The Best Books of 2010

At the beginning of 2010, I set a goal to read at least 30 books this year. As the year winds down, I thought I would take a look back at the best of these. I’ve tried to put them into five different categories: Biographical, Theological, Historical, Advice/Self-help, or Children’s Books. Here is a list of the books I’ve read this year (authors are in parentheses).

Abigail Adams (Woody Holton)
Einstein (Walter Isaacson)
Thomas Jefferson (Joyce Appleby)
Night (Elie Wiesel)
John Newton (Jonathan Aitken)
Devoted (Dick Hoyt)
Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (David Aikman)
Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (Robert Dallek)
Father Fiction (Donald Miller)
My Father, Maker of the Trees (Eric Irivuzumugabe)

What is the Gospel? (Greg Gilbert)
Scandalous (D.A. Carson)
In My Place Condemned He Stood (J.I. Packer)
Radical (David Platt)
Should We Fire God? (Jim Pace)
The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Start Here (Alex and Brett Harris)
Imaginary Jesus (Matt Mikalatos)
Hear No Evil (Matthew Paul Turner)
Humility (CJ Mahaney)
Where is God? (John Townsend)
A Sweet and Bitter Providence (John Piper)
God’s Passion for His Glory (John Piper and Jonathan Edwards)
The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)

Historical (non-biographical)
The Terrible Hours (Peter Maas)
The Ghost Map (Steven Johnson)
Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of our National Debt (John Steele Gordon)
On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (Robert M. Poole)
Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Calvin R. Stapert)

Bringing Up Girls (James Dobson)
What your son isn’t telling you (Michael Ross & Susie Shellenberger)
Homeschooling for the Rest of Us (Sonya Haskins)
Parenting in the Pew (Robbie Castleman)
Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)

Children’s Books
The Prince’s Poison Cup (R.C. Sproul)
I Love God’s Green Earth (Michael & Caroline Carroll)
Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm)
Mighty Acts of God (Starr Meade)
The Church History ABCs (Stephen J. Nichols)
God’s Mighty Acts in Creation (Starr Meade)
The Charlatan’s Boy (Jonathan Rogers)

Since there were several very good books in most of the categories, narrowing it down to the best one was difficult.  Out of the five categories, here are my favorites (where applicable, I’ve linked to my fuller review of the books).

Biographical: While there were several books about great men such as John Newton and Billy Graham, my favorite was Abigail Adams: A Life, by Woody Holton.  Holton does an excellent job of highlighting Adams’ strengths as well as her weaknesses, giving us a well-rounded, quite readable biography of this great woman.  He certainly does Adams justice in examining her life as a woman and not simply as the wife of a founding father.

Theological: J.I. Packer’s In My Place Condemned He Stood was the best book in this category.  The arguments and Scriptural support he and others (such as Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney) present in support of the teaching of penal substitutionary atonement is stimulating.  Packer’s chapter “Saved by His Precious Blood” taken from his introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a must read.

Historical: This was the easiest category to pick a favorite.  Robert M. Poole’s narrative of the history of Arlington National Cemetery in On Hallowed Ground is, in a word, excellent.  Poole has taken what could have been a dry retelling of a graveyard’s history, and has written instead an intimate account of a cherished resting place for many men and women.

Self-help/Advice: My favorite for this category was a toss-up between Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something and Sonya Haskins’ Homeschooling for the Rest of Us.   Just Do Something is crammed full with very practical advice.  While the main target audience seems to be college age readers, there is much in the book that more mature readers will glean from.  Ultimately, if we are seeking to follow God’s will of desire as found in Scripture, we can have the freedom to make choices and, as the title suggests, just DO something.  In Homeschooling for the Rest of Us, Haskins encourages the homeschooling family (or prospective homeschooling family) to first and most importantly develop positive parent-child relationships.  She also addresses the topic of routines, academics, extracurricular activities, and the seemingly all-pervasive concern of socialization.  I was very encouraged by Haskins down-to-earth approach.

Children’s Books:  This was by far the hardest category to pick a favorite, mainly because there were so many great books sent to me for review.  Many of them were sent to me from Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program.  Crossway consistently publishes very solid children’s books.  Because there were so many good books, I’ve only been able to narrow it down to the top three, each equally good.

The first is The Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols.   Each letter of the alphabet features a prominent figure from the history of the church.  There are the more well-known ones such as Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon.  But there are also some not-so-well-known people like John Donne, Hippolytus (“Let’s get one thing straight, my name is Hippolytus, not hippopotamus”), Tertullian, Vivaldi and Florence Young.  Each person is accompanied by a brief informational snippet about that particular person, written from his or her perspective.

The second is God’s Mighty Acts in Creation, by Starr Meade.   While the book is rather small (only 109 pages), it is jam packed with wonderful truths about God as illustrated through creation.  Because each chapter is a short two pages long, it is perfect for family devotions or for middle aged children to read on their own.  Very few children’s books have left me excited to start using it for our family Bible time, but God’s Mighty Acts in Creation certainly left me looking forward to reading with our children the many ways God’s beauty is seen in creation.

The last, and perhaps the best of the best is a book given to us entitled The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul.   Every time I read this story to my children, I am moved by the love God has for us.  In the story, a grandfather tells his granddaughter the story of a people who disobeyed a King’s command not to drink from a beautiful fountain.  Even though the fountain was beautiful to look at, the water was bad for them and turned their hearts to stone.  In order to heal them, the King’s son takes his Father’s cup to another fountain in the City of Man to drink the poisonous brew, even though he knows the drink will kill him.  The Prince dies, but is raised again by his Father.  As a result, many of the people’s hearts are changed and love the King once more.

The Biblical parallels in this story are unmistakable.  Sproul weaves the story in a way that makes it very easy to point out to children the similarities to Jesus’ death and why it was that he died.  There are two strong parallels made to the Scriptures.  The first is that Jesus (the Prince) willingly does what His Father asks of him out of love for the Father and for the people.  The second parallel is that because Jesus drank the cup of poison made up of the Father’s anger, this poison/anger is turned into the sweetest water.  It is a beautiful picture of the love and grace we find in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us.

And that’s the list for 2010!  What books have you read this year that you would recommend?

8 Responses

  1. Stephen, thanks for including Imaginary Jesus on your list of the best of 2010! I really appreciate it and hope that my next book can make the list next year! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  2. You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:

    They tell another side. Hope this helps.

    • Hi Steve,

      I have heard of these blogs. While I cannot speak one way or another about what the blogs post about, I can say that Mahaney, Harris, Kauflin and others of Sovereign Grace Ministries have been a great help and blessing to me through their writings and music. Thanks for the comment.


      • Stephen

        You might be safe or at least safer if you just read what books they write vs. being part of their “association” of churches as they call it. That is apparently where the real danger is.


  3. Great list of books, Stephen. I should keep track of how many I read. The ones I review aren’t necessarily ones read that year. I reviewed 29 this year, missing my goal of 30, but I have several more read that just haven’t been reviewed yet.

    Happy New Year


  4. Dear Stephen,
    I am gratified by your review of my Arlington book. Many thanks for that, and for your other recommendations for reading. Here’s wishing you a great 2011.

    • Bob,

      You are very welcome and thank you for giving us such an excellently written history of Arlington. I’ve recommended it countless times.

      Thanks for commenting,

  5. Dear Stephen,
    I am gratified by your review of my Arlington book. Thanks for that, and for the recommendations for other reading. Here’s wishing you all the best for 2011.

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