Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Book Recommendations

So every blogger is required by blogging law to have some kind of list at the end of the year. I don’t know why—no one ever reads them. But anyway, here is mine.
This year, I had a personal goal to complete 52 books; I overachieved and finished 62. Here they are, ranked by “tier”…

TIER ONE – GREAT BOOKS/MUST READS  - these are eleven books I highly recommend to any reader of my blog
·       Words of Radiance, Sanderson – a brilliant entry in the best fantasy series since Game of Thrones
·       Leadership and Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute – a must-read for any leader, forcing you to look at your tendency to self-deceive
·       The Martian, Weir – well deserving of the great Matt Damon movie that followed, this book is gold for the hard sci-fi fan
·       The Lost World of Genesis 1, Walton – I’ve read probably a hundred books on Genesis 1. This is the best, and the only “must read” in my mind.
·       The Wingfeather Saga (four books), Peterson – I LOVED these books. Must-read by any fantasy fan. Reads like young adult lit and it is brilliantly clever. You won’t be able to stop after the first half of book one.
·       Seveneves, Stephensen – very long, very detailed, and very very good. A great sci-fi book that has the best first line I’ve ever read…”The moon blew up with no warning and for no apparent reason.” From there on it is fantastic hard sci-fi.
·       Unoffendable, Hanson – I read this one three times this year. It is AMAZING. Must-read for any Christian. I’ll read this over and over. It can change your life.
·       Preaching, Keller – A must-read for any preacher. It does a great job of focusing you on Christocentric preaching, and I now use his appendix process to prep for any sermon.

·       Mistakes Were Made but Not By Me, Tavris/Aronson – an interesting look into the art of self-deception; not as good as its match in tier one, and it never quite lives up to the great title
·       Prayer, Keller – yet another fantastic book by today’s most thought-provoking Christian author
·       Red Rising, Brown – a solid sci-fi book about a lower class staging a long-shot uprising; pretty good start
·       Stealing from God, Turek – a great introduction to the Christian apologetic principles of examining self-defeating arguments
·       Steelheart, Sanderson – what if people got superpowers…and they were all selfish and mean? A great and fun read.
·       Firefight, Sanderson – the sequel to Steelheart, not as good but also solid.
·       The Weight of Glory, Lewis – a Christian classic for a reason, this series of essays by CS Lewis was a re-read for me but well worth it
·       Didache, Anonymous – one of the most important Christian writings of all time other than the New Testament; it is as ancient as the Biblical books and very helpful
·       The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Wilken – might seem a bit thick to some, which is why it dropped to Tier Two. But it was very good for viewing the NT as an outsider would.
·       The Lost World of Adam and Eve, Walton – not as good as his other book, but still an important one for Christians
·       Ethan of Athos, Bujold – the last of the Vorkosigan Saga that I had not read, and I really liked it. As always, Bujold tells a great story. Maybe the most underrated of the sci-fi writers out there.
·       The Problem of Pain, Lewis – not Lewis’ greatest, but I re-read this in preparation for a sermon and it’s a good handling of the problem of suffering.
·       The Celebration of Discipline, Foster – a very strong overview of Christian disciplines
·       Cryptonomicon, Stephensen – a novel that explores cryptography in the past and the future; it’s good but this isn’t for the faint of heart…only true Stephensen fans need to bother
·       The Girl With All The Gifts – one of the more fun zombie books I’ve ever read, about a girl who doesn’t know she’s a zombie (spoiler alert?)
·       Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World, Adeney – a bit boring to be honest; however it does a great job of detailing what it is like to be a Christian, in an international business environment, and how to deal with ethics across cultural boundaries.
·       Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity, Volume I (A-Da), Yamauchi & Wilson – Not really a “sit down and read” kind of book (although I did). It gives good reference info on both Jewish and Christian life. Will be great when the whole series is complete.
·       An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, Almossawi – a good but incomplete introduction to logical fallacies and bad argumentation. Good read. Will probably use with my kids one day.

·       Caverns and Creatures I, II, and III, Bevan – you can read each in a day, a moderately-humorous take on dungeons and dragons; if you played D&D growing up, you’ll get a few laughs at least.
·       Golden Son, Brown – a bit of a let-down as a sequel to Red Rising; hoping this can be redeemed in the third book
·       Three Theories of Everything, Potter – an interesting idea looking at monism, dualism, and trinitarianism. I liked it overall but it oversimplifies some things and doesn’t address some others. Stealing from God is a better book to think about world philosophy.
·       Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, Walls – an attempt to “retake” purgatory into Protestantism; brings up some good ideas and does a good job with its main thrust, but at least from my side I don’t feel like I learned anything new (might not be the case for others)
·       Starhawk, McDevitt – the best of the three McDevitt books I read this year, but that is faint praise. “Meh” is a great description. Good enough to keep reading, nothing you’ll remember later.
·       Gladhearted Disciples, Folmsbee – pretty solid overall as a discipleship guide to retaking joy as a Christian discipline; overdoes some things and some I just flat disagree with
·       Wired, Richards – pretty solid, low-thinking-required fun book; what would happen if someone can temporarily achieve genius-level abilities but also becomes a megalomaniac in the process?
·       Simply Jesus, Wright – not as good as his other works, I didn’t feel like I learned a lot (and usually after Wright my brain hurts from the new ideas)
·       The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - I was enjoying this rip-off of Firefly until the last few chapters, where it just kinda ended. Good book, anticlimactic.
·       Ancient Christian Worship, McGowan – It was okay and gave some good historical perspective on a few things, but this could have been done in a series of 5-6 blog posts instead of a book.
·       The Magicians, Grossman – billed as a “grown up’s” Harry Potter, this was an interesting idea which was super-interesting for half the book, a bit interesting for a quarter of the book, and not at all interesting by the end. I had no desire to read the sequel, but I’m not sad I read this one.
·       Doubling Groups 2.0, Hunt – a 2-3 hour read about the strategy of doubling small groups used by Andy Stanley’s church; to say this is a “niche read” is an understatement
·       You and Me Forever, Chan and Chan – Francis Chan & wife wrote a marriage study, and my wife and I just found it to be okay. I would imagine for some marriages this would be revolutionary and life-giving; for us, it just wasn’t “our need” I suppose.
·       Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity, Hatmaker – There are 2-3 things from this book that were life-changing and will stay with me forever. It would have been a great blog post—not even a series, just a blog post. But it was 300 pages or so, which made it seem really padded.

·       The Forever War, Haldeman – way over-sold; a short-story level idea stretched into novel length
·       The Shepherd of Hermas, Anonymous – a Christian classic and important book, but really a tough slog. I’d recommend reading a summary instead
·       The Cassandra Project, McDevitt/Resnick – Not good. Really, really not good. Why bother re-releasing McDevitt’s first book with some updates, if you are still going to have them use floppy disks and have a priest be “torn apart” by questions that someone with two minutes and access to Google can answer?
·       The Hercules Text, McDevitt – I don’t even remember reading this McDevitt book. And I love McDevitt…but this year he is striking out.
·       When to Rob a Bank, Levitt/Dubner – I felt ripped off here. I’m a huge fan of their other work (Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) but this was just their blog, printed on paper. I already read their blog.
·       Jumper, Gould – overrated. Was surprised this was made into a film; I found it an okay idea, executed averagely
·       Invasion, Platt and Truant – So terrible. So, so terrible. Such a cool idea and the first hundred pages or so, I was hooked. But I’ve never wanted the bad guys to kill all the good guys as much as I did in this book.
·       Posthuman Books I-IV, Simpson – Oh, never mind what I said about invasion. THIS is the most I’ve ever wanted everyone to die. If this is what transhumanists think the future should be, they are all insane. And terrible writers.
·       Daredevil, Comptons – This is a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Unless you are reading it with your kids for nostalgia (as I was), don’t bother.
·       You Are A Superstar, Packard – Ditto above, as this is a CYOA book as well.
·       Homeschool Sex Machine, Pierce – I loved a couple of blog posts and thought that a book by this guy must be good. It wasn’t. Wish I hadn’t read it and had stuck with the blog.
·       American Gods, Gaiman – I don’t get this book’s popularity at all. I love mythology; I love fantasy; I love everything that this book was billed as. I hated this book. This is the only book on the list I couldn’t finish, but since I made it to page 350, I’m counting it as read. At that point, I quit because it just wasn’t good, not because of laziness. I do not get the appeal of this book. It was just not interesting. At all. It had the feeling of a book that people think is very profound without actually saying anything profound. And guys, it’s not like I was that picky this year – I finished all the “Posthuman” series even though my eyes almost got stuck in the “eye roll” position.
·       What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow Me, Platt – Nothing to see here. What you think it will say, it says.

·       Future Visions, various – billed as groundbreaking sci-fi after consultations with Microsoft’s futurists, it was really just a handful of short stories that range from meh to seriously, that’s it? There was one semi-interesting one, but even that was just okay.


  1. I'm a huge Sanderson fan, glad to see you enjoy his books too! You've gotta check out Mistborn if you haven't already. Another great fantasy writer who doesn't get near as much credit as he deserves is John C Wright (Somewither, Awake In The Night Land, The Golden Age trilogy, all of his short story collections.)