Justin’s Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2016


Due to the presence of a toddler in my life, I completed fewer books this year than in years past (it was worth it, of course). Still, I managed to get through enough to want to recommend my favorites from this year. (Note: these books were not necessarily released in 2016; they were simply books I read in 2016).

I chose these books based on how much I enjoyed them, how helpful they were, and how likely I am to read them again. They include two works of fiction, three of biography/autobiography, two of history, one of political philosophy, and two of theology. In comparing this year’s list with the previous two, I noticed that there were fewer theological works. It’s not because I read fewer theological books than usual–they just weren’t the ones that stood out this year.

10. Evangellyfish– Douglas Wilson
I definitely got more laughs out of this one than any of the others. Wilson gives us a piece of fiction satirizing the quirks and hypocrisies of evangelical mega-churches.

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9. The World America MadeRobert Kagan
A surprise birthday present from my wife (and all the more meaningful since it’s a book she would likely never read). Is America in decline? If so, is that a good thing? Kagan’s answers are “No, at least not yet” and “It depends on what you want the world to be like.” His concluding hunch: “Perhaps if Americans had a clearer picture of what might come after the American world order, they would be more inclined to continue struggling to preserve the world they have made.” For some more nice excerpts, see here.

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8. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil WarCharles Dew
Stumbled across this one in the footnote of a Lincoln book and just had to read it. If you wonder how much slavery and race had to do with Southern secession, you should read this book. Charles Dew explores the speeches given by the secession commissioners from the lower South as they sought to persuade Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, etc. to join them in secession during the winter of 1860-61. See my longer Goodreads review here.

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7. Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down her ArmsHolly Ordway
A nice work of spiritual autobiography. Ordway’s journey to faith is very similar to C.S. Lewis’s (they were both atheistic literature professors), and makes for fascinating and encouraging reading. I came away wanting to be a better witness for Christ toward unbelievers.

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6. The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Spiritual JourneyDavid Downing
Saw this one in a library and picked it up. I love anything by or about C. S. Lewis, and Downing is an expert. The title tells you what you need to know. If you like Lewis, you need to put this one on your reading list.

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5. The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamPatrick Lencioni
My friend and pastor Chris Davis pressed this one on me. It’s one of those many books on team-building and leadership. The nice catch here is that Lencioni has managed to teach the principles through a work of gripping fiction. I don’t usually like this kind of didactic fiction, but this one I couldn’t put down.

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4. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisJ. D. Vance
I read this book because all the blogs kept talking about it. Turns out the hype was warranted. Vance tells the gut-wrenching story of his journey from a drug-infested disfunctional family, through the Marines, and eventually into Yale Law School.

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3. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaErik Larson
I saw this one on World Magazine’s awards list last year, and it piqued my interest. The thing I’ll probably remember most is reading it aloud in the truck one day with my co-worker Wayne Sanders, and bursting into tears as Larson described the photograph of the corpse of a one-year old girl who died in the sinking. I’m sure it didn’t help that  my daughter Norah had just turned one. This one is probably at your local library; you should check it out. 

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2. Eve in Exile and the Restoration of FemininityRebekah Merkle
Merkle is the daughter of Pastor Douglas Wilson, whose book Evangellyfish is listed above, and she certainly takes after her father for verbal wit and biblical insight. I read it after buying it for my wife, who has been recommending it ever since.

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1. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with GodTimothy Keller
I haven’t read very many books on prayer, so it may not mean much for me to say that this is the best one I’ve ever read. But it is. Keller handles the biblical evidence masterfully, and distills the best insights from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Owen. To my Reformed brethren who don’t normally find Keller to be their cup of tea I would say, ‘You’ll like him in this book.’ I read it because I struggle to be disciplined and consistent in prayer. So the highest praise I can give this book is simply this: it makes me want to pray to my God, and it gives me gospel hope that my prayer life can improve. And having read it in April around the time of my ordination, I can testify that it has changed my prayer life ever since. Highly recommended.

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