My Favorite Books In 2015 (Part 1)

books-stackI love to read other people’s book recommendations so I think that it’s only fair that I share some of the best books that I read this year. The reason that I am sharing this now versus at the end of the year is because if you’re like me, you are looking for ideas for Christmas gifts.

My criteria for “best books” are relatively simple: Was it well written? Did I learn something? Have I recommended it to others?

2015 was the best year of reading for me personally that I can recall. All I mean by that is that I had the good fortune to read fantastic books. Books that might have been in my top 5 in a normal year didn’t make the list this year. With that in mind I’ve changed the usual format (including a Part 1 and Part 2) to make room for books that I think that you might enjoy but didn’t make my top 10.

My 2015 Winners

Best Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel by Bill Arnold (NIV Application Commentary). If, like me, you occasionally enjoy reading through a commentary during your devotions, you’ll find this one to excel at explaining the literary context and making both solid theological and practical points. Arnold finds Samuel’s account of the rise and rule of King David to be centered on repentance. Why was Saul rejected as King? Why was David considered a man after God’s own heart even though he committed serious sins against God and others? The answer to both questions is found in their repentance (or lack thereof).

All commentaries in the NIV Application Series divide the comments on Scripture into three parts: Original Meaning, Building Bridges, Contemporary Significance. This helps the average reader get a good balance of historical explanation and practical application.

Best Book on Parenting: 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid by Tim Elmore. If you’re not familiar with Tim, you might want to check out his blog over at Growing Leaders where he often writes about parenting issues.

While I am pretty sure that Tim’s a Christian, this particular book is light on Bible and heavy on common sense and research that shows that today’s 20 somethings are struggling in part because they were raised by “over functioning” parents commonly known as “helicopter” parents. One of my favorite lines in the book is that too many parents are trying to prepare the path for the kid instead of preparing the kid for the path. Reality is that no one can truly shape the kind of life that a kid has but as parents we can prepare our kids to be ready for whatever life sends their way.

Best Novel (not in top 10 books): Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. No, I didn’t make a mistake and intend Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which I read but wasn’t as impressed by as others were. Highsmith, who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, has a knack for developing complex but believable characters and heightening tension even if it requires dark plot twists.

Best Biography: Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America by Steven Watts. Carnegie is best known for his book How To Win Friends And Influence People. But did you know that he was from Missouri or more importantly that he rejected orthodox Christianity and his writings launched the self-help movement that gave birth to Oprah and others? Interestingly, the author is a professor at Mizzou.

Best Action Books: Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA and  Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick. The Washington Post reporter, Joby Warrick, writes two fascinating books looking into the workings of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Triple Agent tells the story of a Jordanian doctor who deceived the CIA leading to the killing of leading intelligence and security officers in Khost Afghanistan. Black Flags traces the rise of ISIS back to another Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who created a movement to rival Osama Bin Laden that later morphed into ISIS.

Best Old Book I Reread: Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life by Thomas V. Morris. I read this with two men’s groups this year and everyone said they got a lot out of it. Morris uses Pascal’s observations made in the 1600’s and crafts an atypical apologetic book that argues for the truthfulness of Christianity by examining the human condition. It’s impossible to read this and not learn about your own heart but it will also help you have good conversations with non-Christians.

Best Erik Larson Book(s): The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America and Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. One author gets his own category? It’s the only way that I could figure out how to get these two great books on the list. I told you it was a great year of reading. The Devil in the White City tells two stories: how against all odds Chicago pulled off the 1893 World’s Fair and how a serial murderer used the fair to lure his victims. In Dead Wake we watch the Titanic’s sister ship sail across the Atlantic, be sunk by a German submarine, and lead to the United States get militarily involved in World War 1.

Best Books On the History of Civil Rights: Parting of the Waters: America In the King Years 1954-63 and Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King. I’m embarrassed to say that for too many years I was uneducated about racial issues between the end of the Civil War and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A few years ago I started to read books explaining the struggle for civil rights, the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North, and more. These two books are both award winners because of fantastic writing and compelling stories. More than that, I think it’s hard to understand our current racial climate without understanding some recent history. (In this regard see also my favorite book from the list in 2014 The Warmth of other Suns).

Next week I will share with you my top 10 books that I read in 2015.

One Comment

  1. Anna Milan said:

    Great picks! I love Erik Larson, too.

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