Top 40 Books of My Life

Scanning through my previous top 40 lists, there isn’t much Christian content to be found. This is right-sized by my list of books that have influenced me the most. It's a rough list, to be sure, but it's subject to change from year to year. Note that I really don’t enjoy reading fiction (sue me), so that explains the lean toward non-fiction here.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie Before creativity was a corporate buzzword, MacKenzie crafted a career in thinking outside the box in a business setting. It’s visually pleasing too.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis Picking one Lewis book is difficult and this one is probably the one where his theology is most suspect. Still, his overall message grapples with eternal issues and it evokes the right emotion from me.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Nearly 100 years old, it still lends valuable insight on the basis of Christianity. Considering the era in which is was written, Chesterton's work is brilliantly ahead of its time.

Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon In this book, the authors take issue with the evangelical movement of the 1980’s, urging believers to focus more on spiritual matters than political issues.

Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars by Pete Rose I readily admit: Pete’s an absolute mess. But he was my childhood idol. This book reveals Pete’s westside roots, so I feel like I understand my roots better through his recollection of history. It's sad he waited so long to admit to (only some of) his mistakes.

Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey I’ve always admired Yancey’s work. This is probably he most peculiar book but I appreciated his thoughts on voices that influenced his writings.

The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser I took the opportunity to hear Dr. Glaeser at UC last year because I so appreciated this book. It gives a robust but honest look at urban expansion the 21st century.

The Faith Once For All by Jack Cottrell I’ve known Dr. Cottrell most of my life; his wife taught me Sunday School. Although I don’t embrace all of his theological positions, there’s no more succinct systematic theology available. HIs work on the nature of God is most insightful.

Cincinnati Observed by John Clubbe There are endless books about Cincinnati that I love, but this one will give you the best overview of our city’s history and architecture.

Soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet I’ll read practically anything that he writes. Sweet’s understanding of cultural shifts and how people of faith should grapple with them is unparalleled.

Game Six by Mark Frost Just months before my birth, the greatest baseball game ever played took place at Fenway Park. The Reds lost the battle but won the war.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence An obscure monk discovered an eternal purpose in his every day tasks.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell There’s been a load of critique attempting to undercut Gladwell’s examples in this book, but it doesn’t negate his point: we overemphasize perceived brilliance in individuals; it’s about hard work.

The Source by James Michener I was told that this was a must-read novel before going to Israel. The novel is a fascinating journey of the coming and going of society in Palestine.

Confessions by Augustine “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Center Church by Timothy Keller When I started my doctoral work, this is the book I thought I needed to write; fortunately, Keller did a much better job than I could have managed in ten lifetimes. I assign this as reading for many of my ministry classes even though they'll likely not read it all (even though they should).

God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel This rabbi hits on a key concept that many Christians miss: we are more significant to God than many of us think.

Live From New York by Tom Shales I’m a big SNL fan and this book is the encyclopedia on the show. It’s influenced pop culture for four decades.

Dick Schaap as Told to Dick Schaap by Dick Schaap Really, this book is just OK. Still, the sports reporter’s opening quote is what makes it most memorable to me: “Often I am asked what my favorite sport is, and always I say, 'People.' I collect people.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee It's cool to hate, but it's still helped me as a young person to understand key issues of racism. I refuse to read Go Set A Watchman because I don’t want my Atticus to be a closet racist.

Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Blizzard My doctoral adviser wrote this book, so I might be biased. By his view of city ministry has influenced my own.

Church in the Making by Ben Arment I’ve met Ben and truly appreciate his wisdom. People often come to me asking about starting their own church and I always recommend to them this tome.

Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki The Apple evangelist inspires you to pull up your bootstraps and get things going.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbegin The Anglican missionary recognized the need for Christians to treat their homeland as a mission field.

World Book Encyclopedias This might be a cop out, but the most formative book(s) of my childhood were these encyclopedias that my mom got a great deal on. I will say that these encyclopedias set me on a course of lifelong learning.

Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr Over half a century later, it is the foundational work for all conversations on how believers should approach culture.

Tribes by Seth Godin I’m a Godin fanboy. This book on developing communities is his best work.

Leading: Learning From Life and My Years at Manchester United by Alex Ferguson OK, full disclosure: I just got this book for Christmas, so it’s a tad premature. Still, my passion for United and Sir Alex guarantees a slot on this list.

Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen A simple message, a profound story, a gifted storyteller.

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull The behind-the-scenes co-founder of Pixar discusses the company’s creative culture.

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura Heard him speak at a conference years back. This little tome speaks to God’s influence on creatives and the artist community.

As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg I was in a book reading group at Hebrew Union College that discussed this text. It’s fictional history, covering the era of the Bar Kochba revolt.

New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright He’s the Midas of the Christian world: every book he touches is gold. This is my personal fave as it’s so rich in content.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs Jacobs views aren’t perfect, but they’re profound. I wish I could have met this feisty lady.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton Regarded as the preeminent Luther biography, I’ve always been fascinated by this German monk.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell Even though Bell has become a lightning rod among evangelicals, this book does well to acknowledge the grey areas within the Christian lifestyle.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Bonhoeffer’s critique of cheap grace is all the more powerful when understanding his faith journey.

Night by Elie Wiesel Every person of every culture needs to grasp firmly the horrors of Holocaust. I pursue a faith that hopefully contends with the issues Wiesel raises here.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey It was a staple of personal development in the 1990’s, but it’s a primer on organizing your life.

The Bible It’s seriously not an obligatory answer. There is no other book that I’ve read that continues to challenge and convict me. I’ve spent the better part of my life studying this text and I continue to learn from it’s eternal wisdom. If I only get one book for the rest of my life, there’s no hesitation to my choice.