My 2017 reading in review

Just a quick post to summarize my reading and a few favorites this year. I read a total of 71 books in 2017, which I’ll split up into fiction, non-fiction, and theology. I’ll highlight no more than two in each category as particular favorites.


  • Broken Trust – W.E.B. Griffin
  • Bounty – Michael Byrnes
  • The Whistler – John Grisham
  • The Believer – Joakim Zander
  • Last Year – Robert Charles Wilson
  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
  • The Shadow Land – Elizabeth Kostova
  • Walkaway – Cory Doctorow
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler
  • Till We Have Faces – C. S. Lewis (re-read)
  • The Switch – Joseph Finder
  • Price of Duty – Dale Brown
  • Point of Contact – Mike Maden
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson
  • City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
  • The Berlin Project – Gregory Benford
  • Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper
  • The Force – Don Winslow
  • The Quantum Spy – David Ignatius
  • The Dark Net – Benjamin Percy
  • The Punch Escrow – Tal M. Klein

The Force is a well-written crime story featuring a flawed detective. A really engaging page-turner where I didn’t know where the story was going when I was half-way through.

The Punch Escrow is a sci-fi thriller that takes one reasonable conceit and runs with it to great effect. A really fun novel to close out the year.


  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi
  • A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
  • Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America – Michael Wear
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
  • Instrumental: A memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music – James Rhodes
  • A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier – David Welky
  • Now – The Physics of Time – Richard A. Muller
  • The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies – and What They Have Done to Us – David Thomson
  • City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York – Tyler Anbinder
  • A Natural History of the Piano – Stuart Isacoff
  • The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science – Julie Des Jardins
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World – Peter Frankopan
  • Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
  • The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of Dorothy Day – Kate Hennessy
  • Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business – John Newhouse
  • Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich – Norman Ohler
  • The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein
  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic – Sam Quinones
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
  • Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings – Josh Larsen
  • The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II – Svetlana Alexievich
  • A Colony in a Nation – Chris Hayes
  • Getting Religion: Faith, Culture & Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama – Kenneth L. Woodward
  • Khrushchev: The Man and His Era – William Taubman
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness – Edward K. Kaplan
  • A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples – Ilan Pappe
  • Spiritial Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 – Edward K. Kaplan
  • How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – Alan Jacobs
  • The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency – Chris Whipple
  • Nevertheless: A Memoir – Alec Baldwin

I started off the year with a bang reading Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. Stunning writing about the history of racism in America. So much that we as middle-class white Americans aren’t familiar with. But the one that will likely stick with me even more and provoke some re-reads came late in the year: Alan Jacobs’ How to Think. In this time of “fake news” and incessant online argument, Jacobs provides some much-needed sanity and advice.


  • How to Survive a Shipwreck – Jonathan Martin
  • Introduction to the Old Testament – J. Alberto Soggin
  • The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
  • Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission – David E. Fitch
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – Tish Harrison Warren
  • The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together – Jared C. Wilson
  • People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue – Preston Sprinkle
  • The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? – David Bentley Hart
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony – Richard Bauckham
  • A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story – Diana Butler Bass
  • The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader – Mark Pierson
  • Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News – Brian Zahnd

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham will permanently change how I read the Gospels. His case that most people named by name in the Gospels were specifically named because they were known eyewitnesses puts the accounts in a new light.

And I had heard good stuff about D.B. Hart’s little volume The Doors of the Sea for a long time but just never gotten to it. In it he uses the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 to frame his response to the age-old question of how a good, omnipotent God can allow such evil and suffering. My theological upbringing has been pretty Calvinist, but Hart’s very non-Calvinist approach (he’s Orthodox) provided a more compelling and beautiful explanation than anything I’ve previously read.


On the whole, I feel like I got a lot of variety this year and read a lot of interesting books. I do have a handful that I started and for some reason bogged down in and need to come back to – Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God is on that list… to be picked up sometime soon.

Finished reading: Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller

Another random library selection, and a nice change of pace from history and theology. In Now, Cal Berkeley professor Richard Muller sets out to provide a layman’s-level discussion of the nature of time and how the domain of physics interacts with and helps explain it.

Muller provides an engaging discussion about relativistic time dilation, the big bang, quantum effects and “spooky action at a distance”, and his own thoughts about what it is that causes time to move only forward. It’s not entirely for the faint of heart, but he at least is good enough to leave his derivation of equations into appendices rather than embedding them within the body text. The Goodreads reviews of the book seem to be a bunch of physics nerds giving the author flack for his approach, but to this engineering nerd who isn’t deep into physics, it was just fine.

Now: The Physics of Time

Finished Reading: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

The buzz on this one had been going around Twitter for a while, so I was glad to pick up a copy and read. Michael Wear is a young guy who, not even out of college, worked as the White House lead for evangelical outreach during President Obama’s first term. Reclaiming Hope is part memoir of those years and partly Wear’s suggestions for how to repair political engagement with religion.

On the whole, I think Wear did a good job of identifying points where both the right and left failed in opportunities to find common ground that could’ve made legitimate progress on issues important to religious conservatives. However, I think his admiration for President Obama causes him to pull his punches in the second half of the book.

In the first half of the book, Wear reveals himself as something of an Obama fan boy as he details all of the President’s speeches that reveal the depth to his personal faith. (I’m not disputing these – I have great admiration for Obama’s faith – but the tone is pretty fawning.) When Wear starts assigning blame in the second half of the book, though, the blame is never to Obama directly, but always to the “administration” or the “White House”.

Overall, it’s a good little memoir, and Wear has some good thoughts to share about how we might find progress forward on issues significant to people of faith.

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America

Finished reading: How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin

Read this one on a business trip this week. Having nothing to do with actual nautical survival skills, this book is Martin’s personal confessional and memoir of the breakup of his marriage and leaving the pastorate at his church.

Martin is a very talented writer, and while some of the initial Scripture applications are a stretch (Paul, after his shipwreck, told the people to eat, therefore, when our lives are in metaphorical shipwrecks, we should be sure we eat via participation in the Eucharist), the book shines in the latter chapters when he focuses in on grace in a way that will sound familiar to readers of Robert F. Capon.

There’s a part of me that’s skeptical of the value of an author writing this instructionally when he was clearly still in the midst of learning the lessons he’s communicating, but it was still an encouraging read. My prayer for Jonathan is that he continues to heal and grow in grace in the days to come.

How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love Is Already Here

Finished reading: Broken Trust by W.E.B. Griffin

I got sucked into Griffin’s Badge of Honor series years ago. This is book #13, and the hero is still only 27 years old, and opens the story still suffering from the wound he suffered in book #12. Hey, if Griffin is still making money cranking these out at age 87, good for him. But let’s not pretend they’re any more substantive entertainment than your average 1.5-star franchise action movie. Meh.

Broken Trust

Finished reading: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Found this on the library shelf and was a challenging read to start the year. Is Kendi making an effort to be super-even-handed? Nope. But he has enough facts on his side to make a compelling account. From the first white settlers colonizing through the beginning of the 21st century, he highlights the terrifying history of racism in the USA. It can feel like a stretch at times – King Kong subliminally picturing white’s fear of blacks? sure, but the Rocky movies continuing to do so with the white hero taking on black opponents? Maybe from a certain point of view.

Some progressive reading isn’t gonna hurt me, I guess. (I just borrowed Zinn’s History from the library the other day.)

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America