Bob on Books Best Books of 2019

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

With a few weeks left in the year I’ve reviewed 175 books in 2019. The list that follows is my judgment of the best of many good books I read during 2019. Many of these were published in 2019 but some in earlier years. One unusual category I included this year is books on writing because of two standout books I read in this category. With that, here is my list:

Best of the Year:

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The CrucifixionFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017. Fleming Rutledge wrote a long, deep book on the meaning of the death of Christ that I read through the season of Lent this year. She distills it to two critical truths: 1. God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin and 2. God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death. This book is both one of the most well-written and theologically profound books I’ve read in the last ten years.

Literary Fiction:

The dearly beloved

The Dearly BelovedCara Wall. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. This was a debut work reminiscent of the writing of Marilynne Robinson about two pastors and their wives who share in the ministry of a New York City during the turbulent Sixties, the different ways each approaches their faith, and the challenge of coming to terms with their differences. Review

a world lost

A World Lost, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008. (no publisher’s webpage available). I’ve long been a Wendell Berry fan, and this book only confirmed my appreciation for his work, as he explores how a family, including a young boy, comes to terms when a family member is suddenly and violently taken away from them. Review

Crime Fiction:

This was the year I discovered writers of crime fiction I really liked: James Lee Burke, and C.J. Box, and their characters Dave Robicheaux and Joe Pickett. Different characters, vastly different settings, but great reads.

wolf pack

Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. A pack of four contract killers from a Mexican drug cartel threaten to take over Pickett’s town in pursuit of a former kingpin now in witness protection. Review


Robicheaux (Dave Robicheaux #21), James Lee Burke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Robicheaux tries to navigate his way through grief from the tragic death of his wife, his friend’s debt issues, a mobster wanting to make a movie, a demagogic politician and a serial murderer, while trying to clear himself of suspicion in the death of the man who killed his wife. Review



Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. In last year’s version of this list, I predicted that this would be on the 2019 list. Like many others, I found riveting Westover’s memoir of growing up with survivalist Mormon parents in rural Idaho, suffering abuse from other family members, and her passion to learn that took her ultimately to Cambridge. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A professor and her husband face a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, decide to carry their daughter to term, describe their discussions with family and friends, and the larger issues their decision raised for them. Review


Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. This was a magnificent biography of an escaped slave who relentlessly fought for the freedom of his people. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. After reading this account of Fred Rogers, I wrote: “King’s book, and this story in particular, suggests to me that Rogers was a modern St. Francis. He came from wealth, and yet lived simply. He pursued a calling, a ministry with a singleness of vision that seemed strange to some at times, and yet had its own peculiar power to form the character and self-worth of children. He sang and spoke through puppets, fed fish, and met us on screen in homely cardigans. To read about him is to be elevated, and to ask oneself, ‘am I a good neighbor?’ ” Review


the impeachers

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just NationBrenda Wineapple. New York: Random House, 2019. Wineapple’s careful historical account of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson demonstrates why impeachment is as yet unproven as a remedy for removing presidents accused of abusing the powers of their office. Review


Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent ManLynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. This is a wonderfully told story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine at the end of World War Two, the five day struggle for survival that took the lives of nearly two-thirds of those who made it into the water, and the fifty-year effort to exonerate her court-martialed captain. Review



Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Brand explores the wonders of the human body, and parallels these wonders with the body of Christ. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. Nathaniel Rich reminded me that we’ve long known the science of climate change, that at one time political parties agreed on the need for action, but allowed fossil fuel interests to polarize the parties and the country. Rich traces that history. Review

Higher Education:

religion in the university

Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Wolterstorff proposes a cogent argument that in a pluralist university public square, religious perspectives ought be welcomed along with others. Review

fundamentalist u

Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. A study of eight flagship fundamentalist/evangelical institutions over the last century, their evolution, and the outsized influence they have had on American society. Review


Write Better

Write BetterAndrew T. LePeau. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A former editor describes the craft, art, and spirituality of writing well, or at least better with wit, examples, and practicality. Review


Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. A writer of magnificent biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson describes his practices of research and writing. Review

Theological Works:

the violence of the biblical god

The Violence of the Biblical GodL. Daniel Hawk, foreword by John Goldingay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019. Hawk takes on the hard question of the involvement of God in violence, listening to the different voices in scripture to arrive at a singular proposal. Review

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to EveAmanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Benckhuysen collects the writing of sixty women from the fourth century to the present on Genesis 1-3, and some of the distinctive contributions they make on how women and men ought live together. Review

Devotional Works: 


InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Card studies the use of the Hebrew word hesed, often translated as lovingkindness. In my review, I wrote:

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed.  Review

Three Hours

Three Hours: Sermons for Good FridayFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. Seven short sermons on the seven last words of Christ on the cross. I read this on Good Friday of this year, a profound reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ last words on the cross. Review

So there is my list. It reflects that I work in collegiate ministry, write, love history and biography, and a good story. I think those of you who follow this blog have similar, but not identical interests. Picking these out of the 175 was a challenge. I could have included so many others. Even the 175 is but a tiny fraction of the books published this year. I’m aware that there were a number of other outstanding works. These were works I found life-giving, informative, and diverting by turn. I think you will as well.

One thought on “Bob on Books Best Books of 2019

  1. Pingback: Review: The Nazarene | Bob on Books

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