This is the time of the year when my inbox is flooded with “Best of” lists. I know. I post a number of them on my Facebook page (and my followers endure this as their TBR lists keep getting longer). This list is a little different and varies from year to year. For example, I read only one work of poetry this year (to my chagrin), and it is out of print. I added a couple categories to compensate: contemporary non-fiction and mystery–I am a mystery lover! My list also includes religious books since I read a number of these. If that is not for you, I’ve left them for last.
This is a list of books I read in 2022, most with 2021 or 2022 publication dates. You should be able to find all in print. The links, unless otherwise indicated, are to the publisher’s website. I also include a link to my full review at the end of my brief profile of the book. So, here’s the list!
Best Book of the Year
The Religion of American Greatness, Paul D. Miller (Foreword by David French). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Christian nationalism is troubling both for what it means to the country and to the church. Miller explores why Christian nationalism is attractive to many and why it is wrong both for the country and the church. What is most compelling about this book is not only the thorough analysis but the fact that the author is a conservative who worked at the CIA and the Bush White House after military service in Afghanistan. Review
Best History Book
The Black Church, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin Press, 2021. Henry Louis Gates, in the companion to the PBS series, provides a highly readable account of the history of the Black church in the United States and why it is so central in the life of the Black community historically. He asserts that the “talented tenth” of Du Bois has had far less impact than the Black Pentecostal church. Review
Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival, Walter Stahr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. This is a magisterial biography of the man whose opposed slavery throughout his political career, beginning in Ohio, and who, as one of the “team of rivals,” stood by Lincoln throughout the Civil War, finding the immense financial resources needed to fund the Union effort. He then went on to serve as a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court where he heard key cases after the war on the civil rights of blacks. I argued that he was America’s Wilberforce, an exemplar of public service, and a genius in his conception of the American banking system, reflected in the Chase name on one of our foremost banks, even though he had no association with that bank. Review
Best Contemporary Non-fiction
Work Pray Code, Carolyn Chen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. We’ve heard the tales of Elon Musk moving beds into Twitter’s offices. Carolyn Chen explores the far more subtle and pervasive ways Silicon Valley companies are enlisting the whole lives of workers, including the religious longings of those workers. Chen became a participant observer at several companies in order to write this book and offers a thoughtful assessment of what this means for workers, for religion, and for the wider society. Review
Breaking Ground, Anne Snyder and Susannah Black. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing 2021. This book represents a partnership of two publications, Comment and Plough, and consists of essays written over the year of 2020. While most of us are trying to forget 2020 with the pandemic, and the political and racial discord, the contributors to this collection offer some of the most thoughtful and searching reflections I’ve read on the meaning of these events and the deep divisions in our culture and what may be done to heal the rents in our social fabric. If we simply try to forget 2020, the deep scars of that time will only calcify rather than heal. Review
A Little Devil in America, Hanif Abdurraqib. New York: Random House, 2021. I highlight this book because Abdurraqib is also a Columbus, Ohio native. This book, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, celebrates Black performance and its significance for Blacks in America. The book is dedicated to Josephine Baker, whose dancing career he chronicles and whose statement during the 1963 March on Washington gives the book its title: “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too.” He moves between profiles of Black performers and his own experiences to demonstrate the impact of these performers. And because of this book, I will never listen to the Rolling Stones “Give Me Shelter” in the same way ever again. Review
Best New Author:
The Last Professional, Ed Davis. Tijeras, NM: Artemesia Publishing, 2022. A young, disillusioned Silicon Valley programmer decides to try to “ride the rails” and meets an old hobo who has been doing it for years, and is running from an enemy. From disparate worlds, they form an unlikely friendship. Davis also captures the allure of a largely bygone era while developing both characters and plot. Review
Best Literary Fiction
Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2022. Celeste Ng turns her hand to dystopian fiction in this book that leaves the reader asking, “Could this happen here?” All the elements we encounter in the book, apart from legislation giving the government sweeping powers, are already here. Economic crisis. Anti-Asian prejudice and violence. The use of blaming foreign powers and actors for our problems. The use of state power to separate children from their parents. The removal of books from schools and libraries. The surveillance state we have lived in since 9/11. This is a book to disturb the comfortable. Review
A World of Curiosities, Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2022. Louise Penny helped get me through the pandemic. I read every one of her Chief Inspector Gamache books, reveling in the layered plotlines, the psychological insights into both goodness and evil, the cast of characters inhabiting the idyllic Three Pines village, and most of all, the character of Gamache, who really is a model of what all men ought aspire to be in many respects. Her latest, A World of Curiosities came out at the end of November and is Penny at the top of her game: riveting characters and a plot that builds and builds to a heart-stopping climax. I wrote in my review, “All I will say about the ending of this book is that if you have a heart condition, you may want to seek your physician’s advice before reading it.” It is intense! Review
Best Children’s Book
All Will Be Well, Lacy Linn Borgo, Illustrated by Rebecca Evans. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022. While written from a Christian perspective, this book creates a space for all the feelings a child may have when a loved one is seriously ill, and how we can believe God loves us in the face of death. The title is drawn from a quote from Julian of Norwich. Review
Jonathan Edwards and Deification (New Explorations in Theology), James R. Salladin. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Jonathan Edwards is considered by many to be America’s foremost theologian. But few would associate him with the Eastern Orthodox idea of deification, whereby human beings participate in some way in the being of God. James R. Salladin, through close study of Edwards works shows a way in which Edwards believed this possible through, yet without breaching the creature-creator distinction. I appreciated the clear, step by step argument Salladin made from Edwards’ works to elucidate this idea. Review
Best Biblical Studies
The Samaritan Woman’s Story, Caryn A. Reeder. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. I’ve always loved this story, and after reading this book, I concluded I had loved it for the wrong reasons. I always thought of it as Jesus reaching out to a “fallen” woman. Caryn Reeder forced me to take a fresh look at the text and to realize that this idea comes, not from the text, but its interpretive history. It’s more likely, given cultural norms, that there is tragedy, not sexual looseness in the fact that this woman had five husbands, and that she is, in light of this, an amazingly resilient woman, who through her encounter with Jesus, becomes the first missionary in the New Testament. Skeptical? Give this a read. Review
Best Practical Theology
A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers, Ethan Brue, Derek C Schuurman, and Steven M. Vanderleest. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. I wrote in my review:
It is common in Christian higher education circles to discuss the intersection of faith and learning. Often, this is highly abstract and conceptual and in fields like engineering, computer science, and design, these discussions seem far removed from the technical problems those trained in these fields are trying to solve. The three authors of this work have worked both in industry and academia and bring their experience together with a well-informed faith to offer a work that digs into the specifics of how Christian faith informs design, ethics, and the uses technology serves for the common good.
This is a marvelous example of what we need more of in many other fields. Review
Best Formational Book
Unforgettable, Gregory Floyd. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2022. I found this a powerful book. The writer and I are around the same age, and the book consists of his remembering the different seasons of life, the joys and powerful griefs that come to all of us, and his sense that “God inhabits all memories.” I found myself walking with the author through my own seasons, and the unforgettable providence of God throughout. Review
Well, there it is. I think there are some pretty good books here. But “best books”? I’m not sure there is a final measure of that. But since you follow these reviews, I suspect you like some of the same kinds of things I do, and perhaps you will like these books, if you have not already discovered them. If someone who doesn’t know what kind of books to buy you has given you a gift card, this will provide some ideas for those after-Christmas book-buying trips. Let me know how it goes!
3 thoughts on “Bob on Books Best of 2022”
Thank you for your review of The Religion of American Greatness. I was not aware of it. As a conservative Christian I plan to read it .
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I am a conservative Christian (of the pre-Trump era) as well. I think you will like Paul Miller, who is working on a second book, critiquing progressive liberalism.
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