December 30, 2019

A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell (audio): is my Book of the Year!!! I use this phrase sparingly, so please take me seriously when I say that this book, by famed economist (and prolific writer (and respected social theorist)) Thomas Sowell, was life-changing. Not life-changing in a self-help kind of way, but rather in a how-I-think-about-politics-and-culture kind of way. To save room here, I gave this book an entire post all for itself. If you’re subscribed to my blog, you may have already read it. Otherwise, click here for the full review! (And if you’re not subscribed but would like to be, scroll down {on mobile} go to the sidebar {on desktop} to find a place to submit your email.)

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt: A Conflict of Vision took the grand prize, but leaving that one aside, this right here is my Nonfiction Book of the Year! Huzzah! (Tomorrow I’ll post my 2019 fiction reviews, including my vote for fiction book of the year.) Incidentally, my sister recommended both of these first two books, so if you ever need a thought-provoking read, you should probably just bypass me and go straight to her. Anyway, back to this book. You might have read the article of the same name in the Atlantic several years ago, also written by Lukianoff and Haidt. That article garnered so much attention that they decided to expand it into a book, and it’s timelier than ever. Throughout most of history, education has been seen as an opportunity to not only give information to students but also to teach them how to think, especially through exposing them to a myriad of ideas that challenge how they already do think. Socrates “thought it was his job to sting, to disturb, to question, and thereby to provoke his fellow Athenians to think through their current beliefs, and change the ones they could not defend.” A former president of the University of Chicago once said “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.” But today, current polls show that more than half of college students believe that “it is important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas,” safe spaces have become common to the point of ubiquity, and the disinvitations of guest speakers (and the reasons given for those disinvitations) are becoming increasingly frequent and absurd. Meanwhile, students are more insecure, anxious, depressed, isolated, and suicidal than ever. The authors argue that universities, in their attempts to make students feel more secure, are actually contributing to the problem. They go on to explore some key issues they’ve identified on- and off-campus, and to offer some solutions. The book is packed with statistics, surveys, studies, and anecdotes, and it’s full of practical wisdom. I couldn’t put this one down, which is rare for a nonfiction book. Status: highly, decidedly, passionately recommend.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (audio): This wins my Memoir of the Year award. And my Audiobook of the Year award. And my I Like Trevor Noah award. If there was ever a time to listen to an audiobook instead of reading the paper version, this would be it. Trevor Noah’s voice as an author — both literally and figuratively — is a joy to listen to. His stories of life in South Africa are educational, entertaining, and occasionally heartbreaking, and he does a beautiful job of weaving his mom’s story even as he tells his own. Status: highly recommend the audiobook.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (audio): I read this book because I’d heard it recommended, and also because Haidt was one of the co-authors of The Coddling of the American Mind (see above), which I loved. If you know me, you probably know I’m a conservative and a Christian. Haidt is a left-leaning libertarian and an atheist. We disagree about so many things, and yet I love the way he thinks and communicates. In this book, he explores different perceptions of morality throughout the world and throughout the ages, and tries to arrive at some conclusions as to where morality springs from and why people have such differing opinions about it. The two biggest takeaways: 1) The metaphor of the rider and the elephant, in which our intuition is the elephant and our reason is the rider. It’s a recurring theme in the book and it’s becoming a recurring observation in my life. 2) His comparison of the moral foundations — care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, liberty — to taste buds. We all have them, but some have acquired a greater taste for certain moral foundations than others. Much as I enjoyed this book, it was rather long, and aside from those two big takeaways, there’s a lot from the book that I’ve already forgotten. Status: recommend.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (audio): Hoo boy. This one’s a doozy. Tara tells the story of being born to a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, being kept away from school, being unprotected from a violent brother, and eventually leaving her home and her family to earn a Ph.D from Cambridge. Besides the abuse from her brother, she and other members of her family endure a high number of near-fatal accidents, including multiple car accidents (one which leaves her brother alive but with his head split open), multiple instances of people being horribly burned, and various members of the family getting seriously hurt on the heavy machinery around their homestead. Listening to this book legitimately made me woozy with all its detailed descriptions of those events (pro tip: don’t listen to this book while driving if you’re someone who gets squeamish). The story is an incredible one and I believe the bones of it are true — I believe her brother abused her and her parents did (and continue to) protect him instead of her. But I’m not fully confident in the truthfulness of the details. I’m not fully un-confident either… On Amazon, the top positive review and the top critical review make for interesting reading in and of themselves, so you can start there if you’re skeptical. Even while I feel slightly uneasy about the author’s trustworthiness, I did like this book on the whole. I’m thankful for Tara’s courage in exposing the abuse that would have otherwise never come to light, I’m impressed at her commitment to make something of herself in the world, and I admire the love she continues to feel for her very broken, misled family. Status: cautiously recommend.

Mindset by Carol Dweck (audio): I think the idea of having a growth mindset (versus a fixed mindset) is a very good and helpful one. I love that schools have adopted this idea, and that I see evidence in my kids’ classrooms that teachers are encouraging their students to approach learning with a growth mindset. I love the gist of this book. The book as a whole, though, is not my favorite. Dweck takes too long to say simple things, she uses the same examples over and over again (we get it, lady — Enron employees had a fixed mindset and they were terrible), and she paints a picture of an ideal, growth mindset person — a picture that really doesn’t allow a lot of wiggle room for differences of temperament or personality, which is odd. Anyway, if you want to get the gist without committing to the whole book, watch this little two-and-a-half minute video. Status: highly recommend the concept, but I don’t particularly recommend the book.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth: Once again, I like the idea of this book more than the book itself, and the most important takeaway from the book is right there in the title — that joy and success are most likely to come through a combination of passion and perseverance. But isn’t that something we all kind of instinctively know already? The book certainly has some helpful information in it, and lots of anecdotes, but it just didn’t feel like enough to justify the length of it. Last year I read How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, which I highly, highly recommend. She references Grit a number of times in that book, and I felt like all I really needed to know about this book, I learned in that one. Status: recommend, but recommend How to Raise an Adult more.

Death By Living by N.D. Wilson: I. Love. This. Book. Wilson writes in a kind of beat-poet type way, and sometimes he would be talking about simple memories or telling simple anecdotes or making simple observations about life and faith, and then he’d keep building and building until he arrived at some lovely insight that spoke straight to my soul and suddenly I would be crying. And then I would read the line that made me cry to someone else and, out of context, the line would fall totally flat. So I suppose the reading of this book may be more personal than others, but for me, it made me want to love Jesus better and love my family better and write more passionately and often and live life with greater purpose and joy. Status: highly recommend to those who don’t mind stream-of-consciousness writing.

The Gospel Comes With a Housekey by Rosaria Butterfield (audio): Wow. Rosaria Butterfield is INTENSE. I guess I knew that already, but I hadn’t felt the full force of her intensity before reading this book. There is some feisty-ness in the way she communicates, to be sure, but when I say she’s intense, I mean that her spirit is. This book is all about biblical hospitality, but it’s not about the do’s and don’t’s of hosting people well in your home, it’s about letting your love for God spill out into a life lived entirely with and for others. She describes a life of constant comings and goings of people in their home, of a close-knit community built with her neighbors, of developing meaningful relationships with hard-to-love people. Reading it was humbling and convicting and encouraging, and I am never going to be exactly the kind of person she is, but I thank God that he has put people like Rosaria Butterfield into this world. Status: highly recommend.

Just Open the Door by Jen Schmidt: Like The Gospel Comes With a House Key (see above), this book is about biblical hospitality. I had the privilege of co-leading a women’s class at our church with a friend of mine this year, and this is the book we used. The book itself didn’t blow me away or anything, and if I was going to point someone towards a book on hospitality I would probably choose Rosaria Butterfield’s, but I did appreciate the author’s perspective — especially the parallels she creates between God’s love for us and the love we extend when we invite others into our homes — and I loved some of the conversations we were able to have as a result of reading it. Status: recommend.

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (audio): Another book on hospitality! Sort of. This one isn’t faith-based, and much of it has to do with hosting gatherings in more of a professional setting. I found it to be extremely practical and helpful, and I walked away from this book inspired to be more intentional in how I spend time with others, to always ask why we are having a particular gathering, and to make sure that the gathering reflects its purpose, in hopes that our time together won’t ever be wasted. Status: recommend.

The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great by Ben Shapiro: I’ve already admitted to being conservative, so it will come as no surprise that I liked this book. Shapiro doesn’t try to sugarcoat our past (or our present), but he does make a strong case for why it’s okay to love our country and the ideas that created it. There are those who view our history as simply a scaffolding, something that can be discarded now without any consequence, but he argues that our history is not a scaffold but a foundation, and that trying to do away with the philosophies and morals that built our country would be its undoing. This may be a preaching-to-the-choir kind of book, but for my part, I appreciated the history lesson, and I was thankful for his affirmation that our country, in spite of its flaws, is still the greatest and freest country on earth. Status: recommend.

Mirror for the Soul by Alice Fryling: The enneagram. Do you love it? Hate it? Are you sick of it? Still trying to figure out how to pronounce it? The enneagram is a mixed bag for me, and there’s a bigger conversation to be had about it (a conversation I’d be happy to have), but for the sake of brevity, I just want to say here that if you’re going to read a book about the enneagram, read this one. This one IS faith-based, and the general position the author takes is this: We are all created in God’s image, and there are things in each of us that particularly reflect that image, but there are also ways that sin has distorted that image. Enneagram aside, that’s just a good way to look at life as a Christian, and in Fryling’s book, the enneagram is simply a tool to help us do that. Status: recommend.

Blood and Honor by Reinhold Kerstan: The memoir of a boy who grew up loving Jesus but who also found himself conscripted into the Hitler Youth when WWII began. It was a heartbreaking look at an impossible situation — a child who had no choice but to do as he was told, and who struggled to understand truth while being fed propaganda. The bulk of the book takes place during his Hitler Youth years, but some time is spent at the end on the ways he discovered God’s redemptive work in his life and the lives of others once the war was over. I read this aloud to my older two boys (aged 11 and 14 at the time), and we all enjoyed it. Status: recommend.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You get my Book Review Reader of the Year award!! Feel free to share your thoughts or offer your own recommendations in the comments below!

2019 Book Review – Nonfiction

  1. I cannot believe it has already been a year… I still have something like 6 or so recommends of yours on my reading list from last year! Eeek! πŸ™‚
    I love that you pour yourself into such a myriad of books. It is wonderfully inspiring. So keep being you, K? Thanks πŸ˜‰
    Can’t wait for the fiction list!

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