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My Top 10 Books of the Year By Alec Hill

Books That Will Inspire the Leader in You

Years ago, I committed to reading books rather than working on airplanes. Why? Because reading is vital for leaders. It provides wisdom, sharpens judgment, bolsters public speaking, and connects us with others. 

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

~ Harry Truman

With that in mind, here is my 2023 list of best books! Enjoy. And keep reading.

1. Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown

While their families were herded into internment camps back home, Japanese American soldiers fighting in Europe were the most decorated unit in World War II. It is a story of extraordinary courage in the face of incredible barriers. Poignant and challenging. The author also wrote The Boys in the Boat.

2. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger

My favorite novel of the year. Told through the eyes of a 13-year son of a Midwestern Methodist pastor, it recounts a summer of mystery and loss. The author develops remarkable characters via lyrical writing. As illustrated by the book’s title, deep faith themes run throughout.

3. Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery

This biography of the first wife of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, describes her passionate opposition to polygamy. This caused him to hide most of his subsequent marriages. After his death, she feuded with Brigham Young and married a prominent Illinois Wine Growers Association deist. One of her sons was later committed to a mental institution. Suffice it to say her life was full of surprises and tragedy.

4. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

Gene editing, known as CRISPR, is one of the most significant stories of our age. The ability to alter human DNA holds both incredible promise and peril. Renowned author Walter Isaacson tells the story of CRISPR’s history through the lives of several incredible scientists. Previous biographies include Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein.

5. The First 1000 Years: A Global History of Christianity by Robert Louis Wilken

A sweeping history of Christianity’s first millennium, the book describes the spread of the faith as it became a global religion. To say that it recreated the ancient world would not be an understatement. Of particular interest is the interaction between Islam and Christianity. The author is a professor emeritus in history at the University of Virginia.

6. Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce by Kent Nerburn

After helping the Lewis and Clark Expedition survive, the Nez Perce considered Americans friends. Tragically, a completely different scenario played out three-quarters of a century later. Hunted down by the U.S. Army, the tribe displayed strategic foresight and remarkable courage but, in the end, was captured and forcibly relocated to Oklahoma. Heartbreaking and inspiring. 

7. As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

This novel tells the story of a first-century Talmudic scholar who tries to reconcile his Jewish faith with Hellenism. In doing so, we learn much about both world views. I was surprised by how gripping a book about ideas could be personified via fascinating characters. The tug of war between assimilation, on the one hand, and faithfulness to tradition, on the other, creates a gripping and brilliant narrative.     

8. Jim Thorpe: Path Lit By Lightning by David Maraniss

Universally regarded as the best American athlete of the first half of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe’s story is one of triumph and tragedy. Living in an era when “kill the Indian and save the man” was a common mantra, he faced daunting odds. Not a comfortable biography to read, his life soared to incredible heights and dipped to heartbreaking depths.   

9. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount by John Stott

John Stott, my favorite theologian, has never been better than in this exposition of Matthew 5-7. His insights into Jesus’ teaching are clear, profound, and applicable. I’ve probably underlined half of his sentences. Excellent both for personal devotional reading and group study.

10. Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chan

I’ve always been fascinated by the last royal family of China. Coming into the imperial court as a concubine in 1852, Cixi became the de facto ruler of China through innate brilliance and cunning. Her attempts to modernize the nation met with a degree of success, but the dynasty crumbled a decade after her death due to European encroachment and internal rebellion.   


Alec Hill is President Emeritus of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA. He served for fourteen years as InterVarsity’s president and previously was dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University.


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