Thursday, December 29, 2016

Favorite Reads in 2016

I had time to read (and listen to on Libre Vox) a lot of books this year, about eighty in all. Here by category are my favorite thirty five or so reads (or listens) of 2016 with a brief word about each:
    History and Historical Novels:
  • Tried by Fire (William Bennett): Very readable accounts of the martyrdoms suffered by early Christians. Bennett's excellent book reads like a novel.
  • The Swerve (Steven Greenblatt): Fascinating, rambling story of the discovery in the 15th century of a manuscript of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things by an Italian humanist named Poggio Bracciolini.
  • Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator (Robert Harris): A masterful trilogy of historical novels on the life of the 1st century B.C. Roman orator and politician Cicero.
  • Pompeii (Robert Harris): A historical novel describing the life and times of the people caught in the destruction wrought by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
  • Victorian Internet (Tom Standage): A very interesting account of the invention and subsequent development of the telegraph in the 19th century.
  • Killing the Rising Sun (Bill O'Reilley and Martin Dugard): A riveting telling of the war against Japan from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender.
  • Too Big to Fail (Andrew Ross Sorkin): The behind-the-scenes history of the financial collapse of 2008.
  • The Wright Brothers (David McCullough): The story of the development of powered flight by two genius bicycle mechanics told by a master of historical narrative.
  • Night (Elie Weisel): Weisel just recently passed on. His story of his experience in the Nazi camps is powerful, heartbreaking, and crucially important.
  • Luther the Reformer (James Kittleson), The Reformation of the 16th Century (Roland Bainton), Here I Stand (Roland Bainton): I read these three books (and several others) in preparation for taking a tour of Germany's historical sites of the Reformation last summer. These three were especially helpful.

  • Science:
  • Fire-Maker (Michael Denton): Denton lays out the importance of fire to human civilization and how our world and our bodies appear to be exquisitely adapted to make use of fire. There's an amazing amount of information in this brief book that I suspect most people never would've thought about. I know I hadn't.
  • Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Michael Denton): Denton explains why the Darwinian functionalist view of evolution is at odds with the evidence.
  • A Fortunate Universe (Lewis Geraint and Luke Barnes): Two cosmologists explore the fine-tuning of the universe.
  • The Kingdom of Speech (Tom Wolfe): A work of science history that reads like a novel. Wolfe recounts, in his famously humorous style, the attempts to explain human speech in terms of Darwinian evolution and how those attempts have failed.

  • Philosophy and Theology:
  • Studies in Pessimism (Arthur Schopenhauer): An atheist philosopher explains why an atheistic worldview leads to very bleak conclusions about life.
  • The Antichrist, Genealogy of Morals, Ecce Homo (Friedrich Nietzsche): These are all books I've read before, but reread because I wanted to refresh my acquaintance with Nietzsche's thinking.
  • Kierkegaard: A Single Life (Stephen Backhouse); A very readable biography of "The Melancholy Dane." Backhouse focuses more on Kierkegaard's relationships than with his philosophy and theology.
  • Making Sense of God (Tim Keller): An excellent introduction to Christian apologetics. Written for the serious doubter/agnostic, it makes a nice companion to Keller's earlier Reason for God.
  • New Proofs for the Existence of God (Fr. Robert Spitzer): Spitzer, a Roman Catholic priest, puts new twists on some of the classic arguments for God's existence.
  • Taking Pascal's Wager (Michael Rota): An excellent reformulation of Pascal's Wager as well as a good introduction to the fine-tuning argument, the multiverse objection, Bayesian probability, and much else.

  • Novels:
  • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr): A lovely story of a blind girl and her father in France during WWII.
  • Name of the Rose (Humberto Eco): There may be no novelist in the world a greater polymath than Eco. His story is a murder mystery set in medieval times in a monastery.
  • Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): Listened to this and the five books following on audio. If you like Victorian romantic fiction and elegant writing you'll like P&P.
  • Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens): A charming story with lots of unforgettable characters of the sort for which Dickens is famous.
  • Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens): This and the next two novels are my three favorite novels ever. I listened to them again this year while walking because every time I read them I get something new from them. They're not easy reading, but they certainly repay the effort the reader puts into them.
  • The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  • Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyitch (Leo Tolstoy): An excellent "sermon" on the vanity and pointlessness of so much upon which we place importance in life. Should be required reading.

  • Miscellaneous:
  • 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know (Terry Glaspey): Very good introduction to 75 of the most famous works of art, literature and music. Each work carries a transcendent message.
  • Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder (Claudia Kalb): Fascinating biographies of a dozen or so famous people from Lincoln to Einstein to Princess Diana and the particular neuroses and other mental illnesses from which they suffered.
I started writing this post with the intention of listing only my top ten favorite books but quickly realized I couldn't pick just ten. Even expanding to three dozen required me to omit some I would've liked to include.

In any case, I doubt that 2017 will afford as much time to read, but even so, if anyone has a suggestion for a good book don't hesitate to pass it on.