Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, is now behind us. That means it’s time for my annual summer reading list (you can find last year’s list HERE).
Usually these are the top 10 books that I have either read over the past year or are at the top of my list to read over the summer. Most of the time they are new books, with perhaps a few older works that I have newly discovered myself. Occasionally I offer a classic that I decided (or have decided) to re-read. As an eclectic reader, they tend to be a blend of history, fiction, biography, current events, science and more.
Beaty, Katelyn. Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church. Talk about the right book, written by the right person, released at just the right time… this was it. I have long enjoyed Beaty’s writing, and this brought her keen eye for perspective and analysis to bear on what has arguably been one of the hottest (and darkest) issues within the evangelical ecosystem.
Freeman, Philip. St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography. Though released in 2004, I just read this excellent work. By far this is the most enjoyable and deservedly sympathetic biography of Patrick I have encountered, and it comes complete with new translations of both his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus and his Confession.
Greene, Joshua M. Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend. This heavily marketed book (e.g., seemingly weekly full-page ads in the New York Times Book Review) caught my attention through, well, its heavy marketing. I wasn’t disappointed. It really is a remarkable and inspiring story. The subtitle says it all.
Heather, Peter. Christendom: The Triumph of a Religion, AD 300-1300. I did not always agree with everything Heather wrote, but I found myself always engaged and impressed. If you enjoy broad-ranging historical surveys as much as I do, this is one of the best. His focus is on the Western or “Latin Christendom” dynamic of Christian history. The story of “conversion,” both genuine and culturally enforced, is explored, though the central theme is the emergence of an “articulated, monolithic religious-cultural structure that had emerged by the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and that then dominated the vast majority of Europe’s varied landscapes and populations until the Reformation.”
Jones, Dan. Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages. Yes, a second major historical tome focused on the Middle Ages. I am becoming a fan of this historian, and this work only accelerated that appreciation. He is able to write significant works of medieval history that are highly accessible and relatable. Translation: it often reads like a novel. He explores the same timeframe of Heather’s work, but instead of focusing solely on the rise of Christianity, he attempts a full history of the Middle Ages. If you want that story told by a master storyteller, this is your work.
Kidd, Thomas S. Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh. Kidd, a professor at Baylor, approaches the life of Jefferson exactly the way the subtitle suggests, and rightly (and needfully) so. Jefferson is a complex and contradictory character, and this work masterfully guides us through his life. Specifically, the three great tensions of his life: democracy versus slavery, republican virtue versus dissolute consumption, and veneration for Jesus versus skepticism about Christianity. This is a biography focusing on Jefferson’s ethical and spiritual life, and as such is superb.
Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (7th Edition). Why highlight an older book, albeit a leadership classic? Because it just came out in a seventh (and yes, needed) edition, which ensures its continued place as perhaps the go-to leadership book of our generation. Based on research, Kouzes and Posner treat leadership the way any leader knows it should be treated: as both a skill to be learned and a relationship to be nurtured.
McKenzie, Thomas. The Anglican Way: A Guidebook. The tragic death of the author of this book, along with his 22-year-old daughter in a 2021 car accident added to its awareness, but I am prayerful that it was for the greater glory of God. It is an exceptional presentation of not only the Anglican approach to ecclesiology and more importantly spirituality, but a tender reveal of the heart of a good and Godly man. One doesn’t have to be an Anglican to learn much from the Anglican “way.”
Smith, Christian, Bridget Ritz and Michael Rotolo. Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America. This work adds impressively to the earlier works of sociologist Christian Smith (formerly at UNC-Chapel Hill, now at Notre Dame). Based on truly groundbreaking research, it reveals that the role of parents in the life of a child is without parallel. That may seem to go without saying, but prior to Smith’s work on the matter, the role of parents (in terms of sociological studies) had largely been ignored. In short, Smith tackles a single question: “How do religious parents in the United States approach the task of passing on their religious faith and practice to their children?” Important sub-questions include whether their efforts matter and which ones matter the most. The answers are clear, and they matter.
Wooding, Lucy. Tudor England: A History. It’s obvious I like all things history, and this year’s list tilts even heavier than normal to significant historical tomes. But that is because there were some really, really good ones released. Wooding’s history of Tudor England is quickly being considered the best history of that era. And that is no small feat, as this period was awash in social, political and religious change.
And One More from the “Shameless Commerce Division”:
White, James Emery. Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age. I truly believe this is one of the most important books I have been given the privilege to write, and I pray faithfully for its ministry. We now live in a post-Christian digital age, and the ramifications for the church are staggering. It involves cultural analysis and practical applications. I hope you will consider it and give it a careful read.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Tom Hermans/Unsplash
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.