Every year, I offer ten titles as a suggested summer reading list. These are books that I have either read over the past year or plan to read myself over the summer. Most are brand new. A few, here and there, may be older works that I’m only now discovering myself. They are a blend of history, fiction, biography and more. Since we’re past Memorial Day, and many of you have already been asking when this annual offering will be, well, offered, here you go - in alphabetical order by author:
Anderson, Chris. Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. If there is a true public university, it’s the online depository of TED talks. A good talk educates (and influences) more people than any other message currently offered in the public sphere. So what makes a good one? Anyone interested in communication should want to know. This book, written by TED’s president, breaks it down.
Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. I first ran across this book while browsing in a Waterstone’s off of Trafalgar Square in London. I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of the best single-volume histories of Rome you’ll own that offers more than a few twists and turns. As the jacket invites: “Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even two thousand years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, and beauty.” (SPQR is the abbreviation for “The Senate and People of Rome”)
Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. I came to this novel a little late – as in, after it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. It deserved them both. It doesn’t matter whether its subject doesn’t seem like your cup of tea (a blind French girl, a German boy, leading parallel lives in World War II). This is beautiful writing that can’t be put down. It’s said it took the author ten years to write it. I believe it. Every sentence is a jewel.
Duhigg, Charles. Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. If you read Duhigg’s first book, the bestselling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, and liked it, then add this to your reading list. It’s another good entry into the genre Malcolm Gladwell seemed to invent of late – a gathering of good data, studies, stories and ideas to chase a curious writer’s question. This journey will take you to a group of data scientists at Google, Saturday Night Live, the Marine Corps, and the filmmakers behind Disney’s Frozen. Duhigg suggests eight key concepts that explain why some people and companies get so much done. It’s an interesting read.
Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. I’ve not read Grant’s earlier bestselling book, Give and Take (at least not yet), but this one caught my eye. It’s about how we can “champion our best ideas – and how leaders can encourage others to think differently and speak up.” Though I’ve not finished this as yet, here’s the jacket blurb that caught my eye: “Using surprising studies and stories spanning the worlds of business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant debunks the common belief that successful non-conformists are born leaders who boldly embrace risk. Originals explains how anyone can spot opportunity for change.” Sounds like it might prove to be time well spent digging in.
Holmes, Kim R. The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left. This book first caught my eye through a review in the Wall Street Journal. The title of the review was “Progressivism’s Macroaggressions” with the following subline: “The goal of postmodern progressives isn’t universal truth, but power, which is presented in the guise of equality and social justice.” Now that’s a tweet. Holmes is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and currently a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The gist of the book is that liberalism is becoming its opposite – illiberalism; abandoning the precepts of open-mindedness and respect for individual rights, liberties, and the rule of law upon which the country was founded. Instead, “Liberalism is becoming an intolerant, rigidly dogmatic ideology that abhors dissent and stifles free speech.” The result is a “closing of the American liberal mind.” This is an important book, as it details a very disturbing ideology that is increasingly dominating our culture.
Iggulden, Conn. Wars of the Roses: Bloodline. It’s no secret that historical fiction is a weakness of mine, and Iggulden is one of its masters. He has already devoted a series to Genghis Khan, and then to Caesar (both series well worth devouring). This is his third installment to his series on the War of the Roses. Last summer, I recommended his second installment. I am ready for this, his third.
Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. When Breath Becomes Air is his story and chronicles his move toward faith in the process. A review in the New York Times said, “Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” He died in March 2015.
Taunton, Larry Alex. The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. Christopher Hitchens, called one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism, was a complex and fascinating figure. Taunton, a Christian and a friend, writes of his faith with some surprising insights and conclusions.
Winkler, Heinrich August. The Age of Catastrophe: A History of the West 1914-1945. It would be difficult to pick a more nightmarish era in the history of the West than the period between 1914 and 1945. Winkler, a German scholar (here translated by Stewart Spencer), examines, “How and why Germany so radically broke with the normative project of the West and unleashed devastation across the world.” But this book is about far more than Germany. Winkler blends “historical narrative with political analysis and encompasses military strategy, national identity, class conflict, economic development and cultural change.” There are chapters on the United States, Japan, Russian, Britain and the other European powers. This is a compelling and important historical narrative.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.