Top Books of 2009

I thought I would join in on the fun of ranking the Top Books of 2009. My only qualifications for this list are that I had to complete the entire book somewhere between January 1 and December 31, 2009 (even though we’re just short of it being December 31), and the book didn’t have to be published in 2009, I just had to read it in 2009. For this list I am excluding my book, Love is an Orientation, as well as the Bible, because I’m a tad biased towards each.

This year I completed a total of 35 books, encompassing 9,528 pages. Those are both personal records.

Here’s my Top Books of 2009 Ranked by Category. For each book I will give the most impactful thing I took from them:

Christian History:

1. Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Marvin Wilson

       Barukh Attah Adonai: Blessed are you O’ Lord in all things—good, bad, breathe and the all encompassing presence that literally privileges us with each second of every day.

2. The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark

       The inverted growth of Christianity to the population’s decline—it was because as the population declined through the rapid plagues that spread, Christians were the only one’s going towards those dying because they only knew one way to live out their faith: serving the needy and outcasts at all costs.

Christian Living:

1. The Monkey and The Fish by Dave Gibbons

       The cultural understanding of Jesus’ words when he said the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself, literally meant to love the Lord your God with everything you have and in doing so, go and find the person most unlike yourself and relentlessly pursue them in Christ’s love.

2. With Justice For All by John Perkins

       Biblical reconciliation is the understanding that Jesus came to reconcile God-to-human, and human-to-human.


1. The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

       If you’re a white Christian leader and have not learned under the feet of a minority, you can’t effectively minister in a 21st century context. If it weren’t for the culturally and ethnically minority Christians, Western Protestantism would be declining just as fast as the other Christian denominations. This book is not for White Western Christians who are faint of heart.

2. Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture by Claude Levi-Strauss

       It is innate in humans to continuously divide and sub-divide a construct in their head until they are left at a base level, with the only option as a ‘yes or no’. This is the way humanity is able to even begin to wrap their minds around life’s confusing and divergent happenings.


1. The Shack by Paul Young

       What a powerful depiction of the Trinity and what it means to let pain go to God in such a fashion that pushes the bounds of our Western-based understandings and boxes that we put on our Creator.

2. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

       Another fun quasi-religious murder mystery.


1. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

       Best book I’ve ever read describing how to read and interpret the Bible—this approach takes care of the “Blue Parakeet” passages: those difficult passages that seem to stand alone and cause drama.

2. The Greatest Words Ever Spoken by Steven Scott

       This book takes all of the words the Bible records Jesus speaking and categorizes them into numerous sections to be directly quoted and referenced by topic.

Secular Non-Fiction:

1. The Guinea Pig Diaries by AJ Jacobs

       I laughed out loud at least a dozen times reading Jacob’s crazy fun human experiments. Enough said.

2. Vindicated by Jose Canseco

       Who knew this guy was right about absolutely everything! Every single player he mentioned in his first book was eventually caught cheating with steroids. No one believed him years ago, and now this book is Canseco’s proof of vindication. Every page is a cocky pat on his own back—and he deserves every one of them for the ridicule he faced when no one believed him.

Have any of you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with my list? Was there anything I left off or should put on my 2010 reading list?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Much love.

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  • Here are my favorites:

    John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life by H. J. Selderhuis. With Calvin’s 500th birthday has come many biographies, and this one brings the stoic looking, long-bearded figure to life in numerous ways. Working primarily from Calvin’s voluminous correspondence, Selderhuis helps us crawl into the skin of the great Reformer and treats him neither as a friend nor an enemy. If I had to choose a favorite, I would probably take the Calvin bio, just because it was so well written.

    For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago by Simon Baatz. A well-told piece of history from the museum of true-crime, Simon Baatz recreates the circumstances surrounding a heinous murder committed by two wealthy Chicago elites mixing good biography with historical research. Many myths are shattered about the famed speech by Clarence Darrow, and many insights can be gleaned about criminology’s shifting understanding of what causes crime.

    Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation About Discipleship, Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy by Tracy and Spencer. The best dialogue to date between traditionalist and egalitarian interpretations of marriage. Nuanced theological ideas are explained and worked out in everyday life by each of the couples, and they show that are not as far apart as they might seem. This egalitarian was quite pleased to see how much the traditional side has been revised over the years.

    The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Never has an astronomy book been so entertaining and so controversial at the same time. Tyson chronicles the history of Pluto’s rise to fame and fall from grace as it was downgraded from planet to “plutoid.” The letters from schoolchildren taking up Pluto’s cause are the most endearing part of the whole escapade.

  • Chad Barth

    I’m surprised you haven’t gotten a lot of flack for both of your “Fiction” picks. The Shack was an interesting read, but it has quite a few problems.

    Personally, I would add Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” to this list, though I’m not sure what category it would technically fall under. I would also add “Love Is an Orientation”, myself. 😉

    Definitely some interesting sounding books here I’ll have to take a gander at.

    Thanks Andrew.

  • Hi Chad – I’m also quite surprised about the Fiction picks…in my book that’s ok that I haven’t heard anything though 🙂

    I actually loved The Shack. I thought it was so innovative and took such a unique spin on the Trinity. I think many folks look at that book way too theologically deep than its intended. But maybe not? I just know I read it as an entertaining fiction book, and I thought it totally was!

    As for the categories, I just created them because I had the hardest time in the world trying to ‘rank’ my Top 10 in order from 1-10, so I just created some nice ‘categories’ that fit each of my top 12 books from this past year. Convenient, huh? I haven’t read any of Donald Millers books, personal reasons I guess. But I keep hearing people love A Million Miles – go on Donald with your bad self!

    Adam – quite the variety of books you listed there. Pluto Files and For the Thrill of It sound really interesting. I’ll have to add those to my 2010 list.

  • Bart Wang

    Bart agrees with your recommendation of ‘The Shack’. He didn’t read it until a couple months ago because he tends to avoid anything (especially Christian) with tremendous hype. He eventually relented and was blown away. Bart was incredibly encouraged and challenged – something he rarely finds in a work of fiction. He thinks this hub-bub about doctrinal issues to be a red herring.

    Other books that the Wang loved this year included ‘One Church, Many Tribes’ (Richard Twiss) and ‘There Is No Me Without You’ (Melissa Fay Greene). He just started ‘War Child’ (Emmanuel Jal).

  • What did you think of the Shack? I read it last year as well. It was definitely different that’s for sure. 🙂

  • CoffeeHouse – I loved The Shack! I loved that God was a fat black woman, I loved the characters of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I thought the whole thing was just really well done and super creative. It’s a non-fiction book; and understanding that while reading it made it even that much more powerful in my mind.

  • I love to read, so let me toss in a couple of books:

    The Executed God by Mark Taylor. This book is changing my life i ways I did’t thik possible. It would be impossible to lay out every layer. The basic premise: sice Christians follow someoe who was executed by the state, we have a resposibility to resist the priso idustrial complex. Especially in its present form.

    Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. I kow some people have a lot of issues with this book, and I also kow that writing it brought Ehrman further down the path to losing his faith. But it’s a great intro to Hermenutics and Biblical languages. Plus it’s really funny. 🙂

    If you liked the Guinea Pig Diaries, then you should try his other book: The Year of Living Biblically. AJ Jacobs tries to live as close as possible to all the exact laws as the words are written in the Bible. He also tours a Creationist Museum and talks with several other types of people.