The Top 12 Books of 2021

For the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more. In 2019, I read 72 books. Last year I stretched myself and read 100. That proved to be too many to truly digest meaningful books in a meaningful way, so this year I set a goal of 70. Low and behold, I ended up reading 72. I’m increasingly becoming aware that reading broadly from meaningful books is key to growing both as a human being and as a Christian. (You can be both!) So, in service to my friend and readers who are also readers, here is a list of the top twelve books I read this year. You can find a final list of all the books I read at the bottom of this page.

Necessary Endings

I hade eyed this book suspiciously and not really wanted to read it, but I had a gut feeling it would be an important read. This book, by Dr. Henry Cloud of Boundaries fame looks at why we need to be okay with things ending. One of the key take-aways from this book for me was that endings are necessary for new things to grow and take shape. In this way, much of this book was about ending even good things in a healthy and productive way so that God can make a way for better things in your life. This book was helpful for me as I tend not to be good at saying goodbye and this year has been full of productive endings that I believe will lead to greater fruitfulness.

Good Authority

I’ve read my fair share of leadership/management/business books and most of them have left me cold with suggestions that would never work in most industries. This was different. This book looks at management as a way to truly help people get what they want, not just out of work, but also out of life. This book came at a time where I was struggling with a lack of transparency and honesty in several work relationships and it truly helped me see through those issues and begin to speak from my perspective in the office. If you’ve ever wondered if you could be a good boss/coach or if there even are such things, I would suggest picking up a copy and giving it a read.

The Coddling of the American Mind

I LOVE this book. This book gets at the heart of our inability as Americans to handle information that upsets us. It looks at the history that has brought us to this point, but more importantly it talks about what we can do individually to combat the myth that ideas, especially ideas that contradict our own, can harm us. While I tend read broadly (especially outside my political and religious tribes), I was delighted to find out that this book is written by people far outside of my political leanings and that fact alone gave me hope that we as a people might be closer to getting out of our tribalism and information bubbles as a people. If you’re seeing people acting like they are being attacked by someone having a different opinion, pick up a copy of this book. It’s eye-opening.

The Cold Dish

One thing you’ll note from my yearly recaps of my reading is that there isn’t a lot of fiction on the lists. This year I read a LOT more non-fiction and this book was one of the reasons. Anyone familiar with the Netflix show Longmire will recognize some of the characters here. Let me tell you, this book is a lot better than the show. The story centers around Walt Longmire, a county sheriff in Wyoming who a year earlier had brought some teenage boys to trial for a rape they had committed. The boys received a slap on the wrist and are now slowly being killed by an unknown assailant. This book has a ton of mystery, but what sets it apart is the strong male to male friendship between Walt and his best friend Henry Standing Bear. It’s very rare to see this kind of strong male friendship in literature and I keep returning to the series to see the relationship between these two play out. Spoiler Alert: By the end of the book they solve the mystery and one more mystery shows up about every book so far. I’ve read seven of these this year, and while they aren’t all as good as this one, there’s a lot to love about this series. Christian Alert: There is a lot of swearing in this book (and the subsequent ones) and some other non-PG material as you go. If that sort of stuff trips you up, I would avoid this series.

Christ the Healer

In all fairness this was a re-read for me, but it had been almost 20 years since I read it the first time and I desperately needed to re-read this. This book has the ability to transform your understanding of God’s ability and willingness to heal the sick. It is written by a healing evangelist from the 1950’s and because of that it is part theological treatise and part experiential testimony. Bosworth does an amazing job of poking at all of our bad arguments against healing and showing us how they don’t stack up against the Bible. I was strengthened again in my understanding of healing being rooted in the New Covenant Jesus paid for with his blood. I believe that the ministry of healing is something God is wanting to restore to the church in a greater way and this book will be a helpful tool for those looking to strengthen that kind of faith.

The Four Hour Work Week

Okay, hold off your eye roll for just a moment. I had picked up this book in 2010 and had always meant to get around to it. I knew the title/cover made some pretty bold claims and they always seemed too good to be true. However, after reading the book this year, I found it stuffed with important insights about the nature of work, productivity insights, and a plan for self-improvement more than anything else. I don’t know that everyone can pull of the sort of hands-off business that Ferris describes in these pages, but I’m convinced that everyone who reads this book will be challenged to chart their own path for their career and build a life they enjoy instead of the one that is handed down from the powers of this world.

Stand Out of Our Light

Stand Out of Our Light is an interesting read. There are plenty of books that challenge the current technology-driven lifestyle most of us live, but this book focuses on an often-overlooked facet of the technology life: Our attention. More and more, the technology that we use is designed to steal our attention away, to be increasingly addictive so we don’t want to turn away. This book asks the question: “Is that a good thing, and if not, what do we do about it?” While many books focus on the problem of screen addiction, polarization, and lack of true socialization, “Stand Out of Our Light” asks us to consider the cost of trading our attention for whatever is on our smartphone. You’ll think differently about screen time after reading this book.

Hero Maker

Hero Maker is a book for Christians who desire to multiply disciples, leaders, groups, and churches. Dave Ferguson, who with his brother Jon, launched Community Christian Church in Chicago, have been on a journey of multiplying disciples at many different levels for decades. This book focuses on how to be a movement-minded disciple maker (what Ferguson calls a “Hero Maker”) in whatever context you find yourself in. There were parts of this book that were only applicable to traditional churches, but there were parts that were applicable to the most organically-minded believers as well. Ferguson gives a number of tools that are helpful in developing laborers in the harvest. I was challenged by tools as simple as “I See In You Statements” that help call others to embrace areas of gifting they may not see in themselves. This book has a number of tools like this that will help believers in any stage of disciple making. If you are looking for a book that both infuses you with a heart for disciple making and gives you solid tools, this is the book you are looking for.

Atomic Habits

I have to say I did not believe that this book could live up to the hype. I had originally thought that the title referred to the “atomic power” of forming habits that drive productivity. Instead, the book took a surprising turn in focusing on small, seemingly insignificant habits that can build on each other to help us achieve the results we’re looking to see. While there are other books based on building habits, Clear writes a short, clear book on each of the steps of habit building. He doesn’t just focus on how each step can be used to build a positive habit, but how each step in the habit formation process can be used to break a bad one. I guarantee you there is something in this book that will be profitable to you, whether you already have a bunch of good habits or are struggling with bad ones. Side note: This is the #1 selling book on Amazon. Full Stop. Do with that what you will.

Planting a Church Without Losing Your Soul

This book earns the coveted, “So Good I Made My Wife Read It” Award. Planting churches is hard work that individuals can get lost in. It’s not unusual to find people in ministry who have lost the vibrant relationship with Jesus that they had when they started. What made this book great was it’s emphasis on both taking care of your soul and planting a healthy, growing church. While Tim’s church is not a mega-church, they have helped plant multiple churches and ministries. Tim’s not arguing for choosing between taking care of your soul and reaching people. Instead, he leads the reader by his experience how he has been able to do both. In some ways this book was very similar to other devotionally-minded books like “An Unhurried Life,” calling believers to focus on prayer, solitude, and silence. But in other places, he drops gems like the necessity of getting enough sleep. There was even a chapter that encouraged those in ministry to wisely embrace the power God had given them as shepherds to deal with situations that are hurting churches and going unaddressed. All of this made this book well worth the price of entry.

Zero to One

For those of you not familiar with Peter Thiel, Peter was one of the driving forces behind PayPal in its early days. Thiel eventually sold PayPal and has become a known investor in early startups that have changed society. He was an early investor in Facebook, AirBnB, Spotify, and other companies. This book is a transcription of a series of talks he offered at Stanford University. He argues (persuasively) that contrary to public opinion, there are many, many new products on the horizon waiting to be discovered that are more than just a new iteration of the iPhone or a popular app. Thiel compares many in our society to evolutionists who put a little bit of their time, resources, and energy into multiple baskets, hoping one of more will succeed as new iterations our developed. Instead, Thiel argues what the world needs is more “Intelligent Designers” who build with vision and clarity. It’s these people who build what does not exist now, who go from zero to one that will change the culture going forward.

Parenting

This was a surprise late addition to my “Best of” list this year. With probably one last book to complete this year, I picked up Parenting by Paul David Tripp and I was completely surprised by what I found. I will warn you, this book does not give tips on how to get your kids to succeed in life and business. Instead, this is a guidebook on how the Gospel should inform and correct your parenting, how the Gospel brings life and correction to your children, and how you can be an agent of grace in growing godly children. There are no quick fixes promised here, but if you’ve found that just being consistent with rules isn’t changing and maturing your kids like you thought it would, pick up a copy of this book. I found myself repenting for how I’ve treated God, for how I’ve treated my kids, and for what I believed would bring change to their hearts. This is the book on parenting I wish I would have picked up ten years ago. Run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy.

January

The Courage To Be Disliked / The Biggest Bluff / The Murder on the Links / Necessary Endings

February

Conformity / Live Not By Lies / Do Over / Good Authority / An Unhurried Life

March

True Believer / You Found Me / The Coddling of the American Mind / Defining Moments / The Neil Gaiman at the End of the Universe / None Like Him

April

Brackish Waters / Nikola Tesla and the Electric Future / The Problem of Increasing Human Energy / 10 Things That Stop God Loving You / The Cold Dish / A Time for Confidence / Future Church

May

In the Way / Loonshots / My Inventions / Death Without Company / Posting Peace / The Fearless Organization /

June

Analog Church / The Art of Writing and the Gift of Writers / Beyond Order / The Power of the 72 / The War of Art

July

Faust / On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness / The 7 Day Authors Guide to Amazon Ads / Kindness Goes Unpunished / The 4-Hour Workweek

August

Stand Out of Our Light / Another Man’s Moccasins / Christ the Healer

September

The Nations Rage / Politics (Aristotle) / How to Write Short / Succesful Home Cell Groups / The Souls of Black Folk / Atomic Habits / The Reluctant Witness / The Big Leap

October

Man in White / North! Or Be Eaten / The Dark Horse / Hero Maker / The Mysterious Affair at Styles

November

The Art of Thinking Clearly / Church Planting Without Losing Your Soul / Zero to One / The Multi-Hyphen Life / Well Intentioned Dragons / The Adventures of Tom Sawyer / The Monster in the Hollows / The Starfish and the Spirit / How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind / Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

December

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding / Soldiers of Reason / Hell Is Empty / The Science of Storytelling / Parenting

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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

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