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Top 10 Reads of 2020

By Jesse Jost

I finished 50 books this past year. Here are my top 10 with a word of recommendation, as well as the 10 that just missed the cut but are still highly recommended, and also a complete list of all 50 books.

10. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s

by Frederick Lewis Allen

The 1920’s were a fascinating and often overlooked time in North American history, a decade of religious decline, sexual revolution, family upheaval, and booming business. Frederick Allen wrote this book in the early 1930s. His voice is fresh and his eye for interesting detail makes for a riveting read. I loved his sequel about the 1930s:

Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America, September 3, 1929–September 3, 1939

by Frederick Lewis Allen

9. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

by Timothy J. Keller

Timothy Keller always writes with simplicity, but profound depth, and has much practical application. His book on prayer covers the subject in rich historical detail and draws from a wide range of Christian thinkers on the subject. An excellent and soul-stirring overview.

8. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

by Cal Newport

Is modern technology serving us, or are we becoming enslaved? I got an eye-opening look at the ways that social media and our devices are designed to make us addicted and take more from us than we intend to give.

Newport is not anti-technology and he sees the value in social media, but he challenges us to live the life we want to be living rather than carelessly throwing away our most valuable possession: Our time.

I also high recommend “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” by Nir Eyal, Julie Li which also covers similar themes.

7. Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power

by Andrew Nagorski

2020 abounded with allusions to Hitler and the Holocaust. Both the left and right used parallels to shout warning cries. This made me curious to know more about what really happened in German in the 20s and 30s, and what enabled such a deranged despot to conquer most of Europe and plunge the entire planet into world war.

This book tells the story through the eyes of the Americans who witnessed it first hand. It is fascinating to read their impressions of who Hitler was and their take on the situation. Some got it right, while others were woefully blind to what was taking place before them.

6. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

by John M. Barry

I heard something about a pandemic that was happening in 2020 so I had to revisit the granddaddy of all pandemics as far as total lives lost: The Spanish Flu. It is so chilling to read about the devastation that killed 50-100 million people during 1918-1920.

One hundred years ago they wrestled with the same themes we’ve seen this year: Conspiracy theories, loss of personal freedoms, government overreach, to mask or not to mask, misinformation. Back then, however, this was all accompanied by unfathomable loss of human life.

The Spanish Flu had a reverse death curve. Most influenza viruses extract the highest death tolls in the young and elderly. The highest number of deaths from the Spanish flu was the group of men and women in their prime, as it turned their stronger immune systems against the host in a wicked and fatal cytokine storm.

Reading this book will give you historical perspective and make you grateful for 2020!

5. Mini Habits for Weight Loss: Stop Dieting. Form New Habits. Change Your Lifestyle Without Suffering.

by Stephen Guise

One of the biggest life lessons for me this year was the power of small but consistent habits. This led to some major health changes in my life, including a renewed love for exercise.

Heidi and I are far more faithful to take brisk walks, and I started a 1 push up a day mini habit, that has grown to 300 daily pushups three times a week.

This book had excellent advice on the mental side of diet and exercise. It made the top 10 because I read it first. But I highly recommend the two other books on the power of small habits that I read after. Both were life changing:

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

by B.J. Fogg

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

by James Clear

4. The Body: A Guide for Occupants

by Bill Bryson

Few books have inspired jaw-dropping wonder like this book. Our bodies are incomprehensibly marvelous. This book opens our eyes just a little bit more.

3. The Truth about Us: The Very Good News about How Very Bad We Are

by Brant Hansen

I LOVED this book. Not only it is a hilarious and enjoyable read, it is so convicting, eye-opening, and ultimately freeing. Hansen contends we that we are far worse human beings than we will ever admit. We rationalize sinful actions, lie to ourselves about our corrupt motivations, and will perform Olympic-level mental gymnastics so that we never have to admit that we are in error.

Even with all our efforts to sell our massive PR campaign, we still struggle under the weight of knowing we aren’t good enough. We hide our sins and failures, polish our social media posts, and get so angry when we are slighted, criticized, or ignored. We have a deep need to be accepted and loved and we believe that need will be met by convincing others and ourselves that we are good people. But it never will be enough.

Hansen reminds us that Jesus knows our every flaw: our brokenness, lust, jealousy, pride, bitterness, and resentment. He knows what a swirling cesspool our inner life can be, and HE LOVES US ANYWAYS. We are far worse than we know, and more loved than we can imagine. It is in the acceptance of these two truths that we can finally lay down the awful burdens of image management and the need to run others down so that we can feel better about ourselves.

When we acknowledge the depths of our filthiness, we discover how jaw dropping God’s grace is toward us. We become free to love other people in their brokenness and to not be ashamed to let other people see the real us. Life is not about getting our way, or receiving men’s applause, but in resting in God’s amazing love for us broken sinners.

Hansen’s message is not that we should accept ourselves the way we are, or that God’s love means that He doesn’t care about holiness. On the contrary, knowing that we are loved unconditionally, through the cross of Jesus, allows us to be honest about our shortcomings and face the areas that need changing and restoring. Only in accepting the truth about our evil hearts, can we then let God’s Spirit do His work.

2. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers

by Dane C. Ortlund

Many times throughout history, the church has claimed the power and authority of King Jesus, but then misused that power to inflict abuse and suffering.

Before we claim the authority of our King, it is vital that we know His heart. The words Jesus used to describe Himself were that “he was gentle and lowly.”

Jesus has a heart of deep care and compassion for the weak and the broken. Our sin-damaged state stirs His love for us. He longs to free us and heal us. He does not storm into our lives with words of judgement and condemnation, but a free offer of freedom and forgiveness.

The weary sinner will find in Jesus open arms and a willingness to pardon. Dane Ortlund examines the heart of Christ by looking in depth at a variety of passages that describe Jesus.

We find that He is not like us, and His ways our not our ways. The difference is that Jesus is full of compassion and willing to pardon. (Is 55:7-9)

Nothing will refresh your heart and heal your insecurity like a fresh vision of the deep love of Jesus. Few books can give you a soul-healing glimpse like this one can.

1. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

by Gregory Koukl

I loved this book when I read it years ago, so I was thrilled to see that there was a new expanded edition that came out last year. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

It is so practical and filled with wise advice about the tactics and methods we should use if we want to be effective ambassadors for Jesus. The depth of our knowledge of the truth is useless if our methods are alienating people and causing them to close the door in our face before they hear our life-giving message of hope.

Koukl is a veteran of decades of real-life conversation. He has developed numerous conversational techniques that keep the door open and challenge people to examine their own faulty beliefs and reconsider the claims of Christ.

This books is not only a comprehensive primer on various apologetic issues, it will also give you the confidence to step out in faith and have those conversations with others that God will use to draw them closer to the hope and salvation that is found in Jesus.

10 Recommended that just  missed the cut:

Each of the following books was an enjoyable and thought provoking read. I can highly recommend each one to the discerning reader with the caveat that I don’t endorse all the ideas and opinions, but they are worth reading!

1. Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America

by Scott Adams

2. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

by Daniel Goleman

3. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

By David Brooks

4. The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions That Shape Our World

by Ziya Tong

5. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

by Candace Millard

6. Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey

by A.J. Jacobs

7. Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God

by Mary Jo Sharp

8. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs

by Timothy J. Keller

9. The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment

by Daniel Taylor

10. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

by Richard J. Foster

The rest of the list of books finished in 2020

Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

by John Ortberg

The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows

by James Bryan Smith

Praying with the KGB: A Startling Report from a Shattered Empire

by Philip Yancey

The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment

by Daniel Taylor

Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing

by Jeffrey Rediger

The Beck Diet Solution

by Judith S. Beck

The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More and Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better

by Jonathan Bailor

How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss

by Michael Greger

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss

by Jason Fung

The Diabetes Code: Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally

by Jason Fung

Who You are When No One’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise

by Bill Hybels

Why Great Men Fall: 15 Winning Strategies to Rise Above It All

by Wayde Goodall

Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough

by Jefferson Bethke

Hype: A Doctor’s Guide to Medical Myths, Exaggerated Claims and Bad Advice – How to Tell What’s Real and What’s Not

by Nina Shapiro

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World

by Laura Spinney

Not My Church: Aiming for Everyone Gets You No One

by Tom Mercer

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

by Adam Higginbotham

Galatians for You

by Timothy J. Keller

Hunger Within: A Biblical Approach to Weight Management

by Arthur W. Halliday

Knowing God

by J.I. Packer

Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science

by Drew Dyck

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith

by Barnabas Piper

Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception

by Daniel Goleman

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance


by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

by Scott Adams

The New American Commentary Volume 29 – 2 Corinthians

by David E. Garland

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