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Summer Reading

In years past, I’ve offered a “summer reading” list of ten or so newer titles that might serve those in search of a good read. I am intentional in attempting to mix and match titles that speak to spiritual growth, history, biography, current affairs and culture. I also attempt to throw in a good novel or two. You can always visit the churchandculture.org site for previous year’s lists, including the 2010 listing.
Here are ten, in no particular order, for 2011:
Heartstone by C.J. Sansom. Hands down one of my favorite novelists. Heartstone is Sansom’s fifth Matthew Shardlake mystery, set in the 1500’s, and one of the best of the series. If you are new to Sansom, go back and begin with Dissolution and then work your way forward. 
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. If Sansom is one of my favorite living novelists, McCullough is one of my favorite living historians. Committed to telling the story of history, McCullough brings his subjects to life. Here he explores an idea he has long championed: the French influence on Americans, and how it shaped the American culture. From James Fenimore Cooper to Samuel F.B. Morse, Oliver Wendell Holmes to Mark Twain, McCullough follows Americans to France, and then shows us what they brought home.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  This book has generated a lot of attention due to the long wait for a definitive work on the person at hand, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a growing hero for both evangelicals (as a passionate follower of Christ) and the wider secular world (as a social reformer and part of the Nazi resistance). Metaxas may airbrush Bonhoeffer a bit much in the attempt at putting him on the path to sainthood, but there is no better introduction to his life. And it is a very worthy life to explore.   
The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond by Bill Hybels. I found this to be one of Bill’s better books, and one of the most challenging and encouraging he’s written for the spiritual life. This is a book on “promptings,” those inner tugs and pulls, proddings and pushes from the Holy Spirit that often lead us on our greatest adventures and spiritual breakthroughs. Whether it opens up new territory, or covers familiar ground, this is a stirring book. That is, if you’ll let God whisper to you while you read it. 
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. This is one of those books that can save you reading ten other books.   In a single text you get a sweeping overview of religion in America, and particularly an examination of the effects of three “seismic shocks”: the 1960s and the plummeting of religious observance; the conservative reaction of the 1970s and 1980s ; and now the growing polarization that permeates our culture. Based on two massive national surveys on religion and public life in America, American Grace is must-reading for any cultural observer.
The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam by Eliza Griswold. The tenth parallel is the line of latitude seven hundred miles north of the equator, “a geographical and ideological front line where Christianity and Islam collide.” More than half of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims live along this line, as do 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians. Journalist Griswold explores where the two meet in a very important book for our times, detailing how the conflicts of our day are not merely religious, but also about land, water, oil, and other natural resources. Perhaps most intriguing is her exploration of how “faith is geographic and demographic.”
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Chernow delivers a biography worthy of its subject. This is now the definitive one-volume biography on the father of the American nation.
Khan: Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden. You may be familiar with his bestselling The Dangerous Book for Boys or his “Emperor” series chronicling the life of Julius Caesar. In this fourth installment of novels on the Khan empire, Iggulden does what any good writer of historical fiction should: he brings history to page-turning life. I devoured the first three, the last ending with the death of Genghis Khan. Thinking the series over, I found a fourth installment an unexpected surprise as he seems intent on continuing the history of the great Mongol Khans. And that’s good for anyone who enjoys historical fiction at its best.
Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Here’s a thriller steeped in theology and myth, fascinating conjecture and mystery, playing with the ambiguous text of Genesis 6:4. Consider this from the flyleaf: “Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 correspondence between the late mother superior of St. Rose Convent and the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller plunged her into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.” Don’t let this be a theology primer, but do let it keep you turning the pages.
Why the West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris. The title is fairly self-explanatory; when English entrepreneurs around 1750 harnessed the energies of steam and coal, the world was changed. “The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its global supremacy.” Now there is the emerging power of China and India; does that spell the end of the West as a superpower? In a look back at resources, disease, climate and migration, Morris offers a look at the next 100 years in a manner reminiscent of Jared Diamond.  
If you’re smart, you’ll check out the responses to this blog for the many suggestions I’m sure will be offered as helpful supplements to this list. I know I will. 
Happy reading.
James Emery White

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