2020 was not the year that many of us expected. Around December and January, I can distinctly remember conversations amongst my friends about how many of us wanted to make big changes this year. Get out, do more, experience new things, build something, grow. It was to be a year filled with excitement, daring ourselves to try new things and see the world in new and energizing ways. One of my goals was to read 50 books in 2020. I thought it was going to be difficult. The pandemic slowed everything down and made it relatively easy. I finished my list that I had set-up by October, then even added 4 more books for the fun of it, and had to read one for work. In many ways, I’m thankful for the opportunity to slow down, to learn, and to learn how to be patient with God’s timing above my own. It helped make this goal easy, and I feel I have learned a lot from these books. Here’s the list, along with some thoughts on a couple of the books that really stood out.
(1) Chasing Contentment – Erik Raymond
Reading this in January helped prepare me for what was to come in the months to follow. Despite a year of grand plans and excitement, it instead has been several months work of exercise in the pursuit of contentment in difficult and unexpected times, a practice many of us feel is reserved for the more spiritual and lofy amongst us. Raymond helps challenge that belief and give practical guidance on how to live a life rooted in Biblical contentment.
(2) Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey
(3) Thirty Days: Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power
(4) To Live is Christ To Die is Gain – Matt Chandler & Jared C. Wilson
(5) Evangelicals and American Foreign Policy
(6) When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy – John Piper
Simply going to quote a line from Piper’s book here: “Oh, that the eyes of their hearts might be bright with the glory of Christ through these pages! Remove every blinding obstacle, and show them your glory! And thus give them more joy than all the gladness that the world can give. . . Amen.” A thorough walk through the concept of joy, and the effort it takes to find a true, lasting joy.
(7) Lethal Agent: A Mitch Rapp Novel – Kyle Mills
Ironically, I read this book in February, in the pre-pandemic age. It’s plot was about terrorists weaponizing a new strand of a respiratory virus to turn it loose in the United States. Again, irony. There’s no real reflection here, but rather just a remarkable sense of how something that seems so ridiculous may not be as far off as we expect. Obviously COVID was not a terrorist attack, but a dangerous virus on the loose sure was spot-on. If you like James Bond, Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer, these books are excellent spy-thrillers.
(8) Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership – John Dickson
(9) All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror – Stephen Kinzer
Individually, my favorite book from 2020. Absolutely captivating, as I read the entire thing in about two days. Kinzer brings together historical developments throughout Middle Eastern and American history to paint a picture of how the U.S.-led Coup in Iran has led to many of the current dilemmas we face in today’s geopolitical climate in the Middle East.
(10) The Daniel Dilema: How to Stand Firm and Love Well in a Culture of Compromise – Chris Hodges
(11) Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World – Max Lucado
(12) The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World – John Mark Comer
Comer’s book could not be more relevant if he tried. In a chaotic and busy world, Comer invites his readers to come learn about the gracious rhythm of life that Jesus Christ lived, and how we can challenge ourselves to slow down, relax, and take up the yoke of Christ through faith. Would highly recommend it to anyone looking to slow down and live deliberately.
(13)The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher – Andrzej Sapkowski
A bit challenging to read, as it is technically translated over from Spakowski’s native Polish. And while I practice Polish fairly often nowadays, not at the level to read it in the native tongue. Standing as the source for both the video games and the new Netflix series, Spakowski’s The Witcher series still brings a lot to the table in terms of imagination and excitement.
(14) The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-1947 – Daniel Kurtz-Phelan.
Most would recognize that China has become a direct competitor to the United States in the modern geopolitical realm. The backstory behind how the current Chinese Communist Party took over China, despite the odds against them, is fascinating. Kurtz-Phelan details the efforts the US made post-WW2 to negotiate a truce between the CCP and the Nationalists, efforts that may have radically changed the course of Chinese history had they been successful.
(15) National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy – Roger Eatwell & Matthew Godwin
Curious what this current wave we’ve seen in international politics is and is about? Godwin and Eatwell do an excellent job breaking down what exactly the national populist phenomenon is all about.
(16) Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy #1) – C.S. Lewis
(17) Perelandra (Space Trilogy #2) – C.S. Lewis
(18) That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy #3) – C.S. Lewis
If you enjoyed C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, consider checking out his lesser known Space Trilogy. Philosophically challenging, it follows the story of Elwin Ransom as he wrestles with question about humanity, light and darkness, and our place in God’s grand design. Thrilling for those looking to explore.
(19) Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold – C.S. Lewis
(20) The Sacred Chase: Moving from Proximity to Intimacy with God – Heath Adamson
(21) Why Liberalism Failed – Patrick J. Deneen
(22) The Populist’s Guide to 2020: A New Right and New Left are Rising – Krystal Ball * Saagar Enjeti
(23) The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World – Rosaria C. Butterfield
(24) The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul
Perhaps the most in-depth look into what it means to worship and follow a holy God, Sproul’s insight was constantly challenging to the notions I held. Not only theologically deep, but practical and relatable for anyone looking to ask that same question about God’s holiness.
(25) Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy – Matt Stoller
If you really know my politics, you’ll know how much fun I had reading this one. Stoller highlights the history behind the on-going fight that many have waged against monopolistic corporations, and does an excellent job identifying exactly why neither party should be in favor defaulting to the practices of private entities in the realm of regulations.
(26) Movie Nights with the Reagans: A Memoir – Mark Weinberg
(27) Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
(28) The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War – H.W. Brands
(29) Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football – John U. Bacon
A bit late to read Bacon’s latest installment here. Bacon is a professor at the University of Michigan, and has partnered with the Athletic Department to write a fascinating in-depth account of Jim Harbaugh’s attempt to bring the Michigan Wolverines back to their historic prominence.
(30) Knowing God – J.I. Packer
(31) Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ – Russell D. Moore
(32) How to Be a Conservative – Sir Roger Scruton
While not exactly what you’d expect, Scruton lays out an account of what he believes a conservative’s political philosophy should entail. Bringing a British perspective to plenty of American political issues, Scruton provides a very even-handed critique of the flaws many American conservatives take in their approach to governance and policy.
(33) Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War – Robin Yassin-Kassab & Leila al-Shami
(34) The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe – Andrew Whitcroft
(35) Humility: True Greatness – C.J. Mahaney
(36) Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy – Leslie H. Gelb
(37) The Forever War – Dexter Filkins
One of the more moving works I read this last year, Filkins details the horrible accounts of war in the Middle East, sharing stories from his time as a reporter covering U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heartbreaking and thrilling and insightful, Filkins shows us a different side of things in this one.
(38) A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia – Aaron L. Friedberg
(39) The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and Pursuit of Godliness – Kevin DeYoung
(40) Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill Won One War & Began Another – Jonathan Fenby
(41) Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary – J.D. Greer
(42) Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide – Randy Alcorn
Between Alcorn’s book here and Dave Ramsey earlier, a solid exploration through the land of personal finance. While Ramsey stays very practical in his suggestions, Alcorn’s guide is infused with examples from Scripture, attempting to answer the question of “How should a Christian steward their resources”. Anyone entering the adult world would do well to read Alcorn’s book.
(43) The Pilgrim’s Regress – C.S. Lewis
(44) Total Power: A Mitch Rapp Novel – Kyle Mills
(45) Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court – Mollie Hemingway & Carrie Severino
For those who know my story, you’ll probably recognize that this book was emotionally challenging for me to read through. Watching the Kavanaugh confirmation unfold live was an emotional rollercoaster for me. Getting an even further look inside this contentious fight brought back many unpleasant memories, but I am thankful for the detail that Hemingway and Severino bring to this, and the hope for the future that this accounting inspired.
(49) Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness – Joshua D. Hawley
Perhaps one the more academically dense books, Hawley (now the junior Senator from Missouri), details the political, social and religious influences that shaped the ideology of President Teddy Roosevelt. Going from a wealthy New York family to a frontiersman to one of the most vibrant politicians our nation has seen, Hawley does an incredible job highlight the depth of Roosevelt’s character and background, and in the process, demonstrates just how significant the influences around us can be.
(50) They’re Not Listening: How the Elites Created the National Populist Revolution – Ryan James Girdusky & Harlan Hill
If you’re looking for a book that captures that anti-elitist mindset that has swept through many nations recently, few do better than Ryan and Harlan here. They manage to capture not only the current weight, but the building storm of the past half century that has built towards this environment. One of the best books capturing modern political trends.
I am currently reading the 51st book for work, listed here below. As mentioned I also added 4 additional books to round this out to a solid 55 books on the year. Excited to read these as well.
(51) Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs – John Doerr
(52) Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers – Dane Ortlund
(53) The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation – Rod Dreher
(54) The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite – Michael Lind
(55) Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King – Matthew W. Bates
If I had to choose just three to recommend to you to consider reading in 2021, I would probably go with Justice on Trial, All the Shah’s Men, and The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. However, do not be mistaken, I loved many of these books and found the time spent exploring them very much worth it.
As for 2021, I think I am going to scale it back just a little bit. My pace was about four and a half books per month. I’m planning on doing about 3 books per month in 2021, which totals to 36 books. Would love any recommendations you have! Please drop them in the comments.