I wound up reading 38 books in 2012, not all of them incredibly germane to this blog (ahem, Hunger Games), but I wanted to take a brief glimpse at the ones that affected me most, regardless of whether I’ve mentioned them here already. These aren’t necessarily the best books written in 2012, though a couple do qualify in that regard; rather, these are simply the best books I managed to read last year, in the order in which I read them:
Unfinished Reconciliation: Justice, Racism and Churches of Christ, ed. by Gary Holloway and John York, 2006.
I’ve done a lot of research this year into a side passion of mine, the history of integration at the university where I work/attend classes. This book was born from that research, and it helped reinforce to me how much we are products of our past, no matter how firmly we embrace or reject it. Churches of Christ remain starkly divided on Sunday mornings, a legacy of decades of enforced segregation followed by well-intentioned but poorly executed attempts at reconciliation.
The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns, 2012.
I reviewed this book here, and added some more comments here, here and here. As I wrote in my review, this book is important because “The Evolution of Adam displays a rare degree of scholarly empathy, and all the more striking for how impressive is the scholarship itself. Enns is concerned not just for those seeking a middle ground in the centuries-old war of words between atheists and literalists, but for their children, who get caught in the crossfire and often abandon their faith altogether when they determine they cannot maintain literal interpretations in the face of scientific evidence.”
The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith, 2012.
I mentioned this book here, as well as here (though I badly misinterpret what he means by “liberal” in the second half of the post), and I found it particularly helpful in answering many of the questions raised by Enns. Smith argues for filtering everything we read in the rest of the Bible through a Christocentric lens. He starts by deconstructing what he calls “biblicism,” the notion that the Bible is a handbook for our lives, to be literally applied in every modern situation that arises, from dating to finances to cooking to running a business, containing no errors or contradictions, easily understandable and interpretable by any reader. Such a notion is defeated by “pervasive interpretive pluralism,” which is the fact that many people reading the Bible sincerely have come up with mutually exclusive interpretations of what the Bible says on a whole host of issues. An excellent book for addressing the problems of biblicism and providing a possible solution for those seeking to escape it.
Twelve Clean Pages by Nika Maples, 2011.
I briefly discussed this excellent book here. For those who struggle with the existence of seemingly pointless suffering, Nika’s book is helpful, although it suffers from the common problem of universalizing personal experiences. In other words, she seems to believe that because her experiences led her to a deeper faith and a richer life, the seemingly random tragedy in others’ lives could do the same. On the other hand, her own experiences are compelling and inspiring enough that it’s easy to look past the preaching and marvel at how suffering can indeed strengthen rather than destroy one’s faith.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, 2003.
Not much to say about this one. Just a really fascinating, well-written book.
Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute, 2010.
Originally published in 2000, this is a book about which I was definitely skeptical, written as it is by an institute and assigned for a meeting at work. But it’s message of “getting out of the box” in our relationships with others, colleagues and family alike, is actually quite revelatory. It’s not that it says anything new, per se, but the method of presentation can change your relationships, if you let it.
The San Francisco Earthquake by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, 1971.
Well-written and informative disaster post mortem, written long enough ago that it includes eyewitness interviews, but not so long ago that it avoids criticism of the authoritarian way the military handled the post-earthquake chaos. Well worth a read if you can find it.
A Sunday Between Wars: The Course of American Life from 1865 to 1917 by Ben Maddow, 1979.
This bottom-up history of the period between the Civil War and World War I does not spend a lot of time talking about the usual figures of the era – Rockefeller, Ford, Roosevelt and the like – but rather chronicles the fate of the American Indians, the factory workers and the other “little guys” who pushed back against the American machine of capitalism and imperialism – and usually lost. For those of us who believe government can be a force for justice and fairness, this is a sober reminder of how recently it most certainly was not, and how careful we should be to avoid letting the pseudolibertarian fantasies of the far right return our society to such an uncompassionate era.
How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright, 2012.
I’ll review this book more in depth in the coming weeks, but wow, is it good. The best book I read in 2012, I believe.
The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam by Sidney H. Griffith, 2010.
I would not recommend this book for light reading; it’s a scholarly work, and it’s densely written, not to mention frustrating for its unconcern with narrative flow. But the story it tells, almost in spite of itself, is both compelling and important, as it recounts the hundreds of years immediately after the Muslim invasions of the Middle East and North Africa. In those centuries before the Crusades, Christians and Muslims lived together in relative harmony, debating the merits of their respective faiths and tailoring their arguments to the opposition of the other’s apologists. If Christianity and Islam could coexist in those years, perhaps there is hope for us today, if only we could effectively cast off the extremists in both faiths who would attempt annihilation rather than reconciliation.
Telling God’s Story: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Bible by Peter Enns, 2011.
I’ll probably write more about this short introduction for parents to Enns’ Bible curriculum in the coming weeks.
Why Be a Christian (if No One Goes to Hell)? by Daniel Meeter, 2012.
I’ll be reviewing this e-book very soon.