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Top Ten Books of 2019

December 9th, 2019 | 5 min read

By Jake Meador

It’s that time of year, so here’s my list of my ten favorite (new to me) books from 2019:

  1. Unbelief and Revolution by William Groen van Prinsterer
    1. This is the book to give your Protestant friend who is deeply suspicious of what modernism has become but also is unpersuaded (rightly) by the attempts to blame the excesses of modernity on the Protestant Reformation.
  2. Dignity by Chris Arnade
    1. My favorite read of the year, possibly. I reviewed it over on the main site. Arnade also joined us on Mere Fidelity to talk about the book.
  3. The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony
    1. My friend Brad Littlejohn raved to me about this book when it first came out. I wasn’t disappointed. The Conservative Nationalism movement has many, many pitfalls to avoid, but as a simple statement of the political theory behind nationalism, I think Hazony’s book is superb. Looking ahead, it will be essential for the conservative nationalists to do two things well: First, make it absolutely unmistakable that the movement has no tolerance for white nationalism. (Kinda-sorta defending our nation’s treatment of Native Americans, as Lowry apparently does in his book, is not how you do this, by the way.) Second, articulate a vision of nationhood that is not libertarian and also is not simply a variant on statist progressivism. Hazony’s book isn’t meant to do those things, of course; it’s defining terms and shaping the conversation. But the next step is for the conversation to address those two issues.
  4. The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt
    1. This was another Brad recommendation. It was also my first dive into Arendt’s work. I was not disappointed. The reflection on contemplation and knowledge work at the end of the book would be enough to make this book worth your time. But the entire thing is incredibly helpful if you are interested in thinking more carefully about human work.
  5. The Divine Imperative by Emil Brunner
    1. This was one of my ‘read whimsically’ pick-ups. I found it at Loome Theological Booksellers (RIP) in Stillwater, MN. I just recently finished it. There are parts of it I found infuriating but also so much that was incredibly rich. The internal connectedness of Brunner’s ethics is stunning and there are some individual paragraphs buried throughout the book that are gold. If you want to read a smart work on theological ethics from a Reformed Protestant, this is one of the places you might start.
  6. The Once and Future Worker by Oren Cass
    1. Oren Cass is one of the main thinkers behind the emerging pro-worker conservatives. What makes his book so helpful is that it demonstrates in no uncertain terms how absurd the accusation is, made by some on the Never Trump Right, that the conservative nationalists are just progressives by another name. There is no way you could read Cass on the minimum wage or labor unions, to cite only two examples, and come to that conclusion.
  7. Living on Fire: The Life of L. Brent Bozell Jrby Daniel Kelly
    1. Bozell’s story is one worth knowing. The brother-in-law and longtime friend of William F. Buckley, Bozell eventually broke with his brother-in-law’s libertarianism in favor of a traditionalist Catholicism. If you want to understand the contemporary debates on the right, this book is helpful. This essay I wrote on the main page was largely inspired by Kelly’s book.
  8. Saving Capitalism by Robert Reich
    1. If you want to get a basic handle on where some critics of today’s capitalism are coming from, start here. Reich takes an approach that has some overlap with the approach of both Elizabeth Warren and folks like Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio: The point is not that markets are bad or that private property is bad; the point is that markets are not natural, they are made. Because markets are made, it follows that they can be made in a variety of ways and serve very different groups of people depending on how they are made. Reich’s book is the best I’ve read for explaining how the markets in 21st century America have been made and who they serve.
  9. Heartland by Sarah Smarsh
    1. Smarsh does not totally escape the problem of technocracy. But what she gets right, she gets very right. This is a book that has a great degree of overlap with J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, but I think it is much more fair than Vance’s book and much less attached to many of the conservative bromides that Vance repeats in the book, some of which he himself seems to have repudiated since publication.
  10. Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian by Sarah Williams
    1. If there is a challenger to Arnade for my best book of the year, it is this one. What it and Dignity have in common is, perhaps, what explains why they are my two favorite books of the year: Both of them are trying to reckon with human personhood in the post-industrial west in an actually costly, trenchant way. Williams’s book tells the story of the choice she and her husband made to carry to term a baby that, due to a skeletal condition, could not live outside the womb. But the book isn’t simply an explanation of that choice they made; it’s a reflection on what makes a person and how actually embracing a robust definition of personhood disrupts our lives. Please read it.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).