My Favorite 10 Books of 2013

Favorite Books of 2013-2

This has been a great reading year for me. I knocked out 64 books (see the complete list here) including a good mix of theology, philosophy, fiction, and even a few classics. It wasn’t easy to narrow my favorites down to top ten.

Before sharing my list, though, I’ll add my annual caveat: these are not this year’s most acclaimed books, nor the most timeless or best-written. Some weren’t even published in 2013. They’re simply my personal favorites, the books I read and liked best, the ones I kept thinking about well after finishing.
 
PS. Here are my favorite books from past years:

 

Brothers Karamazov10. The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 796 pages, paperback
Originally released in November 1880

After deciding to start this classic back in 2011, I only finished it this year. As for many readers, the deep and probing novel illuminated for me the war between sin and grace, the apparent fissure between the goodness of God and a world marked by pain and loss, and the shocking beauty that emerges out of even the most dysfunctional families. Dostoyevsky’s insights into human psychology and resilient love still flash through my mind, long after finishing.

 

Reflections on the Psalms9. Reflections on the Psalms

by C.S. Lewis

Mariner Books, 168 pages, paperback
Originally released in 1958

This year I continued to read through Lewis’ corpus and his slim book on the Psalms emerged as my favorite. Though Lewis was not a theologian or biblical scholar—in fact he begins this book by admitting, “This is not a work of scholarship.” —Lewis was an accomplished expert in literature and an underrated poet. Here he applies those gifts to the Psalms, first exploring the more “repellent” verses, those concerning judgment and curses, before reflecting on the more upbeat, imaginative lyrics that compose most of the biblical collection. The result is a gem that shines new light on familiar hymns, and inspires you to read the Psalms anew.

 

What Happened at Vatican II8. What Happened at Vatican II

by John O’Malley

Belknap Press, 400 pages, paperback
Released on October 1, 2010

On the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II, I asked many bibliophile friends which one-volume introduction to the Council they’d recommend. Almost everyone pointed to this book, and now I see why. O’Malley has a gift for tying together the wide and varied strands of theological debate, political posturing, and spiritual insight into a compelling narrative. His careful, linear account oscillates between on-the-ground anecdotes and sweeping, general trends, which together help any Council novice, like me, to grasp the full scope and significance of this momentous event.

 

The Napoleon of Notting Hill7. The Napoleon of Notting Hill

by G.K. Chesterton

Dover, 208 pages, paperback
Originally released in 1904

I really enjoyed this short and unsung novel by G.K. Chesterton—the first he ever wrote—because it embodies so many classic Chestertonian themes: the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary; the seriousness of fun (for “joy is the serious business of heaven,” as Lewis reminded); and the sanity of Distributism, on display as simple men rally to defend their piddling land from greedy industrialists for the simple reason that it is theirs. The book is admittedly surreal, filled with medieval heraldry and kingships decided by lottery, but that’s what gives it color. Read this book to see Chesterton’s whimsical brilliance play out through story.

 

Bad Religion6. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

by Ross Douthat

Free Press, 352 pages, hardcover
Released on April 17, 2012

According to Ross Douthat, a gifted New York Times columnist, Americans are not becoming less and less religious. We’re simply becoming less orthodox. Tracing our downward religious spiral from last century’s golden age, led by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham, to today’s fashionable blend of prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen), self-help cults (Oprah), and the spiritual-but-not-religious boon (Elizabeth Gilbert), Douthat shows how we’ve arrived at a watered-down faith that “strokes our egos, indulges our follies, and encourages our worst impulses.” If you want to understand the trends that have shaped our religious landscape, this is your book.

 

What Is Marriage5. What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense

by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert George

Encounter Books, 152 pages, paperback
Released on December 11, 2012

After co-authoring the most downloaded academic paper in the history of the Internet, these three intellects expanded their arguments into a book-length treatise with the same title. The result, in my view, is the clearest and most cogent philosophical defense of marriage today (evidenced by its reference in recent Supreme Court decisions.) Anyone seeking to understand why the state should promote man-woman marriage as the ideal, and why we can’t seriously debate the “same-sex marriage” issue until we answer a more basic question—what is marriage?—should read this book.

 

Evangelical Catholicism4. Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century

by George Weigel

Basic Books, 304 pages, paperback
Released on February 5, 2013

Perhaps no phrase appears more in Catholic circles today than “the New Evangelization,” but what does it mean and how should it shape the Church? That’s what George Weigel answers in this missionary manifesto. Weigel’s guide lays out a plan for applying the Church’s evangelical identity to the priesthood, the episcopacy, the liturgy, the laity, Catholic intellectual life, and even to the papacy. He calls for a more vibrant, reformed Church, devoted to holiness and mission, whose central focus is proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world. It’s an exciting and insightful glimpse at the Church of the New Evangelization.

 

Answering Atheism3. Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity

by Trent Horn

Catholic Answers, 335 pages, paperback
Released on September 28, 2013

With the increasing popularity of the New Atheists, and the growth of their many disciples, we’ve seen a whole slew of books designed to counter this trend. However, many of these books have glaring issues that make them difficult to recommend (either to theists or atheists.) Most are either too simplistic, too academic, too focused, too broad, or too caustic. Yet Trent Horn’s book strikes the right balance of breadth and depth, clarity and sophistication, charity and truth. His main project is to show there are no good reasons to embrace atheism while there are many reasons to accept theism. He defends these contentions with fair and accessible prose, copious endnotes, thick appendices, and helpful Socratic dialogues, which all make this my go-to recommendation for anyone wondering whether God is real.

 

C.S. Lewis - A Life2. C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

by Alister McGrath

Tyndale, 448 pages, hardcover
Released on February 18, 2013

To put it simply, I’ve read several C.S. Lewis biographies and Alister McGrath’s is the best. What makes McGrath so effective are his similarities to Lewis: both were born in Northern Ireland, both followed atheism throughout their adolescence, both attended Oxford, both became prestigious dons, and both converted to Christianity. This shared trajectory allows McGrath to get inside Lewis’ mind like few others. Even more, to ensure he understood his subject, McGrath read Lewis’ entire corpus chronologically before starting his biography. The resulting book covers the major events and figures in Lewis’ life, as expected, but McGrath approaches them primarily through Lewis’ books, which offer a fresh and illuminating gateway. Notably, McGrath also defends a new date for Lewis’ conversion to theism, setting it a year later than Lewis records in his own autobiography. This significant discovery, coupled with McGrath’s smooth and perceptive prose, should put this book at the top of every Lewis-lover’s list.

 

The Joy of the Gospel1. Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)

by Pope Francis

Word Among Us, 224 pages, paperback
Released on January 6, 2014

First of all, yes, this is a book. At over 50,000 words, it’s one of the longest papal documents on record. And second, what a remarkable book it is. In his first solo work, the Holy Father applies his characteristic themes of joy, evangelization, and mercy toward building a culture of encounter and a poor church for the poor. Touching on almost every aspect of Church life, the wide-ranging treatise addresses complacent Christians, dispirited missionaries, poor preaching, and oppressive social injustice, shimmering on every page with memorable one-liners and powerful summonses. Pope Francis recently called Evangelii Nuntiandi the “greatest pastoral document ever written.” In my view, his own joyful, vivid call to evangelization now deserves that title.

 


 

Honorable Mention

Great Books I’m Still Reading

 

What were you favorite books of 2013?

 
 
Favorite Books of 2013

  • John Kovacs

    I would suggest “Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition,” edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering, rather than O’Malley’s book on Vatican II (your #8 above). Check out this article at First Things written by none other than the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, which compares and contrasts the two books. Essentially, O’Malley’s book is the standard liberal narrative that faithful Catholics have been trying to get away from for decades. Lamb’s and Levering’s book, however, actually looks at the texts of Vatican II and shows how there was a development–not a radical break–in continuity with Tradition:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/09/001-what-really-happened-at-vatican-ii-30

    God bless you!

  • Tori

    Michael O’Brien’s: Voyage to Alpha Centauri is just phenomenal; although I think just about everything he has written is excellent, this book really had me hooked over the Christmas break.

  • Ryan

    Did you read all these on your Kindle?

  • Come one now

    Read 64 books? How many did you finish? Book #10 should have taken you one month minimum to truly read.

    • Correction

      come *on* now.

      :-)

  • James Patton

    Congratulations! …:D

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    I always like leads on good books to read. Favorites or best books lists by good writers always provide good leads. So thanks for the lists
    3 books I enjoyed were:
    ” St. Hildegard of Bingen–Doctor of the Church–a spiritual reader.” by Frau Sophie Buschbeck.
    “Crucified Again–Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians” By Raymond Ibrahim (His Coptic Christian family had to flee Egypt.)
    “The First Thousand Years of Christianity-A Global History of Christianity.”

  • pedroerik

    The best book I read in 2013 was “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser, which you mentioned at the end among teh books you are reading yet.

  • Dan

    Brandon, might I suggest to you and your readers Roberto de Mattei’s “The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story.” It’s the true story of the Modernist currents that carried over from the 19th and early 20th centuries through the Council. It also tells how the Council was hijacked and and the original agenda set by John XXIII was discarded by the hijackers. The book is very scholarly, copiously footnoted, and demonstrates, to my satisfaction, that the Council was not so much a movement of the Holy Spirit as a thwarting of the Holy Spirit. For example, try squaring Pope Piux XI’s encyclical Quas Primas on Christ the King with V-II’s Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Freedom. The Church has never dealt in innovations, and Dignitatis Humanae was a complete innovation.
    Another important book for a broader understanding doctrine is Fr. Chad Ripperger’s “The Binding Force of Tradition.”

    • sdb

      I agree with this recommendation. O’Malley’s book, though coming alive with character doesn’t come alive with the full content. Roberto de Mattei’s book is well researched and meticulously documented with many primary documents giving a more full report of the events. It is both interesting and relevant to examine the various politics and other human aspects as O’Malley and de Mattei do, but the Church isn’t a mere human institution and to treat it as such inherently gives one a skewed perspective. Even if one presents real facts but the wrong basis to judge them by, the reader doesn’t have the correct perspective to judge and understand the content. In order to gain a better understanding of the Church, one must bring in the full Tradition of the Church not just as interesting historical footnotes, but to evaluate particular events such as Vatican II; it is the fullness of the Tradition which is the guide to our faith and by which we understand the Church itself, and de Mattei accomplishes this very well.

  • HenryBowers

    Contraception and the Natural Law, by Germain Grisez.

  • A Catholic Seminarian

    Thank you for this list, Brandon. I always appreciate these types of lists and look forward to them every year in January, be they regarding films, books or other forms of media. You’ve also got a nice balance of older and newer works, fiction and non-fiction. Now if only I could find the time to read more “for fun”–I suppose that’s what Christmas and summer vacations are for until I finish seminary! :-)

  • Gail Finke

    Against Inclusiveness, James Kalb and Aquinas, Edward Feser are the two that leap to mind.