study break

TL;DR of 100 Books Read in 2021

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen – at all?

2. A Restless Age by Austin Gohn

Augustine was a rebellious little scoundrel turned sage, and his pursuit of purpose is a prime example of a wholesome religious life.

3. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Angsty teenager thinks he’s much more culture non-conforming than he actually is.

4. Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald

Studying science is a privilege many pursue and few hold. Also, a few fascinating snippets of both jellyfish research and jellyfish beauty in the wild.

5. Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook by Peter T. Vogt

The ancient world was a wild, violent place and knowing that puts all that cryptic Old Testament law under a clarifying lens.

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Teenage girls have always been in pursuit of cute boys, shallow friendships, and “emotional crack” such as chick lit. Some of them mature out of this; some do not.

7. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart Ehrman

There are two people Ehrman despises: those who take the Bible seriously (consulting it for religious and historical truth), and those who get their history from the Da Vinci code.

8. Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith

Don’t worship when you feel it; worship till you feel it.

9. Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart by Chrétien de Troyes

A true knight does not hesitate to suffer any kind of danger or humiliation to serve, and ultimately rescue, his lady.

10. The Double Helix by James Watson

You’re comfortable putting those kinds of thoughts in print? Really? Ok . . .

11. The Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

12. Holy Books Have a History: Textual Criticism of the New Testament and the Qur’an by Keith E. Small

While early New Testament manuscripts include hundreds of copies allowing us to track when and where errors or edits were made, early Qur’an manuscripts show edits conforming variant manuscripts to one selected standard.

13. Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender by Christopher West

Catholic tradition is much more comfortable with mystic interpretations and applications than Protestant tradition, but in ways that are very orthodox and not at all heretical.

14. The Analects of Confucius

One must follow one’s duty to one’s family, friends, society, government, and God.

15. Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis

A professor gets kidnapped and taken to Mars. Dialogue on cosmology, ethics, culture, philosophy, and modern science result.

16. The Egyptian Book of the Dead

The artwork here is more fascinating than the lists and lists of spells to protect you in the afterlife.

17. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

Look for common themes, repetitions, and scenes in Scripture; they mean something. The Bible’s narrations are exceedingly subtle and complex.

18. Beowulf

An old, grand adventure of noble warriors defending their people.

19. The Song of Roland

Hubris of youth and noble desires collide to create his downfall – but only after a betrayal.

20. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution by Lee Alan Dugatkin

Domestic foxes!! Domestic foxes!! This is how they did it!

21. Among the Bone Eaters: Encounters with Hyenas in Harar by Marcus Baynes-Rock

One man’s year immersed in Ethiopian culture and religion, and also the spooky smart hyenas who have learned to cozy up to people, exchanging wildlife tourism for food.

22. For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse than you Ever Imagined by Natasha Moore

Church history is human history, and thus captures the highs and lows of human nature.

23. Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot by Mo Isom

More of an autobiographical account than a theological treatise on sex.

24. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren

Charming little devotional on daily rhythms and habits.

25. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton

Nightmare indeed. Hold on, it’s going to be a weird, wild ride meandering between absurdities, witticisms, and the question of evil and suffering.

26. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

A psychiatrist is imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII. By some miracle (the grace of God?) he survives, and what follows is a stunning portrait of human nature.

27. Gathering Moss: A Cultural and Natural History of Mosses Robin Wall Kimmerer

Mosses are diverse, fragile, impactful members of their ecosystems – and they’re cute.

28. The Stranger by Albert Camus

I’m not mature enough to get this. A psychologically and emotionally closed-off man becomes the victim of his own weird circumstances and personal quirks.

29. The Sealed Nectar by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri

Accounts of the Prophet Muhammed, presumably selected from the Hadith. Ranges from noble examples to historical accounts, with an emphasis on taking moral examples from his life.

30. Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt

An inspiring woman who used data and math to map the unseen and challenge the major geological theories of her day – she wasn’t an ideal student, but she was an ideal scientist.

31. Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence by David F. Gruber

Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) won its wonders the Nobel Prize in 2008, and molecular biology has never been the same since. One of many examples of ocean-based discovery leading to incredibly practical uses.

32. You Are What You Love: The Power of Spiritual Habit by James K. A. Smith

This book makes me fall in love with liturgy and mourn the lack of it in modern seeker-friendly touchy-feely churches. Spiritual habits, liturgical and otherwise, write a faith we know to be true (head knowledge) into our very bones (heart knowledge).

33. Deep: Freediving Renegade Science, and What the Oceans Tell Us About Ourselves by James Nestor

People do this? For fun? Wild

34. Tristan: With the Tristan of Thomas by Gottfried von Strassburg

A love potion intended for marital bliss leads to an unquenchable affair. After a whirlwind of dragons, jousting, magical potions, and sneaking around to deceive the cuckholded king, the story ends in an incredibly Medieval, incredibly mundane “then he got an infected wound and died” sort of way.

35. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis by Chris R. Armstrong

Dark Ages? Pshaw. There’s lots to learn from Medievalist philosophy.

36. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Innovation by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Much to learn from the geniuses interviewed for this book, including the value of slowing down, taking breaks, and not working overtime or staring at a screen 24/7.

37. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Sisters and mother standing by each other, encouraging and helping each other through the wild phases of early adulthood – singleness (both blissfully preferred and painfully experienced), courtship, the early days of marriage, and having toddlers running around.

38. Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Quit all social media and turn off all screens for hours each day so you can get real, focused work done. Quality of work time leads to infinite productivity over simply quantity of work time.

39. Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley

Africa has played a major role in the development of Christianity – from Joseph’s and Moses’ wives to the Ethiopian Eunuch, to Augustine of Hippo and Athanasius of Alexandria, to the vibrant African American church and African churches throughout the continent today (hint: many of them are not as a result of colonialism).

40. Perelandra C. S. Lewis

A second Edenic fall is prevented in a thrilling drama of philosophical evil turned mortal combat.

41. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Chaotic love quintangle (?) including identical twins of the opposite sex (SCIENCE), one of them posing as the opposite sex.

42. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Haters turned lovers is a classic trope.

43. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Much darker than the aforementioned comedies. Much darker. Prepare for guilt, gore, and descents into madness.

44. The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect by Wendy Williams

Beauty is universally appealing, not at all least in this most delicate and colorful of creatures.

45. Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Generosity and goodwill towards man sours into a bitter realization of the corruption – or downright apathy – intrinsic to human nature.

46. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the World by Patrik Svensson

A boy grows up hunting eels with his dad. Yup, that’s basically it.

47. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

One of those Shakespearean “dark comedies” where you alternately find yourself laughing and then shocked.

48. The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

Finally, a Shakespearean play on how fickle men can be.

49. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare amuses his regal audience by expanding on the foibles of Her Majesty’s favorite character.

50. Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in our own Land by Elliot Clark

Wisdom from Christians accustomed to living in non-Christian cultures.

51. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Here the women come to save the day! Why do we say Old England was sexist again?

52. The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare

A dramatized version of Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, from The Canterbury Tales.

53. Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer

A little reminder that it’s ok to not know everything and that doesn’t mean your faith is empty if you don’t.

54. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Slay the White Whale or thinly veiled midlife existential crisis? You decide.

55. Othello by William Shakespeare

Always trust your wife – she’s not cheating on you. It’s all in your head.

56. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

A selection of tales that will leave you alternately inspired, amused, and shocked.

57. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Fairies pranking each other somehow orchestrate settling the complicated love-lives of four Greek teenagers.

58. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

Another of those “Couple happily married, husband suspects wife is cheating on him, tragedy ensues” kind of Shakespeareans.

59. Christian Cosmo: The Sex Talk You Never Had by Phylicia Masonheimer

In the midst of a generation raised with sex-based religious baggage (I’m looking at you, Pure: How an Evangelical Movement Shamed a Generation of Young Women), this is a brief, frank, sensible book that discusses a touchy topic in a much healthier way.

60. The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

People are starving for community; practice radical hospitality with your neighbors.

61. Honeybee Democracy Thomas D. Seeley

Bees are social wonders and architectural gurus. Their ecology and behavioral dynamics are astonishingly complex.

62. Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living in Hope by Matthew McCullough

Death doesn’t stare us in the face here in the cushiony modern world. At least, not the way it used to. Turns out, there are some psychological and emotional benefits to remembering death.

64. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

Aside from genuinely believing Christian pastors will take advice from an atheist (really?), this presents a fascinating foray into the natural world.

65. The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand

A philosopher discusses aesthetics and aesthetic theory, analyzing various forms of art in her cutlure. And yes, I am partial to her after her shameless confession of favoring tap dance to all other dances.

66. The Tempest by William Shakespeare

A ship is wrecked on an island inhabited by fairies and a self-quarantined family.

67. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin

Lots of cool music-and-brain facts in here, such as: your emotional response to music is processed in the limbic part of the brain (“lizard brain”), and when singing in groups (“Happy Birthday”) someone picks literally any note (even one that doesn’t exist) and everyone else can follow the pattern from that first note (we recognize musical patterns and can instinctively transpose them).

68. After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man by Michael Ward

If you’ve ever been stumped by The Abolition of Man, or just died of curiosity to know who he is protecting with his “Green Book” pseudonyms, this book is for you.

69. Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson

The colonization of island isolated thousands of miles into the Pacific is one of the mysteries of the ancient world.

70. A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

Communism is total in its attempts to crush the human spirit, the will to live, even human connections. Read this only if you have the stomach for it.

71. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

A handful of women seek beauty, camaraderie, love, and meaning with varying success and within a culture obsessed with surgically created perfection and cultish celebrity fandoms.

72. Persuasion by Jane Austen

A couple separated by duty (aka familial dissuasion) reunites after eight years in this introspective romance.

73. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Jekyll’s split of human nature results from a science based on Eastern philosophies of the soul, but ultimately confirms the Western philosophy of a sin nature lying in every man.

74. Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl T. Bergstrom

How to interpret data, critically review an experimental set-up, and recognize common logical fallacies in today’s “Studies show” and “Scientists say” headlines.

75. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

A knight battles his own fears and faults in this Celtic myth infused, lyrically composed drama.

76. Sophocles I: Antigone / Oedipus the King / Oedipus at Colonus

Family loyalty and honor in the midst of despair.

77. American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Wolves have their moments of inexplicable compassion and shocking violence – much like the people who so devotedly follow them.

78. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Twain’s facile presentation of the stupidity of Dark Age folks aside, this is a hilarious addition to the Arthuriana canon. And typical of Twain, he slips some biting criticism of social ills of his own day between the pages.

79. The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix by Howard Markel

How Rosalind Franklin is actually nothing like what Watson depicted in The Double Helix. A tribute to this remarkable woman in science, her research, her evolving relationship with Watson and Crick, and how her and Watson’s personality clashes resulted in her being looked over in the century’s most revolutionary biological breakthrough.

80. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

A shrew and a cad get married and (rather sexist) antics result. Say what you will about the cringy offensiveness but their path from first kiss in the chapel to an ultimately happy marriage is a funny one.

81. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

How do we manipulate DNA to make biofuels, pharmaceuticals, impossible foods, etc.? This book tells you how. (On a tangential note, it also humanizes Watson a bit, after the more grotesque villain depicted in The Secret of Life).

82. Phantastes by George MacDonald

A dream-like fairy tale that captivated Lewis and gave me the feel of being in one of those wild 80’s fantasy movies.

83. Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him by Jackie Hill Perry

You mean God’s holiness is a good, loving, comforting part of His nature, and not a vengeful, angry one? Tell me more.

84. Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle

Pursue virtue, pleasure, health, and sucess – but in moderation. Achieve a balanced, meaningful life.

85. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

A normal life with an unhappy marriage descends into a psychologically intense witness of one’s own death.

86. The Principia by Isaac Newton

From geometry of lines, points, and curves to “oh yes I can explain the tides and comets now”

87. Silas Marner by George Eliot

An ostensible orphan shows up in the life of a man cheated of happiness, changing both him and the town.

88. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

A man witnesses the final judgment of everyday Joe’s and Jane’s, in the afterlife.

89. Lady Susan by Jane Austen

The finest coquette in all of England attempts to manipulate in-laws and her daughter into securing her own financial security. Will her true character be exposed or can she smooth-talk her way into an unhappily wedded fortune?

90. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

The Iranian Revolution upended the lives of a people not at all accustomed to living under theocratic rule – as told through the eyes of a child.

91. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas & Michael Licona

Conveniently summarizes the historical sources available on this historic event.

92. The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The botany of alcoholic drinks – from the chemistry of vodka, gin, etc. to the various garnishes used to spruce things up.

93. Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition by Hans Boersma

Why is seeing God face-to-face such a remarkable part of the Christian vision? This book traces the theology – and how theologians have worked through the questions that naturally arise on this topic – from the apostles through the Calvin and contemporaries.

94. The Republic of Plato

What kind of education and family structure is needed to build up a class of people dedicated to the protection and preservation of an ideal society?

95. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Firsthand slavery account – and his comments on the value of education in making a man free make it required reading in many high schools (resulting in an incredible amount of hilariously negative reviews available).

96. Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga

In addition to a nice introduction to the philosophy of Hume and Kant, this is an introduction to Plantinga’s epistemology by the man himself.

97. Captain Blood Returns by Rafael Sabatini

Read Captain Blood. Then read this follow-up, each chapter being a new adventure in and of itself, for extended debonair antics carrying serious Percy Blakeney vibes.

98. Introducing Eastern Orthodoxy by Andrew Louth

What doe Eastern Orthodox Christians believe? How does their theology differ from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? This is a great introduction to their history, theology, and religious practice.

99. The Soul of Wine by Gisela H. Kreglinger

Wine is a powerful – and ubiquitous – symbol in Scripture, replete with rich imagery and rife with anti-gnosticism vibes. As a sacrament, it reminds of the shocking earthiness of Christian theology – the goal is not to transcend the physical to achieve higher spiritual truths, but to appreciate and learn spiritual truths through the physical world God has gifted us.

100. The Bible

#classic. Reading and understanding this book is essential for keeping up with dialogues on history, philosophy, culture, politics, religion, economics, social justice, literature, and more, so if it isn’t on your list yet, get reading.

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