My Top Ten Reads of 2014
I don’t read nearly as fast as my wife or brother. So, I am fairly confident of my inability to complete another tome before December’s end. This means that I can confidently present to you my top ten reads from this year without fear of any of them losing their spot on the list to a year-end upstart. They are listed in the order which I read them.
- What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell. A fantastic collection of some of Galdwell’s best work in The New Yorker, this volume would be a welcome introduction to the author for any who haven’t read him and highly enjoyable for those who have. Gladwell is a master story teller disguised as a social commentator with a uniquely objective view. In this book, he covers topics as widely divergent as the mysteries of ketchup to the development of the Pill, the power of structured interviews to the pointlessness of current policies regarding the homeless. He has a knack for the unusual in the ordinary and a true talent to set the reader thinking.
- Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Benerjee and Esther Duflo. If you are a conservative looking for a book that substantiates the belief that hard work can raise anybody out of poverty, this book isn’t for you. The poor of the world work plenty hard enough. If you are a liberal looking for a tome by respected economists that shows more government intervention and redistribution of wealth are what is needed to solve global poverty, this book isn’t for you either. If, however, you are intellectually inquisitive enough to get a realistic view of the economic decisions the poor make and why, I highly recommend this book. The authors aren’t interested in ideology. They are after facts and empirically proven methods of making the lives of the poor better. For evenhanded comparisons, they use the concept of Purchasing Power Parity where the poverty level is set at 16 rupees and converted to the actual buying power in the states, which is roughly $0.99. The real poor live on $0.99 or less per day. Makes poverty in America appear to be a vacation! One of my favorite paragraphs comes from page 68: “The poor seem to be trapped by the same kinds of problems that afflict the rest of us – lack of information, weak beliefs, and procrastination among them. It is true that we who are not poor are somewhat better educated and informed, but the difference is small because, in the end, we actually know very little, and almost surely less than we imagine.” Amen to that!
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. Jonah Berger could be considered Malcolm Gladwell’s intellectual child. Berger was inspired by Gladwell’s now classic The Tipping Point and made it his life’s mission to figure out exactly why things catch on. Contagious is the result. If The Tipping Point be the original observation of the phenomenon in modern culture, Contagious is the empirically examined process of why things go viral. The principles are encapsulated in the acronym STEPPS: Social currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical value, and Stories. The notes about narrative on page 187 I found particularly insightful with applications for evangelism and teaching as well.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. In case you haven’t noticed, behavioral and cognitive sciences have made great strides in the past decade. This book not only rates high on the Fascinating Scale, it is also practical. It offers great explanations of how habits are formed, what triggers their expressions, and how to rewrite them. Information from this book helped me tell the tale of “Crawling Out of the Bottle” in a more frank fashion than I otherwise would have. Not prone to contacting authors, I actually reached out to Duhigg via e-mail to thank him for his work. To my delight and surprise, he kindly responded.
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. An amplification of the work and theories that earned him the Nobel Prize in Economics – a prize in economics because certain physical scientists were uncomfortable with the establishing of a prize in social science – Kahneman takes us on a tour of the thought and lab experiments that he and his colleague Amos Tversky carried out over their long collaboration. It is a book on judgment and decision making and exposes many of the mind traps and blindsides we set up for ourselves. The author examines the two primary thought process – automatic operations and controlled operations – and their impacts and influences on the decisions we make.
- What Is Secular Humanism? Why Christian Humanism Became Secular Humanism and How It is Changing Our World by James Hitchcock. This book was a large part of the backbone to my post “Secular Humanists Have a Problem.” I first read this book some twenty-five years ago. The author’s insights into the modern influences of secular humanism still hold up today. My interest in the subject was rekindled when Kevin Swanson sent me Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West after the debacle of Doug Phillip’s fall and the collapse of Vision Forum Ministries. Though Swanson’s book is more detailed in the personal lives of secular humanisms leaders, Hitchcock’s treatment of the subject is more engaging and even handed.
- Why Science Does not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel. This is not a book written by an evangelical to debate atheists. This is a work by an award winning mathematician and author to explain how and why the New Atheists have overreached in their claims for science. In my reading journal, I jokingly commented that the title could have as easily been Against the New Atheists or Dawkins, Kindly Eat Your Hat! If I had to pigeonhole Aczel, I would call him an agnostic, but a humble one at that. A quote from the introduction gives you a taste of things to come. “Roger Penrose, addressing only one of the many parameters necessary for a universe that would support life, has put the probability against the emergence of our universe as 1 over 10^10123, meaning 1 divided by 10 raised to the power of 10, raised to the power of 123. Such numbers are humbling. Now consider the odds of intelligent life developing. To assume there is no God or act of creation behind our immeasurably unlikely universe seems to me presumptuous.” (from page 4)
- Breaking Free: Escaping an Exclusivist Christian Group by Reb Bradley. I catalogued some of my own experiences in an exclusivist Christian group in my post “Membership Has Its Privileges.” When I spoke with the author at a conference, he told me that he had stopped putting his name on the cover of the book because he started getting death threats from folks who were sure he had written it about them. At only 82 pages, it packs a punch. Most insightful is his admonition to former members to take responsibility for their involvement and to stop playing the victim. It was his testimony that he seldom saw true healing begin until this was done.
- The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek. First published in Britain in 1944, Hayek’s work stands the test of time. Writing in the gale wind of popularity that central planning held in economic and government circles of his day, Hayek did much to expose that Nazism and Communism were two sides of the same coin, slavery by different names. Hayek showed that social planners were inevitably forced to control more and more aspects of society if they ever hoped to hold it to their declared societal goals. The end result would always be the deterioration – if not outright eradication – of personal liberties. I consider it necessary reading for any serious student of real world economics and political science.
- Man: The Dwelling Place of God by A. W. Tozer. A compilation of articles that Tozer wrote on the subject, his depth of insight will challenge and bless your soul. Though Tozer died in 1963, his comments on the human condition, errant evangelical practices, and the markings of a real spirit-filled life are as applicable today as when he wrote them. Some notable quotes: “God is never found accidentally.” (p.41) “True faith brings a spiritual and moral transformation and an inward witness that cannot be mistaken. These come when we stop believing in belief and start believing in the Lord Jesus Christ indeed.” (p. 45) “Future historians will record that we of the twentieth century had intelligence enough to create a great civilization but not the moral wisdom to preserve it.” (p. 34) “The most fervent devotees of tolerance are invariably intolerant of everyone who speaks about God with certainty.” (p. 87) Drink slowly, absorb well.