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The Best Books I Read in 2017

It’s been my habit to post the best books I read in a given year. I decided to not do such a list for 2017 but, much to my surprise, several people have asked for it. I enjoy looking through other people’s end of the year book lists so it only seems fair that I return the favor and post my own.

A few notes…

  1. These books weren’t necessarily published in 2017. It’s just the year I read them.
  2. I don’t read many books that I’d place in the “Christian Living” category. My reading tastes tend toward theology, history, biography, current issues, and novels.
  3. My criteria are very subjective. I enjoy well written books that teach, challenge, or entertain me.

These were my favorite books in 2017:

The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer 
by Chris Myers Asch

United States Senator James Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer lived a few miles apart in the Mississippi Delta but were on the opposite side of the power divide. But Ms. Hamer would lead a delegation to the 1964 Democratic convention and face down President Johnson, Vice-President Humphry, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover thus bringing an end to the Mississippi championed by the Senator.

The Short and Very Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League 
by Jeff Hobbs

Robert Peace’s parents made great sacrifices, including sending him to a private school, to help their son get out of their gang and drug-infested neighborhood. But the problems of Newark followed him to Yale. Scholarships, education, and intelligence have limits.

Silence: A Novel 
by Shusaku Endo

This book was turned into a film by Martin Scorsese. Based on historical events, Endo tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century. They encounter a country largely hostile to their faith deviously persecuting Christians. Is it loving to deny Jesus to end the suffering of others? There are no easy answers.

The Godfather 
by Mario Puzo

As one who has never seen the movie nor read the book, I know I’m late to the party. Telling the story of the Corleone family in New York and Sicily, Puzo does a masterful job developing characters and explaining human nature. Be aware that there is a fair amount of sex and violence.

The Remains of the Day 
by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book too was made into a movie (1993) that I haven’t seen. (You can see a theme: I don’t watch many movies.) It tells the story of Stevens, a butler at Darlington Hall in London. While driving to see an old colleague, he reflects on his thirty years of service especially the conversations he heard in the lead up to World War 2.

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between 
by Gregory Koukl

Everyone lives their life in the context of a story that they believe about the world. Koukl explains that Christianity is not only a true story, but also an attractive story that fulfills all we long for.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic 
by Sam Quinones

In a compelling narrative, the author shows the collision between the black tar heroin produced in Mexico and the over-prescription of opioids to the American public. Big Pharma meets illegal entrepreneurs leading to a national crisis.

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life by Ed Shaw, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles, A Better Story: God, Sex And Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison.

The first two books are written by men who describe themselves as celibate gay Christians seeking to follow Jesus. They help the church understand their particular struggles and explain what the church needs to change to show compassion and offer real Christian love and assistance. Harrison shows us that Christianity has a better story that makes sex far more meaningful.

Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross 
by Michael Gorman

Easily the most convicting book I read this year. Gorman shows that Paul’s spirituality imitated the downwardly mobile, self-sacrificing Savior.

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You 
by Tony Reinke

All of us acknowledge that the smartphone has made life simpler and more convenient. But is it changing the way we think, work, and interact? Are we addicted to distraction? Avoiding scare tactics, Reinke challenges us to use our phones wisely. Parents: This book is for you first and only then is it for your kids.

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ 
by Andrew Klavan

Klavan was a successful author whose books were bring turned into movies (True Crime and Don’t Say A Word). But this self-described secular Jew found that his happiness in life led him to an unexpected person—Jesus.

Hellbound On His Trail and Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission both by Hampton Sides

James Earl Ray escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City and began a long cross-country trek that led him to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Sides follows both men leading up to the fateful day and then the authorities as they track down the killer. Ghost Soldiers recounts the harrowing rescue of POWs after the Bataan Death March in World War 2.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols and The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas  by Daniel Drezner

Our nation is in a populist moment rejecting experts and favoring the information available on Wikipedia, WebMD, or a TED talk. These books explain the drawbacks of marginalizing the intellectuals.

Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? 
by Michael Wittmer

Many Christians wrongly think that being committed to Jesus entails not enjoying your life on earth. Wittmer shows that’s not only unbiblical, but also makes Christianity unattractive to our family and friends.

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer 
by William Knoedelseder

Incredibly interesting look at one of the most important businesses in America and how family scandals turned it upside down.

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success 
by Julie Lythcott-Haimes

In the age of the helicopter parent, the author, a former Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford, explains how often with the best of intentions parents keep their kids from becoming an adult.

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back 
by Elizabeth Rosenthal

Rosenthal looks at healthcare through the eyes of insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and others as she answers the question, “Why do health costs continue to soar?”

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels 
by N. T. Wright

If you grew up in church you might think Jesus came to die on the cross so that we can go to heaven. While there’s truth in that statement, it’s, at best, incomplete. Jesus is a new kind of king who comes to reign over his kingdom.

The Gospel according to Luke 
by James Edwards

I enjoy reading through a commentary in my devotional time. Let me explain because it’s not as weird as it sounds. I start by praying for God to open my eyes to understand and believe his word. Then I read the passage in the Bible picking up wherever I left off the day before. After that I read a few pages of the commentary that covers the verses I just finished reading. Finally, I write down a few things in my journal. What I love about Edwards commentary on Luke is that he covers weighty topics but in a very accessible way.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant 
by Ronald White

The Grant I learned about in high school history class was the wild general turned alcoholic and largely failed president. But based on new material Grant’s image is undergoing a much-needed rehabilitation. The Union may not have won the War Between the States apart from Grant’s leadership and military prowess. Once in office, Grant supported Reconstruction and fiercely opposed the first iteration of the Klan.

How the Right Lost Its Mind 
by Charles Sykes

For 23 years the author was a conservative radio host in Wisconsin who grew disillusioned by where the Republican Party headed in the 2016 election.

Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be 
by Christopher Ash

I’m usually not a fan of marriage books but this one is worth your time, although it’s not quite as good as The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller.