At the close of every year, I share a list of the books I most enjoyed reading during the calendar year. There’s usually a mix of theology, cultural analysis, biography, and fiction. Here’s hoping a few of this year’s favorite reads will make their way onto your Christmas wish list or provide good gift ideas.

Here are my picks for 2023.

by Amor Towles

One of the best novels I’ve read in years, with memorable characters, a page-turner of a narrative, and some unforgettable scenes, including a frightening conclusion that paints in vivid colors the biblical teaching on your heart following your treasure. Duchess is one of the most lively and memorable fictional characters I’ve come across in literature. This is a coming-of-age story, where your understanding of the significance of the book’s events progresses along with the protagonist. 


The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World

by Jonathan Freedland

In a time like ours—when despite decades of saying “Never forget,” it seems many in the world, even in the West, are dead set on not only forgetting the horrors of the past but repeating them—we need books like this one. Jonathan Freedland tells the incredible story of a man who escaped Auschwitz and shared the truth with the world, only to discover passivity and indifference in many cases. The story is true, which keeps Rudolf Vrba from becoming a one-dimensional hero. We see him in later life, with all his sins and missteps, resentment gnawing away at his relationships. A harrowing account of heroism that shines light on human frailty. I gave this book to my teenage daughter after I read it, and she couldn’t put it down either.


His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation
by Collin Hansen

I lost a hero in late May when Tim Keller died of cancer [read my reflections]. Collin Hansen has done us all a great service by penning the first biographical treatment of Tim, which—true to form—focuses less on Keller himself and more on the influences that shaped the man he became and the legacy he left. Collin takes us through the major moments of Tim’s life, but always with an eye to the experiences, writers, and thinkers who formed Tim spiritually and intellectually. This is the only book on my list this year that I read twice.


The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania
by Paul Kenyon

Within the span of one century—from 1900 to 2000—Romania went from celebrating a monarchy, to sliding into a nationalist dictatorship, to fighting in WWII on the side of Germany before switching to fight on the side of the Allies, to deposing the monarch and installing a Communist regime, ending in a revolution that brought the birth pangs of freedom. From monarchy to fascism to Axis to Allies to Communism to free markets. All in one century. Paul Kenyon gives us a gripping historical overview of the tumultuous century experienced by the country my wife hails from, the place where I once made my home. This book traces the arc of Romania’s history while featuring the personal stories and testimonies of ordinary people. In this way, it never becomes a dry historical recitation of facts but instead helps the reader feel the promise and peril of the moment. Read my full review.


On the Modern Quest for Contentment
by Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey

The highest-ranking book of philosophical reflection to make my list this year, Why We Are Restless provides a deep dive into four French thinkers—Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, and Tocqueville—giving us the outline of their thought, the ways their philosophies react to each others’, and telling a story about their influence on society today. The Storeys know how to distill elements of these thinkers to their essence in an admirably brief span of pages. A profound and relevant book, I recommend it to anyone who wants to go deep with some of the most influential men who’ve ever lived. (On another note, the Storeys joined me for an interview on an episode of Reconstructing Faith this season to talk about Pascal, who incidentally occupied the number one spot on this list in 2019.)


#6. PAX
War and Peace in Rome’s Golden Age
by Tom Holland

Tom Holland is one of the best history writers on the planet, and his newest book doesn’t disappoint. In Pax, he takes us through the ups and downs, twists and turns, of the Caesars who vied for power and prestige during the golden age of the Roman era. Not to be missed is his account of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the eruption of Vesuvius and its aftermath. A history at once strange and fascinating, Holland’s book pulls us into a world simultaneously grotesque (Nero’s brutal treatment of a man he sought to turn into a woman) and glorious (the feats of Hadrian).


by Gregory of Nyssa

The oldest book on my list this year comes from Gregory of Nyssa. Long-time readers of my column may know I bring a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with me on vacation every year and work through it during my morning devotions. This year, I picked one of the church fathers, and Gregory’s treatment of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes is striking in how relevant its application remains today. I underlined full paragraphs, nodded my head, felt pangs of conviction, and yet puzzled over some of the interpretative moves and conclusions. In the end, I was stimulated by this ancient author whose passion for purity of heart remains palpable to the contemporary reader.


by George Eliot

My daughter was assigned this novel from George Eliot this year, and as someone who never made it all the way through Eliot’s masterpiece Middlemarch (don’t throw stones!), I was fairly confident I wouldn’t care for Silas Marner either. But when my daughter raved about it, I decided to read it myself so we could discuss it. Not only was I not disappointed but I knew I’d have to include it in my top 10 list. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say . . . terrific characters, the biblical themes of justice and past sins being made manifest, and the truth of Jesus in saying what we treasure reveals our hearts—it’s all here. The other good thing about this book? For a classic, it’s short! Less than 200 pages.


Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement

by Wang Yi (and others)

Faithful Disobedience [read my full review] isn’t the story of China’s tragic crackdown on Early Rain and other churches. It’s a collection of essays, pastoral letters, and conference talks that give you a glimpse into the theological perspective of this church and its pastor before the hammer fell. And this is the first time these resources have been made available in English. Some of the essays are academic. Others are pastoral or devotional. Read the book to be informed and inspired.


How Disillusionment Can Invite Us into a Deeper Faith
by Josh Chatraw and Jack Carson

I hope this book gets a wide reading. It’s pastoral in all the right ways, gently guiding readers into the treasures of the Christian faith while recognizing the cross-pressures of a secular age that make it difficult to believe. Josh and Jack look not only at different ways of walking away from the faith but also at the many avenues for returning to, even deepening, one’s faith through the experience of disillusionment and doubt. The book deals with intellectual questions and challenges, warns us away from reactionary versions of Christianity, and helps us process the experiential side of seeking faithfulness in our world today.



by Eugene Vodolazkin

I love novels that put me squarely in a world that’s foreign to me—religiously, temporally, culturally—and Laurus succeeds on this front, dropping the reader into 15th-century Russia in a time of plague and pestilence. It’s a remarkable book with thought-provoking images and scenes that lead to various interpretations. I’ve been pondering some of the themes since I finished the book (here’s just one example). 

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