Monday, January 17, 2011

Top Books of 2010

Here you go! Below is a list of the books I most enjoyed reading in 2010, with a few words about each. The list is in no particular order.

* Incarnate Leadership – Bill Robinson
I know I'm one of those guys who is likely to get excited and say things like "Everybody should read this book" or "Every leader should read this book". There are several reasons for this; one is that I really love books and tend to glean something of value from just about every one I read, another is that I think most people should read a lot more than they currently do. But this time I really, really mean it: "Every Christian leader should read this book!" Don't let its small size fool you - this little book is packed with great leadership wisdom born of real-life experience. I am amazed at guys like Robinson who can glean a whole book's worth of wisdom out of ONE VERSE of scripture, plus their own life experiences. I don't know Robinson or his university, but his communication style reminded me a great deal of Leroy Lawson, one of my favorite people and an amazing leader/preacher/teacher who hails from that same part of the country. Don't miss out on a chance to really reflect on an incredibly important verse, John 1:14: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.".

* Born Standing Up – Steve Martin
This memoir about the stand-up comedy portion of Steve Martin's career was a wonderful, quick read. I've always been in awe of Steve Martin and those few other people who take humor to genius levels, but what pleasantly surprised me here is just how wonderfully Martin writes. I realized on the first page that he's a terrific writer! What a multi-talented guy - aside from the comedy, I did know that he was a great banjo player, but only after reading this book did I learn that he's also quite an accomplished author. Anyway, I recommend this book and plan on checking out some more of his writing in the future - as well as trying to get my hands on video of some of his older stand-up performances. I'll leave you with an excerpt that I feel displays just how clever, thoughtful, daring, silly, and yes, hilarious this guy is:
‘Mixed reviews continued. At the end of my closing-night show at the Troubadour, I stood onstage and took out five bananas. I peeled them, put one on my head, one in each pocket, and squeezed on in each hand. Then I read the last line of my latest bad review: “Sharing the bill with Poco this week is comedian Steve Martin … his twenty-five-minute routine failed to establish any comic identity that would make the audience remember him or the material.” Then I walked off the stage.’

* The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mark Twain once defined a "classic" as "a book people praise and don't read". He also said, "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read." Well, not so with me and The Brothers Karamazov. It's one of those books that I've long wanted to read, though I admit that the toughest part of reading such a huge novel is getting started, making the time commitment. (In fact, perhaps the main reason I finally got around to reading this one is that I read it on my Kindle, where it doesn't look any bigger than any other book!) Well, I finally did read it, and I'm so glad I did. The Brothers Karamazov lived up to all the hype, well worth the many hours I invested. I was drawn into the story and connected with Dostoevsky's characters and his exploration of some of the great struggles of mankind, such as doubt vs. faith, free will, and moral responsibility. For years I've heard and read references to this masterwork - now I can finally know what those authors and preachers are talking about. "Hurrah for Karamazov!"

* Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton
AWESOME. This is another of those books I've heard quoted and referenced for years yet never got around to reading. I picked it up this year and really, really enjoyed it. Not only is Chesterton dead-on in his theology, he strikes a wonderful balance between profound wisdom, straight talk, irreverence, and razor-sharp wit. The man is really, really funny. In fact, I've described his writing as "like C.S. Lewis, but funnier", which come to think of it is just about as highly as I could possibly imagine praising a book! No matter who you are or what you believe or don't believe about Christ, I advise you to read this book. Do it. I can't wait to read some more Chesterton in the near future - or actually I might just wait until 2012 and read this one again. Definitely worthy of "read every couple of years" status.

* Rediscovering God in America – Newt Gingrich
This is basically a guided tour in book form. (In fact, there is a walking tour, as well as a film, based on this same info.) Very short, but packed with fascinating historical information, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in American history and/or government and/or religion and/or the ever-present debates about church and state, Christianity's role in the founding of the USA, etc. Gingrich, as he is adept at doing, seeks here to cut through the rhetoric and look directly at the evidence of the faith-based historical and governmental foundations of the United States. Rather than stand on a soapbox and preach, he mostly just points toward the various engravings and quotations and artwork at the monuments and government buildings in Washington D.C. and leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I really appreciated this approach, as well as the interesting facts confirming the obvious Christian, pseudo-Christian, and Deist roots of the Founding Fathers and the US government that they so engeniously (and many would argue providentially) created those many years ago.

* Working Together – Michael Eisner
In this book the long-time leader of Disney studies and comments on several wildly successful recent and current partnerships from many different fields and walks of life, including himself and Frank Wells, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill and Melinda Gates, Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, and Joe Torre and Don Zimmer. It's a very interesting read about some fascinating people, with some great insight into what makes some partnerships succeed and others fail. I like the following quote as a summary of what I consider one of the book's main teaching points: "Does the partnership cause the success, or does the success sustain the partnership? The answer is that both are true." In addition to imparting some great wisdom, this book also caused me to stop and thank God for all of the wonderful people with whom I've been blessed to work and minister and "do life" over the years, including my current teammates, whom I love dearly.

* The Christian Atheist – Craig Groeschel
Craig Groeschel is one of the most popular young preachers/teachers out there these days. He's a straight talker who writes in a very conversational style. In other words reading his books is a lot like listening to his sermons, and that's a good thing. This book takes a look at the nominal Christianity that pervades American society and basically calls people out for claiming to be Christians yet living like atheists. Groeschel would argue - and I would agree - and so would the biblical authors! - that the proof is in the pudding when it comes to faith. But he makes his argument with a heaping helping of grace and the heart of a pastor, which is the only way that such a book and such a message can ever have real value. The chapter titles really give us a clear picture of what this book is all about:
1. When You Believe in God but Don't Really Know Him
2. When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
3. When You Believe in God but Aren't Sure He Loves You
4. When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
5. When You Believe in God but Don't Think He's Fair
6. When You Believe in God but Won't Forgive
7. When You Believe in God but Don't Think You Can Change
8. When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
9. When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
10. When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
11. When You Believe in God but Don't Share Your Faith
12. When You Believe in God but Not in His Church

Sounds like the outline for a great small group study to me! Check it out.

* Grace Notes – Philip Yancey
Last but definitely not least I want to mention this treasure of a book that is actually a 365-day collection of excerpts from Yancey's many writings over the years. This book is WONDERFUL. Recommended to me by multiple mentors/pastors/friends, this book has helped me to transform my daily devotional time into a much more solid and consistent experience. Yancey is brilliant and wise, but down-to-earth and without pretense. I've been reading this book daily since I picked it up in August, and plan on going through the whole year. It's the only devo book I've ever stuck with for more than a few weeks. It's what Erin and I chose to give our parents and siblings for Christmas this year. 'Nuff said.

In closing I want to again give a shout-out to WIRED Magazine. I love reading it and learn something useful every month.

And I have to mention the Kindle! I'm LOVING my Kindle, and we're about to get Erin one, too. It was a little tough to "go digital" with my books, and yes I agree with those who say that "It's just not the same as holding a book in your hands", BUT the pros just annihilated the cons for me. The three great advantages that caused me to make the switch are: 1. I can get books whenever I need them without having to wait until my next trip to the USA, or someone coming down to visit. 2. It eliminates boxes and boxes worth of STUFF. Anything that helps me to get rid of weighty boxes and simplify my life is always welcome. 3. When I travel - instead of taking a big stack of books I might need, the several books I'm currently reading, my Bible, my journal, and my calendar - now I only have to take my Kindle, journal, and calendar. It's awesome. Traveling lighter? Always a plus. Throw in the "Wye Huxford, the greatest lover of books I've ever met, made the switch" argument, plus saving some trees (at least I think so - I've not seen actual numbers comparing the environmental impact of paper books vs. ebooks), and saving some $$$ (the Kindle version is usually several dollars cheaper than the paper version, plus many classics are free or just a dollar) and it was really a no-brainer. Ebooks are the future, and I'm glad I made the switch. Plus I'm kind of a collector of knick-knacks from my travels, so it's not like we'll ever be lacking for colorful, interesting things with which to fill our shelves.

I'm currently in the middle of some really good books, but they will just have to wait until the 2011 list!

Happy Reading! Some fun quotes for the road:

“It could not be that people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading.” – John Wesley

"Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark?" - Fred Stoller

"Wear the old coat and buy the new book." - Austin Phelps

"I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - Groucho Marx

"Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." - Harper Lee

"You've really got to start hitting the books, because it's no joke out here." - Spike Lee

"To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting." - Edmund Burke

"Not all readers lead, but all leaders read." - Anonymous


  1. nate dog, nice work putting this together. not only reading these books, but reviewing. thats dedication. i havent read a single one you review either....but have downloaded brothers k at least. you, like me, may suffer from an overdose of white males influencing our lives and thoughts. sorry it didnt work out for the retreat, so now we'll have to plan a vacation together.

  2. good point, craig - all white males! i have nothing against them but i'll see if i can't spice it up a little this year. who do you recommend i read? vacation sounds great, let's do it. i need to go backpacking soon, but the littlest of our many ladies may not quiiiite be ready for that one...