17 Books from 2017
I’m excited to reveal my list of the 17 books that I’ve been reading this year! As in previous years, this is not a complete recommendation or endorsement of anything on this list – it is just an opportunity for you to see some of the books I read, and hopefully inspire you with ideas for your own reading list. In fact, I’m including even the books that I didn’t enjoy (notice the one-stars on the list!). Enjoy browsing, and if you need more ideas, check out the lists from previous years: 15 Books from 2015, or 16 Books from 2016.
#1 – The Race for Timbuktu: In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, by Frank Kryza (4.5 stars)
The Race for Timbuktu describes the fascinating – and harrowing – endeavors of European explorers to find the most fabled city of Africa. During the Middle Ages, Timbuktu’s wealth and knowledge had astonished even the most prosperous European kings, and explorers were desperate to find the mysterious and uncharted city. Most of them gambled their lives and lost. This fascinating book tells the story in a fast-paced, exciting narrative.
#2 – The Gospel according to Luke, by Luke MD (5 stars)
I highlight the book of Luke to remind us that Luke is not simply a number of chapters in the Bible – it is a complete account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Last year I challenged readers to journey through Luke over the course of a few days. Not only is this book part of the Bible, but Luke is profoundly moving, challenging, and causes us to re-examine what we truly hold dear. For all of these reasons, The Gospel according to Luke fully deserves five stars!
#3 – The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (4 stars)
Edward Gibbon’s massive story of the Roman Empire’s demise constitutes one of the great works of English literature. Originally published in six volumes, it takes 126 hours to read the entire history. Never fear: not only is this one of the most eloquently written books of the English language, it is also filled with fascinating tales (sometimes reality is more fabulous than fantasy). If the whole work sounds overwhelming, consider reading the first ten chapters: they chronicle the descent of the empire from a wealthy and powerful realm to a place of bloodshed and vice, where the empire is sold to the highest bidder.
#4 – No Place for Truth, by David Wells (3.5 stars)
This challenging read examines the causes of the decline of theology in evangelical churches. Why do we claim to follow historic Christianity while paying little attention to the importance of historical theology? The answer is intriguing, thoughtful, and sometimes hard to follow.
#5 – George Washington: A Life, by Willard Sterne Randall (4 stars)
We know that Washington was ‘first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,’ but what was it about Washington that elevated him to the status of a great leader and great warrior? This fascinating biography is well worth your time, and Washington’s life is well worth your consideration. Not only did he guide the American patriots to victory against the most powerful army in the world, he also sparked one of the first truly ‘world’ wars (the French and Indian War, or Seven Years’ War) and guided the US government through its most formative infant moments.
#6 – Frontiers: The Story of Missouri Baptists, by J. Gordon Kingsley (2.5 stars)
As a Missouri resident who believes in credobaptism, I decided to read this book because I was interested in the history of those who came before me, in my own state. While there is nothing particularly special about this book, I came away with a deeper appreciation for the work of those who have gone before – especially those who did so much to lay a foundation, but are no longer widely remembered. While this book may not be particularly interesting for non-Missourians, you can probably find a similar book on the history of God’s people in your location!
#7 – Elijah the Tishbite, by F. W. Krummacher (4.5 stars)
This year I led a men’s Bible study on the life of Elijah, the fiery Old Testament prophet. Krummacher’s beautiful biography was not only a delight to read, but a valuable exposition of the Biblical text and refreshing fountain for my own soul. You won’t regret this book!
#8 – The Prophet of Fire: Or, the Life and Times of Elijah, with their Lessons, by John R. Macduff (4.5 stars)
Just like Elijah the Tishbite, this book is well worth the read. It complements and adds to Krummacher’s biography, sometimes suggesting a different interpretation of the text. Macduff’s writing style is less flowery and more straightforward than Krummacher’s, so this biography may appeal to more modern readers. Personally, I think that they are both invaluable.
#9 – The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (3.5 stars)
This is not technically a book, but a series of conference lectures presented at the Westminster and Puritan Studies Conferences. While the lectures generally relate to the Puritans, they also delve into other aspects of historical Christianity, such as The Christian and the State in Revolutionary Times and Can We Learn from History? Lloyd-Jones is an excellent theologian and historian, but those who are less interested in Puritanism may find that some of the lectures are tedious.
#10 – If You Bite and Devour One Another, by Alexander Strauch (3 stars)
Interpersonal conflict – between individuals, families, and churches – is a sad but too-common occurrence in Christ’s kingdom. This book presents the basics of Christian communication and conflict resolution. It is a decent introduction to the subject, but in some ways it resembles a list of scripture passages with basic, entry-level commentary on them.
#11 – A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis, by Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Markley (3.5 stars)
This handbook outlines the ten necessary steps of New Testament exegesis. While it is written particularly for those with some knowledge of Greek (with chapters on textual criticism and translations and translation), it holds much value for those who are limited to the English translation. This is good, solid information about the basic process of exegesis, and you are certain to learn something valuable.
#12 – Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry Blackaby and Claude King (4 stars)
I’m the first to admit – there is much that I don’t understand about how God’s Spirit works. I found this book to be helpful in thinking through the role of the Spirit and how God leads people practically. While not everyone may agree with the conclusions of this book, it is challenging, thought-provoking, and highlights an important topic that is rarely discussed in many churches.
#13 – 20 Qualities of Good Listeners, by Gavin Ortlund (4.5 stars)
Yes, I admit – this isn’t really a book. More like an article…a very short article. I put it on my list because I thought it was a book. I wish it was. The 20 points that this article makes could easily be expanded into a 20-chapter book. If you want to do this article justice, read it slowly. Read it thoughtfully. Read if often.
#14 – Souls in Khaki: Being a Personal Investigation into Spiritual Experiences and Sources of Heroism among the Lads in the Firing Line, by Arthur Copping (1 star)
I read this book, hoping to learn about the religious experiences of soldiers in World War One. Unfortunately, while there are a few (very few, it turns out) of such stories, much of this book is occupied with the author’s descriptions of touring the front lines. It often devolves into an uber-patriotic, almost crusader-attitude description of how British troops are going to save the world. Disappointing.
#15 – Auto Upkeep: Basic Car Care, Maintenance, and Repair, by Michael Gray and Linda Gray (3 stars)
I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m that guy who doesn’t know anything about cars. So yes, I determined to read this book so that I have a better grasp on what goes on under the hood. If you want to laugh, just move on to the next book in this list. If you secretly sympathize with me, then you might benefit from this very simple explanation.
#16 – The Pastor in the Sick Room, by John D. Wells (4 stars)
This is a reprint of three lectures delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary. Sadly, very few pastors today know how to minister to the sick or dying. This very small book is filled with useful and practical information to help ministers accomplish their work for those on the brink of eternity.
#17 – William McKinley, by Kevin Phillips and Arthur Schlesinger (1.5 stars)
As the 25th president of the United States, I hoped to learn much about the character and life of this little-known leader. Instead, I found myself in for one of the most boring political monologues I’ve experienced. If you are interested in how McKinley’s presidency reshaped political constituencies, you might appreciate this book. Otherwise, you can give it to a friend as a white elephant gift like I did!