2012 was a pretty good year for readers. While my reading has had to slow down compared to what it was a few years ago, I still made my way through quite a long list of books. Today I want to share some of my top picks from the year that is almost over. Let me offer the two usual caveats from my year-end roundups: First, these are almost certainly not the 7 best books of 2012 in any objective sense; Rather, they are my favorites. Second, these are not necessarily books written in 2012, but books I read in 2012. And maybe I should add a third: at the request of several readers I am posting this list before the end of the year because some people would like to refer to it as they do their Christmas shopping.
Here they are, in no particular order:
The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
[my review] Mohler begins the book with this challenge to both himself and the reader: “My goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one more voice to the conversation; I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.” He aims high, but then actually accomplishes what he sets out to do. His core message of the value of “convictional leadership” moves the leadership discussion far beyond the usual pragmatics and grounds it first in Scripture. [Buy it at Amazon]
Eyes Wide Open by Steve DeWitt
[my review] Here is a book that arrived with little fanfare and was even published by a very small publisher. Yet it is a brilliant book that is utterly captivating. DeWitt focuses on beauty and how we can enjoy God in everything. Yes, everything. He wants Christians to enjoy beauty and joy and wonder and to allow each of these things to lead us to the source of all that is good, true and beautiful. This short quote lies right at the heart of the book: “Beauty was created by God for a purpose: to give us the experience of wonder. And wonder, in turn, is intended to lead us to the ultimate human expression and privilege: worship. Beauty is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.” [Buy it at Amazon]
The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon
[my review] Here is a book that begins with a very simple premise: that when Jesus told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves” he may just have been referring to our literal neighbors, as in the people who live right around us. Many Christians have made “neighbor” into a safe metaphor that allows us to love people who are far easier to love and far more conveniently placed than the people next door. But these authors don’t let the reader get away with that. Instead, they focus on being good neighbors, on taking seriously the second great commandment. I found the book a helpful and well-timed challenge. [Buy it at Amazon]
Truman by David McCullough
For years I’ve been hearing great things about McCullough’s massive biography of Harry Truman. In 2012 I saved up enough Audible credits to download it and listen to it. It was every bit as good as I had heard. I’ve long admired McCullough as a writer and biographer and am now convinced that Truman is his best work. It is very long–over 50 hours of listening and over 1,000 pages of reading–but it moves along briskly. Truman is one of those characters who is easy to overlook, but who played a critical role in bridging from the world of the Second World War to the world we know today. He is a very normal, small-town kind of guy who is very likeable and easy to relate to. I found myself almost happy to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic just so I could listen for a bit longer. [Buy it at Amazon]
Grieving, Hope and Solace by Albert Martin
[my review] I guess I need to begin with the caveat that I had a hand in publishing this book (as a co-founder of Cruciform Press). Still, I regard it as one of my favorite reads of 2012. Albert Martin writes about the loss of his wife of 48 years. “Although in many ways she had been taken from me incrementally during her battle with that wretched disease, the reality of the finality of death and the radical separation it effects swept over me. A few moments later, as I picked up her lifeless body, I found myself asking the question—What precisely has just happened to Marilyn? What has she experienced, and what is she experiencing now? Immediately I knew that if I would grieve as I ought, I had to be able to answer that question out of the Scriptures with absolute certainty.” He searches for and soon finds answers to these questions and records them in this powerful, emotional book. [Buy it at Amazon]
Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
[my review] I think every book reviewer delights in finding unexpectedly excellent books that come from a little bit off the beaten path. Such was the case with Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. It arrived largely unheralded but very quickly captivated me. As I wrote in my review, “After ten pages I was hooked, after twenty I was reeling and after fifty I knew I would have to go back and read it all again.” Though we hardly suffer a shortage of books on the Trinity, this one takes a slightly different angle from many others. Instead of focusing on the doctrine, it focuses on the persons and their relationship. Reeves grounds all of Christian doctrine right here in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a brilliant book that merits repeated readings. [Buy it at Amazon]
A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White
Lincoln has long been a fascinating character to me and I’ve read several major biographies of his life. This one by Ronald White is probably now my favorite. It would be easy to make a biography of Lincoln too long and too dense, but White’s is just a perfect combination of depth and liveliness. Even though it is 800 pages, it goes by quickly and never bogs down. Whether you love Lincoln or hate him, there is no denying that he is one of history’s most fascinating leaders and one of America’s most important leaders. For those reasons alone he is worth knowing. [Buy it at Amazon]
Let me also provide a few honorable mentions, including a few novels:
- Elizabeth the Queen – A fascinating life of Queen Elizabeth 2.
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – my review pretty much sums it up.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a very dark and moving novel set in the Second World War.
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – this one just drew me in and kept me there until it was done.
- Columbine by Dave Cullen – the truth behind that dark day.
- True Grit by Charles Portis – the version read by Donna Tartt has to be my favorite audiobook ever.