my favorite reads of 2019

My Favorite Reads of 2019

I enjoy taking a look back at what I read each year. In this post I’ll give an overview of the ten books I enjoyed most this year–in no particular order–followed by a categorized list of all the other books I read.

I would also note that this year I purchased a new Kindle reader, and took full advantage of the Prime Reading options included for free as an Amazon Prime member. A few of these books I wouldn’t have likely read, had they not been free to access, but several were worth my time.

My Top 10 Reads of 2019

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

P.K.D. is my favorite science fiction writer. It had been since college, the last time I read Ubik. Everything Dick writes involves significant plot twists and the eventual realization that nothing is what you thought it was. This is the first novel I ever read by him, and I was happy it had been long enough that I could experience some of the surprises all over again.

The End of Average: How We Succeed In A World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose

This book was a paradigm shift. Even though there are benefits to using statistical averages in how we look at the world, the book exposes how this often harms rather than helps. People are in fact jagged and unique. This goes beyond our attributes to our behaviors. A person who cowers in one context might be a bully in another. It makes sense of how a parent could say to a teacher, “But my Johnny is never like this at home!” Perhaps he isn’t, but that says nothing about what he’ll be like at school! Ha! This book made me feel freer to be myself and challenged me to think about people as individuals.

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

It had been a while since I read a book this large and also this accessible. This is a magisterial treatment of the topic of Jesus’ crucifixion, written in a way that is academically responsible but also easy to read. I appreciated her unwillingness to avoid certain atonement theories, even if they are presently less popular. The book was the basis for a sermon series I preached on the same topic in Fall 2019.

Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal

This book contained interviews with a number of impressive persons, all of whom have experienced great success in their respective fields. Though I could point to 2-3 prominent strands that seemed to run through all responses, the emerging patterns helped make me feel motivated to do my personal best, and to strive for my goals, regardless of how people respond to my efforts along the way.

Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World by Timothy Keller

Keller never disappoints. This book was written after The Reason for God, which is an apologetic book, but its usefulness would come before reading The Reason for God. Rather than jumping into all the typical arguments to make a case for faith, this book sets up how a reasonable, rational person could find the tenets of Christianity to be useful and practical, especially in comparison to other typical options in the world around us. It’s a unique book for this sort of category, and I have loved it.

Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking by Shane Snow

This book was a useful paradigm shift. Snow looks at several counterintuitive examples of how people make giant leaps in progress and challenges the notion that all improvement must necessarily be earned through trudging tedious paths, long worn by our predecessors. This book helped me think about my life and challenges differently. What if some things can actually be simpler than I am making them?

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

Not just anyone could write this book. This is a book of lived experiences and it is heartwarming, entertaining, and gutwrenching all at the same time. Gregory Boyle has worked for decades in the most dangerous parts of Los Angeles helping gang members find Christ, and also a path to a better life. The book is honest and rough (as is the language, by the way). I was moved to tears multiple times. I’ve never read anything like this before. It made me do some soul searching.

The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, School, and Play by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas

I didn’t love all of this book. I mention it because there are a few parts of it that I have utilized heavily. I decided this year that I wanted to learn how to memorize a card deck. Most of the techniques I use, I derived from this book. I’m not going to break any records any time soon. It generally takes me about 10-12 minutes to memorize a full deck. In 4-5 minutes, I can now memorize long strands of numbers around 50 digits or so. It’s a cool skill that can come in handy for certain purposes. (I’m trying to get up the nerve at a social gathering to do a trick and have people let me memorize 5 or 6 driver’s licenses with their birth dates, but I’m a bit shy and afraid of failure.) In general, learning to use the “memory palace” method can be a helpful thing in your life, and it isn’t as difficult as you might think.

How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

This book was a large read (took me 4 months to finish it) on a topic thoroughly outside of my areas of expertise. It was on Bill Gates’ list of recommended books so I decided to give it a try. I found several things here that were very helpful. For example, much of life works on a curve, not a line. He uses the example of taxation. No taxes will produce anarchy (sorry, Libertarians!) but 100% taxes destroys motivation to work and achieve. The optimal solution is somewhere along a spectrum in the middle. The book is full of noble efforts to put complex ideas into accessible terms to show how thinking mathematically can make us wiser, more reasonable people. I’ll confess there are a few sections of the book where I was totally lost–I haven’t taken a math course since high school, but the overall experience of the book was a healthy stretch for me. I’d recommend it, especially if you actually know anything about math.

For The Life Of The World: Theology That Makes A Difference by Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasman

This book is a manifesto. Two excellent theologians lament the current state of theology. It has been the case in history that bestselling books were theology books, whereas now most ministers are more likely to read business leadership or self-help books than they are to read theology books (My list below would affirm I seem to fit this category). What has gotten off track? They make a case for how theology ought to be useful, not merely theoretical. There’s a lot to say about this book, but I found it refreshing to see these individuals calling on budding theologians to stand in the gap between God and the world and to find a way to say something useful and true to help humanity flourish. I hope that many will answer their call.

Below are all the other books I read this year, placed in loose categories.
Books not in my top 10, but that are worthy of honorable mention have an asterisk beside them.

Religion and Spirituality

Leadership and Self-Improvement

Other Assorted Readings

See Also

My Favorite Reads of 2018

What books have you enjoyed recently?


  1. How about, Freedom Tools by Andy Reese – Discipleshift by Harrington and Putman – The Kingdom Unleashed by Trousdale – In His Steps by Sheldon is a classic

  2. Thanks Carl! Great to hear from you! I will add these first ones to my list. I first encountered In His Steps when I was an intern in Florida. Really powerful read!

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