An eclectic blend of history, fiction, biography and more I’ve read in the past year or plan to read.
Every year, shortly after Memorial Day, I offer 10 titles as a suggested summer reading list. These are books that I have either read over the past year or plan to read myself over the summer. Most are brand new. A few, here and there, may be older works that I’m only now discovering myself or wanting to re-read. They are often a blend of history, fiction, biography and more. Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by author:
Ferguson, Niall. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. I am fast falling into the “read everything they write” camp when it comes to Niall Ferguson. Here, he recasts turning points in world history through the lens of struggle—specifically, the struggle between old power hierarchies and new social networks. His argument is that social networks—or at least, networks—are anything but new and can offer a new lens for reading history.
Friedman, Thomas L. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. Friedman is one of those writers who saves you from reading about 50 books. Or maybe it feels like you’ve read 50 books when you’re done. Either way, this examination of the acceleration (explosion) happening with such things as technology and globalization is required reading for cultural understanding. By his own confession, he is an “explanatory journalist,” and he explains quite well.
Iggulden, Conn. The Abbot’s Tale. One of the more fascinating and pivotal characters from history is Dunstan (d. 988) who became Archbishop of Canterbury and was later canonized as a saint. Advisor to kings and reformer of the church, Iggulden brings his story to life. Don’t know Dunstan’s name? All the more reason to read this wonderful work of historical fiction from one of the masters of the genre.
Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci. I’ll let famed historian David McCullough—who absolutely is in my “read everything they write” category—give his verdict on this masterful work: “To read this magnificent biography of Leonardo da Vinci is to take a tour through the life and works of one of the most extraordinary human beings of all time in the company of the most engaging, informed and insightful guide imaginable. Walter Isaacson is at once a rue scholar and a spellbinding writer. And what a wealth of lessons there are to be learned in these pages.” Agreed.
Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. If you weren’t introduced to Kaku through his much-talked-about book, The Future of the Mind, don’t get further behind by missing out on his latest work. You won’t agree with all he concludes by a long shot, but in terms of informing the conversation and stretching your imagination, few compare. His books can be described simply, but profoundly, as “what the future might hold from a physicist’s perspective.”
Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. You haven’t heard about this book yet? While not a “Christian” book by any means (more Jungian, actually), it has been well received by Christian reviewers. Perhaps it is the stiff dose of reality so rare in self-help books. As in, “you will suffer,” which means all you really have in your control is your attitude. The conservative philosophy underlying the 12 rules is refreshing.
Smith, Christian. Religion: What It Is, How It Works and Why It Matters. I became a fan of Smith through his groundbreaking sociological trilogy Soul Searching, Souls in Transition and Lost in Transition. One of the leading sociologists of our day, Smith, a professor at Notre Dame, not only offers a sociology of religion but also advances a theory of religion that builds on recent developments in science, theory and philosophy. A wide-ranging work, from secularization to religious innovation, it is also a highly thought-provoking work from a thinker at the top of his game.
Stabile, Suzanne and Ian Morgan Cron. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. I’m a late-comer to the Enneagram craze, but I have become a fast fan. Unfortunately, there are a lot of spiritually sketchy books and websites that have co-opted this ancient Christian tool for self-understanding and spiritual transformation. Stabile has written the best two books out there, and I’ve reviewed quite a few. Start with this one, and then immediately pick up her most recent, The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships.
Tegmark, Max. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. If you read just one book on artificial intelligence this year—and everyone should read at least one book on artificial intelligence, and soon—this is the one. A professor at MIT, he helps mainstream and popularize a terribly dense (but terribly important) subject.
Twenge, Jean M. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. If you enjoyed reading my last book, Meet Generation Z, you’ll want to dig into Twenge’s book on the same age group. She is a first-rate scholar, researcher and analyst. It is excellent.
There you have it: this year’s summer reading list.
James Emery White (@JamesEmeryWhite) is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the author of several books, including most recently Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. This article was originally published on ChurchandCulture.org. It is reposted here in partnership with James Emery White.