Posted by: John Adams | January 2, 2008

The Five Best Books I Read Last Year

I start many books and finish few. Here’s a look at what kept me engaged from cover to cover in ’07:

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Chesterton’s brilliant apologetic for the Christian faith turns out to be a wild ride, enchanting the reader with fairy-tales, confounding him with paradoxes, and dizzying him with clever turns of phrase as it bumps along toward its cheerful conclusion: “I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

William Hitchcock, The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent 1945 to the Present
I approach works of history with caution–they are rarely engaging, and often tedious. Hitchcock’s history of postwar Europe, however, reads like a novel. Stories like the Berlin airlift (when the Allies had to fly food and supplies into Berlin, which was besieged on every side by Soviet forces), the student revolts of May ’68, the formation of the EU, and Europe’s paralysis in dealing with genocide in Bosnia during the 90’s all come to life through Hitchcock’s effortless prose, which always seems to shade the stories in with just the right details. Whether you choose to read this book will most likely depend upon your level of interest in Europe; if you are interested, this is a fantastic place to start.

Jesus Land by Julia ScheeresJulia Scheeres, Jesus Land: A Memoir
Conservative Christianity has at times had a dark underbelly, and Julia Scheeres explores it in detail through her intensely sad memoir. She begins with her Calvinist upbringing in rural Indiana, where she is the only biological child of two pious but disengaged parents, who are unaware that her adopted brother is sexually abusing her. To escape her misery, Scheeres starts having sex with her boyfriend. Her parents soon find out and react by shipping her off to a reform school in the Dominican Republic. The abuse there rivals anything she has experienced at home–at one point, a 13-year-old is thrown into a boxing ring with a counselor in order to pay for his rebellious attitude. The book chronicles the slow evaporation of Scheeres’ faith as she and other students are subjected to verbal, physical, and spiritual abuse. While this book will disturb anyone who remains a committed Christian, it is important in that it reveals the power of religion to manipulate otherwise reasonable people into committing horrific abuse.

Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization
Who knew that such a small island could be the hinge between classical antiquity and the Renaissance? This book chronicles Ireland’s role in the preservation of Western civilization. After being converted to Christianity by St. Patrick in the sixth century, Ireland became a monastic center and an unlikely major player in history. While the Irish may have saved civilization, they didn’t seem to have the slightest notion of what they were doing–the dragon fantasies and love-poems scribbled into the margins make for the most amusing reading in the whole book.

Living as an Ordinary Radical

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
This is the book I would give anyone eager to know what the Spirit is saying to our generation. While this book is not a memoir, per se, it deftly follows Claiborne’s transformation from prom king and Bible-belt evangelical to an “ordinary radical” intentionally inhabiting one of Philadelphia’s grittiest neighborhoods. The Gospel, Claiborne says, is a radical call to embody Jesus’ kingdom message in the most broken places of society, loving those the world has forgotten. Claiborne embraces this calling with verve — whether he is standing up for the rights of the homeless in Philadelphia, washing the wounds of lepers in Calcutta, traveling to Baghdad to stand in solidarity with victims of American shelling in Iraq, or penning letters to death-row inmate Timothy McVeigh, attempting to tell him that he is created in God’s image and is still loved by his Creator. While Claiborne’s political, social, and theological views tilt left and will not be shared by all readers, I guarantee you that you will not be able to put this book down without the sense that you are only beginning to understand the Gospel.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and SpiritualityThis follow-up to Velvet Elvis makes the Christian take on sexuality relevant, understandable, and even appealing.
  • Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson — Those on death’s doorstep can tell you what is most important in life. A short, accessible summary of the most important things to learn before it’s too late.
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    Responses

    1. That europe book sounds fascinating. I’m borrowing your Anne Lamott book right now, I’ll borrow that one afterwards.

      Miss you guys, hope everything is going well in Haiti

    2. …what the french toast..only you would know what John! 🙂 But thank you! Update, I need something to read!

    3. Hey if you’re a fan of Shane Claiborne and his book, then you should really check out the Another World is Possible DVD series. It’s a multimedia project by Shane Claiborne and Jamie Moffett (co-founders of the Simple Way) that emerged in response to their belief that things are not right in the world, and that they don’t have to stay that way. There are three DVD’s, one on war, one on poverty, and one on creation. You can find out more about them at http://www.awip.us.


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