Books of the Year 2023 image

Books of the Year 2023

Choosing a book of the year is incredibly difficult. How do you compare a witty, creative and thrilling novel like Rebecca Kuang's Yellowface with Emily Wilson's beautiful translation of Homer's Iliad? What criteria could anyone use to declare that Simon Gathercole's The Gospel and the Gospels was "better" than Tara Burton's Self-Made, or Peter Williams's The Surprising Genius of Jesus, and what would it mean to anyone else if they did?

Admittedly you can group some books together. I read Andrew Roberts’s and Julian Jackson’s biographies of Churchill and De Gaulle, respectively, and was dazzled by both: two extraordinary leaders, nearly contemporary with each other, and both brilliant, infuriating and hilarious, although in very different ways. Yellowface and Pachinko have obvious points of overlap, but while the former is exciting and clever, the latter is sweeping and evocative. Two books on the seventeenth century, Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite on John Donne and Anna Keay’s The Restless Republic on the 1650s, were thoroughly absorbing and marvellously written. I also used over a dozen Christian books in my devotional times, and was captivated by Gathercole and Williams on the Gospels, John Oswalt on Isaiah, David Gibson on Psalm 23, and (my favourite Christian book of the year) John Starke’s magnificent The Secret Place of Thunder.

My habit of counterpoint reading doesn’t always come off. I read Peter Frankopan’s The Earth Transformed and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The World: A Family History, expecting to love both on the basis of their previous work, and found the former a bit underwhelming (and with several odd inaccuracies), and the latter a thoroughly overwhelming, cluttered and tenuously connected list of facts. But more often than not, it proves illuminating. Chris Watkin’s Biblical Critical Theory and Tim Keller’s How to Reach the West Again were a great combination. Although neither of them made my top twenty, Susan Neiman’s Left is Not Woke and Tomiwa Owalade’s This is Not America gave two intriguing perspectives on some very important issues.

In the end, my Book of the Year came down to a choice between two utterly different sorts of books. Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century blew me away with its portrait of a strange and disturbing period. Her characterisation and analysis are crystal clear and her writing is just sublime; I have just bought her The Guns of August. Even so, I think the book that will make the most lasting impression on me, and cause me to see the world more differently than any other book in 2023, is Iain McGilchrist’s extraordinary The Matter With Things: a totally fascinating and hard-to-describe cocktail of neuroscience, philosophy, psychiatry, science, music, history and imagination that connects the way our brain works with the way we conceive of reality. Volume 1 was breathtaking in its scope and insight. Volume 2 awaits me in January.

Top Five Christian Books to Fuel Joy
Simon Gathercole, The Gospel and the Gospels: Christian Proclamation and Early Jesus Books
John Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39
John Starke, The Secret Place of Thunder: Trading Our Need to Be Noticed for a Hidden Life with Christ
David Gibson, The Lord of Psalm 23: Jesus Our Shepherd, Companion and Host
Peter Williams, The Surprising Genius of Jesus

Top Five Christian Books to Help You Think
Tara Isabella Burton, Self-Made: Creating our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians
Collin Hansen, Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation
Rebecca McLaughlin, Does the Bible Affirm Same-Sex Relationships? Examining Ten Claims About Scripture and Sexuality
Karen Swallow Prior, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis
Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory

Top Ten Other Books of the Year
Homer, The Iliad, tr. Emily Wilson
Julian Jackson, A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle
Anna Keay, The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown
Rebecca Kuang, Yellowface
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Iain McGilchrist, The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World, vol. 1
Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking With Destiny
David Rooney, A History of Civilisation in Twelve Clocks
Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne
Barbara Tuchman, Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century

← Prev article
Next article →