• Knox Thames

Reading List

Updated: Dec 1

Below, find my reading list over the past months (updated regularly). My tastes are eclectic, including current affairs, sports, leadership, and faith. But I always enjoy reading history, especially as learning about the past helps me understand today. As you'll see, some books I loved, while others less so. My comments will help you figure out which is which.


Continuing my David McCullough kick: enjoyed “1776” covering the highs and many lows of the first year of American independence. George Washington made mistakes but importantly learned from them, which led to his audacious attack on Trenton after Christmas in 1776 that surprised the British-hired Hessians.

Really enjoyed “Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford. Didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about his life and empire. If you survived the Mongols’ brutally effective attack, you enjoyed religious freedom, equality, free commerce, and security.

Appreciated “Across That Bridge” by the late Rep. John Lewis. A moving account of his philosophy of non-violence and loving those who do you harm, told through his remarkable life. Deeply spiritual book. Should be required reading for all seeking to change regressive systems.

On its 75th anniversary, appreciated “The Nuremberg Trial” chronicling the creation of the unprecedented war crimes tribunal and the prosecutions of Nazi leaders. Arguably the key event in establishing international law after World War II. As Justice Jackson said as lead US prosecutor, the court wasn’t punishing the defendants for losing the war but for starting it. The court established peace as the outcome of war instead of vengeance. Jackson saw its purpose to “strengthen the bulwarks of peace and tolerance.”

Finished “The Great Bridge” by David McCullough about the construction of the Brooklyn bridge in New York City. A good read for those interested in 19th century engineering and turn off the century New York politics. Otherwise, I’d read one of McCullough’s other fine books.

Finished “The Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough about building the Panama Canal from 1870-1914. At 698 pages, it was a chore at times. But McCullough is a great writer. The story is about a stunning feat of determination and ingenuity connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

FIRST Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country” by Tom Ricks is a different kind of book focused on what the Founders studied, how it influenced their thinking, and what it means today. Interesting and insightful.

Enjoyed “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek. An entertaining read that convincingly shows it is not WHAT you do that motivates others but WHY. Valuable insights for organizations and personal leadership.

Enjoyed “Reclaiming Hope” by Michael Wear about his time on the Obama campaign and his work in the White House on faith engagement. Appreciated reading how his Christian faith helped him navigate the highs and lows of government service.

Enjoyed David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers,” which chronicles Orville and Wilbur’s remarkable and self-taught achievements. They ignored initial ridicule and later fame, and they changed the world. “No bird soars in a calm.” -- Wilbur Wright

"The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes" by Zach Carter, covering Keynes' colorful personal life and groundbreaking thinking on economics. Ambitious in scope, I learned a lot about this seminal and iconoclastic figure.

Interesting insights from Lauren Turek in “To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations” charting the early efforts of global evangelicals to engage internationally (both + & -) on human rights and religious freedom.

Flying Business Class: 12 Rules for Leaders From the U.S. Airlines” by Bill Murphy, Jr. Interesting leadership insights from a high profile industry. It’s a free e-book formatted as a .pdf so you can read it on any device.

Finished the first three books of the DUNE series by Frank Herbert. Wow. Industrial strength science fiction. So creative. Futuristic cities and space travel but also religion, ecology, and anthropology. Makes Star Wars like a child’s fairy tale and Star Trek ... well Star Trek.

Enjoyed “The Great Escape” about the largest POW prison break during World War 2. Using their bare hands and crudely made tools, they tunneled 300 feet underground to try to escape. Written by prisoner Paul Brickhill, it demonstrates how necessity is the mother of invention.

Last year at Easter, our pastor challenged us to read the BIBLE in a year. Just finished reading the entire Good Book on my iPhone (listening too). Highly recommend it. Inspired writing. Lots of Good News. Hope for redemption. Greatest story ever told.

Talking to Strangers” was not my favorite Malcolm Gladwell book. I did enjoy his insights on Chamberlain’s meetings with Hilter and Cuban spies hiding in plain sight at the CIA. But his typical bouncing through history and psychology made his meta point hard to follow.

Finished reading "Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East" from scholars at the Centre of Geopolitics and Grand Strategy of the University of Cambridge. Looks at lessons from the 1648 treaty that ended Europe's 30 Years War to solve the multiple crises in roiling the MENA region

Hunger Games trilogy recommended by my kids. Must admit they were better than I expected. I guess the odds were in their favor...

Enjoyed "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom" by David W. Blight. Learned much about the his amazing, prophetic life.

Enjoying his book “Reading While Black” that highlights the African American tradition of Biblical interpretation coming out of their history and experiences of subjugation and discrimination.

Many timely insights and strategies in “How We Win” by Farah Pandith on countering violent extremism. Appreciated this quote: “Fighting extremism isn’t primarily a job for government–it’s a job for all of us in our capacity as activist, teachers, parents, neighbors and friends.”

Great insights from Asma Uddin in her book “When Islam Is Not A Religion” about the challenges facing American Muslims today. An experienced litigator, she covers a range of issues in an accessible and engaging way. Well written and comprehensive.

Enjoyed another Eric Larson book - The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. Chronicles Winston Churchill's leadership and life during the Blitz, a fascinating picture of a courageous, unique and brave leader during existential crisis.


Good insights from my USIP colleague Keith Mines in his book “Why Nation-Building Matters.” No one likes nation building, but Keith makes the case for its importance, as unattended or ignored crises can produce bigger challenges: human rights abuses, migration, terrorism.

Enjoyed reading on Thanksgiving Day "The American Spirit," a collection of speeches by David McCullough, one of America’s greatest historians.

Enjoyed “American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company” by Bryce Hoffman. Good read about Mulally’s rescue of Ford, when the carmaker faced bankruptcy. He instilled a new vision on quality, and turned things around by emphasizing teamwork and transparency.

Highly recommend reading "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" by Martin Luther King, Jr. Written months before his assassination, he prophetically highlights how America must improve, so that all Americans can prosper in our great country.

Finished “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Last read in grade school, so certain I missed the rich allegorical elements of Aslan. The theology of the last two books is particularly interesting, as CS Lewis re-envisions a creation story and paints a wonder-filled picture of heaven.

Enjoyed reading “Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt” by Steven Johnson. Early notions of international law emerge from one key event—the attack on an Indian treasure ship by an English pirate—and the global repercussions.

Enjoyed Richard Stengel's "Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation & What We Can Do About It," chronicling his fight against Russian and ISIS disinformation during the Obama admin as the State Department Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy.

Interesting insights into the Obama presidency from Ben Rhodes in "The World As It Is." Chronicles his time from joining the campaign of a unknown senator from Illinois through two terms in the White House as key speech writer and national security adviser.

Read "The Days of the French Revolution," covering from 1789-95 the fall of the Bastille and Louis XVI, the advent of The Terror and Days of Thermidor, and Napoleon’s coup. Revolutionaries ended one dictatorship, but their furor eventually consumed themselves, leading to another.

Leadership in adversity: Highly enjoyed reading “ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing about the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from 1914-17. Great story and great example of leadership.

Enjoyed “Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic.” Dave Howard entertainingly tells how an original copy of the Bill of Rights made its way home to North Carolina 140 years after being taken during the Civil War. It’s Antiques Roadshow meets the Pelican Brief.

Nice literary change of pace to read “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis. Inspiring story of a Memphis family taking in homeless teenager who becomes a football star and a technical discussion of changes in football. Not better than the movie, just different.

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