Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Best Books I Read This Year (2011)

These are my thirteen favorite books I read in 2011:

1. Unbroken / Laura Hillenbrand
This biography of Louie Zamperini was the best book I read in 2011. (Thank you, Russ Andrews, for recommending it to me!) As I read Unbroken I kept asking myself, “Why in the world have I not heard of Zamperini’s story before now?” Unbroken is unforgettable.

2. The Deep Things of God / Fred Sanders
This book helped me see more clearly how deeply Trinitarian the gospel truly is. I’m grateful to Sanders for writing this book and I’m grateful to God for being who He is: one God, three persons, blessed Trinity.

3. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (NSBT) / Alan Thompson
The majority of the volumes that I’ve read in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series have been mildly disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. There are some golden books in this series (like this one and this one and this one). But when I picked up this book by an author from Australia that I’d never heard of, I have to admit that my expectations weren’t sky-high. What I discovered, though, was the best book I’ve ever read on the book of Acts. Thompson’s explanation of the kingdom of God in Luke-Acts is glorious.

4. Chosen For Life / Sam Storms
Most books on divine election are fuzzy and argumentative. Chosen For Life is clear and courteous. Storms provides a model for pastors who are seeking to faithfully understand, explain and apply this crucial doctrine.

5. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices / Thomas Brooks
This was my first time reading a book by the Puritan Thomas Brooks. It won’t be my last. Here is a taste of what you will find in Precious Remedies: “Never let go out of your minds the thoughts of a crucified Christ. Let these be meat and drink unto you; let them be your sweetness and consolation, your honey and your desire, your reading and your meditation, your life, death, and resurrection.”

6. The Christian Faith / Michael Horton
I enjoyed Horton’s new systematic theology. You may not agree with all of his conclusions (I certainly don’t) but you won’t be bored or puzzled because Horton pens delightfully lucid sentences like this one: “What a wondrous thing it is that even though Jesus Christ has been exalted to the throne of God, absent from us in the flesh, we may nevertheless only now be united to Him in a manner far more intimate than the fellowship enjoyed by the disciples with Jesus during His earthly ministry.” (587) Wow.

7. Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian / John Piper
Vintage Piper. I read this book to learn more about race and racism. You get that in Bloodlines. But what you get most of all is the good news of God’s manifold grace in Jesus Christ.

8. A Year With George Herbert / Jim Scott Orrick
Every Sunday evening, after preaching to thousands of people in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Haddon Spurgeon would ask his wife to read to him from the poet George Herbert. This Anglican poet refreshed the weary Spurgeon, who once said “I love George Herbert from my very soul.” You just can’t go wrong with 52 Christ-centered poems by Herbert with Professor Orrick as your guide.

9. In the Garden of Beasts / Erik Larson
Imagine what it would be like if you were the United States ambassador to Germany, living in Berlin during the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime. Or you could just read this book and let Larson tell you this chilling true story.

10. Churchill / Paul Johnson
If you want a wonderful and brief biography then look no further than Johnson’s life of Winston Churchill. The book is brimming with excerpts from Churchill’s speeches. I really liked this one: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” But my favorite Churchill line in the whole book is one he delivered while paying tribute to Royal Air Force fighter pilots: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Read that sentence again. Slowly. The epilogue alone is worth the price of the book.

11. Decision Points / George W. Bush
Few presidential memoirs are page-turners but this one is. I simply couldn’t put this book down. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about what this President did during his two terms in office. This book details why he did what he did and how he arrived at his major decisions. Interesting stuff.

12. All the Pretty Horses / Cormac McCarthy
This was the best novel I read all year. McCarthy is certainly not for everyone but I happen to enjoy his craft. No other author could write a paragraph quite like this one: “Dark and cold and no wind and a thin gray reef beginning along the eastern rim of the world. He walked out on the prairie and stood holding his hat like some supplicant to the darkness over them all and he stood there for a long time. As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. He could feel it under his feet. It came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing groundshudder watching it till it was gone. Then he turned and went back to the house.” That run-on sentence is as long as a train. But it works, doesn’t it?

13. Writing Tools / Roy Peter Clark
I enjoy reading books on writing. Clark gives you 50 short chapters of writing tools instead of writing rules. Thanks to Clark, I will always remember to get the name of the dog.

With the Roark family moving to Washington, D.C. tomorrow, my blogging will probably be more erratic than usual for the next few weeks until we get settled on Capitol Hill.

As always, happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2010)

These are my fifteen favorite books I read in 2010:

1. What Did You Expect? / Paul David Tripp
Of all the books I read this year, What Did You Expect? was my favorite. It ought to be required reading for engaged couples. Every husband should consider reading this book with his wife. You will be consistently convicted, driven to prayer, and pointed to a perfect and gracious Savior.

2. The Holy Spirit / Sinclair B. Ferguson
Sinclair Ferguson on anything is worth reading. An extended treatment on the Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson is essential. Ferguson does more than just unfold the work of the Spirit. He helps you encounter the person of the Spirit. Cessationists and non-Cessationists alike can read and enjoy this book.

3. Finally Alive / John Piper
We are neither the master of our fate nor the captain of our soul. Jesus said we must be born again. This gem of a book will help you to marvel at the miracle of the new birth.

4. God the Peacemaker / Graham Cole
This book forced me to ponder a world without the atonement. Without the cross, what would we lose? Cole answers: “no union with Christ, no forgiveness of sins, no cleansing, no justification before God, no redemption from sin, no adoption, and no reconciliation with God. In short, no peace with God, no gospel” (p. 157). Wow.

5. Counterfeit Gods / Timothy Keller
Money, sex, power, and success are cruel masters. Keller shows us why. Reading this book is devastating but in a good way. Keller gets you from the opening paragraph: “We search endlessly for ways to acquire the things we desire, and we are willing to sacrifice much to achieve them. We never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us” (p. 1). Buy two copies and read this book with an unbelieving friend.

6. The Unquenchable Flame / Michael Reeves
I read this book because Mark Dever said it was “quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation that I have read.” Take his word for it. It’s really good. The pictures are pretty horrendous but the writing is outstanding.

7. The Good News We Almost Forgot / Kevin DeYoung
I guarantee this is the best book on a Reformed 16th Century catechism that you will ever read in your life. DeYoung is the perfect tour guide through the Heidelberg. He helped me think long and hard on grace, guilt, and gratitude.

8. What Is the Gospel? / Greg Gilbert
A brief and helpful explanation of the biblical gospel. The section on the gospel and the kingdom is worth the price of the book.

9. Thunderstruck / Erik Larson
Only Larson could write a readable and utterly fascinating non-fiction account of Guglielmo Marconi and his invention of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy. Maybe that’s because he weaves  a gruesome murder and a police chase spanning two continents into his book. That works every time.

10. WAR / Sebastian Junger
The other non-fiction book that I found unforgettable was WAR. Junger was embedded with U.S. 2nd Battalion for five grueling months in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. My favorite quote: “The brain requires around two-tenths of a second just to understand simple visual stimuli, and another two-tenths of a second to command muscles to react. The distance at which you might literally be able to ‘dodge a bullet’ is around a thousand yards. You’d need a quarter second to register the tracer coming toward you– at this point the bullet has traveled 250 yards– a quarter second to instruct your muscles to react– the bullet has now traveled 500 yards– and half a second to actually move out of the way. The bullet you dodge will pass you with a distinctive snap. That’s the sound of a small object breaking the sound barrier inches from your head” (pp. 30-31). So now you know.

11. The Hunger Games Trilogy / Suzanne Collins
I couldn’t put these books down (The Hunger GamesCatching Fire, Mockingjay). Sort of a mix between Orwell’s 1984 and Stephen King’s The Running Man with a dash of teenage-love-triangle-angst thrown in for good measure. Collins depicts the atrocious and horrifying impact of war on the young.

12. The Long Ships / Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
If you are interested in lively historical fiction about Vikings then this is just the book for you. I have yet to meet anyone who disliked this book.

13. Washington’s Crossing / David Hackett Fischer
Ron Chernow’s new biography of George Washington is wonderful but this book is even better. Fischer describes in breathtaking detail one of the pivotal events in American history: General Washington’s crossing of the frigid Delaware in December 1776.

14. An Experiment in Criticism / C.S. Lewis
Very few books about reading are worth reading. But this classic by Lewis is chock full of wisdom. Let Lewis inoculate you from literary snobbery and help you to enjoy seeing through the eyes of others.

15. My Reading Life / Pat Conroy
I love reading Pat Conroy books. This book is about the books Pat Conroy loves to read. He swears he’s read at least 200 pages of fiction every day of his life since 9th grade. He writes: “Reading and prayer are both acts of worship to me.” (p. 183). Another delightful factoid was Conroy’s praise of The Lord of the Rings: “In an endangered land of dwarves and elves and wizards, I listened to the story of creation and  the unseen world told once more by a writer with supernatural, unsurpassable gifts. I let the story possess me, take me  prisoner, feed me with the endless abundance of its honeycombed depths. It is a story that rules me.” (pp. 92-93).

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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“A book that will break your heart” by C.S. Lewis

“Not content to create his own story, he creates, with an almost insolent prodigality, the whole world in which it is to move, with its own theology, myths, geography, history, palaeography, languages, and orders of beings– a world full of strange creatures beyond count.

The names alone are a feast, whether redolent of quiet countryside (Michel Delving, South Farthing), tall and kingly (Boramir, Faramir, Elendil), loathsome like Smeagol, who is also Gollum, or frowning in the evil strength of Barad Dur or Gorgoroth; yet best of all (Lothlorien, Gilthoniel, Galadriel) when they embody that piercing, high elvish beauty of which no other prose writer has captured so much.

Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a review need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. They will know that this is good news, good beyond hope.”

–C.S. Lewis, “Review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” in On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (New York: Harcourt, 1966/1982), 84.

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2009)

These are the ten best books I read in 2009:

1. The Meaning of the Pentateuch / John H. Sailhamer
I’ve been awaiting this volume from Dr. Sailhamer for several years. It was well worth the wait. A primer on hermeneutics, a historical theology, a compositional analysis, and an exegetical theology of the Pentateuch all rolled into one book. It’s not for the faint of heart. But intrepid readers will discover much fine gold and will never read the five-fold book that begins their Bible the same way again.

2. Pauline Christology / Gordon D. Fee
Fee’s second volume in his Pauline trilogy. Few scholars make exegesis exciting and worshipful. Fee is one of them.

3. A Praying Life / Paul Miller
One of the most helpful and inspiring books on prayer I’ve ever read. I’ll reread this one in 2010 and hopefully put much of Miller’s wisdom into practice.

4. Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper / Keith Mathison
An exquisite exposition of the Lord’s Supper, particularly the view held by the great Reformer. If you read only one book on the Eucharist, let it be this one.

5. A Quest For More / Paul David Tripp
This little book is what the Purpose Driven Life ought to have been. Tripp’s writing is provocative and pastoral. It would be a worthy book to read in January to help set the trajectory of your year.

6. Life and Practice in the Early Church / Ed. Steven A. McKinion
An illuminating collection of source material from the early Church Fathers. These selections paint a picture of how followers of Jesus lived out the faith together in the first three centuries of Christianity.

7. Life Together / Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A compelling call to radical Christ-like community. If you find the individualism of our age stifling, then read Bonhoeffer: “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.” (p. 18)

8. Peace Like a River / Leif Enger
The best novel I read this year. I kept quoting lines from this book to my wife. Just beautifully written. But more haunting than heartwarming. Every Christian father should read this book.

9. Gilead: A Novel / Marilynne Robinson
The second best novel I read this year (by the narrowest of margins). It deserves all the attention you can give it. The author’s prose reminds me of my dearly beloved Flannery. Every pastor should read this book.

10. The Name of the Rose / Umberto Eco
A Medieval murder mystery set in a monastery where the monks keep dying, strange things keep happening in the library, and all the important clues are in Latin. This novel has the texture of tapestry. Eco certainly did his homework.

Happy New Year!

–Nick Roark

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The Best Books I Read This Year

These are the best books I read in 2008.

Theology

Fiction

Non-Fiction

Biography

History

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Book Review: Communion with the Triune God by John Owen

C.S. Lewis understood the devotional benefit of reading good theology. “For my own part,” wrote Lewis, “I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

I believe Lewis is right. I found my heart singing while reading this lengthy treatise on the Trinity written 350 years ago by an English Puritan pastor-theologian. In Communion with the Triune God, John Owen shows from Scripture how to enjoy fellowship with each person of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Editors Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor have once again done the church a great service by publishing this book. Following a Foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Kapic provides a helpful introductory essay, “Worshiping the Triune God: The Shape of John Owen’s Trinitarian Spirituality” that gives a “panoramic view of Owen’s approach to communion with the triune God” (p. 20).

The goal of this volume, according to Taylor, is to provide “unabridged but updated and accessible edition of Owen’s Communion with God” (p. 47). In other words, the editors let Owen speak for himself. This isn’t an abridgement or a paraphrase. The original content is reformatted to assist the modern reader. Owen’s notoriously long paragraphs are broken into smaller units. All Greek and Hebrew words are transliterated. Pithy Latin phrases are translated. Difficult words are footnoted. Helpful headings and subheadings aid in following Owen’s flow of thought.

This is good news for those of us who find Owen difficult to read. However, the effort required to read this book will be repaid many times over. Mining for gold is always hard work. Passages like this keep me coming back to Owen to mine for more gold: “So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in Him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto Him” (p. 128).

All who desire to grow in their love and adoration for the glorious Triune God will want to read this book.

ISBN: 9781581348316 
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 448 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books (September 27, 2007)

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Book Review: Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor

Overcoming Sin and TemptationFew Christian writers have helped me understand the deceitfulness of sin and my own heart more than the Puritan divine John Owen. When I need biblical counsel on the heart-work of mortification and battling temptation I go to Dr. Owen. With the publication of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, editors Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor have done the church a great service.

The editors don’t paraphrase Owen. They allow the good doctor to speak for himself, while providing the reader with many helps to hear Owen’s voice clearly. They footnote difficult words. They transliterate Greek and Hebrew. They translate all Latin phrases. They modernize some of the punctuation. They provide insightful overviews for all three books. Basically, Overcoming Sin and Temptation is the content of Volume 6 of Owen’s Works (Mortification of Sin, On Temptation, and On Indwelling Sin) minus the exposition of Psalm 130, arranged in a very reader-friendly format, with outlines and introductions to assist the reader in following the author’s complex arguments.

Reading Owen will always be hard work. But Overcoming Sin and Temptation goes a long way in making Owen accessible to a new generation of Christians who desire to wage war on sin. Owen, like a spiritual drill instructor, teaches Christians “the art of battle, which includes understanding the nature of sin, the complexity of the human heart, and the goodness and provision of God.” (p. 26) To that end, Kapic invites readers to embrace the challenge and blessing of reading these soul-searching writings: “You stand at the threshold of Dr. John Owen’s office. Will you enter and receive the diagnosis, and stay to hear your cure?” (p. 35)

All who enter owe Kapic and Taylor much thanks for tidying up Dr. Owen’s office. I highly recommend Overcoming Sin and Temptation as a helpful companion for all those on the quest for godliness.

ISBN: 1581346492
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 464 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books (September 25, 2006)

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