There were six books that certainly deserved to be on this list this year and so I had to leave one off, I chose to leave off A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus by David Bennett. It was a great book for me to read this year and I highly recommend listening to Bennett who is genuinely trying to live self-sacrificially and certainly should be respected. But with that these are the five books that I think were the best I read this year. They were all well-written and spoke to my own needs this year. They each helped me understand the world around me that much better and I think they should have a larger impact in the world.
On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights by Lawrence Goldstone
The first book I read this year and one of the like four out of five books on this list, one of the books I was most excited to read in 2022 (apparently my instincts were right on). Goldstone provides an extremely detailed and well researched look at how legislatures and the courts worked together to undermine African American rights. There is a temptation, and I have been guilty of this, to think that following the Civil War outside the South Americans were working to integrate African Americans or at least were not working against them in the legal sphere. Goldstone dispels this myth and shows how America was cold and hostile to the African American community from the 1860’s-1900’s, with even the Supreme Court actively working to undermine the rights of African Americans. I recognize this book might be too dense for some to enjoy but I did not find it overwhelming and it was extremely helpful in filling in a gap in my picture of American history.
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman
Like Goldstone’s book I found this book difficult to read, the subject matter is brutal and it took me months to wade through it because I could not read much at a time. I found it profoundly difficult to read about the psychological conditioning given to soldiers and the complete lack of care and support following killing. This book made me realize that Americans cannot say “Support our troops” unless they want both a significant overhaul in the psychological care for troops and are extremely hesitant to put troops into violent situations. The toll taken on the soldiers’ mental health is incredible and needs to be addressed. What is worse is, as Grossman expertly points out, American society is voluntarily submitting ourselves to the same level of psychological training through media. I was shocked how he compared American media with the United States Military’s psychological conditioning. I will certainly think twice about how I consume media (including movies, TV, and video games) after reading this book. Again, it can be very difficult to read but is certainly worth the effort.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
If this book was going to be written, especially by a female author, it needed to be exceptionally well researched and the citations needed to be numerous, and Du Mez did precisely that. This book was outstanding, Du Mez does a brilliant job tracing the development of the modern Conservative Evangelical Movement, with particular emphasis on its political ambitions and exploitation of gender roles. There are certainly places where critics might push back slightly on her interpretations and try to defend specific individuals more, but it is impossible to argue with the overall picture she creates. As someone who has been, at least in part, influenced by this theological tradition I found parts of the book difficult to read, but because of how well the book is researched I found myself listening to Du Mez and agreeing with her assessment. If you are influenced by Conservative Evangelical politics this will be a difficult book to read but it certainly should be on your reading list because it evaluates that tradition in an honest manner.
Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World by Tara Isabella Burton
Burton shines a light on the opposite side of American culture from Du Mez. Burton looks at societal trends (predominantly those associated with Liberal/Progressives) and how these cultural identifiers are becoming religions. I found Burton’s honesty about how certain lifestyles and political associations are in fact functioning as religions refreshing. I also appreciated that the book displayed these cultures from the inside, Burton participates in the religions she describes and it is not simply an outsider’s or scholarly opinion of these cultures. Yet I have one criticism of the book and that is she fails to truly critique these new religions, perhaps that is asking too much of the book but I never felt the author was aware of some of the obvious shortcomings of these new religions. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful look into a world that I rarely see and offered me a new perspective on how others relate to the world.
Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Joy Imes
I am so glad I read this book; it is designed as a book on the Third Commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” but it is far more. Imes does a masterful job at telling the entire story of Israel in the wilderness through the lens of “bearing God’s Name”. So many think (as I was taught) that bearing God’s name in vain refers to speaking a Divine title in an inappropriate manner, but Imes gives a far better definition. She relates God’s name to one’s commitment to being part of the community of God’s people and how one brings honor to God through that position. She is able to frame some of the dullest material in the Bible (Leviticus-Deuteronomy) in a captivating way and help the reader recognize the importance of this material. This is definitely a book I will revisit in the future as I try to understand what it means to be a part of God’s people.
I strongly encourage you to pick up at least one of these books in the coming year, I found each of them helpful and think you will also.
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