Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Books of 2016

2016 was a great year for reading.  Most of my non-fiction selections were excellent and well worth my time but more encouraging and exciting were the fiction books I read in 2016.  Although my selection for my favorite fiction book was mostly undisputed in my mind, that did not mean there wasn't a wonderful selection of fiction I read this year.  In too many years past I have struggled to find works of fiction which inspire and enlighten.  Happily, 2016 was not one of those years.  Therefore, since this year was such a wonderful year for my fiction reading, I'll start with my favorite fiction book of 2016.

Fiction: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I read Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop early in the year.  It's sometimes easy to forget about books which you read earlier in the year because so much can come after it, not just in terms of reading but also in terms of life.  Death Comes for the Archbishop has stuck with me from the moment I turned the last page.  Its evocative setting, its endearing characters, its hopeful message—it all stuck with me and continued to affect my thinking.  Even though I read several great works of fiction this year, there was never any doubt that Death Comes for the Archbishop would be my favorite this year.

I found Death Comes for the Archbishop deeply personal.  Its a story about believing souls trying to change the world, slowly but ever so surely.  At one point Cather writes " was no easy matter for two missionaries on horseback to keep up with the march of history."  What a powerful statement!  Having served as a religious missionary it's difficult for me to articulate how much that statement moves me.  Furthermore, the myriad of simple but incredible insights from the book, such as "[m]an was lost and saved in a garden," elevate its prose from mere plot plodding to literary lessons indelibly impressed upon me.  Death Comes for the Archbishop isn't exactly a well-known masterpiece of literature; yet, for me, it's exactly that—a masterpiece.

Non-fiction: The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman

Neal A. Maxwell is no slouch when it comes to selecting the "best books" (D&C 88:118) and I always pay attention to any author, article, or book Maxwell quotes from.  The March of Folly is a book I more than likely never would have found except by listening to and paying close attention to a talk by Maxwell.  And I'm so glad I found it.

The March of Folly is a dense book—detailed and challenging.  Although many non-fiction books attempt to document several events or chronicle a personality's life, Tuchman's book is an exploration of a historical theory; to wit, that governments and leaders often act against their own self-interest and engage in demonstrably poor policy decisions which eventually leads to their losing power and influence.  The book explores the mythical story of Troy—which I loved because I believe myth and story can teach us a great deal—the American Revolution from the perspective of the British, the Popes shortly before the Reformation, and the Vietnam War.  In all cases, I was enthralled by Tuchman's commentaries and insights.  Whereas a book like The Lessons of History by the Durants attempts to look at history at 50,000 feet, The March of Folly looks at history under a microscope.  Both are valuable, of course, and The March of Folly is a truly effective microscope.

Like most years, I read a lot of very good non-fiction books in 2016, but the one that really stuck with me and continues to actively influence my thinking was The March of Folly.  It should not be overlooked.

Other Topics of Interest:
Best Books of 2015
Best Books of 2014
Thousander Must-Reads

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