Books of the year 2021
Andrew is a teaching pastor at King’s Church, London, and graduated in History and Theology from Cambridge (MA) and King’s College London (PhD). He is a writer for THINK Theology (thinktheology.co.uk), where was this blog first publication.
One of the lock’s silver liners – and if you’re a tactile, outgoing pastor there weren’t many – was getting to read a lot of wonderful books this year. Many of them were related to my work in 1776 and the origins of the post-Christian West, which means that some of these titles may turn out to be more interesting to me than most people. (It also explains why so many of them were published by Princeton University Press, which has an incredibly good line in thoughtful and comprehensive historical books.) But there were also many that were theological, devotional, fictional, scientific, or just plain fun. Here are my top ten 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 masterful study of the century or so that made the modern West. Astonishing in its breadth, erudition and clarity.
Richard Bauckham, Who is god? Key moments in biblical revelation. One of the most uplifting books of the year, without even trying to be, is Bauckham in great shape.
Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the night. A beautifully written and pastorally wise account of a prayer you may not know, but probably should know. Honest, refreshing and happy.
Walter Scheidel, Escape From Rome: The Failure Of The Empire And The Road To Prosperity. A bold claim – that European success was due to the collapse of the Roman Empire and the failure of its successors – brilliantly defended.
Donna Tartt, the goldfinch. A wonderful story, superbly told (it’s Donna Tartt, after all), with a deeply deep meditation on motivation, self-expression, and following your heart to the end.
Dan Jones, Powers and thrones: a new story from the Middle Ages. It is amazing that you can describe a thousand years of history (often opaque and distorted) in such a clear, vivid and entertaining way as this one. Book of the year.
Marc Morris, The Anglo-Saxons: A History of Early England. Part narrative, part origin story, part archaeological detective, this is an exceptional tale of a period that very few people (including me) understand. Marvellous.
Rebecca McLaughlin, Ten Questions Every Teenager Should Ask (And Answer) About Christianity. Apologetic for Teens that actually works for everyone and channels some of Rebecca’s other work into an even more accessible format.
Benjamin and Jenna Silber upstairs, Why We’re Restless: In the Modern Quest for Contentment. A remarkable deep and subtle apologetics, drawing on Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau and Tocqueville to illuminate our quest for happiness.
The ten best old books
Leo Tolstoy, Master and man. Oh, being able to write sentences and tell stories like Tolstoy. What an end.
Marie Shelley, Frankenstein. Much more human, compassionate and insightful than I expected. The new edition of Karen Swallow Prior is cracking.
Nikolai Gogol, The nose. A man wakes up without a nose and later sees him walking down the street dressed as a senior official. Weird, short and hilarious.
Shusaku Endo, Silence. Fast-paced, captivating, haunting and deeply stimulating, this is one of the best examples of twentieth-century Christian creativity.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto. As Sam Seaborn so aptly put it: “Don’t you think a Communist ever wrote an elegant sentence?” How do you think they got everyone to be a Communist? “
Adam Smith, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. I never realized how much this was about “nature” and not just the “causes” of wealth, nor how convincing it was.
TS Eliot, The idea of a Christian society. I should have read this by now, but now that I did, I’m glad I did.
Augustine, Confessions (tr. Sarah Ruden). Augustine doesn’t need to be introduced, but Ruden’s translation makes a masterpiece even fresher, richer, and more urgent.
Cicero, On old age. In short, inquisitive and strangely contemporary, given that it was written two millennia ago.
Gregory of Nyssa, On not three gods. The thoroughness and thoughtfulness here are typical of Gregory, and not very typical of most modern writers, so it’s worth reading.
Michael Wood, The history of China: portrait of a civilization and its people
David French, Divided We Fall: America’s Threat of Secession and How to Restore Our Nation
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Musings of a lonely walker
Ben Wilson, Metropolis: A Story of Mankind’s Greatest Invention
Pierre 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 that we can’t see
Leo Damrosch, The club: Johnson, Boswell and the friends who shaped an age
Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Preliminary speech to Diderot’s Encyclopedia
Bessel van der Kolk, The body keeps the score: the mind, the brain and the body in the transformation of the trauma
Seb Falk, The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery
DA Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s History
Roger Scruton, Kant: a very short introduction
British Bennett, The half that faints
Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the factory of science in Europe
George Saunders, A swim in the pond in the rain
Emily St John Mandel, Eleven station
Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism
Guillaume Rosen, The most powerful idea in the world: a story of steam, industry and invention
Eric Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire
TS Eliot, Four quartets
Francois Spufford, Perpetual light
Joseph Priestley, Instructions for impregnating water with fixed air
Priya Satia, Empire of Guns: the violent fabrication of the industrial revolution
Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Got Rich and Asia Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850
Bobby Jamieson, The Path to Becoming a Pastor: A Guide for Aspirants
Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God
Harold Senkbeil, Christ and the calamity
Marguerite Jacob, The first knowledge economy: human capital and the European economy, 1750-1850
John Adams, Thoughts on government
Bradley Thompson, America’s Revolutionary Spirit: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration that Defined It
Abigail Dean, Girl A
John Webster, Christ our salvation: exhibits and proclamations
Andy McCullough, The story of Bethlehem: mission and justice on the fringes of the world
Hilaire Belloc, The modern traveler
Simone Weil, An anthology
Juan Mascaro, The Upanishads
Joël 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 Abundance: Trade, War, and the Global Economy in the Second Millennium
Peter Leithart, Baptism: a guide to the afterlife
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 the children of God
David Stasavage, The Decline and Fall of Modern Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to the Present Day
Michael Reeves, Rejoice and tremble: the surprising good news of the fear of the Lord
Philippe Hoffmann, Why has Europe conquered the world?
Daniel Darling (ed.), Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, The Narrow Hall: How Nations Struggle for Freedom
Nathan Hill, The Nix
Eric Mason (ed.), Urban apologetics: restoring black dignity with the Gospel
Daniel Kehlmann, Tyll
Hannah More, Florio: a poetic tale for handsome gentlemen and beautiful ladies
Sergio Cariello, The action bible
Adrien Wooldridge, The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World
John Cartwright, Make your choice
Catherine Ostler, The Duchess Countess: the woman who scandalized a nation
Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny: A Response to Resolutions and Address of the United States Congress
Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution and Human Rights 1750-1790
Alexander Radishchev, Freedom
Thomas day, Fragment of an original letter on the slavery of negroes
Andrew Bunt, Non-pronouns: reflections on the transgender experience
Peter Leithart, The promise of his appearance: an exhibition of 2 Peter
Ron Chernow, Washington: a life
Judith Sargent Murray, Gender equality
David Hackett Fischer, Washington crossing
David McCullough, John adams
Gordon Wood, Revolutionary characters: what made the founders different
CS Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
Jonathan Israel, The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Set the World on Fire, 1775-1848
Paula Hawkins, The girl on the train
Seth David Radwell, American Schism: How the Two Enlightenment Holds the Secret to Our Nation’s Healing
Danish Ortlund, Sweet and humble: The Heart of Christ for sinners and the suffering
Charles Taylor, A secular age
Jackie Hill Perry, Holier Than You: How God’s Holiness Helps Us to Trust Him
Ben Macintyre, Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
Hans Boersma, Five things theologians want Bible scholars to know
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 redemptive grace
CS Lewis, The horse and his boy