Last year I set a goal to read 36 books. It is a modest number compared to what some undertake, but I wanted to re-engage my love of reading without creating pressure to hit a big number. I wanted to enjoy the process and knew that getting through three books a month could be a challenge at times. In the end, I read forty-five books. Fiction (23) accounted for half of my list, followed by Faith (9), History (7), Non-Fiction (5), and Science Fiction (1). My “reading” was actually listening, except for books in the Faith category and one other. From each category I have selected two books that I deem my favorites. It is a subjective call to be sure, but most of these are clear winners.

HISTORY

The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made   My earlier review of this study of these six personalities and the post-war geopolitical environment they influenced so profoundly says how I regard this book better than the space available here allows. Simply put, it was still standing tall at the end of the year, and I often wish these men of character and principle were around today.

Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World    As an elementary school child in the early days of the U.S. – Soviet competition, I well remember the times. All was good, however, because peaceful Ike, with his calm demeanor and broad smile, was sitting in the big chair. Oh, if I had only known. Evan Thomas peels back the curtain to reveal a much different personality, a cunning master of the gamble who was as comfortable inside his opponent’s head as on the ninth at Augusta. Far from the sleepy grandfather many believed him to be, he was perfectly happy to let that false image lull his adversaries into the traps he set. Well researched and written, a must for any history buff’s shelf.

FICTION

Shattered Trident  A classic submarine story ignited my passion for reading as a youth and I’ve enjoyed good submarine stories since. Larry Bond’s series tracing the exploits of Jerry Mitchell are always a good read, a series I return to when I need a submarine fix. A naval officer who crosses the line more than he should, to save the good guys of course, Mitchell is always in the fight or trying to prevent the fight. Geopolitical shenanigans from a deep under the sea perspective, filled with enough tactical tension to feed the adrenalin junkies among us.

Treasure Island  This was a free Audible.com dramatic production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of a young lad set on adventure.  Jim is not satisfied to be tied to his mother’s apron strings when there are treasures to be found and one-legged pirates to be overcome. Set the grog on the deck, mate, and take a turn with young master Jim on a voyage into danger and intrigue. As enjoyable for the older among us as the younger, especially with the dramatization offered by Audible.

NON-FICTION

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead  This memoir by Jim Mattis and Bing West combines two can’t miss genres – war stories and leadership lessons. It is, in fact, the best treatise on leadership I’ve ever read. The statesman general sheds light on little known motivations behind topical events and illuminates the role of character and principle in our most dire moments. Straight talk from a straight shooter. No wonder he didn’t survive the beltway.

The Brain That Changes Itself  Our brains are not as monolithic as previously believed. Norman Doidge, M.D. presents an overview of the science of brain plasticity, which enables our brain to adapt to disease, disability, and dysfunction. Plasticity, a science of adaptability now coming into its own, is changing lives for those healing from physical (stroke, amputation), emotional (abuse, abandonment), and psychological (addiction, behavior) crises. A plain language exploration of the serious science behind hope for so many.

FAITH

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible  Michael Heiser is a theologian with deep understanding of ancient societies, languages, and beliefs. He uses these to unlock secrets that have been hiding in plain sight in the Bible for centuries, revealing and explaining supernatural mysteries of God and His creation. A bit dense at times but always captivating, and a treasure map to mysteries of the ages.

Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist   Defining  a “Christian Hedonist” as one committed to an uncompromising pursuit of the heart of God, John Piper tears away false substitutes and speaks truth to the accommodations and ambivalence that too often impede the believer’s quest for intimacy with the most intimate being, the One who loves us so. It is a modern classic for good reason, and for those who desire to engage this pursuit it will be like coming home.