Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


2017 Book Reviews

Mar 2, 2017

I’ve always been a reader. These are my beautiful bookshelves! (And I have 15 more books on my desk and over 100 on my Kindle.)

2017 Book Reviews photo of big black bookshelves

Ever since I could remember, I’ve loved reading. I read the newspaper every day as a kid, along with many books. Now, as an adult, I’m reading blogs, articles, eBooks on Kindle, Audible books and traditional books on a daily basis.

While I’ve heard a lot of stats about how Americans aren’t readers and how numerous people never read about after finishing their formal education, this Pew Research study seems to tell a different narrative. According to their research, 73% of Americans read at least one book last year, while the average American read four books.

The Joy of Reading

I have some friends who have been reminding me of the joy I find in reading.

My friend Tim Hoiland just started a brilliant newsletter on books he’s reading. You can sign up here if you’re interested.

David Joannes is a missionary in Southeast Asia, whom our church supports. We met last December. He’s reading 52 books this year and reviewing each one.

My Reading Goal for 2017

So, needless to say, I’ve been inspired. I started a bunch of books last year but didn’t finish many. This year, I took a different approach. I set a goal to read 2 books per month this year. That would be 24 books by December 31. (I have a secret stretch goal that’s even bigger!)

The other part of my new approach is sharing about what I’m reading with you! Throughout this year, I’ll be adding to this post with brief reviews of each book. I tend to read 90% non-fiction. Before you fiction lovers start lecturing me, I know I should read more fiction, but I don’t very often. Typically, only on vacation or around holidays.

If you have a book you think I should check out, leave a comment below. I’m always adding to my Amazon wishlist. And my list is public! So, if you want to buy me a book on there, I won’t send it back!

Someone asked me to narrow down my list of 40 reads to a top 5. I couldn’t pick 5, so I chose 5 in the leadership category and 5 in the personal development/spiritual growth category. My 5 favorite books to recommend to leaders, they would be (in no particular order) The Advantage, Leaders Eat Last, Extreme Ownership, Necessary Endings, and Deep Work. In terms of personal development and spiritual growth, my top 5 would be Present Over Perfect, Kill the Spider, Perennial Seller, Braving the Wilderness, and When Breath Becomes Air.

JANUARY (Book 1)

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni 

I started this book in summer 2016. Lencioni is one of my favorite business authors. This book is not a fable, like many of his others, but it felt like a greatest hits album for a writer. It pulled together content from my favorite books of his in one place. In the book, Lencioni argues that a healthy team and culture is the advantage in business. Healthy teams and cultures win both in the short-term and long haul. This is a must-read if you help lead any team, organization or company! If you haven’t read any Lencioni books, this is the best place to start. If you have, this is like a great refresher on his key teachings!

FEBRUARY (Books 2-7)

How’s Your Soul?: Why Everything that Matters Starts with the Inside You by Judah Smith

I started this book in fall 2016. Judah is a rising star in the evangelical church. He’s super hipster, but he communicates with honesty and humor. The content of this book hits a big need in our culture and it’s no surprise the book has performed well. I was encouraged and reflected a lot during the reading – hence the long breaks between reading. I wish Judah went “deeper” into the idea of my soul like John Ortberg does in his book, Soul Keeping, but I think they’re writing for different audiences and purposes.

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded by Michael D. Watkins

I started reading this book in summer 2016 during my transition into the Lead Pastor role at Cornerstone Church. This book was super helpful in my transition. I jumped around to different chapters out of order, based upon what seemed most relevant. The most helpful part of the book was the diagram for diagnosing your environment and what kind of approach you should take because of it. If you’re moving into a new role, I’d heartily recommend this book.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist

I started this book during Thanksgiving Weekend 2016 but Advent chaos got me sidetracked. I finished it in a couple of sittings in February. It’s no surprise why this book sat on the New York Times’ Bestsellers List for weeks in 2016. Shauna is a brilliant writer and this raw memoir challenged me in significant ways. While the book seems to have been targeted at women, I think men could benefit from this book greatly as well. My favorite chapter is entitled “The Man in the Tuxedo”. Our staff reviewed it last week and it sparked an important conversation.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

This was my first Audible book ever! To reach 24 books this year, my plan is to read one book per month in hardcopy or Kindle form and listen to one book per month via Audible. Cron’s book on the Enneagram was engaging, funny and insightful. I had taken an Enneagram assessment previously but the results and supporting material wasn’t helpful. This book, along with the assessment the authors recommend at, were very helpful at identifying a possible number and what that meant for my continued spiritual formation. I recommend reading this book with someone you are close to, so you can discuss your sense of each other’s numbers within the Enneagram. (In case you know the lingo and you’re wondering, I think I’m a 2 with a 3 wing.)

Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World by Amy L. Peterson

Amy is a fellow contributor at Off The Page, a site for Millennials who are looking for honest conversations about faith and life. I received a complimentary copy of Amy’s book to review and I was blown away. Amy’s memoir is raw and messy. Her story doesn’t work out neatly and neither does her faith. I spent time on a short-term missions trip in Asia while in college, so a lot of this story brought back nostalgic memories. I was saddened to read that Christianity Today decided not to publish a selection from Amy’s book last month, as I think she raises important questions for us to answer about missions in the 21st century. I hope Amy continues to write books; her voice matters!

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy Keller

I re-read this incredible book for sermon prep. Our church is doing a series on modern-day idols in the pre-Easter season. Keller’s style is intellectual but accessible – one of the many things I appreciate about him. I loved this book the second time and am excited to preach this series with Keller’s study as a resource. This is a short-read but incredibly powerful. Beware of small books!

March (Books 8-9)

Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart by Kyle Idleman

During February and March, I preached a series at my church on idols. In preparation, I re-read Counterfeit Gods (listed above) and Gods at War. I personally preferred Keller’s book to Idleman’s. However, I feel Idleman’s book is a more accessible resource and he did a great job of providing supporting research from different disciplines which made his book engaging and very useful for source material for my sermons.

Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer

In preparation for our church elder board retreat, I reread this book. Simple Church was one of the first books I read when I came on staff at my church in Phoenix right after college. It’s a powerful book about the tendency of churches to drift towards complexity, competition, and ineffectiveness. Our church in Prescott is committed to a simple model which focuses our resources and staff on a few areas where we can be effective rather than many areas where we can be mediocre. Really enjoyed reading this updated edition!

April (0 Books!)

I didn’t finish any books in April. With Holy Week and Easter, the life of this pastor got a little crazy. But I made up for it in May!!

May (Books 10-15)

God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future by Will Mancini

Mancini is one of the gurus in the church space regarding vision development and strategic planning. His company, Auxano, helped our church in Phoenix during 2005-2006 as we redefined our mission, vision, values, and strategy. In God Dreams, Mancini describes the different models churches adopt as vision frameworks. Mancini is an engineer by background, so, in parts, the book reads more like a manual. It was a lot of information, and at times I got lost in the complications. However, the last third was extremely compelling and our team is working on pursuing greater clarity in this season. Appreciate reading this book and finished it inspired!

Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding by Leeana Tankersley

Leeana is a friend. We met through an author coaching network in 2015/2016, during which she launched Brazen. While the book is intended for a female audience, several chapters nailed me in the heart. Chapter 7 wrecked me. She wrote about feeling behind. I share that chapter with our staff and it resonated with many of us. I texted Leeana throughout reading this book. I am grateful for her encouragement in my writing journey and look forward to reading the book she is currently writing.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert became famous because of her bestseller Eat Pray Love. In Big Magic, she builds on themes from her popular TED talk on creativity and powerfully inspires creatives to overcome fear, embrace courage and share their work with the world. I listened to this book on Audible and Gilbert did a great job reading it. It was a shorter read and it renewed my commitment to listen to books this year, not just read them. (Note: I feel like the book would speak most to writers, like Gilbert, but I think her content applies to anyone who defines themselves as an artist or creative.)

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Sinek is another author who gained fame through a viral TED talk. Sinek’s TED talk Start with Why is one of the top 10 TED talks ever and it became the subject of his first book by the same title. Leaders Eat Last is easily one of the top 5 books on leadership I’ve encountered. Sinek did a lot of research from this book, drawing heavily on examples from the military, the tech sector, and political figures from American history. I also listened to this book on Audible and Sinek performed it well.

Love is Oxygen by Jarrid Wilson

Jarrid Wilson and I connected on Twitter last year. We’ve had a couple fun phone chats regarding writing and publishing. He invited me to read a galley copy of his upcoming release, Love is Oxygen, due out in the fall of 2017. I submitted the following endorsement for their book.
“From his very first sentence, Jarrid boldly shares his own journey to embrace God’s love and share it with others. Filled with his trademark (vulnerability) and Biblical examples, Love is Oxygen points us to God’s love – our deepest need and most powerful resource. If you roll your eyes when you hear about God’s love, you need to pick up this book!”

When Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by Chris Schopen

Chris Schopen was a colleague of my wife’s during our time in Phoenix. Schopen is a forensic interviewer specializing in children who’ve been abused. She has recently finished a book to resource parents and families on how to respond to a report of abuse by a child. She invited me to read a galley copy of the book (currently untitled) and offer an endorsement (as a parent, pastor, and husband of a prosecutor). I submitted the following endorsement of the book and will update this post with a link when the book is available on Amazon.
“Discovering abuse is a parent or pastor’s worst nightmare. While I hope to avoid this nightmare, I know I’ll be reaching for this resource when it occurs. Schopen has created a systematic guide for parents and church leaders like myself. With empathy and clarity, she equips and empowers her readers to rise to the occasion. As a pastor, parent, and husband of a prosecutor, I heartily recommend this book to you.”

June (Books 16-17)

Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins

I’ve been a big fan of Jeff’s writing since 2011. His book, You Are a Writer, was a defining moment for me in claiming my identity as a writer. Since then, Jeff has authored several books. His newest release, Real Artists Don’t Starve, challenges the myth of The Starving Artist. Using extensive research including widely unknown information about the life and finances of Michaelangelo, Goins crafts a compelling argument for how artists can make a living from their art, not languishing in frustration or despair. This is Goins best book by far and extremely compelling. (Disclosure: I’m a member of Jeff’s book launch and received an advance copy to review. I wasn’t obligated to give the book a favorable review.)

Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. (Members Workbook) by Margaret Feinberg 

I started this workbook in the summer of 2016. A year later, I finally finished it! Since the content was incredible, I’m not sure six-week Bible Study books are my thing, especially doing them on my own. However, I originally wanted to engage this book because of my complicated relationship with the word “joy”. (The subject for another post, unfortunately). Feinberg’s work here emerges from her own battle with cancer while writing a book on joy. While facing her own battle to survive and acknowledge the suffering of many others, Feinberg was able to maintain the tension between living in reality and offering others hope and encouragement. (This workbook is designed to go along with the trade book by the same title.) As someone with joy hangups, I thoroughly enjoyed this workbook and it made a tremendous impact on me.


July (Books 18-21)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This book is one which sticks with you. Kalanithi is about to complete his medical training when he is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He moves from treating the dying to a terminal patient himself. This book published after his death wrestles with big questions in a sobering manner, yet it doesn’t feel hopeless or dark. If you haven’t read this book (and I am very late to the party here), I would heartily recommend it.

The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan

Tony is coaching me in 2017 and his newest book outlines the seven stages churches go through and how they get stuck. Tony’s framework and writing style are accessible and helpful. I’ve written everything Tony writes for nearly a decade, but if you’re not invested in church leadership, there’s plenty of other books I’d recommend on this list!

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Holiday has made his name by making Stoicism accessible and showing its relevance to modern life. In The Obstacle, Holiday shares how what we avoid in difficulty and adversity is often the path of greatest opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from him in the future.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

The subtitle of the book is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.” After Kleon was invited to speak to some college students, he built the speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral and this book is the result. A short read with brilliant design, I loved this and heartily recommend it to any college student or person who wants to be more creative.


August (Books 22-25)

Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio

Giglio goes deep here, sharing about his own battles with anxiety and fear. He offers a very different take on the Goliath story. Instead of saying the reader is David and their giants are Goliath, Giglio states that Jesus is David and He has conquered our Goliaths. Our role is to claim the victory by faith in and dependence on Jesus. One of my favorite Giglio books.

Kill the Spider by Carlos Whittaker

I’m on Carlos’ launch team and got early access to this book. I opened the book to find amazing vulnerability from Carlos and powerful insights about fighting the spiders in our lives. His cobweb vs. spider analogy is worth the price of the book. When this book releases, you need to pick up a copy for yourself and a friend. Because as you’re reading it, you’re going to think of someone who needs to read it. And you’ll already have a copy to share!

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Lief Babin

I’m not someone who typically reads military books. But this book blew my mind! Willink and Babin served as Navy SEALs in Iraq and mined their experience to share powerful principles about leadership, primarily the importance of ownership. I flew threw this book on Audible and it literally saved me from a fight with my wife, where I was tempted to make excuses and blame others. This is one of the top 5 books I’ve read this year!

The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr

This is an older book (another Audible read for me), but I love how the authors distinguish between energy management and task management. The longer I lead, the more I realize how my success really comes down to energy management. Staying healthy, doing what is most important when I’m at my best, and making sure I’m thriving at home and at work. Really helpful, practical insight in this book.


September (Books 26-30)

With: Reimaging the Way We Relate to God by Skye Jethani

I re-read With in preparation for a preaching series on Life With God at my church this fall. Jethani’s four models of unhelpful postures towards God (Life Under God, Life Over God, Life for God, and Life from God) is one of the most practical tools I’ve encountered in a long time. I wish this book got more attention at its release and I’m excited to be introducing more people to it.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

This book made lots of noise during the 2016 Election and after, as Vance’s story and insight into his family experience helped many looking for answers after the election of President Trump. Vance’s narrative is fascinating and I found his reading on Audible to be extremely well-done. I couldn’t stop listening to his story and I would put this book among my top 10 favorites this year.

The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus

McManus has long been a mentor from afar. His book, The Barbarian Way, was the genesis for the ministry I led in Phoenix for several years called Crash. The Last Arrow is rooted in McManus’ recent bout with cancer, powerfully calling us to live a life without regret. Based on a story from the life in the prophet Elisha, McManus grabs your shoulders and shakes you to wake up to the opportunity in front of you. A very powerful book!

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

I read all three books Steig Larsson’s Millenium series several years ago while on vacation. They kept me up at night and I couldn’t put down his bizarre, crazy stories involving Lisbeth Salander. Definitely not content appropriate for children, his books held me on the edge of my seat. Since his books became wildly popular after his death, I assumed I’d never hear more about Salander again. However, the Larsson estate gave Lagercrantz permission to continue with the same characters. This fourth book was a nice return to a familiar place, but I think there’s been a drop off from Larsson to Lagercrantz. A fun fiction read for me while on another vacation, but not the same as my first experience!

Talking with God by Adam Weber

Adam writes with a down-to-earth and straightforward style in this book. He came to faith during high school and has planted the fast-growing Methodist church in the country using some very unorthodox tactics. Armed with a disarming self-deprecating style of humor and a preference for simplicity, Adam shares his own experience with prayers and practical steps his readers can take to more effectively and consistently connect with God through prayer. Not an advanced book on prayer, nor a study of all types of prayer, this book was more like a basic introduction to the subject or a call to return to the heart of prayer, summed up in the title.

October (Books 31-32)

Finish by Jon Acuff

Jon is hilarious. He mixes humor with research-driven insight into achieving our goals! Flew through this book and as soon as I was done, wanted to read it again. If you have a hard time finishing a book or your goals, then this is the book for you!

Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

I’m a “hope guy” and I struggling to say that around a lot of people who couldn’t think of that word beyond Obama’s 2008 campaign. Wear was intimately involved in that campaign, Obama’s first term and his 2012 campaign. Wear gives unique insight as a follower of Jesus during those events. The best part was the final chapters where Wear talks about the danger of placing your hopes in politics.

November (Books 33-36)

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

Holliday has written best-selling books and been involved in crafting the content and launches of incredibly successful books. From idea to launch, Holliday walks through how to make a product (more than a book, but a lot of focus is on books) which sells not on launch day/week/month but for years or decades to come. This was one of those books I’ll be listening to again and again.

Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud

I’ve never read a bad book from Dr. Cloud. Boundaries, Safe People, Integrity and now Necessary Endings. This was a my second read through this book. I spent a few months in and out of the book. It is such an important read. Necessary Endings was full of powerful insights for me about my relationships, stuff at church, and just life. Everyone should read this book, especially chapter 7. Chapter 7 is all about Cloud’s framework of wise, foolish and evil people. So good!

The Dip by Seth Godin

In preparation for writing a blog series this month on knowing when to quit and when to keep going, I re-read The Dip. This is the best book on quitting I’ve ever encountered. You can read it in one sitting, even if you’re a slow reader. I had read it before and I promise you I’ll read it again!

All is Grace by Brennan Manning

One of my top 5 books ever is Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. I’ve had Manning’s memoir, All is Grace, in my Kindle for some time. The stories are raw, real and vulnerable. Manning doesn’t pretend to be what he’s not and embodies the essence of his core message, “God loves us just as we are, not as we should be.” If you’re a Manning fan, this book is a must-read to more completely understand the life and struggles of the man whose words have shaped our vision of God’s love for us.


December (Books 37-40)

The Girl Who Takes An Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

Lagercrantz is not the the master of the world of Lisbeth Salander like Steig Larsson was. But I feel like this second book by Lagercrantz in continuing Larsson’s work was a marked improvement over his first book. Re-engaging this book series provoked one of my goals for 2018 – read more fiction.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Newport struck a chord with me on this one. I started listening to Deep Work while driving to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. His research-based insights, matched with personal experience, challenged me to continue approaching my schedule with a bias towards long-periods of uninterrupted focus. If you make anything for a living, this is a must-read.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown 

I’m a total Brené Brown fanboy. I love everything she writes. This book was an incredible journey as Brené continued to apply the lessons from her research on shame. I appreciated her call to “brave the wilderness” by living true to our convictions and identities in a world which often tries to push us into categories which don’t reflect the way we see the world.

The Myth of Balance by Frank Bealer

I finished the year with a string of Audible books (Deep Work, Wilderness, and Myth of Balance). I’m grateful I went with the Audible version of Bealer’s book. It was less than an hour, so the $16.99 price for paperback on Amazon seems quite the stretch. But I’m grateful for Bealer’s work in deconstructing the myth of balance and sharing alternate approaches to live well amidst the demands of ministry leadership, family, and self-care. At such a short listen, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this book again.



What book have you read recently which moved you?

Newsletter Signup

Get a new email from Scott every week!

Sign up to receive weekly tips on spritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing. I’ll also send you 3 of my most popular resources as a thank you!