Books of the Year 2021

Andrew is Teaching Pastor at King’s Church London, and has degrees in history and theology from Cambridge (MA) and King’s College London (PhD). He is a writer for THINK Theology (thinktheology.co.uk), where this blog was first published

One of the silver linings of lockdown – and if you’re a tactile, extrovert pastor there weren’t many – was being able to read a lot of wonderful books this year. Many of them were connected with my work on 1776 and the origins of the post-Christian West, which means some of these titles may prove more interesting to me than most people. (It also explains why so many of them were published by Princeton University Press, who have a freakishly good line in thoughtful, sweeping historical books.) But there were also plenty which were theological, devotional, fictional, scientific, or just fun. Here are my top tens followed by all the others, many of which are also excellent.

Top Ten Recent Books

Ritchie Robertson, The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790. A magisterial survey of the century or so that made the modern West. Astonishing in breadth, scholarship and clarity.

Richard Bauckham, Who Is God? Key Moments of Biblical Revelation. One of the most devotionally uplifting books of the year, without even trying to be, this is Bauckham on top form.

Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night. A beautifully written and pastorally wise exposition of a prayer that you may not know, but probably should. Honest, refreshing and joyful.

Walter Scheidel, Escape From Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity. An audacious claim—that European success stems from the collapse of the Roman empire and the failure of its successors—brilliantly defended.

John Piper, Providence. Piper’s best book since The Pleasures of God, in my opinion, filled with spiritual enrichment and joy fuel mined from the most unlikely places.

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. A wonderful story, superbly told (it is Donna Tartt, after all), with a deeply profound meditation on motivation, self-expression and following your heart at the end.

Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages. It is astonishing to be able to describe a thousand years of (often opaque and misrepresented) history as clearly, vividly and entertainingly as this. Book of the year.

Marc Morris, The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England. Part narrative, part origin story, part archaeological detective work, this is an outstanding tale of a period very few people (including me) understand at all. Wonderful.

Rebecca McLaughlin, Ten Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity. Apologetics for teenagers that actually works for everybody, and channels some of Rebecca’s other work into an even more accessible format.

Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey, Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment. A remarkable piece of deep, subtle apologetics, drawing on Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau and Tocqueville to illuminate our quest for happiness.

Top Ten Old Books

Leo Tolstoy, Master and Man. Oh, to be able to write sentences and tell stories like Tolstoy. What an ending.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Much more humane, compassionate and insightful than I was expecting. Karen Swallow Prior’s new edition is cracking.

Nikolai Gogol, The Nose. A man wakes up without his nose, and later sees it walking down the street dressed as a senior official. Quirky, short and hilarious.

Shusaku Endo, Silence. Pacy, gripping, haunting and deeply thought-provoking, this is among the best examples of twentieth century Christian creativity.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto. As Sam Seaborn so famously put it: “You don’t think a Communist ever wrote an elegant phrase? How do you think they got everybody to be Communists?”

Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. I’d never realised how much of this was about the “nature” and not just the “causes” of wealth, nor how convincing it was.

T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society. I should have read this already, but now that I have, I’m glad I did.

Augustine, Confessions (tr. Sarah Ruden). Augustine needs no introduction, but Ruden’s translation makes a masterwork sound even fresher, richer and more urgent.

Cicero, On Old Age. Brief, searching and strangely contemporary, considering it was written two millennia ago.

Gregory of Nyssa, On Not Three Gods. The rigour and thoughtfulness here is typical of Gregory, and not very typical of most modern writers, which makes it well worth reading.

The Rest

Michael Wood, The Story of China: A Portrait of a Civilisation and its People
David French, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker
Ben Wilson, Metropolis: A History of Humankind’s Greatest Invention
Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism
Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends Who Shaped an Age
Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot
Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma
Seb Falk, The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery
D. A. Carson, The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story
Roger Scruton, Kant: A Very Short Introduction
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half
Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the Making of Science in Europe
George Saunders, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain
Emily St John Mandel, Station Eleven
Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism
William Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention
Eric Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Francis Spufford, Light Perpetual
Joseph Priestley, Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air
Priya Satia, Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution
Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850
Bobby Jamieson, The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring
Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God
Harold Senkbeil, Christ and Calamity
Margaret Jacob, The First Knowledge Economy: Human Capital and the European Economy, 1750-1850
John Adams, Thoughts on Government
Bradley Thompson, America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It
Abigail Dean, Girl A
John Webster, Christ Our Salvation: Expositions and Proclamations
Andy McCullough, The Bethlehem Story: Mission and Justice in the Margins of the World
Hilaire Belloc, The Modern Traveller
Simone Weil, An Anthology
Juan Mascaro, The Upanishads
Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth
Ronald Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium
Peter Leithart, Baptism: A Guide to Life from Death
Tom Schreiner, Hebrews
Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed for All God’s Children
David Stasavage, The Decline and Fall of Modern Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today
Michael Reeves, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord
Philip Hoffman, Why Did Europe Conquer the World?
Daniel Darling (ed.), Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, The Narrow Corridor: How Nations Struggle for Liberty
Nathan Hill, The Nix
Eric Mason (ed.), Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel
Daniel Kehlmann, Tyll
Hannah More, Florio: A Poetical Tale for Fine Gentlemen and Fine Ladies
Sergio Cariello, The Action Bible
Adrian Wooldridge, The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World
John Cartwright, Take Your Choice
Catherine Ostler, The Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalised a Nation
Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny: An Answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress
Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution and Human Rights 1750-1790
Alexander Radishchev, Liberty
Thomas Day, Fragment of an Original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes
Andrew Bunt, People Not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience
Peter Leithart, The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of 2 Peter
Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life
Judith Sargent Murray, On the Equality of the Sexes
David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing
David McCullough, John Adams
Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
Jonathan Israel, The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848
Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
Seth David Radwell, American Schism: How the Two Enlightenments Hold the Secret to Healing our Nation
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
Jackie Hill Perry, Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him
Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
Hans Boersma, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew
Denis Diderot, Interview of a Philosopher with the Marshal of ***
Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God
Marquis de Sade, Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man
Scott Swain, The Trinity and the Bible: On Theological Interpretation
Elizabeth Day, Magpie
Sinclair Ferguson, The Dawn of Redeeming Grace
C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

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