Best Books 2015

This past year was eventful for me and my family. We now live in a new home, in a new state, and I have a brand new job. All of these changes have been for the good, even though they have significantly altered how and what I read.

Changes In My Reading Schedule

These changes included the nature and scope of my reading. No longer am I preparing for weekly sermons or Bible lessons. Instead I am honing my copywriting, marketing, and advertising skills. I still want to stay current on several theological issues that interest me (biblical theology, the first chapters of Genesis, and the relationship between science and religion), but I’ve had to significantly reduce this part of my reading plan the last 3 months.

In previous years I noticed a glaring lack of fiction in my reading diet; I remedied that this year by overloading on popular fiction works. This way I could ease my way into an unfamiliar genre, with the goal of reading older, classic works in the future.

Also, having a substantial commute has cut into my time to sit down and read a book. Instead, I have embraced the wonders of podcasts and audiobooks. I am still learning what constitutes a good audiobook, as I’ve had to stop listening to several because I couldn’t follow along as well in the audio format.

The Best Books I’ve Read in 2015

In no particular order, here are the top books I’ve read in the past calendar year. Unlike other top books lists, this one is not limited to books published in 2015, but rather book’s I’ve read this year.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This was the book I most enjoyed in 2015. I loved how the author, Andy Weir, crafted the perfect blend of science, storytelling, and humor into one book. With just the right amount of pacing, drama, and internal dialogue, The Martian was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The movie was a gorgeous, faithful depiction of the book, but sadly couldn’t include all the humor of the book.

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

Another popular sci-fi fiction book, this was a fun read over the summer. Filled with 80’s pop culture references, I enjoyed having flashbacks to my childhood, while also trying to pick up all the 80’s movies the author references.

This movie also provides an interesting commentary on technology, corporate greed, and the basic human need for friendship and companionship. Overall it was an enjoyable, quick read that I will pick up again soon.

The Complete Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

To my wife’s disbelief, I had not read any of the Harry Potter books when I was younger. She remedied that by watching the movies every year, but she kept encouraging me to read the books on my own. I finally had time to read them this summer, and I was sure glad she made me.

The Harry Potter series is a majestical, monumental work of great storytelling, focusing on the eternal truths of love, friendship, and sacrifice. It’s a brilliant move on J.K. Rowling’s part for shaping each book to stand on it’s own and tell it’s own story, yet be part of this grand narrative that’s moving to a conclusion.

And the demonstrations of self-sacrifice found in this series is the best example of Christ’s love in fiction — with perhaps the exception of Aslan. I look forward to reading this series again, this time with my daughter.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

This book is a hodgepodge of several ideas: one part oral history of Pixar Animation Studio, one part creativity journal, one part behind-the-scenes look at what works and doesn’t work at a creative juggernaut, and one part leadership management book. The resulting book is a wonderful mix of stories, leadership tips, and practical advice on nurturing creativity. While not as straightforward history as The Pixar Touch, this is a must read for any fan of Pixar, along with creatives and those managing creatives.

The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

I was unsure of this book when I downloaded it from Audible; I thought the title seemed a bit sensationalist: the “Billion Dollar” spy? But as I listened to the book, I was blown away at the utterly fascinating story of the life and mission of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer-turned-spy. Like the fictional George Smiley, Tolkachev is an unassuming, unremarkable middle-aged man. But between 1978–1985, Tolkachev used his position as a senior radar engineer to smuggle thousands of documents, schematics, and engineering plans on Soviet radar and aviation technology advances to the United States. The value of these contributions is incalculable, but one conservative estimate sits at over $2 billion dollars in that day.

Another side of this book is the deep dive into the cat and mouse game that was the CIA missions within Moscow. The author provides a compelling look at several case workers who handled Tolkachev, describing their lives, how they conducted their missions, and the constant risks to their lives. Overall a brilliant book that I would recommend to anyone who loves history or thrillers.

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters by Charles Halton

This is a great book that’s stuck with a poor name. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series, this book presents a written debate between three differing views on interpreting the first chapters of Genesis.

Why do I think the title is poor? Because it portrays this discussion as between three very different viewpoints. The literary equivalent of clickbait, the title would make you think the views are from far, opposing ends of the spectrum. The truth is that each view is much more nuanced, with overlap between each of the views. Each author carefully defines key terms like genre, fiction, and history, and shows how each term applies to Genesis 1–11.

It’s precisely because of these terms that a book like this is invaluable. Too many Christians can hear terms like fiction and history and assume they know what they mean with regards to the Bible. But these unchallenged assumptions serve as a roadblock to any productive discussions on Genesis, Ancient Near Eastern cultures, history, and origins. The three contributors provide balance to this debate, showing that you can be a Christian and have differing views on the nature of Genesis 1–11.

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H.H. Scobie

This massive book (over 1000 pages long) is a brilliant book that provides a comprehensive overview of every theme — both grand and small — found in the overarching biblical narrative. I imagine most pastors and Bible students would use this as a reference text, turning to the relevant section of their research. But as I gradually conquered this book by reading a few pages per day, I developed a deeper understanding of how portions of the Bible interact with the rest of the Bible.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

An account of the college rowing team that represented the United States in the 1936 Berlin Games, this book is well-written, presents a compelling story, and even provides an in-depth look at the rowing world in the 1920’s and 30’s. At times I felt the story slowed down a bit, but I am glad I pushed through and completed the book.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!