My 2011 recaps ends here, with my list of the best books I read in 2011. I read 42 books, of vast variety–some old, some new, some fiction, mostly nonfiction–many of which were in some way research for the book I am currently writing. About half were for no other purpose than pleasure. Here are my picks for the ones that stood out the most:
10) Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins: A very thought provoking, biblically informed and fair assessment of a timely and important question. See also this Christianity Today story on the topic of the historical Adam.
9) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: For some reason the movie version looks terrible to me, but I enjoyed the book, which is lively, creative, unexpected and, in the end, a requisite bit of post-9/11 American literature.
8) Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson: Anderson’s first book is a comprehensive but accessible theology of the body, covering plenty of controversial ground (tattoos, homosexuality, etc.) but doing so with impressive eloquence and erudite insights. The book is a welcome contribution to a very neglected but vital topic for evangelicals.
7) Walking in the Spirit by Ken Berding: Berding’s book is a quick read and offers a practical, biblical, wise guide to life in the Holy Spirit, as outlined in Romans 8. Filled with real-life examples and engaging personal stories, Spirit recalibrates our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, providing an invaluable corrective to many of us who have either ignored, forgotten, or misunderstood the role of the Spirit in the Christian life.
6) A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester: As a lover of Jesus and a lover of food, I was in heaven reading this book, which combines the two. Chester sketches a sort of theology of eating (missionally, with hospitality, etc.) by taking us through the biblical instances of eating–particularly the many “eating scenes” of Jesus in the Gospels. A delightful read.
5) Last Call by Daniel Okrent: Between Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition, Boardwalk Empire, and the speakeasy bar craze, it seems Prohibition is en vogue right now. Okrent’s book is a fascinating history of it, full of all sorts of great details about how the Volstead Act came to pass, what life was like during Prohibition, and what led to its demise. A must read for anyone curious about American history during the Prohibition years.
4) On Evil by Terry Eagleton: Aside from the occasional cable news talking head who refer to terrorists or serial killers as such, “evil” is not a word you hear much anymore. That’s why Eagleton’s treatise on the subject–a witty, sharp, characteristically well written argument that yes, evil exists–is so surprising and refreshing. Eagleton is not a Christian apologist (he’s a Marxist literary critic, albeit with a penchant for calling B.S. on people like Richard Dawkins), but his book on evil would be a helpful addition to any theologian’s library.
3) King’s Cross by Tim Keller: Keller is as reliable as they come. He’s a rock-solid biblical expositor, pastor, writer, and all around exemplary Christian, and his latest–King’s Cross–is a wonderful read. Refreshingly straightforward–essentially a chapter-by-chapter exposition of the Gospel of Mark–Cross is a biography of Jesus Christ that brings the story to life in a way that is relevant and powerful without feeling opportunistic or agenda-driven.
2) Columbine by Dave Cullen: The most haunting and intense book I read this year. A true page-turner, Cullen’s book is the definitive account of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Massively detailed–part psychological portrait of the killers, part harrowing account of the massacre itself as compiled from a decade’s worth of research and interviews–Columbine is a modern day In Cold Blood. It dispels many myths (the Trench Coat Mafia, Cassie “She Said Yes” Bernall’s martyrdom, etc.) and in 400 pages offers more detail about the killers and victims than any of us every picked up through the media coverage. For anyone who remembers watching the Columbine massacre unfold live on T.V. that horrible day (as I do–I was a sophomore in high school), this book is essential reading.
1) Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright: Subtitled “A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters,” N.T. Wright’s latest (his 2nd or 3rd book to come out in 2011, I can’t keep track) is a wonderfully concise, popular-level summary of his 1996 magnum opus, Jesus and the Victory of God. As he typically does, Wright tells the story of Jesus in a way that makes it seem fresh and thrilling, even for someone who’s been a Jesus follower their whole life. Wright is the rare academic star who is also a wonderful writer–accessible, witty, to-the-point, full of apt metaphors and imagery (his “storm” motif in this book is especially memorable). His books are incredibly meaty and rich, but not intimidating, full of historical insights and big-picture context. Simply Jesus is a grandiose, inspiring, fascinating book about Jesus that I’d eagerly lend to even my most skeptical of unbelieving friends.
Honorable Mention: For Calvinism by Michael Horton, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk, Art For God’s Sake by Philip Ryken, Everyday Theology edited by Kevin Vanhoozer, Rabbit Run by John Updike