Top Ten Books I Read in 2011

Every year, I read dozens of books – some great, some not so great.  But here for your pleasure are the top ten books I read in 2011.  If you’re wondering what’s on it, well, there’s everything from crime thrillers and fantasy to biographies and theology.  In other words, if you like to read (and read widely) there’s probably something here just for you.  Enjoy!

1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy by Eric Metaxas – This is, hands down, one of the finest biographies I have ever had the pleasure to read.  Weighing in at 624 pages, it moves at a breakneck pace, at times reading more like a spy novel than a biography.  If you appreciate books on history and Christian living, this is undoubtedly the book for you.  Simply brilliant.

2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – I have a soft spot for “survival” stories that document the will of the human heart.  This true-to-life account of a troubled boy turned Olympic hopeful turned prisoner of a Japanese interment camp was as heart wrenching as it was triumphant. Truly a testament to the power of the human will.

3. Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright – There are two categories of N.T. Wright books: academic works that can be used to lay the foundation of small homes, and his more popular lay works that are accessible to all.  In the latter category, this is the finest book he has written to date, besting his own Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read Scripture Today.

4. Glimpses of Grace by Madeleine L’Engle – I picked this book up on a whim after spending two minutes flipping through a friend’s copy.  How glad I am.  L’Engle’s daily insights are never short of profound; and I would suggest that this book is every bit as worthwhile as the classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.


5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – While I was tempted to put Larsson’s entire Millennium Trilogy on this list, I refrained from doing so only because this book still stands head-and-shoulders above both The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  If you like gripping crime thrillers with unusually, nuanced lead-characters, this is the book for you.

6. Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Having finished Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer, I was eager to jump into some of Bonhoeffer’s own work.  While I will never claim that his work leaves one “comfortable,” it was an absolute joy to witness a true shepherd walking through the fields of costly discipleship in a time when true discipleship really did cost everything.

7. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy – Every once in a while, you encounter a piece of fiction with a villain so memorable, it leaves a permanent mark upon your psyche.  This book introduces you to a man by the name of Judge Holden.  He makes Darth Vader and Voldemort both look like tame little kittens just waiting to be played with.

8. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Goodwin – In an era in which we were promised a different kind of Presidency, I found that I still had to look to the past to find a leader that knew how to cross the aisle.  I have read no better volume on the art of political compromise and leadership.

9. A Game of Thrones by Martin Wallace – Shortly after HBO began to advertise its series based upon this book, I ran across an article, which compared Wallace’s work to that of J.R.R. Tolkien.  While I’m not sure that he truly is the “American Tolkien,” as the article suggested, this is by far and away the best piece of fantasy literature I have read in many, many years.

10. Player One by Douglas Coupland – In a few years, I suspect I will regret adding this book to the list, because in the Coupland canon, Player One is not in the top five works.  Nevertheless, it was a return to form after several recent efforts that had squandered his prodigious talents.  And thus, I include it perhaps for no other reason than to turn you on to the earlier works of this fine, Canadian writer of both fiction and non-fiction alike.

Finally, an Honorable Mention for Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John Walton.  While there is no doubt that this is an excellent work that builds upon Walton’s more popular The Lost World of Genesis One, it was not the knock-out punch that I expected from the world-class scholar that taught me how to be a true student.   Perhaps it suffers only from my overly high expectations.  Nevertheless, I expect this to take it’s rightful place amongst the very best works that are attempting to address the interface between science and theology.

What about you?  What did you read in 2011 that you’d want to share with others?  How about a top ten list?  Up for the challenge?  Believe me, it’s trickier than you think. 

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5 Responses to Top Ten Books I Read in 2011

  1. Paul Zak says:

    The thing that impresses me the most about this top 10 list is that you have one, and in early November nonetheless! I am struggling to think of ONE book I have read this year. How do you do it?

    • Well Paul, a few years ago, I had a friend who committed herself to reading one book per week. I liked the idea, so I took it from her. Some years I make it, some years I don’t. But generally speaking, I usually finish somewhere between 45 to 60 books a year.

  2. mahoneyrm5150 says:

    In no particular order…

    1. Simply Jesus NT Wright
    2. Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut
    3. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist Brant Pitre
    4. A Theology of Word and Spirit Donald G. Bloesch
    5. Post colonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation R.S. Sugirtharajah
    6. Return to Rome Francis Beckwith
    7. A Theology of Liberation Gustavo Gutierrez
    8. Jesus and the Gospel in Africa Kwame Bediako
    9. Various writings from Martin Luther
    10. Temple in the Gospel of Mark Timothy Gray

  3. Ryan,

    1. What’s Vonnegut doing on this list? I didn’t think you did fiction.
    2. Loved the Bloesch volume. And for whatever it’s worth, I think the rest of his series is pretty solid as well. Not quite on the same level, but well worth your time.
    3. Can’t believe Gustavo Guiterrez made the list. All I remember is one long slog of endless digressions and rabbit trails. A very surprising choice.

  4. mahoneyrm5150 says:

    I do read fiction when I have the time, but I will only read more classic literary pieces. This is the third book of his I have read in the past two years.

    Gustavo’s book is not well written, but the introduction to Liberation Theology was very interesting.

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