2012 Book Reviews

Here are the some books I read or am reading this year, roughly in order of my preference or importance:

Half the Sky – This is a powerful, shocking, yet hopeful book exposing the perhaps the greatest atrocity of our time, the global violence, prejudice, neglect, and oppression against women. Author, Nicholas Kristof says that more women have died precisely because they are women in the last half century, than men in all wars in the last century. This is one of the most important books recently published, spawned a PBS documentary, and resulted in tremendous amount of interest in the subject of misogyny. We have talked a lot about this book, so you have probably already heard this from me, but this is my number one pick for a must read book. Here is the review I wrote on it.

Poor Economics – This was probably my favorite book to read this year. I am a rather scientifically oriented person, as well as very interested in fighting poverty, so the brilliant approach of doing in-depth studies and trials on various different approaches to dealing with poverty was fascinating to me. This book pushes beyond simple theories and ideologies to understand in detail what really works and what doesn’t. The results are intriguing, often surprising, and always very insightful. If you work with the poor, or interested in understanding what types of projects really can help them, this is a fantastic book, accessible for an economics book, and fun to read. I loved it.

I Told Me So – This book provides an insightful look at our psychology and how we constantly work to subconsciously deceive ourselves to feel better about ourselves. This is specifically intended to challenge Christians to be alert to how our subconscious works, and steps we can take to avoid self-deception and discern truth. The book abounds with great stories and analogies, and really helps you to think about how you process information and form your opionions and ideas. I would highly recommend this for general spiritual and mental growth. Here is my review of this book.

Center Church – I have not finished this book yet, but so far I think this great. Tim Keller is quickly becoming one of the most widely read and important Christian authors of our time, and the attention is well-deserved. He presents intelligent, well-reasoned material based on a balanced, comprehensive view of scripture. Center Church is a rather large book, but for those interested in pursuing a healthy church that engages cultural in a Biblical way, this is a great book. Last year, I read his book Generous Justice, which is another great read (and much shorter).

Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction – Abraham Kuyper was an important dutch theologian (and politician) that has a tremendous influence on modern Christian thinkers. This is a great (and succinct) introduction to his ideas. His major concepts include the idea of spheres of influence (different spheres should be as autonomous as possible). This book covers a lot of concepts quickly, which I really appreciated.

Fast Living – This book is by Todd Scott who started Live 58, an organization focused on living out the fast as described in Isaiah 58 (letting the oppressed go free, sharing food with the poor, etc.). This book is focused on the Biblical call to fight poverty, and work towards the elimination of absolute poverty by raising awareness. This is a great book, although some of the best material was quotes from Scot McKnight on fasting, and for the same topic, I would probably recommend “The Whole in Our Gospel” over this book.

Why Nations Fail – This book provides a compelling case for the root cause of how countries often diverge towards prosperity and failure. The main premise is that countries or states where the majority of people can participate in and benefit from innovation and economic advances will succeed and those where an elite few extract all the benefits will fail. The bulk of this book is reinforcing this point by looking at the history of numerous countries’ development. If you like history you may enjoy this, but I found these repetitive examples boring, and was disappointed that they were not followed by more suggestions for how we can help. This book is certainly an important contribution to understanding developing economies, but likely overestimates the impact of this single cause, and I found the ensuing debates on blogs and twitter more interesting than the book itself.

Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development – I have been reading this book (not finished yet) as part of my effort to understand international trade better. This is a pretty technical book and goes into very extensive detail on the different World Trade Organization meetings and the policy decisions that resulted, making it rather difficult to wade through. However, the author, Joseph Stiglitz is a brilliant economist, and has approached economics with a pursuit of ethics and justice for poor countries like few others. The basic summary: while more open trade is supposed to help everyone, rich countries have leveraged their power and negotiation capabilities to create unequal trade agreements and gain far more advantages from global trade than developing countries, such that often times globalization has actually harmed third world countries instead of giving them greater economic opportunities as promised. Here is my blog post about trade injustice.

Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution – I also read this book as I have been researching international trade. This book is a very short and easy read, and makes it clear in simple terms how fair trade largely fails to provide much benefit to those in poverty, whom it is supposed to help. This demonstrates some important economic concepts, and is a good read if you are wondering about fair trade. I am sure there are other books that speak more positively about fair trade, but this book definitely shows some of the critical shortcomings of this movement.

In the Hands of the Redeemer – This is a solid book on discipleship and the importance of seeing believers utilize their giftings to serve each other. A fine book, but I don’t really recall any significant new insights or encouragements that I didn’t already agree with.

Redeeming Church Conflicts – I haven’t finished this book yet either. This book has some good suggestions on the types of questions to ask people to work towards the resolution of conflicts. Admittedly, I am just not that pastorally oriented, so counseling-focused books aren’t that exciting to me.

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