Summer Reading List 2020

Dr. James Emery White

Today is Memorial Day. It’s when we take time as a country to remember and honor military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. So pause a moment and let the real significance of this day be recognized, and perhaps even whisper a prayer for existing families who feel the sacrifice much more keenly than most of us ever will.

It also marks the unofficial start of summer, and that means it’s time for my annual summer reading list (you can find last year’s list HERE). These are among the books that I have either read over the past year or plan to read myself over the summer. Most are brand new. A few, here and there, may be older works that I’m only now discovering myself or wanting to reread. They are often a blend of history, fiction, biography and more.

Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by author:

Brinkley, Douglas. American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race.

Released to time with the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, this is a thrilling read by a first-rate historian. As Walter Isaacson (himself a famed biographer) wrote of the book: “Prepare to recall what is was like to be inspired and thrilled by American greatness. Doug Brinkley recounts, with deep research and exciting narrative, the bold spirit and faith in innovation embodied in John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch a mission to the moon.”

Caldwell, Christopher. The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.

When Jonathan Rauch writes in the New York Times Book Review that an author “warrants attention. He is one of the right’s most gifted and astute journalists,” it is high praise. Caldwell deserves it, and the provocative central thesis of this book – that the reforms of the 1960s created the opposite of their desired intent – is worth considering.

Collins, Kenneth J. and Jerry L. Walls. Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation.

The four marks that characterized the early church were “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The idea of the term catholic, which simply means “universal” or the idea of a world-wide communion, did not become attached to a specific church (as in the Roman Catholic Church) until much later on. Collins and Walls put forward a robust but irenic work that not only argues that the Reformation was necessary, but that the problem with Roman Catholicism is that it is not catholic enough.  

Douthat, Ross. The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success.

This is the second book by Douthat that I’ve placed on my annual summer reading list. The first was Bad Religion, one that I would still recommend anyone taking time to explore. In this book Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times, “explains what happens when a rich and powerful society ceases advancing… how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of ‘sustainable decadence,’ a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think.” 

Galbraith, Robert. Lethal White.

I usually have more than one novel on my list, but I confess to a more non-fiction focus of late. A happy exception is anything by Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. Beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series, and I’ve devoured every one.

Iger, Robert. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.

Bill Gates rarely endorses a business book. The rare exception? This book by Robert Iger. But Iger’s reflections on his phenomenal leadership run at Disney was on my reading list even before I knew of Gates’ recommendation.

Lee, Jeffrey. God’s Wolf: The Life of the Most Notorious of All Crusaders, Scourge of Saladin.

This is the first work by this author I’ve read, and it will not be the last. It tells the story of a 12th-century Frenchman named Reynald de Chatillon who joined the Second Crusade as a young man, rose through the ranks, and eventually became the chief foe of the Muslim leader Saladin. He remains one of the most hated figures in Islamic history. Lee offers an important reinterpretation of not only this historical figure, but the entire crusading era. 

Longerich, Peter. Hitler: A Biography.

I still believe that the multi-volume biography of Hitler by Ian Kershaw remains in a class of its own, but for a single-volume biography, you will not do better than this. Further, Longerich – unlike others before him – presents Hitler as a real person. This makes the work all the more fascinating and horrifying.

Morris, Edmund. Edison.

If the name of Morris sounds familiar, it’s probably because he previously won the Pulitzer for his biographical work on Theodor Roosevelt. Edison is a fascinating character – the most famous American of his time and still renowned throughout the world – who not only invented electric light, but patented more than 1,000 other inventions including the phonograph and the X-ray fluoroscope. This is clearly the new definitive biography of his life.  

P.S.  And, of course, I wouldn’t mind you noting my own recent release:

White, James Emery. Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions.

While Christians will hopefully gain much from its reading, it was written specifically to and for the non-Christian. Even if you never read it yourself, I hope you will consider getting a copy and giving it to a friend who might be willing to explore the Christian faith.

Happy reading!

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.