It’s that special time of year again: the best books of the year list! I always love to hear the books that absorb their readers, and what I should add to my list. From my own reading in 2022, I enjoyed and recommend the following books.
Keeping the Heart, John Flavel
“The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.” Puritan pastor John Flavel focuses on a problem most Christians face: our hearts are prone to wander. We get distracted, bored, or weighed down with sins or worries in the world, which draw us away from pure love of God. Working from Proverbs 4:23, Flavel encourages us to keep our hearts with all diligence, being watchful over the condition of our souls. This book is short but packs a lot of punch. It is practical and especially helpful in giving us warnings about particular seasons of life when we should be on guard.
Strange New World, Carl Trueman
Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self was one of the most important books of the year in 2020. He sought to demonstrate that the sexual revolution of the last sixty years (and its current iteration championing transgenderism) transformed the way society understands personhood. In short, the sexual revolution is the fruit of radical individualism that centers truth and authority in the self. Trueman’s book is very helpful in understanding the times. However, it is dense, academic, and contains many technical terms not always easy for the average reader. In 2022, he wrote a condensed version containing the same main arguments and is more accessible: Strange New World. I recommend this volume to help you make sense of the changes in our world.
No Apologies, Anthony Esolen
This is a book about men and the need for masculine strength for society to function. Esolen laments from the beginning that this book had to be written, but in a society that paints men as the problem and masculinity in its most basic forms as toxic, he wants to remind men of their value. He encourages the pursuit of manliness as noble and necessary. This could easily have been a simplistic, chest-thumping book appealing to the ‘good ole days’. It’s not, and we have enough of those. As a Catholic intellectual, Esolen writes in Christian categories of nature and design to ground his arguments, and often appeals to common sense. This book won’t be for everyone. The title ‘No Apologies’ should give you a hint as to the tone he takes. He is not kind to feminism, especially its modern forms, which he convincingly demonstrates has done more harm than good to women, children, and men. Esolen is a fascinating thinker and a tremendous wordsmith. His writing will stir something in you, one way or another.
Why Believe?, Neil Shenvi
Neil Shenvi is a theoretical chemist by training and homeschool dad. I noticed him a few years ago on social media and his blog, when he was interacting with works on Critical Race Theory. He is a good researcher and reviewer who is fair and charitable in dialoguing with authors and thinkers with whom he disagrees. I eagerly anticipated his first book published by Crossway this year, a book on general apologetics. Shenvi doesn’t cover much new ground in this work. He uses the classical arguments for God and writes primarily to atheists. However, his writing is clear, appealing, and inviting. If you’re looking for an accessible book articulating some reasoned arguments for the Christian faith, I think you’ll like this one.
The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
I always like to include one fiction book on this list. This year I include a volume from a classic series, whose lore was recently stripmined into a visually stunning and entirely unnecessary cash grab by a large corporation known for online retail and occasional spacefaring. But I digress. Return of the King is the final book of The Lord of the Rings. The book (it is really one story told in three parts) is timeless, and is one of the bestselling books of all time. It has set the tone for all modern fantasy since its publication in the 1950s. Tolkien sought to create an entire world and a kind of mythical history for the British people. The story is engaging and well-told, but it doesn’t read like a modern novel. Tolkien loves names, places, and history. Those who read the included appendices detailing the history and culture of Middle-Earth will probably get the most from the experience. The casual reader, though, can also enjoy the world and characters Tolkien created, and the familiar tale of an epic journey of unlikely heroes on a quest to save the world.