As is my custom since 2009, I want to highlight all the books I either heard or read this past year. Previous entries, if anyone is interested, can be found under this link at my blog, Various Reviews.
I will begin with the audio books I heard.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. – Nathaniel Philbrick
I saw this book mentioned when I listened to its author, Nathaniel Philbrick’s, other excellent book on the history of the Mayflower and the Pilgrim’s settling in New England. In the Heart of the Sea tells the story about how the whaling ship Essex was rammed and sunk by a massive sperm whale out in the Pacific ocean west of the Galapagos Islands. All the whalers were left shipwrecked in their whaling boats and then began their ordeal of being lost in the middle of the vast Pacific starving to death and slowly dying off one by one.
The recent movie looks to be good, but the trailer gives the impression the sperm whale was like 200 feet long and hunted down the whalers. That never happened.
End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy – James L. Swanson
One of the more riveting books I listened to this year. I really enjoyed Swanson’s work retelling about the manhunt for Abraham Lincoln’s killer, so I was especially interested in this book. He provides important background to Lee Oswald, particularly him being a “crazy little communist,” and the motivation as to why he would want to assassinate JFK.
Swanson also gives much needed background to JFK as president up until Nov. 63, the secret service and their role in protecting him, and why he was even in Texas at the time. Swanson’s moment-by-moment narration really debunks a lot of the conspiracy theories that try to say Oswald didn’t do it or didn’t act alone.
Richard “John Boy” Thomas does a smashing job as narrator; some of the best reading I have heard on a book.
Under the Banner of Heaven: The Story of Violent Faith – Jon Krakauer
A study into the history of the Mormon religion told through the account of Ron and Dan Lafferty murdering their sister-in-law and her baby daughter after God “gave a prophecy” for her death. As Krakauer moves through his narrative of the murder, he weaves together the background of Joseph Smith, his founding of the LDS, and their promotion of polygamy as a necessary ordinance for Mormons. He then moves to an overview of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was organized after the main Mormon leadership overturned the concept of plural wives in the late 1800s in order to allow Utah to be admitted into the United States. He also covers the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case and its relevance to the plural wives doctrine.
I accidentally picked up the abridged version, but what I heard covered a lot of the relevant material.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief – Lawrence Wright
This is the best book I listened to this year and one I would not only highly recommend for serious students of cult apologetics, I would insist that they read it. I wrote a more detailed review HERE.
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War – H.W. Crocker III
During the debate about the Confederate flag, I got into social media tussles with individuals over the history of the Civil War. I found this audio book one afternoon when visiting the public library with the kids and wanted to refresh my history. The book covers all the necessary people and events surrounding the Civil War and retells it from a more balanced, non-political correct (i.e., the south was evil) perspective.
The Martian – Andy Weir
The one fiction book I listened to this year. A fabulous tale that tells how a presumed dead astronaut is abandoned on Mars when his team had to abort their mission after an unexpected emergency. Once he revives and realizes he is totally alone on Mars, he has to figure out a way to survive and eventually get rescued. The book is extremely well done, though it is something of a science geek book. Just be aware that there is cursing if anyone is interested.
Regular Print Edition Books
Discovering God: The Origin of Religion and the Evolution of Belief – Rodney Stark
I found this one on the cheap shelves over at Archives in Pasadena. I have always liked Stark’s historical research and writing, especially his books that debunk a lot of atheist claims against religion in general and Christianity specifically. This book looks at the world’s religions beginning with the really ancient religions like the ones found in Egypt, Assyria, and Rome, and then moves to exploring others like Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. He even includes a study of Mayans and Aztecs as well. He provides a basic overview of each one, outlining how they were founded and their major tenets of belief.
The really good stuff in this book is his introductory material before he hits on the major religions. That’s because he demolishes the urban legends of sociological evolution that says men started out as primitive pagans who worshiped a plurality of gods and became monotheistic as societies became advanced. In reality, every society around the world had a concept of an all powerful god figure who transcends all other gods. The problem, however, is that the all powerful god is unapproachable, unknowable, and so distant from men on earth, other intermediary deities replace that god. Think Romans 1.
Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to “The Passion of the Christ” – Stephen Nichols
Nichols is another one of my favorite authors. I had the privilege of stupidly shaking his hand at Shepherd’s Conference this past year and blurting out in a Jerry Lewis like voice, “I love your books!” Thankfully, he appreciated the compliment.
He presents a wonderful study in the development of Christianity in American history by detailing how Christians have perceived the person of Jesus Christ. He begins with the lofty views of the colonial Puritans and moves all the way to the sappy, sentimental “big brother” views of our modern, red state evangelicalism. His writing, as always, is accessible by laymen and his footnotes are filled with additional resources for further study on the topic.
The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? – John N Oswalt.
Oswalt has written what I believe to be an important and necessary apologetic study. He thoroughly demolishes the idea that the Bible and Israel are just a mirror of the other ancient Near Eastern religions. He clearly demonstrates that modern, Western ideas about ancient Israel stems from the unquestioned anti-supernatural presuppositions that rejects the concept of divine revelation.
God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America – Larry Eskridge
I confess to not completely reading this book. I read the early chapters that explain how hippies in the San Francisco Bay area took their drug culture, synced it with Christianity, and created the Jesus people movement. While Eskridge attempts to present the Jesus Movement in a positive light, I cannot help but realize that a lot of the sloppy theology that has shaped our modern church culture comes from the Jesus People. This is especially true in regards to a lot of the awful CCM that has flooded into the worship of many Christians and ultimately the worship services of our churches.
Sexual Fidelity: No Compromise – Mike Abendroth
See my fuller review of pastor Mike’s book I posted earlier, HERE.
Premillennialism: Why There Must Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus – Michael Vlach
I am almost finished with this book. Like his earlier works on the Israel/Church distinctive and Dispensationalism, Vlach presents a sound, biblically, precise study on the premillennial kingdom of Christ.