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Books the ERLC staff enjoyed in 2019

Reading is important. It cultivates imagination, helps clarify ideas, and shapes our thinking. Throughout each year, members of our team enjoy reading and listening to a variety of books. Here are just a few that some of the ERLC staff enjoyed in 2019.   

Trillia Newbell: Director of Community Outreach

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover  
Educated is a gripping memoir about the life of Tara Westover and her siblings as they endured through various trials in Idaho. Westover was 17 before she ever stepped into a classroom, thus the name “educated.” Her parents were survivalists, forbade hospitals, and had radical religious beliefs. Her life was difficult, and yet, in many ways, she still found a way to honor her parents. I was gripped mostly because I realized that this is a true story, and there are likely hundreds of thousands of stories like it all over the world.   

A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer  
This year, I got the chance to travel to Rwanda with HOPE International. I knew a little about Rwanda’s history, but not much. I knew there was a genocide, but I didn’t quite get it. How can you grasp such tragedy? A Thousand Hills is the story of how the current president, Paul Kagame, who was once a refugee, rebuilt the country. I know there are many books about the history of Rwanda, but this one was a helpful introduction to what was happening at that time.   

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass  
There’s a great deal about slavery that I can’t and will never be able to wrap my head around. I’ve heard about our dark history, I’ve seen some of the effects of slavery that still linger in our society, but hearing the firsthand account from someone who lived through it is a, for lack of better terms, gift to all of us. I highly recommend this account of the life of Frederick Douglass.   

Run for Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy by Mark Cucuzzella  
I don’t love to run because it hurts. So, I wanted to see if maybe I was part of the problem. Was my technique off? Was I not wearing the best shoes? I decided to listen to this book while running! It was helpful. Running still hurts, but I think it’s mostly because I just don’t like running. But that won’t stop me from continuing to, and this book was helpful.   

Daniel Patterson: Vice President for Operations and Chief of Staff

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts
There is no shortage of biographies on Winston Churchill, many of them thousands of pages long. This new biography, however, is the best one-volume biography of Churchill available. An important man living at an important time, there’s something valuable in this biography for everyone.  

The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will
An instant classic. In a day when conservatism is often confused, and conservative intellectuals are becoming increasingly, and sadly, extinct, George Will calls readers back to what conservatism is and why it matters. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone who cares about engaging issues in the public square. Of note, Will is an atheist and includes a case for atheism in the book, which I of course reject. But this doesn’t diminish the value of the book. Will is a master of English prose, and this lengthy book is, at the same time, accessible, thorough, and immensely enjoyable.  

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
In a day when our devices have all too often become our masters, Newport exposes the war for our attention, highlights the virtues of a less distracted life, and shows the reader how to get there. Life is richer when we’re doing meaningful work and engaged with real-life people more than avatars. You might not adopt every strategy Newport proposes, but the argument behind the strategy is worthy of consideration for all.  

The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmel Early
We are creatures who too often try and live like we are machines. Early calls us to recognize what human flourishing looks like and encourages us to develop rhythms and habits, a liturgical calendar for life of sorts, that drives the reader toward greater dependance on God, a prioritization of relationships, and fuller realization of one’s own creatureliness, which in turn will make one more happy, holy, and whole.  

Daniel Darling: Vice President of Communications

Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It by Dave Zahl
Dave Zahl’s contention is that there really is no such thing as secularism, and his thesis is persuasive. He excavates America’s cultural idols—career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance—and finds the ways in which we practice all the forms of worship without grace. It really helped me see underneath many of our social problems in a way that points to the real reason we make the choices we make and express ourselves the way we express ourselves. In a word, he says we are longing for the approval and “enoughness” that can only be found in Christ.   

Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality by Andrew T. LePeau
Most writing books are as boring as an old phonebook. But LePau, a longtime editor at IVP, delivers the rare, page-turning tome on writing and editing. What’s more, LePau offers helpful instruction on communicating eternal, spiritual truths to new audiences and wisdom on the essential disciplines of the writing. This book has quickly moved to the top of the list of books I will recommend to first-time writers.   

Working by Robert A. Caro 
Caro’s memoir of his writing life delivered on two levels. First, it is a riveting autobiography of his remarkable career of writing about consequential American figures, Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. Secondly, it is a fascinating look into his writing and research process. I was moved by his very human touch in moving to the Texas Hill Country in order to understand the deep and grinding poverty of LBJ’s childhood. Caro’s dedication to his craft is an inspiration, and his retelling of American history is a gift to generations of Americans.   

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy P. Carney
Few if any people have examined the deep pockets of despair in American society like Tim Carney, a journalist and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Carney’s sifting of data, on-the-ground reporting, and intellectual honesty helped me understand those pockets of despair in America that I had, to my shame, not seen. What’s more, Carney persuasively points to the necessity of tight webs of community ties as essential to human flourishing. I think every pastor, every Christian leader, and anyone who wants to obey the Great Commandment should read this book.   

Jason Thacker: Creative Director

Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery by Tom Cotton  
Senator Cotton tells the harrowing story of our nation’s most famous military unit, the Old Guard of Arlington. Cotton brings a unique perspective to the Old Guard’s history as one who served with these brave men and women who seek to honor our country’s greatest fallen heros. From the early stories of the unit’s founding and military campaigns to how Arlington National Cemetery came to be and how these traditions are carried on, Cotton’s account of this unit is gripping and opened my eyes to the reality of defending liberty here and abroad.  

Tools and Weapons: The Promise and The Peril of the Digital Age by Brand Smith and Carol Ann Browne  
Smith and Browne confront some of the most important issues of our day—and even some still on the horizon—in this book. Smith serves as the president of Microsoft and has been with the company since the early days, which gives him a unique perspective on some issues we face with these innovative tools. With sections on privacy, artificial intelligence, role of big tech in society, and weapon technology, Smith serves as steady guide to the digital age. While I don’t agree with him on every issue, he is thoughtful and challenging on the issues that matter most to our society.   

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport  
While not a new book in 2019, Deep Work is still a welcomed message for our society as we are prone to countless distractions and time wasters. Newport sees this trend and advocates for a concept based on distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive and intellectual ability to the max. This type of work is especially relevant in the age of smart machines that can automate certain aspects of our everyday work. We must pursue deep and meaningful work because of how God created us to image him in our daily lives. It is one thing to have good intentions in our work, but we must cultivate routines and rituals to our lives in order to minimize the amount of distraction and maximize our output.  

Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom by Robert Louis Wilken  
We hear about religious liberty nearly every day in the news, but many of us do not have a firm grasp on where this idea came from or why it matters in the 21st century. Some claim that religious liberty is code for white nationalism or bigotry, while others argue for simply the freedom to worship. Wilken looks deep into the history of Christianity to find the origins of this modern concept and how it informs today’s discussions about the role of faith in the public order. He argues for a rich and robust understanding of religious liberty, not simply as an inward reality, but on a community level where people live out their faith publicly in a way that is consistent with their inner reality.  

Josh Wester: Director of Research, Office of the President

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K. A. Smith  
If I could only pick one spiritual hero, it would be Saint Augustine. I’ve learned more about being a Christ-follower from Augustine’s life and writings than almost any other source. A few years ago, I discovered the works of James K.A. Smith—a modern disciple of the Bishop of Hippo—which brought me even closer to Augustine’s wisdom. In this latest work, Smith takes you on a spiritual journey with Augustine (with a helping of Heidigger for good measure) and teaches lessons on faith and yearning, suffering and spirituality, that are sure to benefit any believer.  

A History of Western Philosophy: From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans  
I get that an intro to philosophy is unlikely to make your Christmas list. But if you have ever studied philosophy, or want to get started, this is definitely the place to begin. The book is as accessible as it is beneficial, and it will bring you into conversation with the richest wisdom of the Western tradition. Evans serves as an expert guide, and the book is well worth it.  

Who is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis by Thomas S. Kidd
Evangelicals are badly misunderstood. We’ve all grown tired of caricatures and misrepresentations of evangelical Christians as a racial monolith and conservative voting bloc. But in Who Is an Evangelical? Thomas Kidd traces the history of this movement, exploring its depth and diversity, and demonstrates its significance in American life and beyond. Kidd pulls no punches, but offers a raw yet fascinating look at our nation’s largest religious group.  

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence by Joseph J. Ellis
I’ve always been a fan of American history, and I’ve long admired the works of Joseph Ellis. This book offers a fast-paced tour of the major figures and events of one of the most tumultuous and consequential periods in American history, the summer of 1776. Ellis brings the reader into close contact with pivotal figures on both sides of America’s War for Independence and illustrates with great skill the most harrowing and momentous scenes from those all-important months.  

Jenn Kintner: Office Coordinator

What is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander  
In What is a Girl Worth? author Rachael Denhollander shares her powerful story as the first survivor to come forward to report serial abuser Larry Nassar. Her book not only sheds light on that horrific situation where atrocities were committed and people looked the other way, but it also helps the reader understand the dynamics of abuse that people often misunderstand or ignore. In this true story, there are many examples of what to do and what not to do to walk alongside survivors allowing the reader to learn from a survivor, grow in understanding, grow in empathy, and grow as an advocate.  

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
Boys in the Boat is the story of nine men on the rowing team at the University of Washington and their pursuit of the Olympic gold in 1936. It is a story of sorrow, diligence, perseverance, and teamwork. Their story with their Olympic experience in 1936 in Berlin shortly before World War II is insightful and brings a greater understanding of social and political dynamics leading up to the war. The audiobook is phenomenal and highly recommended.  

Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection by Edward T. Welch
Because of the fall, shame is something we all face. Edward Welch unpacks this powerful and sometimes debilitating emotion which he defines as “the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you” (2). The remedy for shame is not to clean ourselves up or think more highly of ourselves, but rather to identify with Christ and rejoice in our union with the perfect one. In Christ, we are connected “to the infinite worth of Jesus” and “receive what he has done for us” (62).  

7 Myths of Singleness by Sam Allberry
Sam Allberry’s book on singleness would be beneficial to anyone, whether single or married. The book is full of engaging stories, a biblical vision of singleness, and a vision for the Church being a family. It made me teary-eyed and thankful as a single reading his vision for the Church, since I’ve had faithful families who have demonstrated that in my life. Families and singles in the Church need one another, and the Church needs both. Allberry points out, while marriage demonstrates the shape of the gospel, singleness demonstrates the sufficiency of the gospel.  

Brent Leatherwood: Director of Strategic Partnerships

Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America by Michael Beschloss
We tend to lionize our leaders in America, especially the individuals who have been elected to the highest office in the land. But this book, which I consider a must-read for any fan of political science or American history, humanizes several of the most prominent members of that exclusive club. In fact, in each of the vignettes, you find traits that aren’t synonymous with courage at all. You find moments of fear, timidity, and worry displayed by some of the most noble men to live in the White House. Most readers will find it oddly reassuring that even the most uneven experiences can contribute much to our rich democratic tradition and serve to advance the American experiment.   

Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom by Condoleezza Rice
As our nation enters an election year, I’ve noticed more and more people seem to be questioning some of the foundational elements of our nation. So I went looking for a resource from someone who has worked to strengthen democracy. This book is both passionate and personal in places while, at the same time, allowing us to peek into other areas around the globe where democracy has had varying levels of success taking hold. As someone who cares deeply about our civic health, I came away more appreciative of just how special our American version of democracy is and how vigilant we need to be in safeguarding it.  

Alex Ward: Executive Assistant, Office of the President

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott taking readers through a master class on the elements of good writing. Fundamentally, writing is work, requires time and effort (like all worthy tasks), and is rewarding, though not always financially. By breaking the task of writing into different manageable tasks, Lamott gives the reader the tools to take this task “one bird at a time.” For those who aren’t writers (and have no desire to be), the book is also worth her musings on life. Every page of this book is filled with a love of language that makes you want to be a writer, a goal we can all appreciate in a world hoping for more beauty and art.  

The Odyssey by Homer (Trans. By Emily Wilson)
Gifted to me last Christmas, this was one of my favorite reads of the past year. Noteworthy because it is the first critical translation by a woman, Wilson does an excellent job of bringing this ancient story into the present. The translation itself updates the language (“Sing O’ Muse of the man of twists and turns” becomes “Tell me about a complicated Man / Muse,”) and also provides beautiful new images (“rose-coloured dawn” becomes “rosy-fingered Dawn”). This edition reminded me why I loved Greek mythology. It is at once strange, these stories of giants, water nymphs, and angry gods. It is also familiar, a man’s desire to return home, a son’s journey toward manhood, and a woman’s struggle between the life of domesticity and her ability to lead in a man’s world.  

As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon by Daniel Rodgers
There are few sermons that have had such an outsized impact on American history as Wintrop’s “Model of Christian Charity.” In this volume, Rodgers follows the sermon’s construction, delivery, and enduring legacy. From relative obscurity for much of American history to inclusion in Ronald Reagan’s 1989 farewell address and beyond, the sermon, along with the biblical text it cites, has provided a model of what America could be, while also reminding her of how much distance remains between ideal and reality.   

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt
As someone who tires of the complaints that Millennials or Gen Z are fragile and snowflakes, I found myself prepared to disregard this book as another instance of “These kids today” syndrome. However, Lukianoff and Haidt do a great job of charting some of the challenges that are shaping the next generation. Their analysis of the tribal nature of all people and how this has led to a polarization (and hatred) seems especially applicable in the year before a national election. Though I found myself shaking my head as often as I was nodding it, I do think that they raise worthwhile questions about the tension of protecting children and preparing them for the road ahead, new definitions of justice, and the role of speech and freedom in a healthy democracy.   

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik: Policy Director

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Kang Chol-Hwan
No other book moved me as much in the previous year like this one. Kang Chol-Hwan entered a North Korean labor camp when he was nine years old and spent the next decade of his life observing frequent public executions, enduring forced labor and near-starvation. He eventually escaped the camp and journeyed to South Korea, but not without losing many of his family members in the camp. While Chol-Hwan’s story is heartbreaking, it’s not an isolated story. The North Korean leadership brutally oppresses their people and is the worst violator of global human rights. Reading this book has caused me to redouble my efforts to advocate for the human rights of the North Korean people.  

Suffering Is Never for Nothing By Elizabeth Elliot  
Elizabeth Elliot’s work has deeply impacted my walk with the Lord, and I was delighted to see this book published. Elliot is no stranger to suffering; her first husband was murdered on the mission field in Ecuador, and she lost her second to cancer. In this book, she digs into the question of God’s presence in our suffering. It’s a must-read for anyone walking through a season of suffering.  

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