Top Books of 2020

Some books from 2020

Grant by Chernow: From the moment I started listening to this book, all 40+ hours of it, I could not stop. I found reasons to sneak away and listen. I took long walks for the first time in years. There’s so much to this book relevant today. Things like the fact that our nation struggled with Civil Rights issues far longer than it should have because of the murder of Lincoln (Johnson put a halt on the reforms Lincoln had in mind). Or, how Grant likely would have been forgotten to history if not for the Civil War (he was rather unremarkable before then and even remarked of himself in the opening line of his memoirs, “Man proposes and God disposes. There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.”) Or how he fought and navigated his way through military politics, or how action oriented he was from a young age (there’s a story of him, on the way to see his future wife, unwilling to turn around in a major storm because he had a ‘superstition for turning back once started’ [approximate quote]). Or how Mark Twain was completely amazed at his ability to churn out a massive amount of words, almost perfectly written, to complete his memoirs in the final weeks of his life. Twain even said of Grant’s memoirs that they were a literary masterpiece. I probably should take the time to capture more notes and stories from this book. I enjoyed it so much I’ll likely listen again in 2021. Side note: I’m not usually a fan of listening to long biographies, but this one was a treat.

Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher: A wake up call about the encroaching “soft-totalitarianism” in America. This would have seemed too alarmist if not for the many interviews with those that lived under the soviet-bloc communism, many of whom were appalled by Americans readily accepting so many restrictions on their constitutional freedoms. I love that he ends with many practical applications for how to live in such an environment, how to be ‘dissidents.’ One of the most practical is to refuse to give in to agreeing with things that are clearly non-truths.

Technopoly by Neil Postman: Every time I read a book by Postman, who died in 2003, I keep thinking he’s looking over my shoulder, that he must be writing about our current culture. He had a prophetic vision about the direction things were headed that is hard to believe. This book talks about the religion (as he calls it) of believing that all technological advancement is inherently good and can never be questioned. Those that dare to suggest that new technology has both benefits and drawbacks are brushed aside as outdated and old-fashioned luddites. A critically important book in the midst of a world that is being slowly taken over by all-seeing devices and apps. Side note: many of those interviewed in Live Not by Lies could not believe how Americans are so quick to allow such devices into their homes. It seemed to them to be imperfect merger of 1984 and Brave New World.

The Book of Waking Up by Seth Haines. I wrote a long review of the book here, so I won’t rehash it except to say it’s a book every Christian should read. Non-Christians would also benefit from Haines’s thoughtful and un-preachy probing into the deeper reasons why we do anything.

How to Know God’s Will by Wayne Grudem: A short book (70 pages) that outlines some very helpful categories for knowing and discerning God’s direction in your life. I’ve especially loved his categories for ethical decisions: understanding the four dimensions of every action: 1) The action itself, 2) the attitude about the action, 3) motives for the action, and 4) the result of the action. All factors are at play in determining if a decision/action is right or wrong. What’s the difference between attitude and motive? [Hint… read the boo]. I read about a page a day to our family at the dinner table.

Sex, Dating and Relationships by Hiestand and Thomas: The best book I’ve read on a Christian view of dating. You won’t agree with everything in the book, but it will get you thinking and promote good conversation. If you have a teen on the verge of dating, have them read it and discuss it with them. There’s also a great two-part interview with them on FamilyLife Today.

Why I’m Still Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit by Jack Deere: I read his earlier version of this book over ten years ago. Then and now I found the book to invigorate my prayer life. He weaves in his own story (Seminary professor who didn’t believe God still heals turns healing seminar teacher) along with the biblical support for his view. Dirty Glory by Peter Greig was also a big boost to my prayer life and worth reading.

The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh: As the first person to complete a continuous flight between New York and Paris, Lindbergh recounts in vivid detail his mentality, process, and the grueling journey (60+ hours awake). He bucked traditional wisdom (multiple pilots and multiple engines were essential) to bet on himself to make it happen. My favorite parts where his long walks where he wrestled through key decisions, and his detailed account of his efforts to stay awake and stay focused across the Atlantic.

Centennial by James Michener: Haven’t been able to get enough of Michener lately. I skimmed through the first 75 pages or so of this where he sets the stage for the book with overwhelming detail about the evolutionary history of central Colorado. When he finally arrives at the actual story, it picked up steam and kept me engaged. One of those long novels that makes you sad to see it end. Some criticize his character development as lacking depth. I see what they mean, yet I still love the way Michener weaves a meticulously researched story together. Everything I read by him or about him inspires me to want to read and write more. I also read the book about the book that one of his co-researchers wrote and took photos for, called In Search of Centennial and found it a fantastic complement.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell: This was one of the last books I read in 2020, yet it was possibly the hardest to put down, except for Grant. It’s the story of a woman who worked with the French resistance in WWII. She was American, working for British intelligence, acting like a French peasant (though she was movie-star like), and missing part of one leg. She was constantly ignored by her superiors because of being female, yet the author makes a strong case for her being one of the most effective organizers in the British service in Southern France. Just one day of her life was likely packed with more adventure than the average person will ever experience. It’s one unbelievable story after another, all marked by her dogged determination to make a differnce in a country she fell in love with at a young age. If you liked narrative history books like Manhunt, and you like WWII history, you’ll love this.

Honorable Mentions: I’m about 100 pages into The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self and already think this might be the most important book I read this decade. Mindset helped me see the importance of thinking in terms of a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. What Jesus Meant is great for pushing back on many long accepted yet flawed views of religion. I didn’t agree with all his conclusions, but found it though provoking. 96 Miles, though a YA novel, was so good. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was the most touching story I’ve read in some time. This bio on Michael Jordan was also hard to put down. What a crazy intense guy.

If you like knowing what I’m reading, follow me on Goodreads. And let me know what you’re reading! Also, I’m about to launch a podcast about books. You can check out the first episode on Apple podcasts here, or Spotify, or other outlets here. More to come starting next week.

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