16 Books That Made My 2016


2016 was a year of reading for me. Great books. Dumb books. Long books. Short books.

Thanks in part to a 2016 Christian Reading Challenge by Tim Challies as well as some ongoing accountability from my wife, I read more books in 2016 than I have ever read in a single year. Dropping cable for a few months didn’t hurt either!

As 2017 has started, a few people have asked me about my favorite reads or for some reading recommendations.

Below, I have listed 16 books that tell the story of my 2016.

Please note: This list is not my top 16 books. When I reflect on 2016, these are the books that come to mind for one reason or the other. You will find five fiction books, six nonfiction books, and five Christian books (with a silly bonus since it’s 2017).

With each book, I have written a brief summary, my reaction, a quote from the book, and my GoodReads ranking for each book. I gave only 7 of the 70 books I read last year a full 5 out of 5 possible stars last year. All seven are listed below. I ranked 11 books 4 out of 5 stars; seven are included in the list below as well. So if you pay attention to my rankings, you have a good gauge at how my top book list would look.



The Brothers Karamazov 51fiyykscxl-_sx333_bo1204203200_by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Book in a Nutshell: All-time classic from one of Russia’s greatest authors featuring three brothers: one hedonist, one atheist, and one faithful. Love triangles, murder, courtroom drama, and existential philosophy rolled into one.

Reaction: Dostoevsky resonates with me every time. I spent a day in wonder when I finished the last page. It might be my favorite book of all time – absolutely my number 1 book in 2016. 800-plus pages will scare some away, but the journey is worth it. For a taste of Dostoevsky at a more friendly 552 pages, try his Crime and Punishment.

QuoteHe fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter, steadfast for the rest of his life, and he knew it and felt it suddenly, in that very moment of his ecstasy. Never, never in all his life would Alyosha forget that moment. “Someone visited my soul in that hour”…  

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.


Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke41zlahmzqel-_sx328_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Based on a real-life heirloom, Hawke writes as an Anglo-Saxon father who is preparing to leave his children for battle and fears his probable death. Each brief chapter offers the father’s wisdom on virtue and character. Think Sword in the Stone meets Second Timothy.

Reaction: After hearing my senior pastor rave about this one, I read the book in one sitting and underlined half the book. I will be tempted to quote this book almost any time I teach.

Quote: On Solitude – Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul. 

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.


The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton51ccka8uyzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_1

Book in a Nutshell: More than 40 years before Orwell, Chesterton predicts what England will look like in 1984. A king is chosen to rule at random, and absurd chaos ensues.

Reaction: Chesterton may not have intended this, but the book hauntingly and hilariously mirrored much of the 2016 presidential election. In the Trump era, this book feels like a current script for a SNL-type movie.

QuoteThe men who lounged and wondered behind him followed partly with an astonishment at his brilliant uniform, that is to say, partly because of that instinct which makes us all follow one who looks like a madman, but far more because of that instinct which makes all men follow (and worship) one who chooses to behave like a king.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars


Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling51bbtjau6ql-_sy417_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: If you don’t know by now, you probably don’t care.

Reaction: I read this series to have some fun conversations with some high school students. As a whole the series is good, but not to the level I was expecting. There’s more epic action than Narnia, especially in the later books, but less grand redemptive truths and themes.

QuoteNot a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?  – Albus Dumbledore

GoodReads Ranking: Favorite: Goblet of Fire – 4 of 5 stars. Least: Order of the Phoenix – 2 stars


Open Season by C.J. Box51cuk-znxdl-_sx282_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A down-to-earth Wyoming Game Warden begins his adventures in this book as he tries to protect not only an endangered species but his young family as well.

Reaction: Joe Pickett was my 2016 guilty pleasure. The Game Warden angle breathes some fresh air into the mystery genre. The series consistently presents intriguing stories and endearing family dynamics, but readers should know there are brief mature episodes and some adult language in the books. Concerned parents and weak consciences might not enjoy the books for this reason.

QuoteThings are about to get real western. 

GoodReads Ranking: Open Season: 4 of 5 stars. Other books in the series: 2-4 stars.



Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown51dfdkjdzpl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Focusing on one team member, Joe Rantz, this historical book tells the story of the Washington University rowing team that represented the United States in the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany in 1936.

Reaction: Reading the book felt like rowing the boat with the team. Some parts felt like you really have to put effort into getting to the finish line; at other times you hardly noticed how easily you are coasting through the book. By the end, this was one of my favorites in 2016.

QuoteIt’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.


Black Flags: Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick51qjxe2y2zl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book covers the events and foreign policy mistakes that led to the emergence of the infamous terrorist group.

Reaction: I needed this book. Middle Eastern history and politics are hard for me to follow. Reading this equipped me to understand how we got to this point and to make some sense of the current events in Iraq and Syria. At times, this book reads like an intense thriller.

QuoteIn each case, the Islamists promised freedom from tyrannical regimes and the creation of a just society, ordered according to godly principles. What they delivered instead was an armed dictatorship defined by corruption, cruelty, and death.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi41v2b9ognesl-_sx336_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A medical professional finds out he only has a little while left to live. This book offers the needed perspective that death is certain for us all, and the last few pages of the book will make you cry ugly.

Reaction: This one probably makes the top 5 for the year, but I don’t see myself ever reading this again.

QuoteMost lives are lived with passivity toward death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 out of 5 stars


The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann612b3z0cs-pl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This is a true story about one of the last great explorers, Percy Fawcett. Intertwined with Fawcett’s adventure is the author’s own journey to the Amazon.

Reaction: I could not put this book down at all. Everything that captures your imagination when you watch Indiana Jones grabs you here except this story actually happened. I am carefully anticipating the upcoming movie release.

QuoteIf we die, we’ll die walking.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates51cjodbpzsl-_sx333_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: An African-American father writes to his son about what it means to grow up as a black man in our country and world today.

Reaction: As a white man, there were truths I needed to hear and feelings I needed to understand. Whether it is this book or another like it, I would recommend all my white friends to read something like this in order to get a better understanding of what life is like in someone else’s shoes. For me, Coates’ atheistic worldview undermined some of the ethical arguments he proposed.

QuoteBut all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars


Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones51pebowsd9l-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Half of the book is dedicated to the raging surge of legal and illegal use of opiates across our country. The other half unveils the rise of a Mexican beach community that produces a majority of the heroin on our streets today.

Reaction: As I now live in the middle of the opiate epicenter, I might not have read another book that spoke more to my own community and context. The content was better than the delivery at times, but I learned a lot reading this one.

Quote“We can talk morality all day long, but if you’re drawing five hundred dollars a month and you have a Medicaid card that allows you to get a monthly supply of pills worth several thousand dollars, you’re going to sell your pills.”

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars



On Preaching by H.B. Charles, Jr.412glbtjnrl-_sx326_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A short and practical guide to preaching. It covers a myriad of topics including sermon calendars, preaching without notes, being a guest preacher, and finding your own preaching style.

Reaction: One of my favorite preachers hits a home-run with this book. It has helped me grow as much as any other preaching book I have read. If you teach or preach and you do not own this book, get it soon.

QuoteOur preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars


Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak51mep0r-82bl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book seeks to help guide parents in a number of important topics regarding college. Each chapter includes good discussion starters to equip parents to shepherd students during this transitional season of life.

Reaction: This book will benefit parents as much as they let it. Helpful truths abound and the conversation starters will greatly serve any family that takes the time to try them.

QuoteThriving at college begins in the home.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars


Union With Christ by Rankin Wilbourne41revbuljyl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This first-time author explains what Union with Christ is and means, traces the doctrine through Scripture and church history, and demonstrates how this doctrine impacts everyday life.

Reaction: I recently preached on a text that addressed this doctrine, and Wilbourne’s book helped me immensely. Any Christian would benefit from studying this overlooked doctrine.

QuoteUnion with Christ is not an idea to be understood, but a new reality to be lived, through faith.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars


Oversee God’s People by Brian Croft and Bryce Butler41umjnvprgl-_sx363_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Croft and Butler address the oversight and administration duties of an elder and pastor. This helpful book covers several topics (ex: medical emergencies, security issues) I cannot remember encountering in other pastoral ministry books.

Reaction: I read this book alongside the other elders in my church. When we met to discuss the book during our elder meetings, we enjoyed many helpful discussions in seeking to apply the book’s lessons to our own congregation. Each chapter is brief but offers plenty of material to digest and discuss with other leaders.

QuoteAdministration is shepherding.

GoodReads Ranking: 3 of 5 stars


Transforming Homosexuality by Denny Burke, Heath Lambert41ctbywt2hl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: These two authors present the biblical understanding of sexuality in a winsome manner. Included in this short book is an important discussion on the Bible’s teaching regarding sexual thoughts, desires, and inclinations.

Reaction: If you’re a conservative Christian, this will help clarify the Bible’s teachings and equip you to have truthful and loving conversations. If you are open-minded or even if you disagree, this book will present to you the biblical position with conviction, clarity, and compassion.

QuoteWe are not merely the sum total of our fallen sexual desires. 

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars


Bonus: What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding by Thomas Hill51wb2s5tzwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book is a father-centric parody of the best-selling What to Expect When You are Expecting. Over the course of the book, one father offers sarcastic advice to other fathers-to-be for each phase of the nine-month pregnancy.

Reaction: We welcomed our third child in 2016 so I tried this book out one lazy Saturday morning. Things start off strong as the introduction claims that men are the ones who really suffer during a pregnancy. I read all nine-months in one sitting so some of it might have been funnier if I had read it over the nine-month period.

Quote: (Note to the wife) Understanding what your husband is going through is the most important thing you can do. And don’t forget that pregnancy can be just as challenging, rewarding, and involving for a woman as it is for a man.

GoodReads Ranking: 2 of 5 stars



Setting a goal, pursuing some diversity in reading, and having an accountability partner all helped make 2016 my best reading year ever. My wife and I are once again participating in the Challies Reading Challenge in 2017.

This year, I am pursuing a smaller total of books only because I am hoping to knock out a handful of looooong books (including the 1200-plus page classic War and Peace).

The 2017 Non-Kindle Stack Has Begun.

I’d love to hear from you. What books made your 2016? I still have several open slots for books to read this year so feel free to let me know some books you think I should consider reading in 2017!


2 thoughts on “16 Books That Made My 2016

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