger


Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke


Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee


Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham


Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guiness


A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John Frame


Unparalleled: How Christianity's Uniqueness Makes It Compelling by Jared Wilson


On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser


Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told by Bradley Wright


Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell


Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell


Using Illustrations to Preach with Power by Bryan Chapell


In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri


The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Craig Hickman


The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson


Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley


Start Next Now: How to Get the Life You've Always Wanted by Bob Pritchett


Business for the Glory of God: The Bible's Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business by Wayne Grudem


The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper


The Gospel & Religious Liberty (Gospel For Life)


Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


No Little People by Francis Schaeffer


On Pastoring: A Short Guide to Living, Leading, and Ministering as a Pastor by H.B. Charles


True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer


The New Super-Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer


Two Contents - Two Realities by Francis Schaeffer


Church History 101: The Highlights of Twenty Centuries by Sinclair Ferguson


When Worlds Collide: Where is God? by R.C. Sproul


I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said That: Finding Joy in the Inconvenience of Discipleship by Steve Timmis


Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez


Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script by J.K. Rowling


In The Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World by Wendell Berry
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April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson


Art and the Christian Mind: The Life and Work of H. R. Rookmaaker by Laurel Gasque


The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo


Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing by Andy Crouch


Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson


Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar


The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


Truman by David McCullough


The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates


The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century by Francis Schaeffer


Table Grace: The role of hospitality in the Christian Life by Douglas Webster


Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N.T. Wright


Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good by N.T. Wright


The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright


The Church Before the Watching World : A Practical Ecclesiology by Francis Schaeffer


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance


The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer


Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer


Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem


The Great Evangelical Disaster by Francis Schaeffer


Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer


Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund


The Grace of Repentance by Sinclair Ferguson


How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer


Silence: A Novel by Shūsaku Endō


Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow


Whatever Happened to the Human Race?: Exposing Our Rapid Yet Subtle Loss of Human Rights by Francis Schaeffer


A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer


The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp


Holy Bible English Standard Version Single Column Journaling Bible, Trutone, Chestnut, Leaves Design


Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade


The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton


Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life By C.S. Lewis


Redeployment by Phil Klay


Revival by Martyn Lloyd-Jones


The Purity Principle: God's Safeguards for Life's Dangerous Trails by Randy Alcorn


On the Incarnation of the Word of God by Athanasius


The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower


Made For His Pleasure: Ten Benchmarks of a Vital Faith By Alistair Begg


The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien


Grief is A Thing With Feathers: A Novel by Max Potter


I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short


Unashamed by Lecrae Moore


I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom Rainer


Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges


It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario


L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer