One of my resolutions in 2018 was to build the habit of reading more (ideally on real, paper books when possible). As 2019 begins, I’m looking back over last year’s progress. I finished 24 different books, plays, or long essays throughout the year. The range of materials includes science fiction novels, books on mysticism, biographies of inspirational leaders, quantum physics, and tons of brain science. These books gave me so much inspiration and new skills, and I want to share my reading list with you. I attempted to arrange them by subject or genre, but some don’t easily fit into one category.

 Hopefully you’ll find something here that deepens your life and opens up new possibility and imagination for you. Is there something you’d recommend I and others read in 2019? Leave a comment below and let us know. Happy New Year, and happy reading!  


All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki – A prodigal daughter returns to her home in a novel about community, environmental activism, and making meaning in the soil where we live.

The Revolutions: A Novel by Felix Gilman – A Victorian science fiction novel with magic, the occult, and interplanetary romance.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – Butler’s classic dystopian novel and the inspiration for much of what is called “Emergent Strategy.” The story follows a woman and community in crisis, a new religion, and how to create possibility in the America we could (and maybe do) live in.


Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli – Italian theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli, explains incredibly complicated concepts about the universe, time, and reality itself in accessible and beautiful ways.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. – A compelling journey through the ways that trauma impacts our brains and bodies. And, he speaks to how we can be healed and made whole again.

Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation Approach Drives Your Company Forward by Adam Hansen, Edward Harrington, and Beth Storz – An accessible and engaging take on the many ways that cognitive bias shows up in our every day lives.

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions by Carmen Simon – Brain science on what makes your message stand out and remain memorable.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – Jame Clear takes decades of research into how to successfully build the habits you want and condenses it into one powerful book. I know I’m going to come back to this book again and again for advice. I’ve already seen it working in my family.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker – This book has influenced my personal life more than any this year. An impressive and powerful book about the mechanics of sleep and how it impacts every aspect of our lives.


Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen – One of the great masters in teaching on the contemplative life, Nouwen’s short book helps readers engage in practices to discern where new life is calling them.

Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages by Marica McFee – McFee guides ministers and religious leaders in creating compelling experiences that engage the whole of who we are as humans.

“Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson – This classic essay helped define a generation of American religion and literature. It tackles, authenticity, inspiration, and the deep currents that connect all humans to the source of life.

“The Over-Soul” by Ralph Waldo Emerson – One of Emerson’s more mystical essays; he explores the relationship between the self and God and so much more.

“The Divinity School Address” by Ralph Waldo Emerson – In the summer of 1838, Emerson delivered this address to the graduating seminarians at Harvard Divinity School. It became a defining moment in liberal religious history in America. It is a “mic drop” moment where Emerson urges new ministers to “cast aside all conformity,” trust personal experience, and use their role to connect all people with the Holy within them.

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr – Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr is one of the living masters of contemplation and mystical religion. His compelling and quite readable book helps us get beyond dualistic thinking and discover the unity “hidden in plain sight” in all of our lives.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau – I read Walden at least once each year. Its classic take on simplicity and American life is as relevant today as it ever was.


Holy Clarity: The Practice of Planning and Evaluation by Sara Drummond – A book on planning an evaluation for religious leader,s but great for everyone. If you’re looking to work toward a big goal or priority in your life, Drummond’s book is a helpful tool.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh – Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, a company whose mission evolved from selling shoes to delivering happiness. His book is part auto-biography, part manual on how to develop your organization into a place where people thrive and create something spectacular together.

Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World – This was one of the year’s most influential books for me. Berger’s text is about adult human development. Her research on how we grow as adults has radically changed the way I understand my own growth goals and the people I work and live with.


Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls – I’m a Thoreau fan (so much so that our first child is named after him). Even though I went in expecting to like this book, I was surprised by just how engaging it was. This take on the famous writer, activist, and naturalist presents a picture of a full human like no other biography of him does. It is funny, touching, and a page turner (really).

Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson – Richardson’s biography of the “Sage of Concord” is a full one. It shows Emerson as much more than the caricature of a rugged individualist. This book is dense, and full of academic treatments of the philosophies that informed this American scholar. 

The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall – I loved this biography. And, perhaps you can tell I was on a run of biographies about 19th-Century Transcendentalists. This one is a page-turner, too (again, seriously). It is interesting all the way through and does justice to three sisters who deeply influenced the course of American literature, art, education, and religion.


No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre – I hadn’t read this since performing in this play in college. If you know one line from this play, it is probably, “Hell is other people.” The famous Existentialist imagines three people spending eternity in a room with one another.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes – Originally performed in 411 BCE, this comedy by the Greek playwright, Aristophanes, imagines the women of the warring Greek city states denying any men sex as a means of ending the Peloponnesian War. It is funny, raunchy, and an interesting ancient take on sex and power.

The good folks over at The Partially Examined Life podcast have great episodes where you can listen to readings of both these plays along with philosophical discussion of them.

So, there’s my reading list for 2018. What about you? Did you read anything this year that deepened your life or taught you a little bit about being human? What should I and others be reading in 2019? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Related Posts: I wrote about Walker’s book, Why We Sleep recently, and how it convinced me that sleep is a form of grace. Check it out here.