Now that I’m done with my favorite music for the year, it’s time for my favorite books.
My goal for this year was to finish 36 books. I thought I could handle three per month, and I’m almost there. I’m trying not to fall short as I’m trying to finish up #34 this week and then two more that I think I can knock out before the end of next week.
I read a number of books that were really outstanding this year and I found it too difficult to choose a favorite book of the year. I didn’t even bother to rank them, either. I just picked my favorite dozen (of the first 33, that is) and let that be it.
You can see all of what I’ve read this year in my 2010 bookshelf at GoodReads. Here are my favorites, in the order that I read them.
A very detailed and well-researched account of the events surrounding the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999. Cullen takes you through the past of those involved, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, on through the events of that day and the aftermath of the years that followed. Harris’ and Klebold’s intentions were to top the body count of Oklahoma City through the use of homemade bombs, but the bombs failed to go off. The basics of the story are known – two kids arrive at school and commence shooting their classmates – but there is much more. And some of the well-known accounts about what happened that day are either inaccurate or altogether fictitious. Cullen does an outstanding job of sorting through this complex story.
Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul
Monkey Girl chronicles the battle between parents, science teachers and the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2004-2005. You may recall news stories regarding this battle over the board’s introduction of creationism into the biology curriculum by way of “intelligent design”. Humes’ book is very well researched and detailed, and I believe is pretty fair. He introduces all of the personalities involved, gives you a seat at the board meetings to listen to the board’s ill-conceived plan, and guides you through the eventual trial (after a group of parents sued). He also provides a significant amount of detail regarding the evidence and arguments for Darwin’s theory on the origin of species, as well as the arguments the ID proponents make as well. Overall, just a terrific book, definitely worth the time.
Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson
An excellent account of the life and career of Nolan Richardson. He is often remembered for the glory years of Arkansas basketball in the early- to mid-90’s, as well as for the stormy events that led to his dismissal in 2002. But there is much more to his important story. He was not just a great coach, but also a true innovator in the college game (for which he is often given too little credit) as well as a spokesman on issues of race and civil rights (for which he was often misunderstood.) I admit that I didn’t care much for Nolan early in his career at Arkansas (though, granted, I was not an Arkansas fan at that time, either), but did warm to him a little during over the years. This book has only made me appreciate him and his story even more.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Descending from a failed climb in Northern Pakistan to the summit of K2, Greg Mortenson found himself separated from his group and stumbled into the small village of Korphe in the shadow of K2. After weeks of recovery in the village, he noticed the children of the village had no school building, instead learning in the cold temperatures outdoors, using sticks to write in the dirt. Because of the hospitality they had shown to him, he vowed to one day return to Korphe and build a school for their children. He knew nothing of raising funds and getting things done in this culture far different from his own, but he was determined. After some bumps along the way, he eventually did return to Korphe and build that school. And since, he has founded the Central Asia Institute and built schools for villages all over northern Pakistan and now into Afghanistan. There is much to this story, but Mortenson believes that education – particularly for girls – is the key to slowing (and eventually stopping) the terrorism that is born in this part of the world.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
In the early 1950’s, a poor, black woman from Virginia was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. While she died after a brief treatment, doctors there took a tissue sample from her cervix, which, over time, continued to reproduce and live while other such cell lines would eventually die. Since that time, these cells (known as HeLa) have been instrumental in all types of medical research and breakthroughs, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, and the polio vaccine. Skloot tells the story of both Henrietta – her life, her family’s life since (her children didn’t even know that her cells were still alive until nearly 20 years later) – as well as the story of her cells and the medical and scientific discoveries which they aided. A fascinating, true story.
Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)
As the subtitle suggests, Schaeffer desires a faith for those like himself who are unsatisfied with typical fundamentalism, be it the religious fundamentalists that most are well aware of, or those on the other side of the fence – the so-called “new atheists” (see Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.) Part-critique, part-biography, he rejects the dogmatic certainty promoted by many of these people, and instead believes that there is plenty of room for both faith and doubt in our spiritual journeys. While many everyday evangelicals would find much here with which they would disagree, it spoke to me and my own journey quite a bit. A very good read.
Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference
Warren St. John
Luma Mufleh grew up in a very priveleged family in Jordan, and then came to the US for college. After she finished, she decided – much to the displeasure of her father and family – to stay in the US and make it on her own. After bouncing around a little, she ended up in the Atlanta area, and began a youth soccer program for children of refugees (from Africa, Europe and the middle East) who had settled in the area. She not only helped the kids by coaching their soccer teams, but also by investing in their lives, including their parents. She developed a tutoring program to help the kids – often struggling with English – in their schoolwork, and helped their parents in myriad ways with adjusting to a new culture. This is a fascinating and beautiful story about people from very different cultures around the world coming together and making a difference in each others’ lives.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian-born painter and contractor in New Orleans who chose to stay behind when his family fled just days before hurricane Katrina hit. This is an account of his and his family’s experiences after the storm – his days there following the storm, his families travels while waiting to return to the city, the help Zeitoun provided in rescuing various neighbors and strangers from their homes after the floods came, and the grave injustice of his inexplicable arrest and three-week imprisonment by the post-Katrina police and military, despite never being charged with a crime. (hint: he is a middle-eastern born Muslim.) While non-fiction, it reads like a novel, and is an outstanding book. Everyone should read it. (I got to hear the Zeitouns tell their story in person this summer and meet them afterward, which was pretty cool.)
I Am Ozzy
Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres
I’ve been a fan of Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo music for over 25 years. Ozzy’s story, in his own words, was not only interesting and informative, but also hilarious. Ozzy has great sense of humor and has always been funny, but this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, it’s not for the faint of heart. Some of the stories are a bit rough and his language, of course, is horrible. But it’s what you expect from Ozzy. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably love it like I did. After finishing it, though, I have to say that it’s a miracle that this guy is still alive.
Open: An Autobiography
This is just an outstanding book by the tennis great, chronicling his life and career. I’ve always been an Agassi fan, but there was a fair amount that I never knew about him (for starters, “I hate tennis.”) His father drove him to be the star he would become, and was in many ways a colossal jerk, though this is not a big surprise when it comes to fathers of young phenoms like Agassi. It was a rough road for Agassi at times, but he ultimately became one of the greatest American players of all time. And his success would provide an opportunity for him to do something greater than anything he did on the court. His work with his charter school in Las Vegas is no doubt the achievement of which he is most proud. A definite must-read.
Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace
Pam Cope and Aimee Molloy
When her 15-year-old son died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition, Pam Cope was devastated and struggled to make it through each day thereafter. But she found a passion to carry her through the rest of her life after a visit to a Vietnamese orphanage. Instead of dwell on her own suffering, she chose to try to relieve the suffering of others – specifically, orphaned and/or trafficked children in Southeast Asia and Africa. She devoted her time and resources to rescuing children from orphanages (adopting two of her own from Vietnam) and slavery, and eventually started the Touch A Life foundation to continue that work. An inspiring story.
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
A fascinating look behind the scenes at the 2008 presidential campaigns – particularly those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain. There’s a lot here: Obama’s calm demeanor and his difficulties in dealing with the Reverend Wright issue. Hillary’s disorganized mess of a campaign and the “Bill” problem. John Edwards’ delusions of a high office despite his personal life blowing up all around him. Sarah Palin’s glaring incompetence and obsession with herself. The genesis of John McCain becoming the bitter, sad, old man we see today. And much more. It’s a wild, wild ride, and a great read.
A few honorable mentions:
- When The Game Was Ours – Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, w/Jackie MacMullan
- The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash – Dave Urbanski
- Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World – Gary Haugen
- Death To The BCS: The Definitive Case Against The Bowl Championship Series – Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, Jeff Passan
That’s it. That’s the list.