What I Read in 2023: 3 Books You Might Also Enjoy

 Three of my favorite books from 2023, plus I'm giving one of them away!


Dan Dimitriu



WITH AN EVER-GROWING TBR list, I came to the sobering realization recently that I will never be able to read all of those books before I die, even if I never added another one to the list. At least, not at my current pace.

The past twelve months have seemed especially devoid of leisure time due to various professional and personal commitments. Nevertheless I still managed to finish eight books in 2023. Here are three I think you will enjoy.


Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith



The roots of Christianity lie deep within the biblical feasts. On Passover Jesus became the lamb whose blood redeemed us, on Firstfruits he rose from the dead as the firstborn of the new creation, and on Pentecost he poured out his Spirit to inaugurate the new covenant.[1] 

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbit Jesus provides helpful context to the life of Jesus, first century Israel, and the New Testament as a whole.

As the inspired word of God, the Bible has the ability to stand on its own. You don't need to understand the history of the Greek and Roman empires or know what the Mishnah is or when Sukkot occurs to discern its life-changing truths.

Nevertheless, understanding the culture and background of the real time and space in which Jesus operated lends itself to a much deeper appreciation and understanding of the significance of the savior's life. This is the aim of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.

Spangler and Tverberg explore Jewish traditions such as the rabbi-disciple relationship, the sacred feasts, the Torah, and even tzitziyot (tassels). But the authors don't explore Hebrew culture for its own sake. In their own words, "The goal of this book is not so much to help you understand Judaism as to help you hear Christ’s life-changing words with greater clarity and force."[2]

The authors use Jewish customs and cultural practices like spades and brushes to excavate the roots of the life of Christ. And in doing so, the Christian reader can examine the gospels with fresh eyes.

One example is Jesus's use of the phrase Kingdom of Heaven in the book of Matthew, while other gospel writers attribute the phrase Kingdom of God. Why the difference? Matthew wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience—a people who do not say God's name out of respect. Therefore, while Jesus meant "kingdom of God" he most likely would have used the euphemism "kingdom of heaven".

Overall, I enjoyed this book and the authors achieved their goal of imparting a greater understanding of Jesus through the prism of first century Judaism. I recommend it for anyone trying to do the same.


Alexander Hamilton



Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton's America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.[3]

After reading Chernow's exhaustive account of one of the United States' lesser-celebrated founders, I understand the temptation of its readers to retell the story as a Broadway musical. Hamilton's life remains remarkable for a wide variety of reasons, and it reads like a drama of which Shakespeare would be proud.

While Lin-Manuel Miranda drew inspiration for his smash hit musical, Hamilton, from Chernow's book, my exposure to Alexander Hamilton came in reverse order. I have not seen the play, but over the past several years, I kept hearing people extol the drama's virtues. Therefore I decided to see what the fuss was all about and head straight to the source.

It would be a disservice to Chernow to even attempt to summarize the book without several thousand words at my disposal, so rather than do so, I'll give you the highlights of the life of a man I knew little about.
  • Hamilton was not born in America but rather the Caribbean island Nevis. He spent most of his childhood in St. Croix where he found himself the victim of repeated tragedy. 
Within a span of five years, from age 10 to 14, Alexander (along with his brother James) endured the loss of his father who fled from his life and the deaths of his mother, cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandmother. The Hamilton brothers found themselves orphaned and poor. As Chernow writes, "That this abominable childhood produced such a strong, productive, self-reliant human being—that this fatherless adolescent could have ended up a founding father of a country he had not yet even seen—seems little short of miraculous."[4]
  • "Hamilton did not know it, but he had just written his way out of poverty. This natural calamity was to prove his salvation."[5]
In response to a devastating hurricane, Hamilton wrote a poem intended for his deadbeat father. The poem garnered such attention that local businessmen who saw promise in the seventeen-year-old, raised money to send Alexander to New York to receive formal education.
  • While receiving formal education in New York at King's College (now called Columbia), Hamilton became swept up in the American revolution and worked his way up to becoming general George Washington's aide de camp. Washington would come to rely heavily upon Hamilton's organization skills and knowledge of the French language.
This relationship would prove profitable not only in war, but also critical to the survival and flourishing of the new nation post British surrender when the first president selected Hamilton as his Secretary of Treasury.
  • "The rift between Hamilton and Madison precipitated the start of the two-party system in America."[6]
After teaming up with James Madison (along with fellow statesman John Jay) to write The Federalist, a collection of essays intended to convince the state of New York to ratify the new US constitution, the fruitful relationship between the two would deteriorate.

Post revolution and passage of the US Constitution, one of the most pressing matters facing the young nation was financial. The national debt had ballooned to $54 million and total state debt was $25 million.[7] As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton took it upon himself to right the US financial ship. But, in doing so, he created some significant waves.

Much of the debt was in the form of IOUs to soldiers of the revolution. Hamilton argued that the government should pay back holders of US securities in full in order to reestablish the faith of creditors in the nation's financial system.

Although the plan was brilliant—Daniel Webster would later claim, "The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.”[8]—the aftermath resulted in a schism between Hamilton and his constitutional counterpart, James Madison. And even more significant: as congress and the public picked sides in the argument, the groups coalesced into what would become a two-party political system that we still see in America today.[9]

Congress approved Hamilton's plans to shore up America's financial woes, a plan that succeeded to move the USA toward financial preeminence. But an unfortunate side effect was a split between those who supported Hamilton's plan and those who opposeda division that largely aligned with northern and southern states respectively.

To be sure, these tensions had existed long before Hamilton's rise to prominence, but the passage of Hamilton's funding plan severed whatever tenuous unity George Washington was able to hold together.
  • "In one of history’s most mystifying cases of bad judgment, [Hamilton] entered into a sordid affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds that, if it did not blacken his name forever, certainly sullied it.[10]
Over the course of a year from the summer of 1791 though June of 1792, Hamilton engaged in an extramarital affair with Reynolds. Maria and her husband James would leverage the relationship to extort money from the Treasury Secretary.

Whether the illicit relationship was a setup for blackmail from the beginning is up for debate. Although Hamilton would pay the Reynolds some money, he refused James's request for a government job.

Five years after breaking off the affair, Hamilton came clean. A small circle of people, including James Monroe, had become aware of some of the Treasury Secretary's indiscretions and were challenging his professional integrity.

In response, Hamilton wrote and published what would come to be known as The Reynolds Pamphlet, a ninety-five page document containing all the details of the affair. To quote Chernow, "Hamilton’s strategy was simple: he was prepared to sacrifice his private reputation to preserve his public honor."[11]

The entire affair would only weaken Hamilton's influence.
  • Hamilton died in duel with Aaron Burr.
Burr, the former Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, had watched his political career spiral downward. Hamilton, a principled man, had little respect for Burr who Hamilton saw as one who was willing to shift his beliefs and affiliations in exchange for influence.

So when Hamilton's acquaintance published a letter stating "I could detail to you a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr", Burr saw this as a chance to enliven his political career by challenging Hamilton to a duel.

Hamilton could have avoided the clash with some sort of vague apology, but instead balked that Burr provided no specific details which Hamilton could refute or address.

Ultimately, the two followed through with the duel. By all accounts, Hamilton intentionally missed his shot, while Burr shot the former Treasury Secretary in the abdomen—a blow that would result in death the following day.

Such a summary only begins to scratch the surface of Chernow's book, one from which every American could benefit.



The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues


Leaders who can identify, hire, and cultivate employees who are humble, hungry, and smart will have a serious advantage of those who cannot."[12]

Since reading the Ideal Team Player in April, I've returned to the book multiple times for guidance in the interview and hiring process.

Lencioni distills his tips for identifying, developing, and hiring the best people for your team using the business fable format—a fictionalized scenario which serves to illustrate the main points.

Throughout the fable, newfound CEO Jeff Shanley learns that all ideal team players, regardless of industry or position possess three common virtues: humility, hunger, and (people) smarts.

  • Humility is an obvious one: recognizing other people are just as important (or even more important) to team success is essential. Those lacking humility will step over the team to get credit.
  • Hungry people are invested in their work. They want to do a good job and are willing to exert extra effort for the success of the team.
  • Those with people smarts know how to "read the room." They are good at relating with one another and have a high level of emotional intelligence.

Team members lacking any one of these three virtues will contribute to deficiencies and breakdowns in the team's dynamics.

Imagine, for example, someone who is smart and hungry, but not humble. How would he behave? He would use his people skills to manipulate the team in order to feed his hunger to succeed.

Or what about someone who is humble and smart, but not hungry? She might be a favorite personality in the office, but her lack of production and engagement would sooner or later become a drag on the team. Others might come to resent her for not "pulling her weight."

You get the point.

The fable format allows for quick reading and, although a bit cheesy at times, works well in getting the point across. Lencioni chose to show, not tell, how team dynamics could be affected by deficiencies in any of these virtues.

Lencioni's most salient advice pertains to the hiring process. Often, what hiring mangers look for are technical skills and not how the candidate would fit in with the team and organization's culture. A person's credentials, however, should simply be the baseline for consideration with more emphasis placed on the three essential virtues: humility, hunger, smarts.


A Giveaway!


How would you like to win one these books?

I'm giving away one of the above books of your choice plus a copy of my newest book, Your Utmost Is Not Enough: Trusting in God Even When Life Doesn't Make Sense, to one lucky winner!



How can you enter?

It's actually quite simple: subscribe to my email list. That's it.

I typically send out two emails a month, including one on the last Tuesday with exclusive subscriber-only content. But there's no obligation to stay subscribed once the giveaway ends. To sign up, enter your email address below and click the button:


Already on the list? You're already entered!

I'll leave the giveaway open for seven days (through the end of 6/17/24 CST) and choose a winner at random on 6/18/24. (Note: this contest is open to residents of all territories, but since I'm based in the US, if shipping costs to foreign countries are too prohibitive, I might substitute the prize for a gift card.)

I'll update this post with the first name and location of the winner as well as notify him or her by email.

Good luck!



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Notes:
1. Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), Kindle edition, 127.
2. Ibid, 11.
3. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York: Penguin, 2005), Kindle edition, 6.
4. Ibid, 26.
5. Ibid, 37.
6. Ibid, 307.
7. Ibid, 298.
8. Ibid, 303.
9. Ibid, 306.
10. Ibid, 364.
11. Ibid, 535.
12. Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2016).
13. This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a portion of sales at no extra cost to you.

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