The Ten Best Books I Read This Year

Five perspective-changers, three shattering bios, one memoir on work & creativity, and a classic novel.

In my previous article, Ten Great Books I Read This Year, I wrote about 11-20 on my top 20 list. Now, for the ten best.

As with the previous list, these books met three criteria:

  1. They taught me (nonfiction) or made me feel something (fiction)
  2. They were well written
  3. They were compelling to read

In addition, the books in today’s list rose to the top because

  • They stuck with me long after I read them. I will refer back to them regularly (nonfiction) and remember them fondly (fiction) for many years.

As before, these are in no particular order.

Here are the other articles in this series:

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

by Robert Kolker

An Air Force family in Colorado Springs had 12 kids from 1945-1965. Six of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia. (Yes, six of twelve!)

The family drama and the whodunit-level search for a cause are riveting. Everyone who’s read this book has the same reaction, “Can you even believe what happened in that family?!” The family drama and the whodunit-level search for a cause are riveting.

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

by Frances FitzGerald

If I had to pick a #1 book for the year, this would be it. Thorough, exhaustive, and compelling, FitzGerald focuses her reporter’s eye on one of the most important, but least understood movements in U.S. history – even by those, like me, who are in it.

If you want a deep dive into the religious, political, spiritual, and cultural ingredients that have created today’s evangelical church, and how we fit (and don’t fit) into American life, this is essential reading. But be aware, in addition to its table-thumping size (752 tightly written pages) it takes an unvarnished, but fair-minded journalistic look at the good, the bad, and everything in between.

A Life of Favor: A Family Therapist Examines the Story of Joseph and His Brothers

by Rabbi Russell Resnik

One of my big surprises of the year. I promised the friend who gave it to me that I would read it, otherwise it would not have triggered my interest. And I’m so glad I did. This short book has a wealth of new (to me) information about this familiar biblical narrative.

I’ll never read or teach about Joseph (or Jacob) the same way again. From his background in family therapy to his knowledge of Jewish teaching and tradition, Resnik delighted and surprised me over and over.

The God Ask: A Fresh, Biblical Approach to Personal Support Raising

by Steve Shadrach

Another recommendation from another friend. And another reason to be grateful for the friends I have.

In 2024, my ministry’s mandate of Helping Small Churches Thrive will enter a big, new phase, starting with a massive project. You’ll hear more about it as 2023 progresses, but to do the massive task ahead we’ll need to partner with a lot of people, amass a huge amount of resources, and raise a bunch of funds to help as many small churches as possible. The God Ask is a roadmap to building a team and raising support in ways that are biblical, inviting, and exciting.

Can This Work In a Small Church? is now The Church Lobby: Conversations on Faith & Ministry. Great interviews with an emphasis on the small-church perspective, every two weeks. Wherever you listen to podcasts.

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing

by Robert A. Caro

Robert A. Caro has won two Pulitzer Prizes for biographies. He started writing a multi-volume set on Lyndon Johnson (one volume of which won him his second Pulitzer) in 1982, and he’s still working to complete volume five. Working is Caro’s memoir, detailing the long, but brilliant writing process that has made him one of our most-lauded biographers. A highly recommended book for anyone interested in creativity and communication.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

by Robert A. Caro

Caro’s first Pulitzer was for this book, widely considered one of the greatest biographies ever written. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s a monster. 1246 pages! But it flies by.

So, who is its subject, Robert Moses? From the 1920s to the 1970s he was the architect of urban planning in New York city and state. At one point he held 12 titles at the same time for the commissions and public authorities that built bridges, parks, highways, pools, tunnels, public housing, streets and more. If it was built in, around, through, from, or to New York City, Robert Moses is the one to thank (or blame) for it.

This biography is a master work about ambition, power, and the obsession to solve massive problems and build great monuments – and the dark shadows such ambition leaves behind.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

As an extreme introvert I’m always looking for ways to explain how I can love people so deeply, but sometimes dread the events that require me to spend time with them. If you’re like me, or if you have someone in your life like me, this book will help. A lot.

Introverts are about one-third of the population, but you wouldn’t know it because the business and church worlds tend to reward our noisy friends. This book will help introverts understand ourselves and build on our strengths, while it can help the extraverts in our lives be less frustrated by us, and work better with us – if we can ever get those extraverts to sit down long enough to read an entire book, that is.

Ending Human Trafficking: A Handbook of Strategies for the Church Today

by Shayne Moore, Sandra Morgan, Kimberly McOwen Yim

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the issue of human trafficking – what it is, what it isn’t, and how to stop it. Plus, there’s way too much unintentional harm (including re-exploiting and re-victimizing) being done by well-intentioned groups trying to help victims. The authors of this book take the best, most balanced, biblical approach I’ve ever seen.

It’s practical, sober-minded, and detailed. If this issue matters to you at all, this book is a must-read. (Click here to listen to my interview with one of the authors, Dr. Sandra Morgan.)

My Name Is Asher Lev

by Chaim Potok

An emotional gut punch. This novel of a Hasidic boy discovering his artistic talent, and how it comes into unintentional conflict with his family of origin, is an important and tender look at the issues of family, faith, creativity, and more. Written in 1972, it has held up amazingly well since then, like the true classic that it is.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

by Loung Ung

A hard read. But ultimately a hopeful one. This true story of one family’s struggle through the turmoil of the 1970’s Cambodian genocide and the horror of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army is one that will stay with you long after reading it.

What Did You Read This Year?

Did you read any of these?

Did you read any other books you loved?

Let me know in the comments, below. Or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

(Disclosure: I will receive a small percent of the purchase price of any books you buy through clicking the Amazon links in the article.)

Got questions or comments? Use the comment section, below.

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