Alec Hill: My Top Ten Books

Each year, I recommend the best books that I’ve enjoyed over the past twelve months. This was a great year.


Discovering Ken Bailey was a high point in my year. Raised in the Arab world, Bailey has written two fabulous reflections on the gospels, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP, 2008) and Poet and Peasant (Erdmans, 1983). His insights about the cultural context for parables, in particular, are without parallel.


Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform by Diane Ravitch (Simon and Schuster, 2001) is recognized as one of the top ten education books of the last half century. And for good reason. Ravitch’s analysis of various educational reforms is riveting. So much social experimentation, so few results.


Recently, the Cabinet jointly read Carol Becker’s Becoming Colleagues: Women and Men Serving Together in Faith (Jossey-Bass, 2000). Combining theory, story and practical guidelines, Becker helped me to better understand the challenges faced by female colleagues.


William Manchester set out to write a trilogy on the life of Winston Churchill. After writing two brilliant volumes on “The Last Lion” – Visions of Glory (Little Brown, 1983) and Alone (Delta, 1989) – Manchester died before completing the third. While it is a tad frustrating to lose Churchill – one of the most influential and eccentric leaders of the twentieth century – right before World War II, it is still well worth the ride.


Of all the books I read this year, none impacted me more than Adam Hothchild’s Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005). While I knew a great deal about American abolitionists in the 19th century, I knew a great deal less about their British counterparts. Thomas Clarkson, an Anglican clergyman, emerges as one of my new heroes – biblically-orthodox, justice-driven and relentless advocate.

If you are curious as to why Iranians, Chileans and Guatemalans – amongst others – are suspicious of our nation’s motives, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA (Doubleday, 2007) is a must read. The phrase “legacy of ashes” was coined by President Eisenhower as he reflected on the CIA’s global impact.


Richard Wright’s Native Son (Harper, 1940) is one of the most chilling pieces of American fiction ever written. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, the main character is a twenty year old African American living in highly segregated and racist society. While the plot is gripping, it is the underlying sense of a frayed social tapestry that really captures the reader’s imagination. An American tragedy of the first order.

I first read John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath (Viking, 1939), while in high school. It certainly has lost none of its punch. If anything, my intervening years of working with refugees and others in poverty have sharpened my emotional connection to the Joad family.

To say that Shusaku Endo was an unusual Japanese novelist is a gross understatement. As a Catholic, he tackled human sin and thorny moral dilemmas with brutal honesty akin to the writing of Graham Greene. His masterpiece, Silence, (Taplinger, 1966) tells of a 17th century Portuguese Jesuit missionary who apostatizes. Not for the faint of heart.