This seems to have been a year of the longer book which, combined with a shorter commute after moving home, has resulted in a reduction in the number of titles finished. By quite some way, the monumental read was Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which I started in November 2013 and finished around 7 months later.
After this, I managed to speed up a little in terms of the number of books read, though I did choose to read some shorter books during the summer. Another factor that affects my reading is depression. Though I don’t suffer from it anywhere near as many others do, between May and July, the early sunrises, coupled with a lack of blackout curtains, meant that I had much worse S.A.D. than I have had in the summer before. Normally, it only affects me in the winter. This winter, though, work has rather predominated which is why I am behind on writing my reviews.
So without further ado, here’s what I managed to complete in 2014:
- The Peaceable Kingdom – Stanley Hauerwas
- Whose Bible Is It? – Jaroslav Pelikan
- Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright
- Holiness & Mission – Morna Hooker & Frances Young
- Being Christian – Rowan Williams
- Revelations of Divine Love – Julian of Norwich
- Prayer – Roger Forster (review forthcoming)
- Why Worry? – Andrew Adeleke (review forthcoming)
- The Desert Fathers – Various Authors (review forthcoming)
- Jesus: A Very Short Introduction – Richard Bauckham (review forthcoming)
- The History of Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction – Jacqueline Stedall
- The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets – Simon Singh
- The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction – Michael Hoskin
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Lisa Randall
- Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
- Stem Cells: A Very Short Introduction – Jonathan Slack
- Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities – Ian Stewart
- Creation – Adam Rutherford
- A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper – John Allen Paulos
- Enlightening Symbols – Joseph Mazur
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (review forthcoming)
- The Trumpet Major – Thomas Hardy
- On The Road – Jack Kerouac
- The Man of Property (The Forsyte Saga) – John Galsworthy
- In Chancery (The Forsyte Sage) – John Galsworthy
- To Let (The Forsyte Saga) – John Galsworthy
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
- The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
- Silas Marner – George Eliot
Other non-fiction (11)
- The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
- Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction – Jonathan Culler
- On Liberty – John Stuart Mill
- The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten – Julian Baggini
- The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 – Friedrich Engels
- Socialism: Utopian & Scientific – Friedrich Engels
- Harry’s Last Stand – Harry Leslie Smith
- Plato and a Platypus – Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
- Philosophical Investigations – Ludwig Wittgenstein
- A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
- Capital (Das Kapital) – Karl Marx (review forthcoming)
On top of these, there are 3 books which I’ve started but not yet finished. These are:
- Watching the English – Kate Fox
- Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction – Catherine Osborne
- The History of the Church – Eusebius
Worst book of the year
Before deciding what was the best book, it’s worthwhile to see what I most definitely wouldn’t recommend. There certainly wasn’t anything I read that I absolutely hated. In the christianity books, the stand out weakest two were Revelations of Divine Love and Why Worry. From very different points of view, they each portray a version of the gospel that is lacking or at least misguided. In the former, it is the catholic perversion of the gospel, in the latter it is the prosperity gospel.
In science, the possible two that were a bit of a disappointment were The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. The former was because it was just a summary of Hoskin’s other work to which he kept referring, the latter because of the lack of detail in the mathematics, combined with the author’s slightly haughty attitude.
None of the fiction books I read were poor. The middle part of Silas Marner got a bit turgid and the third part of The Forsyte Saga did drag on a bit. But I wouldn’t seek to deter you from reading either of these.
In other non-fiction, you may notice a particularly strong left-wing leaning with Marx & Engels. Now while I may not wholly agree with their particularly analyses, even finding them out of date in some cases, only Socialism: Utopian and Scientific could be regarded as a poor work, as opposed to simply being one with which I disagreed. Though I wasn’t too enamoured with John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, given its highly individualistic point of view.
So which of these should be regarded as my one to avoid? Even though it is short and is probably not found in most bookshops, for shoddy writing, poor theology and all-round shallowness my turkey of the year has to be Andrew Adeleke’s ‘Why Worry?‘
Best book of the year
With that over and done with, let’s turn to the sunnier side of things. In the christian reading, the year was dominated by N.T. Wright’s magnum opus on Paul. In fact, that probably sated me in terms of heavyweight theology which is why the rest of the year was spent, to extend the metaphor, snacking on some lighter areas.
The science books were probably the strongest consistently, though the year ended with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which was one of the best pieces of science storytelling one could possibly hope for and I would thoroughly recommend. For those more inclined towards physics, Lisa Randall’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door is well worth reading, even though it is already out of date thanks to the confirmation of the discovery of the Higgs boson.
The fiction reading was dominated by the 3 part epic that was The Forsyte Saga and I could readily see why John Galsworthy was given the Nobel Prize for it. Though not generally a fan of modern fiction I greatly enjoyed both Iain Bank’s The Wasp Factory and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, both of which were their respective debut novels.
In non-fiction, there are a few classics there which I have gone through. My surprise hit here was Plato and a Platypus which I found both delightfully irreverent and quirkily informative. The other book that jumps out was the most recent publication of the year, being Harry Leslie Smith’s take on austerity in the 1920s and the 2010s. Combining personal story with searing insight into politics, economics and history, Harry’s Last Stand is a stark warning, looking at this country in the same way some of the Old Testament prophets looked at Israel.
So while I would that you read each of these that I’ve mentioned, which ought to be read with most urgency? For its timing, with just months to go before the general election, my 2014 book of the year has to be Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith.
Your turn now:
What have been the best (and worst) books you’ve read in the last year?