Books 2019

Well, it is April, so this list is late.. but who cares as our world is upside down, anyway. Last year I created a list of books that I read in the last 12 months (link). Below is my 2019 list. In what follows, I briefly describe each book and assigned it one of the following five scores: [1] please don’t read it, [2] I do not recommended it, [3] it was OK, [4] a very good book, [5] a must read. Enjoy!

Politics and History

  • Archbishop Chaput, Charles – Strangers in a Strange Land; Archbishop Chaput is one of the best American bishops, and this book shows why. Wonderfully written, deep and unapologetic. Archbishop Chaput does not pull any punches and one never has to guess what he believes in and why [5].
  • Colley, Rupert – Black History: History in an Hour; another great introduction to the series, focusing on a pressing contemporary issue [4].
  • Colley, Rupert – Nazi Germany: History in an Hour; Colley offers a compact history of Nazi Germany focusing on its origins and years in power [4].
  • Douhtat, Ross – To Change the Church; A critical assessment of Pope Francis that focuses on the issue of Communion for divorced Catholics. Most of the book is Douhtat’s idiosyncratic assessment of the last two synods of bishops, but he is able to offer a compelling story out of it. Although one could question whether the story is true, its implications are certainly valid [4].
  • Evans, Richard J. – In Defense of History; This book should be read as a complement to Gaddi’s The Landscape of History. Both books deal with the challenge that post-modernism poses to social sciences [5].
  • Gosselin, Edward – The Reformation; History in an Hour; The impact of the Reformation can hardly be overstated. This short book offers a very accessible introduction to this important topic [4].
  • Judt, Tony – Thinking the 20th Century; In this book, two prominent historians talk about ideas that shape our world. Breathtaking in scope, fascinating in details [5].
  • Jones, Kaye – Dickens: History in an Hour; A short biography of a great author. In addition to being a great writer, Dickens was also a keen political observer. It is difficult to understand Victorian England without reading his works [5].
  • Kakutani, Michiko – The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump; This book links the use of lies by Trump and others with the rise of postmodernism in academia. While this link is disastrous in its consequences, the book does not offer much insight about potential alternatives [2].
  • Gaddis, John Lewis – The Landscape of History; I can honestly say that this is one of the best books about research methods in social sciences. A must read for graduate students and faculty interested in methodology [5].
  • Miłosz, Czesław – The Captive Mind; Miłosz was perhaps best known as a poet, but a case could be made that he was one of the greatest Polish thinkers. In The Captive Mind, he describes the allure of Marxism and offers a devastating account of communism and its practice in Eastern Europe [5].
  • Mudde Cas & Kaltwasser Cristobal – Populism: A Very Short Introduction; A solid book that is also too idiosyncratic [3].
  • Mulholland, Andrew – Churchill: History in an Hour; Churchill lived a very fulfilling life and was very accomplished in domains other than politics [5].
  • Passmore Kevin – Fascism: A Very Short Introduction; My assumption was that short introductions were meant to make difficult topic accessible. This book fails to do that. I wanted to learn about fascism; I learned that a single definition of fascism does not exist [2].
  • Paxton Robert – The Anatomy of Fascism; This is a must read for both academics and non-experts alike. Paxton helps us understand fascism better than any other book [5].
  • Saunders Jemma – The Holocaust: History in an Hour; If you do not know much about the holocaust, this short book is a useful starting point, but it is just that [3].
  • Szabłowski, Witold – Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny; In Bulgaria it was a common practice to adopt bears and teach them how to dance. This practice is no longer allowed, but for trained bears it is impossible to lose old habits. Szabłowski uses this analogy to show how many people in post-soviet societies still yearn for the old regime. An indispensable reading for anyone interested in the phenomenon of nostalgia [5].
  • Taleb, Nassim – Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life; Another must read from the most original thinker in the 20th century [5].
  • Taleb, Nassim – Antifragile; The difference between fragile, robust, and antifragile is what guides most of the world around us. At this point, pretty much anything written by Taleb is a must-read [5].

Religion and Spirituality

  • Bunyan, John – The Pilgrim’s Progress; Arguably the most important novel written in English. The book is much understudied today, and that is too bad [5].
  • Dickens, Charles – A Christmas Carol; Ebenezer Scrooge gets a second chance… as we all do every Christmas… every day, actually. Simply marvelous and deeply moving [5].
  • Di Lampedusa Giuseppe – The Leopard; The essence of the book is captured by the following quote: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” [5].
  • St. Augustine – On Christian Doctrine; St. Augustine was a genius, there is little doubt about that. In this book he showcases his wide-ranging knowledge writing about logic, grammar, rhetoric and everything else that is necessary of a decent theologian [5].
  • Strathern, Paul – Kafka In 90 Minutes; It is easier to understand Kafka once we understand his personal background [4].
  • Rovelli, Carlo – Seven Brief Lessons on Physics; For a person that does not know anything about physics, this is a nice, compact introduction. It is written in non-technical language and shows how marvelous science can be. The book has its limits, though. In the last chapter, the author ventures into topics that go beyond science. It becomes apparent that Rovelli (unsurprisingly) is an atheist, but the book would have been much better had he not used the last chapter to preach his opinions and dress them up as science [4].
  • Wright, N.T.–Who Was Jesus?; Wright is an Anglican Bishop and a prolific writer. In this short book Wright debunks famous, but as it turns out not very honest, writers who above all else want to historicize Jesus to the point of demonstrating that he was not what Christians claim him to be or claiming that He did not exist at all. Beyond being a well-known scholar of Christianity, Wright is also a powerful writer who with unusual ease identifies and then falsifies untrue claims [4].


  • Bryson, Bill – A Walk in the Woods; Bryson tells how the story of walking the Appalachian Trail. One almost gets an impression that if he can do it, anyone can do it. But I am not sure if that assessment is true; hiking the AT is difficult and yet we long for it [4].
  • McCready, Amy – If I Have To Tell You One More Time…; A useful book for parents; quality time matters [3].

The Great Courses

  • A History of Hitler’s Empire (2nd edition); A useful course on how Hitler and his Nazi party came to power in Germany [3].
  • Cultural Literacy for Religion; If you don’t know much about world religions, this is a good start [3].

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