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2019 Books of the Year

Great books tell stories. Here’s our pick of vivid and insightful new releases for better understanding America, world events, history, science, and theology

2019 Books of the Year

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

WORLD’s Books of the Year issue differs from similar efforts at some other Christian magazines. We cheer for Christian and some conservative publishers but recognize the worthwhile output of big secular companies that tilt left but sometimes employ good storytellers who transcend liberal orthodoxy.

One of this year’s examples of the latter: Working by Robert Caro, who previously wrote five superb books on the use of power by Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. For instance, look at the results of Caro’s interview with Johnson aide Horace Busby, who rode in the presidential limo with LBJ from the White House to Capitol Hill when Johnson was about to give the most significant speech of his life: He’d throw his support to the civil rights movement by reciting the movement’s motto, “We shall overcome.” 

Caro quotes Busby saying, “Lyndon Johnson was really big. And sitting on that backseat, the reading light was behind him, so he was mostly in shadow, and somehow that made him seem even bigger. And it made those huge ears of his even bigger. And his face was mostly in shadows. You saw that big nose and that big jutting jaw.”

For WORLD readers who never saw Johnson in action: Are you starting to see him now? Caro is just getting warmed up. He describes his questioning of Busby: “I didn’t stop. ‘Come on, Buzz, what did you see?’ And he finally said, ‘Well, you know—his hands. His hands were huge, big, mottled things. He had the looseleaf notebook with the speech open on his lap, so you saw those big hands turning the pages. And he was concentrating so fiercely. He never looked up on that whole ride. A hand would snatch at the next page while he was reading the one before it.” 

Caro snatched that granular look only by pushing hard for it. Interviewees tend to speak in generalities, and sometimes capturing concreteness is hard. You’ll be able to judge for yourself when we succeed as you read in the pages that follow four interviews with Books of the Year authors: Luke Goodrich, Seth Frantzman, Michael Behe, and Paul Miller. 

All of these books have 2019 publishing dates, but we try not to forget C.S. Lewis’ recommendation to read old works as well as new ones. Many Americans are concerned about the increasing polarization of our society. One of my favorite pieces of journalism, and my favorite novel, focused on the tragic result of such polarization in Spain during the 1930s. So, once you’ve read about some current books, please read on to learn about George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Jose Gironella’s The Cypresses Believe in God.

These are our 2019 Books of the Year:

Understanding America

Free to Believe 

by Luke Goodrich (Multnomah)

On our short list: How America’s Political Parties Change (And How They Don’t) by Michael Barone (Encounter); Alienated America by Timothy P. Carney (HarperCollins); Dignity by Chris Arnade (Penguin Random House); Who Killed Civil Society? by Howard A. Husock (Encounter)

Understanding the World

After ISIS 

by Seth J. Frantzman (Gefen)

The Thirty-Year Genocide 

by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi (Harvard)

On our short list: The Great Successor by Anna Fifield (PublicAffairs); The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina (Knopf); Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston (Random House); Dominion by Tom Holland (Basic)

History

American History 

by Thomas S. Kidd (B&H)

Working 

by Robert A. Caro (Knopf)

On our short list: Did America Have a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall (Nelson); Armies of Deliverance by Elizabeth R. Varon (Oxford); The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby (Zondervan); The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff (Simon & Schuster)

Science

Darwin Devolves

by Michael J. Behe (HarperOne)

On our short list: Foresight by Marcos Eberlin (Discovery); Humans 2.0 by Fazale R. Rana with Kenneth R. Samples (RTB); Rethinking Radiometric Dating by Vernon R. Cupps (ICR); Fearfully and Wonderfully by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey (IVP)

Accessible Theology

J-Curve 

by Paul E. Miller (Crossway)

On our short list: Work by Daniel M. Doriani (P&R); Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson (B&H); The Whole Armor of God by Iain M. Duguid (Crossway); A Big Gospel in Small Places by Stephen Witmer (IVP)

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is Reforming Journalism. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.