Each year around this time, I offer ten new (or relatively new) titles - in no particular order - for your summer reading consideration. Enjoy.
Arminian Theology by Roger Olson. Whether you are a Calvinist, Arminian, or a desperate “Calminian,” Olson brings a much-needed treatment of Arminian thought that breaks through the caricatures and stereotypes that abound on both sides. It fills a much-needed gap in contemporary theological literature, and is fast becoming required reading in seminary classrooms around the world. It has certainly become required in mine.
The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. In 2002, Jenkins altered the thinking of many with his book The Next Christendom, which brought to attention the changing center of gravity for the Christian world – specifically, that it is moving to the global South (to the point that Africa may soon be home to the world’s largest Christian populations). In his most recent book, Jenkins takes us a step further by examining the Christianity of the global South – and his findings, at places encouraging and at others alarming, are critical to grasp on multiple fronts.
Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War by Michael Burleigh. While a 2005 book, it was this year’s release of Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror, the sequel to Earthly Powers, that cemented this recommendation to go back and begin his two-part history. Together they are masterful.
Choose one: Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, or The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The publication of these three books, in the same year, created a minor sensation – not so much for the return of atheism from its twilight, as much as the passionate case against religion in all forms, and particularly Christianity. All three strike the same notes, but Hitchens is the best writer.
Dissolution (a novel of Tudor England) by C.J. Sansom. Though first published in 2003, it was this year’s release of the third “Matthew Shardlake mystery”, Sovereign (which followed the second installment, Dark Fire) that has put Sansom in my must-read novelist category, along with such luminaries as P.D. James. Indeed, James wrote the following of Sansom’s inaugural effort: “The historical detective story must be one of the most difficult novels in the genre to write, requiring as it does a detailed and scholarly knowledge of the period, the ability to bring it alive for the modern reader and the talent to provide a credible and exciting plot and a solution which is intellectually satisfying. With Dissolution, C.J. Sansom fulfils all these criteria. The sights, the voices, the very smell of this turbulent age seem to rise from the page. With his remarkable debut, C.J. Sansom can lay claim to a place among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Though the seventh and final installment is yet to be released (July 21, to be exact), when it does, it will be well-worth reading. Though some would disagree, I am one to put Rowling’s work in the camp of fantasy literature, along with Lewis and Tolkien, with her use of magic more mechanical than occultic. I found her earlier six volumes instant classics of the genre, and the final book will undoubtedly cement this series as among the best written.
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. Easily one of the more celebrated biographies of the past year, it is an important read on two levels: first, for the biography of Einstein himself, but second, to understand the explosion of modern science on the contemporary cultural scene. For this reason, I would recommend adding the just-released The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier (science writer for The New York Times) which, while rooted in secular thinking, offers one of the most accessible windshield tours of current scientific theory.
Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989 by Michael Beschloss. With the breath of fresh air that David McCullough has brought to history (looking not simply to critique, but to inspire), Beschloss examines crucial times in American history when a courageous president changed the future of the United States. Essays examine Washington, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Reagan. Beschloss has been called “the nation’s leading Presidential historian” by Newsweek.
Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero. The divide between America being a deeply religious nation, yet shockingly ignorant about religion itself, is the theme of this work. Prothero fortunately goes beyond mere diagnosis and delves into the history of the divide, and provides some interesting solutions that speak to the importance of religious education in a pluralistic environment.
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. The founding of America is in good hands as Nathaniel Philbrick brings bracing detail to the American story (and often, American myth), involving not only the perspective of the Pilgrims, but the Native Americans they encountered. The names are now legend - William Bradford, Miles Standish, Massasoit, Squanto – but the actual story is often missed. Philbrick delivers that story in a great historical work.
Last Year’s List
The Good Life by Charles Colson.
The Lighthouse by P.D. James.
Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel.
The Narnian by Alan Jacobs.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf.
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington.
The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark.