Books of the Year 2022 image

Books of the Year 2022

Choosing which books to read is always a challenge. The number of titles that people either recommend to me, give me, or ask me for my opinion on is so large that I could not possibly read them all, even if I gave twice as much time to reading as I currently do. What I tend to do is only to buy books that are either (a) necessary for my work - which this year means books on Matthew's Gospel, race and racism, the post-Christian West, and eighteenth century history in particular - or (b) have been recommended to me by multiple sources that I trust. And that's why I also tend to summarise my reading towards the end of each year, in case I am a trusted source (as if) for anyone else.

My reading highlight this year was going through Dominic Sandbrook’s magnificent series on the history of post-war Britain: Never Had It So Good (1956-64), White Heat (1964-70), State of Emergency (1970-74), Seasons in the Sun (1974-79), The Great British Dream Factory, and my book of the year, Who Dares Wins (1979-82). From a narrative point of view, it is hard to see how history could be written better, not least because the views and habits of ordinary people in ordinary towns - as opposed to the more elite and therefore unrepresentative characters who usually dominate the history books - play such a large role in the story. From a pastoral and apologetic point of view, the series explains all sorts of developments in contemporary culture that I had never connected with each other (falling church attendance with rising interest in gardening and increased television ownership, for instance, or the rise of Britain’s cultural exports with the decline of imperial power). And from an entertainment point of view, they are just enormously good fun. Each book has numerous laugh out loud moments, culminating in an index of comic brilliance:

Benn, Anthony Wedgewood, (Tony): airy-fairy stuff 36; and the CIA 153-4; consoles himself with a new quartz clock computer 649; fails to take part in orgies 154; has the most ghastly piles 786; inhales his own rhetoric 273; insularity 501-2; as a madman 275-6, 329-30; on the towering genius of Mao Tse-tung 488-9
Heath, Edward: disappointed by Himmler’s handshake 136; as a frustrated hotelier 53; massacres French language 150; massacres Mozart 42; peculiar voice of 17-18; plays the piano for Union bosses 105: leans nonchalantly on an Italian deep-freeze 425; stacks books on his chairs to stop Thatcher sitting down 257; stares at Thatcher with undisguised hatred 238, 328; unconvincing attempts to look cuddly 158
Thatcher, Margaret: admits she is not as kind as Jesus 43; flirts with parrot 647-8; hideous birthday cake 269; insists you can see the moon and the stars from Spalding 37
Thorpe, Jeremy: contracts gonorrhoea from Greek prostitute 442-3; plans to have his ex-lover eaten by Florida alligators 444; wades ashore from sinking hovercraft 159
Toynbee, Polly: disapproves of Brixton housing block 249; disapproves of Falklands War 771; disapproves of king size prawns 127; disapproves of Majorca 165
Wilson, Harold: views on cheese 139; elaborate getaway plans 634, 637; plans to sail up the Clyde in lighthouse-keeper’s uniform 84-5; compares himself to a big fat spider 452; complains of ‘the squitters’ 38, 418; coup hysteria 141; polishes off five brandies 39; polishes off six brandies 39

Having said all that, it is possible that some of my readers may not have the time (or the inclination) to read through four thousand pages of post-war British history, no matter how sparkling the prose or amusing the anecdotes. So here are my top tens, plus a list of all the other titles I read, many of which are also superb:

Top Ten New Books

Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. Rich prose, serious theology and trenchant critique combine to wonderful effect in this Catholic response to our current gender paradigm.
David Ford, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. A beautiful commentary which draws out the theme of abundance in John to glorious effect.
Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. A remarkably well-written and compelling history of the rise of Islam and the decline of the Persian and Byzantine empires.
Cat Jarman, River Kings: The Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads. A captivating history of the Vikings in both East and West, told through the discovery of a bead.
Dane Ortlund, Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels. Even better than his new book Deeper, which I also read this year, this is a wonderful devotional book on the distinctive portraits of Jesus in the Gospels.
Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary. It’s not easy to make an academic argument both intellectually fresh and devotionally satisfying, but Pennington manages it in this wonderful study.
Louise Perry, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century. A trenchant and fiery critique of the sexual revolution from a feminist perspective, which I reviewed here.
Dominic Sandbrook, Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982. Sparkly, insightful, mischievous and utterly absorbing, this is the best volume so far of his histories of post-War Britain, and I cannot wait for the next one. Book of the year.
David Stubbs, Numbers. A rich and engaging study of a vital but often neglected biblical book, which I worked through in my devotions and enormously enjoyed.
Colin Thubron, The Amur River: Between Russia and China. The most beautiful piece of travel writing I have read so far, from an undisputed master of the genre.

Top Ten Old Books

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will
William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark
Dante, Paradiso
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
William Golding, The Inheritors
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Johann Georg Hamann, New Apology of the Letter H
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
C. S. Lewis, First and Second Things

The Rest

David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
David Hume, The Natural History of Religion
Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularised Society
Mark Sayers, A Non-Anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World Will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders
Tim Marshall, The Power of Geography: Ten Maps that Reveal the Future of our World
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise
Faramerz Dabhoiwala, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution
Michael Ferber, Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction
Daniel Strange, Making Faith Magnetic: Five Hidden Themes our Culture Can’t Stop Talking About and How to Connect Them to Christ
Ritchie Robertson, Goethe: A Very Short Introduction
Ian Kelly, Casanova
Isaiah Berlin, The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism
Robert Wokler, Rousseau: A Very Short Introduction
*T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
*T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land
Chris Richards and Liz Jones, Growing Up God’s Way for Boys
James Joyce, Dubliners
Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius
Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Bruce Duncan, Lovers, Parricides and Highwaymen: Aspects of Sturm und Drang Drama
Jordan Biel, The Process of a Leader
William Blake, The Book of Thel
Peter Ackroyd, Blake
Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best
Jake Meador, What Are Christians For? Life Together at the End of the World
Sam Storms, A Dozen Things God Did With Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do)
Rebecca McLaughlin, Jesus Through the Eyes of Women: How the First Female Disciples Help Us Know and Love the Lord
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Christabel and Other Poems
Vibia Perpetua, The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity
Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Will Storr, The Status Game: On Social Position and How We Use It
John Newton and William Cowper, Olney Hymns
Andy Crouch, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World
David Hempton, The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century
Isaac Adams, Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations
Glen Scrivener, The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress and Equality
Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life
Alison Mitchell, Queen Elizabeth II: The Queen Who Chose to Serve
James Joyce, Ulysses
James Hamilton, Psalms 1-72
Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles
George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow
Paul D. Miller, The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong With Christian Nationalism
Graham Robb, France: An Adventure History
Laura Wifler, Like Me
Dominic Sandbrook, White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties
Alan Frow, Psalms for a Saturated Soul: An Ancient Guide to Emotional Health
Judith Herrin, Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe
John Marrant, A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black
Dominic Sandbrook, State of Emergency: Britain, 1970-1974
Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World
John Wesley, Thoughts on Slavery
Granville Sharp, The Just Limitation of Slavery in the Laws of God
Kelly Kapic, You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News
Ellery Lloyd, The Club
Dominic Sandbrook, Seasons in the Sun: Britain, 1974-1979
Johann Georg Hamann, Aesthetics in a Nutshell
Johann Georg Hamann, Metacritique on the Purism of Reason
Frederick Dale Bruner, The Letter to the Romans: A Short Commentary
Thomas Kidd, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh
Angie Cruz, Dominicana
Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, Volume Two
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark
Dane Ortlund, Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners
Catherine Ryan Howard, 56 Days
Dominic Sandbrook, The Great British Dream Factory: The Strange History of Our National Imagination
George Yancey, Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949
Andrea Wulf, Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self
Hannah and Nathan Anderson, Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World
Carl Laferton, God’s Big Promises Storybook Bible
Patrick Schreiner, Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus
James Jordan, Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis
Harold Senkbeil, The Lord’s Prayer for All God’s Children
Dave Gobbett, The Environment
David Abulafia, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean
Trevin Wax, The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith
René Breuel, The Paradox of Happiness: Finding True Joy in a World of Counterfeits
Peter Leithart, On Earth as in Heaven: Theopolis Fundamentals
Andy Kind, Hidden in Plain Sight: Clues You May Have Missed in the Search for Meaning
Terry Hayes, I Am Pilgrim

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