Best Books of 2016


This is the time of year when a number of literary and review publications are coming out with “best of the year” lists. Mine is reflective of my own particular reading habits, which include reading lots of works published before the current year as well as some that have been, and a heavy dose of works from a more theological perspective, mixed with some fiction, history, and biography. So, here is my list without further ado.

new-perspectiveBest of the Year:

Paul’s New Perspective, Garwood P. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. I choose this work as “best of the year” for a couple reasons. One is that I think it is a great work of scholarship that is a game-changer in the discussions about perspectives on Paul. Also, the review for this book garnered more views than any review post this year, so you might say it is a “blog reader’s choice.” (Review)

The noise of timeBest work of fiction: 

The Noise of TimeJulian Barnes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. I found this fictional exploration of the inner live of composer Dmitri Shostakovich fascinating because of its exploration of the tension between surviving under a totalitarian regime and living with artistic integrity. (Review)

Change of HeartBest biography or memoir:

A Change of Heart, Thomas C. Oden. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Recently deceased theologian Tom Oden narrates his own personal and theological journey through a series of contemporary theologies to a place of stability rooted in the creeds and fathers of the church. (Review)


Reading for the Common GoodBest book on books:

Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Reading is often a solitary activity. Smith shows us how reading together can enrich communities, particularly religious communities. (Review)


Grapes of WrathBest classic read this year:

The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1939 (original edition), 2002 (this edition). I could also have put Anna Karenina here, but decided to give the nod to Steinbeck’s fictional account of the dust bowl migrations to California and the conditions of grinding poverty the people endured captured in the Joad family. (Review)

the-good-shepherdBest devotional work:

The Good ShepherdKenneth E. Bailey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. The late Kenneth Bailey’s last work, a scholarly but devoti0nally rich exploration of Psalm 23 and the “shepherd” theme running through scripture. (Review)


the-faithful-artistBest books on art and faith:

I’m going to list two here, each profound works in their own way.

The Faithful Artist, Cameron J. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Anderson explores the tensions familiar to readers of My Name is Asher Lev as well as many persons of faith who have sought to work with excellence and integrity in the world of modern art without compromising Silence and Beautytheir faith. (Review)

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Fujimura gives us a “layered reflection” on Shusaku Endo’s Silence and the intertwining of suffering, silence, and beauty that Fujimura finds both in the novel and thinks necessary to the advance of Christian belief in Japan. (Review)

The Warmth of Other SonsBest history:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Vintage, 2011. Reading this helped me discover one of the great migrations, that of African Americans, occurring between 1915 and 1970, and its profound impact on the South, and the cities of the North. (Review)

The NightingaleThe book that kept me up at night:

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Some books have kept me up at night because of their riveting plots. This one kept me awake thinking about “the choices faced by the characters, the brutality they suffered, and the profound grief that comes of love and loss. I’ve read other books with “heavy” content, but rarely have I been touched as I was in reading this book” (from the review)

I realized in compiling this list that six of the ten books here came from one publisher, InterVarsity Press. In the interest of full disclosure, I work with the parent organization of this publisher and do review many of their books. But I will also say that I review quite a number of books (135 so far this year), and many by other publishers and as I surveyed the books that I had rated most highly and whose quality of writing and ideas I most appreciated, I honestly felt these came to the top. I realize that is a personal, and probably very subjective judgment. I’ll let you decide, and you can skim all my reviews by going to “The Month in Reviews” category on my blog.

In closing, I’d love to hear your own choices of “best books” that you read this year. I always love hearing what other book lovers have enjoyed!

4 thoughts on “Best Books of 2016

  1. Bob,
    I love that you mention My Name is Asher Lev in your review of Faithful Artist. I read that book as a high school student, and couldn’t help but make comparisons to my artist brother, Cameron. That his life’s work has been about being a faithful artist has been apparent to me since childhood. Thanks for making that connection.

    Thanks too for recognizing Garwood’s contributions in his work, Paul’s new perspectives. Like Cameron, Garwood’s work reflects his lifelong commitment to cogent and incisive reasoning — about topics as wide-ranging as biblical scholarship, leadership, education, politics and WI sports! He’s never settled for common wisdom, when a more careful examination of things revealed a better path. In this sense, Garwood’s book also is the culmination of his life’s work pursuing well-reasoned conclusions to complex topics.


    • Thanks, Kristen. I love all of Chaim Potok’s writing, and Cameron mentioned this as well, so it readily came to mind as a way to summarize what he was trying to do in the book. I thought Garwood’s book was good not only for the incisive and scholarly character of the work, but also the irenic character of the writing. Thanks for your comment–it was a treat to see both of these books come to publication at the same time, and with such quality!


  2. Pingback: Most Viewed Reviews of 2016 | Bob on Books

  3. Pingback: Top Ten “General” Posts of 2016 | Bob on Books

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