Well, it's that time again. Each December for the past 3 or 4 years, I have been doing a post on the top books that I read in 2010. The last few years have had some real good ones. This year started off pretty good and got increasingly disappointing. Oh well. As usual, the winners get nothing, but it's still the most exciting diary entry of the year. The red carpet is out, the limos have pulled up and I'm wearing my tuxedo. Not that anyone really cares. Let's get started: 10) The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies and Magic by Wade Davis (304 pp.). A look at the world of Haitian voodoo. After the Earthquake I was interested in learning more about Haiti as well as the religious situation there. What emerges is a pretty sociological examination of Haitian society which is held together through informal networks of small communities (often tied to African-influenced Voodoo). Amidst all that you learn about curses and potions, and the way people can appear dead and even be buried alive (zombies). Fascinating book.
9) Crossers by Philip Caputo (464 pp.): This novel takes place on the Arizona-Mexico border over a period of 100 years or so showing that the border situation of today is not much different than a century ago. Crime, illegal immigration, tension between races, smuggling--it's all happened before. The novel is not nearly as good as I expected it to be. Drug Cartels in Latin America are a subject that really interests me. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow is a far more entertaining novel.
8) Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (352 pp.) is a science fiction book that follows the story of a young genius named Ender Wiggin. It's the future and the Earth has been attacked by aliens, so the world government is trying to breed genius kids to lead the charge against the aliens. I don't like Sci-fi usually. What's most interesting about the book is Ender's struggle to understand his place within the world upon being a chosen one.
7) The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman(pp. 288) . George Friedman is the founder of Stratfor which does geo-political analysis for corporations and anyone who wants to subscribe to their expensive newsletter. Friedman believes history is often counter-intuitive (I absolutely agree) and he tries to project into the future counter-intuitively. Sometimes he is very convincing (arguing that Mexico in the 21st Century may become a wealthy and strong enough country that it really doesn't need the USA anymore), or that Poland and Turkey are well positioned for the next century. At other times, he's less convincing, as when he argues that Japan and the USA are headed for a clash. Overall, a very informative read.
6) Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (pp. 480). A very readable history of the early settlers to New England. The harshness of the environment, their naivete, and the way they both depended on the Indians, fought the Indians, and were ultimately supplanted by bigger more powerful people is fascinating and very American. Their moment in history was very short and this book explains why.
5) The Blue Parakeet: Re-thinking How You Read Your Bible by Scot McKnight (240 pp.). The most easy-to-read, helpful book on how to read your Bible and why people read it so differently--and where they go wrong in their approach. Extremely readable, very insightful.
4) Unnamed: by a certain French writer I like. (320 pp.). I'm not going to put the name of this book on the web because I don't want to get complaints. This one is not a book that you can just carelessly recommend. It will depress you. This book is a very brutal novel about the meaninglessness of modern life and how Western societies individualism and obsession with beauty is destroying it. It's a bleak, bleak novel. What I like about it is that in its brutal way, it shows the true consequences of nihilism--Radical Individualism is taken to its logical extreme and the results are grim. Behind the darkness lingers the question of whether man is ignoring his maker.
3) Arrow Pointing to Heaven: the Rich Mullins Story by James Bryan Smith (pp. 272). Rich Mullins was a Christian musician from Indiana that became successful in the 1980's and tragically died in a car accident in the late 90's. It's the moving story (as told by one of his friends) of a guy who lived the life he sang about and in many ways envisioned the challenge institutional Christianity would soon face. Very inspirational. I highly recommend it.
2) Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (480 pp). The true story of NFL Football star Pat Tillman who left the Arizona Cardinals in the prime of his career to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11. Tillman, an atheist, had extremely high moral expectations for himself. His journey is one of developing his character at an early age, having amazing amounts of integrity, and then getting put into a situation where that integrity was challenged. Tillman died in a friendly-fire accident in Afghanistan that was then covered up by the US military. For me, the most appealing part of the story is about the challenge of keeping up one's idealism for the team when the team doesn't keep it up for you. Tragic.
1) Acts of Faith (Novel) by Phillip Caputo (pp. 688). This novel takes place in 1990's Sudan during the Civil War. It is a story about missionaries, mercenaries, tribal people, pilots, and UN workers, all trying to navigate Africa. The book exposes the corruption, opportunism and compromise within the global aid community. People are a bag of mixed motivations and sometimes their actions result in good and sometimes they result in further damage. It's a novel about what drives people and how difficult it can be to change the world. It is also a novel about the challenge of Africa, a subject that has always fascinated me. I could not put this book down. It's the only book this year that I read that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.
Well, as you can see some of the books are Christian, some are not, and I think that's important. Especially working in a setting like we do, it's incredibly helpful to understand people's underlying worldviews and assumptions and I am always looking for books that do that and do it well. Some of the books were challenging, others were just informative, and others were just for fun.
My goal for 2011 is to try reading more books written between 1500 and 1900 because not everything wise and interesting comes from the 20th and 21st centuries. There's a lot in the past that we need to re-discover, so hopefully next year's list will include more books written in different eras of history.
Biggest Disappointment 2010: V.S. Naipaul's "The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief" which deserves its own post. What a let-down.