All the World's a Classroom

Best Books of 2019: Part 2

Best Books of 2019: Part 2

It’s the second round-up of the best books of 2019. Below are my favorites from the second half of the year. To see the list from the first half of the year, go to this post. And if you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.


1. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

Winners Take All is a thought-provoking book that makes you think about what kind of society we live in and what kind we want to live in. Anand Giridharadas is one of the main voices in the growing conversation on the role of the billionaire class in philanthropy and in “changing the world.” Some of the poignant questions the author asks: Should we trust billionaires to solve societal problems, when it is in their interest to preserve the status quo rather than promote changes that would eat into their profit? Instead of doing more good, how about doing less harm? Where does the idea that changing the world has to always be a win-win proposition (i.e., do well by doing good) come from? This book takes a critical look at “changing the world” when it is understood in a narrow, market-based paradigm that seeks to profit from it instead of giving something that true changes often require, true sacrifice. 

For more resources on the topic, check out these conversations:

When the Market is Our Only Language from On Being with Krista Tippett

Interview with Ezra Klein

Future Perfect podcast Season 2: Philanthropy vs. Democracy

I’m not a big science fiction reader, but I will read everything that Ted Chiang writes. Exhalation is his second collection of short stories after his first, which was one of my favorites in 2017. His stories have this breathtaking quality about them. Each story is a world unto its own, and Chiang is so good at making each world’s laws and rules consistent. But at the core of these stories are deep human questions that emerge whether the characters interact with time travels, parallel multiverse, or artificial intelligence. At the end of the book, Chiang includes some notes on how each story originated, which provide a glimpse of how his fascinating mind works.

For more, listen to his interview on the New York Times Book Review podcast:

Fiction About Unprecedented Situations 

Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist who spent years immersing herself in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a community that strongly supports the Tea Party. As an academic from Berkeley, she seeks to understand a community, and individuals in that community, that are as different as can be to her political leaning. Her exploration, which she calls climbing an “empathy wall,” is generous and deeply human. What she uncovers is their “deep story,” reality as it is felt by each person she comes to know in this book. 

As a foreigner in America, one of my perpetual learning goals is to understand the society I’m a part of, its histories, narratives and “deep stories.” This is one of those valuable books in this respect, as it covers stories of lives that are not commonly covered in mainstream channels. 

Check out this conversation from the On Being podcast:

The Deep Stories of Our Time 

A great biography on the life of Ulysses Grant.

Read a nice review of the book here.

A lovely memoir on family, identity, and belonging. As a baby, Nicole Chung was adopted and raised by a white family. She grew up well loved, but also with a sense of not completely belonging or understood. She searched, and found, her birth (Korean) family as an adult, and in the process, explored the complexities of being a transracial adoptee and the different shades that “family” can mean.


A great follow up to the Ulysses Grant biography, this book tells the story of Andrew Garfield’s quick rise to the presidency and his murder quite early on in his presidency. He did not immediately die; what transpired after he was shot was an interweaving dynamic between politics, medical care (and their respective power struggles), and mental illness (on the side of his assassin).


A gripping story of a slave’s escape from bondage, traversing several states, each with their own promises and horrors. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for a very good reason.

This book is a wonderful discovery; I had never heard about The Moth before this book. The Moth is a storytelling phenomenon in which each person tells a personal story on stage. There’s something powerful in the first-person telling of one’s life. This book is a collection of these stories, lightly edited for print. 

Check out The Moth’s YouTube channel here.

Favorite Books Lists

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.


*Amazon Product and Bookshop links on this blog are affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!


Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Happy mid-year! It’s time for the first round-up of the best books of 2019. If you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.


1. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist


This is a fantastic book of an incredible story written by the Pulitzer Prize writer Eli Saslow. Derek Black grew up in the middle of white nationalism. His family was, and still is, at the head of the movement. Yet when Derek went to college, things began to change until he finally left the movement and is now actively fighting against it. This book tells the dramatic story of his evolution through interactions he had with college friends, a few of whom invited him to Shabbat dinners, and continued to do so even after they knew who he was. The story is presented with empathy toward everyone involved and contains so many lessons for us today. 

This book is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. As he retells the story of how they arrested and condemned him, and as you go through the years of him hoping and fighting for his innocence, you get this suffocating feeling because you know that he ultimately had to spend 30 years before he was finally released. Hinton shares the incredible darkness that he and his prison mates lived through, and also the humanity that could not be taken away from people, even on death row. It’s dark story of injustice, but also an incredible story of resilience, hope, and faith.

Hinton’s life is intertwined with Bryan Stevenson’s, author of Just Mercy, one of my all-time favorite books. Stevenson eventually became Hinton’s lawyer, who after years of work finally got him freed from death row. 


In Almost Everything, Anne Lamott shares profound wisdom for a life of hope in her usual witty and humorous writing. The timing of when I picked this book up coincided with the 10th anniversary of my dad’s passing, which made this book such a welcome salve to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. It simply is a delightful book on the most essential things in life, and most of the credit goes to the writing.

Written by the same Eli Saslow who wrote the first book in this list, this collection of articles trace the lives of individuals across the country who are impacted or depended by America’s food stamp program. The challenge of having enough or anything to eat is very real for many American families, children, and senior citizens. I think these articles should be required reading, and for more sources that enlighten the complex problem of poverty, see this Understanding Poverty Reading List.

This book makes the list because it is such an infuriating story. John Carreyrou traces the story of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar biotech startup, with the enigmatic Elizabeth Holmes at its helm. Yet Theranos’ unicorn status was based on a fraud, a technology that didn’t work. Selling the promise to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would be able to do a variety of blood tests with a single tiny prick of blood, Holmes was able to fool many high-ranking investors and became at one point the star young female tech CEO that the world was craving for. 


The infuriating part was the cost that many people bore from getting false blood test results, and Holmes seemingly walking away mostly unscathed from this whole ordeal. Presently, she faces criminal charges for fraud. Her trial date is just set for July 2020. As for her life, she got engaged to a hotel heir and reportedly living in luxury. 


Now how about a story about women who are true heroes. This book tells the under-told story of thousands of women who were codebreakers during World War II, their marvelous accomplishments, the challenges and stigmas they faced in the workplace and the changing role of women in society. Brilliantly researched by the writer.



What are your favorite recent reads? Comment below for reading recommendations!


Favorite Books Lists

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.


*Amazon Product and Bookshop links on this blog are affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!


My Favorite Children’s Books: Part 4 (Christian Edition)

My Favorite Children’s Books: Part 4 (Christian Edition)

This post is part of the Favorite Children’s Books series. See all the posts in the series here.


For the fourth installment of my favorite children’s books, I’m focusing on Christian and Bible-based children’s books. Just like what any parent would want, I want to read books that communicate the values I hold dear to my kids, whether they be faith-based on not. But specifically for Christian children’s books, I apply a slightly different list of criteria compared to general children’s books.


What I Look for in Christian Children’s Books


There are a few things I look at when compiling a list of favorite Christian children’s books. 


1. Fresh re-telling or interpretation of Bible passages and stories. 

I’m looking for a language that’s not trite and not super formal. Simple, but fresh. Usually, if I read something that makes me say, “Huh, I never saw it that way,” that’s a good sign. The Jesus Storybook Bible featured in this previous post is a great example of this, and there are more books by the same author and illustrator that make it to this post. For example, in The Jesus Storybook Bible, the author interprets “Let there be light” as “Hello, light.” I just love that. It’s so accessible to kids, it sounds like us, and it’s creative.


2. Visually appealing graphics

Beautiful blend of colors, artistic interpretations, and willingness to push boundaries on what kids’ books should look like. They don’t all have to be cartoonish. 


3. Socially conscious graphics

I love to see diversity in the characters portrayed in the graphics. I care about representation in what my kid sees in his books, something that more accurately shows the world at large. This becomes more important if you live and socialize in less diverse locations. (Sometimes my son sees a random Asian guy and he thinks it’s his Dada. A good hint of how the world looks like through his eyes.)

Another part of this consciousness is how the book illustrates Jesus and other Bible characters. I have seen books, typically older publications, where the color of Jesus’ hair is different from one page to literally the next page. Others show baby Jesus and the people around him with blond hair and blue eyes. I mean, come on. For this reason, I tend to prefer more recent publications than older ones. 


4. Books that touch on the complexity of Bible stories

One of the things that happen when you grow up in the Christian faith is the surprises you get from Bible stories as you get older. When you’re little, you get the really happy version of Bible stories and everything ends happily. Then you grow up and realize that, oh my, a lot of Bible stories are actually horrific! It turns out that it’s not a collection of happy stories. 

For example, the story of Noah, the ark, and the flood is a staple in Christian books, Sabbath or Sunday schools at churches. It’s always a fun one because you get all the animals, and even as adults, you are almost persuaded that living in the ark is like a fun trip to the zoo. But really, the story is scary, and who wants to think about what living with animals in closed quarters for a year is like. 

As an adult, I learn that the Bible doesn’t shy away from grotesque details of the human life and it’s truthful in describing human nature (See more in this post). But I kind of wish that more of this nuance was talked about when I was a teenager.

Of course you can’t go all realistic and burst all your one-year old’s bubbles. You still need to focus on the happy parts of the story to introduce them to the Bible. But as a bridge, I like books that hint a little bit of the complexity that the Bible presents. Things like, a Jonah story that says something about his character development, not just a happily-ever-after ending with Nineveh turning to God. 

This idea still needs to be validated, of course. If any of you has thoughts or suggestions on this, please comment!


5. Focus on God’s love

There are many wonderful books that focus on building proper self-esteem in kids. They affirm how wonderful and wonderfully made you are. I think these are great for older kids, especially when they start to go through experiences that challenge their self-esteem. 

Since I’m reading for a one-year old, I try to focus on God’s love first and reserve those self-esteem books for later. I tend to choose ones that have an outward focus, like the wonderful things in the world, instead of the inward ones, for now at least. I also try to avoid stories in which the characters are showing bad behavior that I haven’t seen in my son yet to avoid him becoming what he sees. 

Again, this is a personal approach that may well change as soon as I publish this post. But I’d love to hear from other parents out there on how you all approach book selections for your kids!


As I go through more children’s books in this series, I will be developing my personal philosophy of children’s literature and sharing what I learn in the posts. I’d like to have a conversation with all of you on this, so please share your thoughts!


With that, here are my favorite Christian children’s books. Click on the images for Amazon links to the books.*


This sweet life-a-flap book is a great first book for your kids. The story is not an uncommon one in the children’s Christian literature, where the child is thanking God for all the blessings she experiences throughout the day. But this particular version of the board book is just sweet and beautifully illustrated. 



This one and the next in the list are brought to you by the creators of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Found is based on Psalm 23, a love story between God the shepherd and a lamb. This one wins for the fresh retelling of the psalm, which is very touching even for adults, and the illustrations. 


Same strong points as Found. This one is based on the Lord’s prayer. I just love how the author condenses lofty ideas into words that a little child can express. 


The World is Awake is about the wonder that we can experience in the world and in nature, but this one wins especially for the graphics. They truly show that awake-ness invoked in the title. Swing by your local bookstore and take a look yourself!


I love this re-imagination of the question, Where does music come from? Who Sang the First Song draws our minds to think about the sounds that nature makes, how each sings its own tune and rhythm. But most importantly, it imagines a God who sings, who plants music into everything He creates. 


What are your favorite Christian children’s books? Share your favorite titles by commenting!

*Product links on this post are affiliate links, which means I get credits if you purchase products through them. Would appreciate it if you do!

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