Friday, July 19, 2019

Rebirth: Havok Season 1

What is flash fiction?  Short stories--very short stories.  Havok Magazine provided a platform for flash fiction, mostly in the sci-fi, fantasy, and related genres.  In case you missed it, they have collected 48 of those stories in Rebirth: Havok Season 1.

The authors of the stories range from seasoned writers who have published multiple, award-winning novels to writers whose publishing history might only consist of posting a story on a web site (so far!).  The quality of the stories, as a result, has a range that you might expect, but I bet you would be hard pressed to pick out the novices from the pros.  In other words, just because some of the stories are written by no-name unpublished or little published authors doesn't mean they are poorly written or unreadable.  While I enjoyed some stories more than others, they are all quality work.

Depending on your tastes, some of the stories will be more memorable than others.  I'm not much into magic-infused fantasy stories, and a fair number here fit that mold.  Several of the stories piqued my interest enough to check what else the author has written, and many of them left me wishing there were more to the story.

I suppose that is the point of flash fiction--give the reader a taste, and leave him longing for more.  I was repeatedly impressed by the authors' ability to create a world, characters, and story elements in just a couple of pages.  I won't name favorites--there are too many and it would be unfair to leave several out.  Not every story here is a five star story, but in this case the whole is greater than the parts.  Forty-eight different authors created forty-eight different, unrelated worlds, loosely united under the theme of rebirth.  The final result left me wanting to visit quite a few of those worlds again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Sword, by Bryan Litfin

Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where, due to a global pandemic and a devastating nuclear war, human civilization has been reduced to a medieval standard of living.  Actually, it's not that hard to imagine, since that scenario has been played out in many books and movies.  In Bryan Litfin's The Sword, the first book in his Chiveis Trilogy, Litfin adds a twist.  In his post-apocalyptic world, all memory of Christianity has been purged, and pagan religions prevail.

In the kingdom of Chiveis, the priestesses of the pagan religions call the shots.  When Teo, an independent-minded soldier is rescued from a bear attack by Ana, a beautiful country girl, their lives are entwined for good.  Ana's beauty had not been unrecognized, sparking envy in a princess and lust in a neighboring king.  After Teo rescues her from the clutches of the king, they go on the run and discover a partially intact Bible in an abandoned church.

Teo secretly translates portions of the Bible and he and Ana gather a group of seekers who begin to worship this unknown God, who they discern is the creator of all, is infinitely good, and demands sacrifice for sin.  Inevitably, these worshippers face harsh persecution.  Litfin's narrative is full of sword play and action, scheming and betrayal, and exploration of spiritual ideas.

As a work of fiction, The Sword is definitely fun to read, with its action, suspense, and romance.  But Litfin, who has a PhD in religious studies and who taught theology at Moody Bible Institute for many years, has a bigger purpose than spinning an entertaining tale.  The Sword is a thought experiment.  What would society look like if all traces of Christianity were wiped out?  What sort of Christianity would we rebuild if all we had was a portion of the Old Testament?  What miraculous interventions would God choose to use to reveal himself?  What kind of community would a group of new believers create, and how would they stand up under persecution?

The Sword is an entertaining, thought-provoking page turner that leaves readers eager to jump into the next story, The Gift.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has one of the more unlikely conversion stories that I have heard.  She taught English and critical studies and a large, secular university.  Her specialty was feminism and she lived with her lesbian lover.  But a local pastor reached out to her with acceptance and love, and the truth of the gospel won her over.

In The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith she tells the story of her life before and after her conversion.  The greatest challenge for Christians is the fact that Butterfield did not become a Christian due to sophisticated logical arguments or by challenges to her sinfulness, but through love and relationships.

Now married to a pastor and mother of several adopted children, Butterfield has perspectives that can challenge those of us who have been in the church all our lives.  For one thing, she lauds the community life of lesbians, and, on several occasions, had opportunities for the church community and the lesbian community to work together and learn from each other. 

As an outsider of sorts, Butterfield is not afraid to step on some toes.  But she is now an insider, and her criticisms come with family love.  Above all, her story is a reminder that one should never rule out prospects for conversion.  The warm embrace of Christian community and the power of the gospel of Christ can change any life.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Who On Earth is the Holy Spirit?, by Tim Chester

Tim Chester asks a good question in his little book Who On Earth is the Holy Spirit? and Other Questions about Who He is and What He Does.  Many Christians have this question about the most mysterious member of the Trinity.  True to form, Chester, a pastor in the UK, looks to the scriptural record to gain a broad understanding of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.

Every Christian should be aware of the Holy Spirit and his work.  Unfortunately, a minority slice of the Christian world--pentecostals and charismatics--seem to have monopolized teaching about the Holy Spirit.  Chester's is a moderating voice, offering a balanced perspective that will challenge some Christians to open their minds to spiritual gifts like prophecy and healing, and will remind other Christians that these "manifestation" gifts are only a part of what the Holy Spirit is about.

It's short.  It's biblical.  It's theologically sound.  It's balanced.  It's a good book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Right Side of History, by Ben Shapiro

I really enjoy Ben Shapiro's perspective on his podcasts, Twitter, interviews, and media appearances.  In The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, Shapiro demonstrates the philosophical and intellectual foundations on which he bases his perspective on contemporary political and cultural issues.

While Shapiro is best known for his up-to-the minute commentary, The Right Side of History takes the story back centuries, to Jerusalem and Athens.  The core of his argument is that the Western world has strayed from the Judeo-Christian roots of our moral code and the Greek roots of our intellectual and political traditions. 

Shapiro has great insights and gives an overview of intellectual and moral history that is worth reading.  I appreciate his balance and commitment to clarity.  The nature of the book--mostly a historical primer--doesn't lend itself to much excitement.  But it's definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Seven Longest Yards, by Chris and Emily Norton

Chris Norton was a standout on his college football team until a fateful tackle during his freshman season.  As hard as he tried to get up off the turf, he couldn't move a muscle below his neck.  In The Seven Longest Yards: Our Love Story of Pushing the Limits While Leaning on Each Other, he tells the story of his injury, his fight to recover, and of finding the love of his life.

First of all, fair warning: get the Kleenex ready.  I couldn't help putting myself in Chris's parent's shoes, thinking about how I would respond if my college-age son had a devastating injury such as Chris had.  He is privileged to have a loving, supportive family.  He was also privileged to benefit from NCAA insurance for injured athletes.  So he began his recovery on a solid foundation.

What sets Chris apart after his injury is his refusal to give up hope.  When doctors said he had a 3% chance of ever moving anything below his shoulders, or when a doctor told him he would never walk again, he rejected their predictions, determined to be that small percent to overcome the odds.  His mantra from the start was "Don't focus on what you can't do.  Focus on what you can do."  He has taken that attitude to launch a successful inspirational speaking career, as well as a foundation committed to providing medical care for other victims of spinal cord injuries.

Before he got there, though, he had a lot of work to do.  Having finished his coursework in the fall, he dedicated the spring semester to preparing to walk across the stage at his May graduation.  His girlfriend Emily agreed to assist him during this time.  She attended his therapies and was able work as his home assistant thanks to his insurance plan.

After his successful graduation walk went viral, he was inundated with media requests, appearing countless times.  It certainly helped that he proposed to Emily the night before graduation, adding their storybook romance to the tremendously inspiring story.  After the media buzz died down, Chris still had work to do, and Emily struggled with having given up her professional dreams to help him.  She spiraled into a deep depression, and writes about all she went through to overcome it.

I appreciated Chris and Emily's honesty.  They make no great claims about their faith or faithfulness.  In fact, when they became involved in a church after they moved to Florida, Chris writes that they each desired early on to date another Christian, but "our lives hadn't reflected that priority in a long time."  He said God "had never been a vital part of my everyday life."  Ultimately, they both grew in their faith together.  An elephant in the room that was never addressed is the fact that they lived together, moved to another state, bought a house, and started fostering kids together before they were ever married.  For a book about a Christian couple published by a Christian publisher, it's interesting that this time of cohabitation is never mentioned as such.

Chris and Emily are an inspiring couple in many ways: Chris overcoming the odds to walk, Emily overcoming her depression to function, the two of them committing to love needy children through foster care, and the vulnerability they have chosen to share their stories.  It's not the life they imagined, but it's "a life that exceeded anything we had ever imagined."  They have shown that "with God, all things are truly possible."

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, July 8, 2019

By Reason of Insanity, by Randy Singer

Catherine O'Rourke is a popular crime reporter, but when she has disturbing visions that give details about a series of murders, she becomes suspect number one.  Randy Singer's novel By Reason of Insanity explores the world of multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID) to consider whether someone could be a serial killer and not realize it.

Murder is the farthest thing from Catherine's mind, but when evidence seems to finger her, and her lawyers suggest that a claim of insanity related to DID is all that could get her off the hook, she begins to have serious doubts about her own innocence.  The victims are rapists, or lawyers who defended rapists.  Catherine grapples with a rape in her own past, so the suggestion that she may be exacting revenge does not seem that far-fetched.

Singer puts together the investigation and trial nicely, as he does in his novels.  His trial experience shows, bringing a sense of realism to the courtroom scenes.  I enjoyed the interactions of the two lawyers who are compelled to work together in Catherine's defense.  The DID angle seemed a bit overwrought.  While it's interesting to consider the possibility that someone could function as more than one person, none of whom is aware of the other, I thought very little about Catherine's story lent itself to a consideration of DID. 

Even though Singer writes for a Christian publisher, there was little Christian content in By Reason of Insanity.  I don't say that as a criticism, just an observation.  Singer is definitely a writer of legal fiction to whom I will return.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dear Mr. President, by Sophie Siers and Anne Villenueve

Sam has a problem.  He shares a room with his big brother, but they don't get along very well.  He thinks the problem might be solved by building a wall between their two sides.  Sam has heard about the president's idea for a wall, so he begins a correspondence with the president.  Sophie Siers and Anne Villenueve record and illustrate his letters in Dear Mr. President.

This a cute idea, taking a political hot topic and giving it a mostly non-political, real-life application.  Sam weighs the pros and cons of building the wall, although he never can convince his parents or his brother that it's a good idea.  Sam's teacher points out that historically some walls "didn't quite work to plan," and Dad says that "communication and negotiation are always preferable to separation."  Eventually, their parents set Sam's brother straight and he begins to be a more considerate roomie. 

Sam never does hear back from the president, or at least that correspondence is not recorded in the book.  More than making a specific political point, Sam learns that when both sides work together, they can get along, and that coming to agreements and compromise is better than building permanent barriers.  It's a good lesson for domestic relations, but doesn't easily translate to international relations.  Still, this is a fun little book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Drifter, by Nick Petrie

For people who love a good loner-vigilante story a la Jack Reacher, Nick Petrie's The Drifter is a good place to start.  This is the first novel of five (so far) in the Peter Ash series.  Ash is a Marine who, after tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, suffers from a form of PTSD.  He can't stand to be indoors.  After living in the mountains for a few months, he hears about a buddie's suicide.  To work off his grief and the guilt he feels for not being there to support his buddy, he shows up at the widow's house, claiming to be part of a Marine veterans' home repair program.

He does some repairs (out of his own pocket, of course--the program is a fiction he made up as a cover) but while he's there, he discovers that his buddy may have been involved in some criminal activity, and may not have committed suicide after all.  He gets the attention of the local bad guys and begins to unravel the threads of a plot that is much bigger than he would have ever imagined.

The comparison to Reacher is what drew me to Petrie.  Lee Child himself offers a strong endorsement.  Ash is his own man, but the comparisons to Reacher are apt.  He has the same propensity to lay low when he can, but to kick butt if he must.  Petrie focuses on PTSD and the plight of returning combat veterans.  He is not a combat vet himself, and I appreciate the sensitivity and humility with which he approaches the subject.

Is Petrie the next great action novelist?  I don't know.  The Drifter was an entertaining read, enough so that I would consider picking up book two.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Walking with Jesus on Campus, by Stephen Kellough

Stephen Kellough was campus chaplain at Wheaton College for 25 years.  Based on his lengthy experience of meeting, discipling, and counseling college kids, he has written Walking with Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul During College.  Kellough's passion for college kids, love of the scriptures, and heart to build disciples come through in this practical, pastoral book.

Kellough covers topics that many--all?--college students deal with from time to time.  Some are quite obvious.  Every campus, from small Christian colleges to large state universities, are full of young people ready to explore their sexuality.  Kellough offers biblical guidance on that hot topic.  The strongest, and perhaps most important chapters, deal with perfectionism, depression, self-worth, and serving others.  Kellough challenges students to find their worth in Jesus and in service to others. 

With a warm, pastoral tone, Kellough describes his own experiences with college students, provides scriptural illustrations, and offers plenty of opportunity to personalize and reflect on his message.  It's the voice of a warm, caring presence who must have had a huge impact on the lives of individual students and on the spiritual environment of the Wheaton campus.  Walking with Jesus on Campus is a helpful sourcebook for college students and those who care about their spiritual growth.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, July 1, 2019

80/20 Running, by Matt Fitzgerald

If you have ever used a training plan from Runners World or similar source, you've probably practiced the 80/20 running rule.  Matt Fitgerald develops this idea in 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Stronger by Training Slower.  Drawing on research, data, and the training experiences of runners from Arthur Lydiard, the father of modern distance running, forward to contemporary Olympians and marathoners, Fitzgerald describes training with the bulk of your miles run at low intensity.

Fitzgerald writes in such a way that runners at all levels of experience can implement and customize his plans.  Wherever you are in your running, or whatever distance race you are preparing for, you will be able to apply Fitzgerald's plans.  The 80/20 of the title refers to running 80 percent of your training miles at low intensity and 20 percent at high intensity.  Fitzgerald provides some scientific and anecdotal evidence that this works.  He also is happy to direct you to his 80/20 training app (it's not a hard sell, just a suggested resource).

For many runners, 80/20 Running is a great resource and remedy for overtraining.  For some runners, especially lazy runners like me, it's a reminder to increase intensity 20 percent of the time.  According to Fitzgerald, most recreational runners run mostly at moderate intensity.  For real improvement, moving toward an 80/20 balance will help.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Mugged, by Ann Coulter

If you're on the political left and need a reason to hate Ann Coulter, read Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama.  This a guided tour of the left's use of race to divide America.  Even if you completely disagree with her, she provides enough ammo that someone who wants to demonstrate the hypocrisies and abuses of the left on the subject of race will have a good argument.

Several of the episodes she writes about were new to me.  How about the ambush of police at Farrakhan's mosque?  This episode should be enough to make him a political pariah, but it is one of many events that show that, at least in certain periods and in certain places, black crime has been given a pass due to concerns about black activism.

Coulter argues that the OJ verdict was a turning point.  It was obvious to everyone that OJ was guilty of brutally murdering his estranged wife.  Yet because one of the policemen was painted as a racist for using "the N word" nearly 10 years before in the context of writing dialogue for a movie (!!!), OJ walked.  The absurdity. . . .

Whatever you think of her, read the history she presents.  The left has used race as a divisive point for too long.  Maybe if the perspective Coulter writes from were taken seriously by more Americans, some racial healing could take place.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Pleasures of God, by John Piper

John Piper's The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God is rightly considered a modern devotional classic.  First published in 1991, it's a book worth revisiting.  It's a book that you may want to revisit immediately after visiting the first time.  Piper set out to "scour the Scriptures to find what God delights in."  It's worth taking time to ponder what he discovered.

God takes pleasure in his Son, in creation, in his fame, in our election and in Jesus' work to make election possible, in our obedience and prayers.  Here's a real key: God takes delight in us.  This truth cannot be emphasized enough. 

The Pleasures of God cannot be summarized easily--at least not by me.  Read it, read it slowly, and take delight in God's delight in you.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, June 24, 2019

One Night in Georgia, by Celeste O. Norfleet

In the heat of the summer of 1968 three college girls head out on a road trip, driving back to college in Atlanta.  It's a simple set-up, except that the girls are black, driving in a flashy convertible through the South.  Celeste O. Norfleet's novel One Night in Georgia is a work of fiction, but it contains plenty of "it certainly could have and probably did many times" moments.

These ladies (and their companion, a college student recruited by the narrator's step father to accompany them) take a trip that is as much as snapshot of race relations and history as it is a coherent narrative.  Much of the book is a history lesson, as the ladies have mini-debates about race and the issues of the day.  One lady is from old money, one is very fair-skinned, and the narrator is the daughter of a prominent civil rights lawyer who was beaten to death by police as she watched.  Their male companion is a Vietnam vet.

They encounter lots of stereotypical members of both races in their travels.  The racist whites who lash out in anger that the black people touched their children, just after those same black people saved the children from drowning.  The neighborly white people who stand up against the racists.  The rude white people in the cafe who sling racist remarks.  The white waitress and her father, the sheriff, who defend the students, in part because the sheriff said black soldiers with whom he served saved his life.  The white racist police who arrest the group for no reason and take possession of their car.

All of this leads up to that "one night in Georgia" where everything changed for all of them.  Norfleet illustrates the impossible dilemmas that black people in the South experienced.  When a crime is committed in certain places and circumstances, a black person has no hope for justice.

One Night in Georgia is a passable story with some believable and some melodramatic moments.  The didactic nature of the novel is worthwhile, but frequently seems forced, detracting from the story.  The main character's romantic interest seemed too fast and counter to her nature, and their night of passion was a bit too graphic for a mainstream novel.  The novel is worth reading, especially if you're looking for a window into attitudes black people held about race in the 1960s, but qua novel it's not the greatest.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Trump's Enemies, by Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie

Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie had a front-row seat to one of the most unusual and contentious presidential elections in modern America history.  Lewandowski served as Trump's campaign manager from before the announcement through the summer of 2016.  Bossie served as deputy campaign manager.  The two have remained enthusiastic supporters of Trump's presidency.

In Trump's Enemies: How the Deep State is Undermining the Presidency, these two insiders tell insider stories that make the book worth reading.  No matter how you feel about Trump, from a historical and human interest perspective, it's great to read their perspective on some of the events of the campaign, as well as stories that didn't make the news cycles.

The question prompted by the subtitle, Is the deep state truly undermining Trump's presidency?, is more nuanced than the simple retelling of events.  Trump's fans will shout in impassioned agreement; Trump's detractors will be a bit more skeptical.  But there's no question about the authors' interpretation of the tone and specifics of the attacks from the press and from within the government, even within Trump's own offices.  Many otherwise conservative bureaucrats and appointees found it convenient to retain their government jobs or seek appointments from Trump for the mere purpose of opposing and exposing his agenda.  Lewandowski and Bossie shed uncomplimentary light on the manipulation by Washington deep state "swamp creatures."

I'd like to see a Trump detractor read Trump's Enemies with an open mind.  It may not lead to a conversion to Trump support, but consideration of this book will definitely lead to a better understanding and appreciation of Trump, his policies, and the surprising success he has accomplished in the face of opposition.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson

Some of my favorite books have been written by Neal Stephenson.  At times, his writing borders on brilliance.  But every writer has an occasional down day.  Stephenson had a down year while he was writing Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.  Some of the ideas that start the book are great, potentially.  Fans of Stephenson's prior work will be pleased to see the return of Richard Forthrast, his niece, Enoch Root, and others from Cryptonomicron, Reamde, and other books.  But once you're used to the new manifestations of these characters, and the ideas play themselves out, the bulk of the book is left, and let me tell you, it's a drag.

Stephenson's cool ideas: a fake nuclear attack on a remote American town, orchestrated and reported by social media, triggering panic and leading to a transformation of the internet; the technology of downloading one's mind to a computer; and the core of the story, the creation of a computer-based society for those downloaded mind/souls.

The story turns into a ridiculous recreation of human society with nods to ancient mythology and biblical stories.  Stephenson creates this new history and mythology in this online computer world.  It is so dull it's unreadable.  This history drags on and on, with fewer and fewer looks into the land of the living.  Even the land of the living becomes ridiculous, as the entire power grid becomes strained supplying the power to run the computers to which everyone is getting downloaded.

I kept reading for one reason, as painful as it was: Stephenson has been a great story teller, sos I kept waiting for the payoff.  But 880 pages later, it was nothing but let down.  I couldn't stand it.  But the fact is, next time Stephenson publishes a book, you know I'll read it.  As bad as Fall is, I am not prepared to give up on Stephenson--yet.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Finding Ultra, by Rich Roll

I know it's a generalization, but triathletes are typically type-A, arrogant, insufferably vain, number-obsessed athletes.  Rich Roll is all that, times ten.  Of course, in the case of competitive triathletes, and ten times in Roll's case, these qualities directly impact their individual success.  In Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, Roll tells the story of rise to high levels of competitive swimming, the lows of alcohol abuse, and the highs of ultra-distance triathlons. 

Roll serves his story up with a healthy dose of ego.  He's the kind of guy who makes most guys absolutely sick.  He had privilege and athletic gifts, and squandered it with partying.  While attending an elite prep school in D.C., he joined an exclusive swim team and became nationally ranked.  He turned down an offer to swim for Harvard, choosing to head east to Stanford instead.  There his partying increased and his performance suffered.  His alcohol habit caused him to miss out on Stanford's national championship meets.

Fast forward through many years of alcohol abuse and, paradoxically, professional success, and Roll decides he needs to get in shape.  Like a true addict, he doesn't do anything half way, and begins triathlon training.  All the Ironman triathlons are booked for the next year, so he talks his way onto the starting line for the Ultraman, a three-day race that is double an Ironman.  Later, he and a friend do the Epic5, five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in seven days.  I have to admit, his accounts of these races tempt me to try triathlon racing, in Hawaii or elsewhere.

On the one hand, Roll's story is the inspiring story of a guy who didn't reach middle age and give up on reaching for audacious goals.  He doubled down on aging and proved to himself that he could go faster and farther.  He was, in fact, named by a health magazine as one of the fittest men in the world.  On the other hand, it's the story of a prep school kid who blew opportunities, who got away with partying through school and still getting a degree, goofing off through a legal internship and still getting into an Ive League law school, drinking his way through the prime of his life and still achieving a level of athletic performance most men can only dream of.  He's a guy who prioritizes his training over his family and law practice, travels to Hawaii to participate in races to stroke his ego, and still manages to come out on top.  Yeah, he worked hard to become competitive in ultra racing, but he comes across as a groan-inducing braggart.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, by James P. Hogan

On the heels of James P. Hogan's first novel, 1977's Inherit the Stars, Hogan published The Gentle Giants of Ganymede in 1978.  In the first book, the discovery of a 50,000-year-old human corpse on the moon leads to more discoveries about a race of beings who lived in our solar system millennia in the past.  In Gentle Giants, a space ship from those millennia past shows up, beginning a new friendship between modern humans and their ancient, giant forebears.

Thanks to the Ganymeans' sophisticated AI, like Siri only much, much more powerful, the language barrier is quickly breached.  The Ganymeans confirm much of what the human researchers had pieced together, and a friendship bond between the few hundred Ganymeans and the humans develops.  The humans welcome them with open arms.  I like the fact that Hogan doesn't rely on melodramatic scheming and plotting between or among the different races.  Maybe it's a utopian dream that races and species can have first contact without a conflict, but I enjoyed what Hogan did with this story.

Hogan works in legit science with anticipated alien science, all while anticipating future science.  Like other great sci-fi writers (yeah, I would consider Hogan one of the greats), he doesn't let the science bog down the story but includes it almost like a character in the story.  Gentle Giants is even better than Inherit the Stars and is a great set up for book 3.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Dark Agenda, by David Horowitz

David Horowitz is no stranger to breathless, dire pronouncements.  In this vein, his Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America is designed to convince his readers that there is an all-out war on Christian faith in the U.S.  It's not that he's wrong, it's just that he seems to overstate the case, relying more on troubling anecdotes than a serious analysis of legislative and sociological trends.

That said, the anecdotes Horowitz writes about are truly troubling.  It's true that in popular culture, the media, and political discourse, the beliefs and lifestyles of traditional Christians are disparaged and criticized.  If you are vocal about your faith, and especially if your faith shapes the way you live and work, be prepared to be publicly shot down.  The religion of secularism seems to have taken over.  If you currently believe this to be a little bit true, you will be fully convinced by Dark Agenda.

Horowitz provides some history and context to the modern war on religion.  As much as I do agree with him and his assessment of history, his tendency toward hyperbole and incendiary language weaken his argument.  Nevertheless, whether or not you are a practicing Christian, it's worth noting how far we as a nation have come from our founding principles.  We should think twice before jettisoning the Christian ethic and governance that provided the foundation of the United States.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Run to Overcome, by Meb Keflezighi

Meb Kefezighi is an inspiring runner and an inspiring person.  A world-class marathoner and Olympian, he has won the Boston and New York Marathons, and won a silver medal in the Olympics.  In Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion's Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream, Meb tells his own story.

A few things stand out.  Meb was born in Eritrea and fled with his family to escape the war.  After a brief stay in Italy, they relocated to the U.S., settling in San Diego.  Here he learned that running was a competitive sport, and his running talent began to shine.  Throughout the book and at every stage of his life, he is extraordinarily grateful.  He expresses genuine appreciation for his parents, coaches, teammates, and friends.  He is also proud and grateful for his American citizenship.  He loves his him country of Eritrea.  He married an Eritrean woman, attends an Eritrean church, and enjoys Eritrean cultural gatherings, but he became an American citizen, competes as an American, and expresses gratitude for the blessings of living in the U.S.

Meb is definitely one of the greats.  Run to Overcome showcases not only the determination and greatness of his running career, but also his greatness as a role model and life example.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Book of the People, by A.N. Wilson

You may know the prolific British author A.N. Wilson for his many novels, or for his biographical or historical works, like his biographies of C.S. Lewis or the Apostle Paul.  In The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible, Wilson takes the reader on a somewhat rambling trek through his experiences with scripture.

A bottom line for Wilson is that one should read the Bible as it was intended to be written, which primarily is poetry.  Even the historical and prophetic portions have a poetic element to them.  Wilson's approach is as much biographical and textual.  As he writes about the texts themselves, he weaves in accounts of his travels, art and architecture, and conversations and correspondence with his friends.

The Book of the People is certainly more an enjoyable memoir than a scholarly or systematic treatment that one might expect based on the subtitle.  Wilson is a pleasure to read, but the overall effect of the book is rather underwhelming.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Directed Verdict, by Randy Singer

Randy Singer has written a dozen legal thrillers, as well as several other books.  Directed Verdict, his first novel, started a successful trend, winning him a Christy award.  First published in 2002, Directed Verdict pulls no punches in its portrayal of courtroom drama and religious persecution.

Randy's lawyer protagonist, Brad Carson, comes to the attention of the Christian community when he defends the right of a pastor to pray with other Christians in front of an abortion clinic.  Carson is ambivalent toward Christianity, but happy to be involved in a high-profile case.  So when a missionary comes to him claiming that Saudi police tortured and killed her missionary husband, he jumps in to her defense.

Like much popular fiction, the good guys are not perfect, but definitely good, and the bad guys are downright evil.  In this case, the Saudis are determined to win and not allow themselves to be portrayed as the ruthless, anti-Christian brutes that they are.  Even though this is fiction, the story is a reminder that Saudi Arabia may be an ally to the U.S. and an important economic partner, but they are a brutal, oppressive regime.  One wonders if any American politician will ever have the guts to call them out.

Singer crafts a fun story, building suspense, leading and misleading the reader about who is betraying whom, twisting and turning the plot.  It's an entertaining story, including a convincing conversion to Christianity of one of the characters, a budding romance between two of the characters, and plenty of reasons for the reader to cheer for the underdog.  Fans of legal fiction will eat this up.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Choosing Donald Trump, by Stephen Mansfield

The election of Donald Trump shocked the world and continues to shake the American political world.  In Stephen Mansfield's Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Conservative Christians Supported Him, Mansfield considers the question, How did this crass, foul-mouthed businessman and serial adulterer become a hero to the Christian right?

Mansfield is no fan of Trump.  He doesn't go full "never-Trumper" but at times he's close.  He is certainly not an apologist for Trump's well-known moral failings, crass personality, and habit of name-calling and personal vendettas.  What Trump did was take up the mantle of the concerns of conservatives, including the Christian right, after they had suffered through eight years of feeling like their concerns were sidelined and disparaged.

Under Obama, conservatives got gay marriage, men in the girls' restroom, targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, told they "cling to their guns and religion," have their businesses shut down if they won't bake a cake for or photograph a gay wedding.  Hilary promised to continue this trend, and called people who oppose her "deplorable."  She stated that opponents to abortion should change their religious beliefs.  She claims to be a faithful Methodist, but many Christians saw no friend of the faith in her words and actions. 

Along comes candidate Trump, who, despite his consistently secular lifestyle, appealed to evangelicals, telling them he will be their voice.  Many conservatives and evangelicals saw him as "someone like them--raw, imperfect, but fierce in defense of what they believed."  During his campaign and now his presidency he has been consistently pro-choice and pro-Christian, in ways that Clinton never would have been.

Besides this break down, Mansfield also explores Trump's personal faith.  Trump's pastor for many years was Norman Vincent Peale, famous for his book The Power of Positive Thinking.  His teaching and attitude had a huge impact on Trump.  In recent years, Florida pastor Paula White, known as fgva proponent of the prosperity gospel, has been a close religious advisor to Trump.  Both of these pastors are Christians and include the core of the gospel in their teaching, but their respective emphases tend to overshadow their gospel teaching and explain why Trump tends not to express his Christian faith in ways that most evangelicals relate to.

In my mind, the explanation for Christians' support of Trump is simple: he was not Hillary.  That tells part of the story, but Mansfield fleshes out the story and adds important background to Trump's religious experience and beliefs.  As many have said, we did not elect Trump to be our pastor.  But conservative Christians in the U.S. did get an ally and defender in the White House, for which I, for one, am grateful.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

But God, by Herbert Cooper

Herbert Cooper, pastor of a large, growing church in Oklahoma, has a great story and a great ministry.  In But God: Changes Everything, Cooper tells his story and offers a beacon of inspiration for people going through troubles in their lives.  (And, if we're honest, that includes all of us!)

The best part of the book is Cooper's testimony.  He partied his way through high school until he heard the gospel at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting during his senior year.  He gave his life to Christ and began to live for him.  In college he felt called to preach and began preaching around the country and, eventually, around the world.  When he was still in his 20s, he and his wife planted a church in Oklahoma City that grew quickly and now has thousands attending each week.

In his life, Cooper demonstrated a passion for following God.  His life and circumstances were pointing to a dead end, "but God" turned his life around.  Our circumstances and problems are likely different from Cooper's--or anyone else's, for that matter.  Cooper's point is that God will meet us in our needs, our insecurities, our temptations, our struggles, our depression.  He is our ever-present help in time of need.

Don't expect any ground-breaking theology here, but the basic truths Cooper covers have been life-changing for many and can be for every reader.  I can gladly endorse any message like this, that points readers to a deeper reliance on and walk with God.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Faith is for Weak People, by Ray Comfort

Prolific author and outspoken evangelist Ray Comfort boldly speaks the name of Jesus in his books, films, and, frequently, on the streets.  In his book Faith is for Weak People: Responding to the Top 20 Objections to the Gospel, Comfort, as the title suggests, offers answer to questions he gets from people when he's witnessing.

Comfort's sometimes confrontational street evangelism is where I became familiar with him.  With actor Kirk Cameron, he founded The Way of the Master ministry.  Oversimplifying, their method of evangelism starts with asking someone if he thinks he or she is a good person.  Of course, he will say yes.  Then Comfort will go through some of the 10 Commandments.  "Have you ever lied?  Stolen?  Looked at a woman lustfully?"  When he admits he's done some of these things, Comfort will talk about his need for a savior.

Throughout Faith is for Weak People, this theme repeats.  Even as Comfort responds to questions about why a good God would send someone to hell, why there is suffering in the world, why religion causes wars, why some non-Christians are better people than some Christians, and other issues, he brings the discussion back to sin and our need for salvation. 

Comfort may be oversimplifying the gospel, and using a message of fear to goad people into becoming Christians.  I think that criticism is unfair.  Comfort makes a great point: we can talk all day to someone's intellect and get nowhere, but speaking to his conscience may move him to a decision. 

I have always believed in a more relationship-based evangelism, but if I'm honest, I'm not even doing that with consistency.  Even if you don't embrace Comfort's "preceding the message of the gospel with the law of God," you must appreciate his passion for sharing the gospel with a lost world.  This book inspires me to be more deliberate about evangelism and reminds me of the urgency with which I should be introducing people to Jesus.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Choosing Joy, by Helen Berger

Helen Berger spent the last years of her marriage to Ady Berger caring for him as he lived with Alzheimer's and its effects.  In Choosing Joy: Alzheimer's: A Book of Hope, she recounts her experiences and offers a sympathetic voice of comfort, hope, and advice.

The theme that stood out the most to me is the Berger's love and affection for each other.  Helen never wavered in her commitment to Ady, and Ady never ceased showing his affection for her, writing her daily notes, always acting as a gentleman when they were out.  The disease did not lessen his sweet, loving nature.  In her case, even with the changing nature of their relationship, she writes "my love for Ady during those six years not only did not diminish, it actually grew."

Helen's commitment to Ady included not giving up on his ability to grow and fight the effects of the disease.  She considered it her mission "to do everything in my power to slow the process of decline and give my husband the greatest fulness of life."  Over the years, she saw a "shocking but indisputable improvement in Ady's memory and functioning."  Even in the waning months of Ady's life, she saw improvements in his cognition.  Her experience, in some ways, contradicts the medical literature on Alzheimer's, but she testifies that due to "constant mental stimulation, love, appreciation, and a nurturing, conflict-free, calm environment" Ady was able to achieve a level of regeneration.

Besides talking about her own experiences and her relationship with Ady, Helen has practical advice for caregivers.  She clearly is not a medical professional, and doesn't claim to be, but her insights on diet, exercise, and lifestyle are worthy of consideration.  She also has insights on selecting and managing caregivers and home health aids, navigating doctor visits and emergency care, and planning the logistics of day-to-day life.

Helen and Ady may have had a charmed relationship, and they clearly have financial means that many families don't.  But no matter what your circumstances or relationship, Helen offers a perspective that caregivers will find worth reading.  If a loved one or family member is living with Alzheimer's, Choosing Joy is worth your time.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kingdom of the Wicked: Book One -- Rules, by Helen Dale

What if the Industrial Revolution had occurred centuries earlier, in Ancient Rome?  For one thing, the history of Christianity would look much different.  Helen Dale fleshes out this intellectual exercise in Kingdom of the Wicked: Book One--Rules.  In her world, we find the Roman Empire enjoying a level of technological sophistication roughly similar to our own late-20th or early 21st century timeline.  As in our own history, the Romans occupy Judaea, a backwards backwater.  Due to their religious traditions and relative poverty, the Jewish people lag far behind the Romans, technologically and economically. 

Dale's focus is primarily on the legal case against the charismatic teacher Yeshua ben Yusuf (Jesus, son of Joseph, in case you missed it), after he and his followers cause a ruckus in the Temple courts.  The Roman lawyer Linnaeus, despite his nationality, is somewhat sympathetic to Yeshua's case. Blending the familiar historical account with the technology of Dale's world, I enjoyed, for example, the lawyer's reconstruction of the events of that day via reviewing the CCTV footage.  It's fun to imagine what our modern Christian faith would be like if we had some footage from the events of Jesus' life!

Besides Jesus, we meet Caiaphas and Pilate, in their familiar roles.  In fact, their sons are pals.  Yehuda (Judas) is a leader in the revolutionary anti-Roman occupation group.  A very young Saul makes some cameo appearances.  Mary Magdalena is a former news anchor.  Jesus's disciples and other characters familiar to readers of the Gospels appear throughout.

Despite the biblical source material, this is not a Christian book.  It's roughly parallel to the Gospels, but doesn't present the Gospel.  It's a secular retelling that spends much more time depicting the Roman pagan lifestyle, particularly their sexual mores, than Jewish moral traditions, and focusses on the legal machinations of the Roman rule.  (Content notice: the sex is quite suggestive and pervasive, but not explicit.  The language is definitely crude; it would easily earn an R-rating from the MPAA.) 

On one level, I was a little bit in awe of the intellectual exercise that writing this book must have been for Dale.  Like any good alternative history, she constructs a believably intricate alternative reality; much more than simply adding a layer of anachronistic technology on biblical history, she has re-imagined centuries of human history and projected it onto this particular era.  Given this historical effort, I felt bad being disappointed and maybe a little bored by the story.  It sags under its own wait, with little pay off.  My delight in the possibilities of the setting quickly dimmed as I found myself skimming more and more through the book.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Kings of Big Spring, by Bryan Mealer

Growing up in Corpus Christi, I was tangentially aware of the booms and busts of the Texas oil business.  No one in my family worked in that industry, but I remember my friend's dad talking about gauging the local economy by the flares coming from the refineries along the ship channel.  One popular restaurant had a special that was priced according to the daily cost of a barrel of oil.  My summer job as a construction helper building an offshore oil platform taught me a lot about the lives of these hard-working men (and a few women).

Bryan Mealer's family rode the waves of the booms and bust more than most.  His book The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family's Search for the American Dream chronicles several generations of his ancestor's.  Like many families, his left Georgia at the end of the 19th century to come find new opportunities in Texas.  They moved from place to place, but the West Texas town of Big Spring becomes the focus of the book and of the family's fortunes.

The many stories of Mealer's family are mildly interesting.  There is a lot of hard work and rags to riches here.  But to someone who's not related to these people, I thought, "That's nice but I don't really care about what happens to them."  Mealer ties his family's story to the stories of some more significant figures, particularly his father's partnership with Grady Cunningham, who married Raymond Tollett's daughter.  Tollett had led Big Spring's Cosden Oil through tremendous growth.  Grady longed to live up to his father-in-law's reputation as a community leader, and, of course, as a high-rolling oil man.

Mealer weaves these personal stories together against the backdrop of a history of the oil business in Texas.  For interested Texas buffs, people involved in the oil business, and people in Mealer's family or who know his family, this is a great read.  But for anyone else, in spite of Mealer's excellent writing, it barely rises to the level of compelling.  I certainly didn't hate the book, but finished with a take-it-or-leave-it shrug.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Don't Blame the Mud, by Marty Machowski, illustrated by Craig McIntosh

At some point, we all must take accountability for our own sin.  Marty Machowski's story Don't Blame the Mud illustrates this step of maturity in a simple way.  With illustrations by Craig McIntosh, Machowski tells the story of Max, who, despite his mother's warnings to keep his school uniform clean, choosing to walk home on the path by the creek rather than on the road.  After a few close calls, Max falls, soiling his school clothes, just like Mom said.

Feeling an urgent need to cover up the consequences of his disobedience, he sneaks to his room and sheds his dirty clothes, leaving a trail of mud.  He then lies to his parents about how he got dirty: "It's not my fault that I slipped and fell. . . . It's the mud's fault.  It wasn't me."  When his parents confront him with the obvious, he feels a deep sense of conviction, and his parents take the opportunity to teach him about sin, repentance, and God's plan for forgiveness.

Machowski includes tips to help parents talk to their children about the gospel.  It's a simple story, but with a profound purpose: turning children's hearts away from sin and toward Jesus.  The lesson holds for believers of all ages.  Just as Max strayed closer and closer to the mud, so do we place ourselves in proximity to sin.  It's a message we should never stop hearing and a lesson we all need to hear and pass along to our children and other younger Christians.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Life Inside the Bubble, by Dan Bongino

I like Dan Bongino and enjoy his appearances as a commentator on various Fox News programs, as a guest host on Mark Levin's and Sean Hannity's radio shows, and other outlets.  In Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away from It All, Bongino writes about his formative years, his twelve-year career in the Secret Service, and the perspectives he developed over that time, leading to a run for the U.S. Senate.

Most of the book is Bongino's own story.  He started his career in law enforcement as a police officer in New York City, where he grew up.  Shortly he was accepted in the Secret Service where, ultimately, he led advance teams for presidential trips.  It is interesting to read about what goes on behind the scenes in the Secret Service, and inspiring to read about a kid from humble circumstances ending up in the Oval Office during historically significant events.  But if you're looking for real revelations and inside scoops, there's not a lot here. 

As to the subtitle, he really left the Secret Service so he could be home with his family more.  That's admirable and worthy, of course, but the tone of the title makes it sound like he left over some big scandal or something.  When he reentered private life, he took on the not-so-private task of running for the U.S. Senate.  He won the Republican nomination, but in heavily Democratic Maryland, he fell short of the win.

If you like Bongino, or if you're interested in the Secret Service career track, you'll certainly enjoy the book.  But in the end Life Inside the Bubble is a pretty pedestrian memoir of a decent guy who has had an interesting career.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Muzzled, by Juan Williams

I like Juan Williams a lot, based on his role on Fox News's "The Five."  As the oldest member of that show, and the token liberal, he carries the persona of the cranky old leftist, fending off Jesse Watters and Greg Gutfeld as they pepper him with barbs (in a friendly way--usually) and respond to Williams's defense of his liberal views.  In Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, Williams tells the story of how he ended up as a full-timer at Fox News and bemoans the lack of balance virtually anywhere in American media.

The impetus of the book, and much of its content, involves Williams's firing from NPR.  In the days after 9/11, he made a comment that he would be "worried" if a group of men in "Muslim garb" were on a flight with him.  For this comment, NPR fired him.  Fox News, on which he was a regular commentator, gave him a full-time gig as the resident liberal.

If you have suspected that NPR has a definite leftward slant (it seems obvious, but they try to present themselves as centrist or unbiased), Williams's account will convince you.  While Fox is regularly dismissed as non-serious, biased news coverage, the reality is that outlets like NPR and others militantly exclude points of view that don't fit their agendas.

Muzzled was published in 2011, so it doesn't touch on the 2016 election or the Trump administration.  Besides his own firing controversy, he covers several policy positions, presenting his mostly predictable liberal positions.  Even though I disagree with Williams on most policy issues, I appreciate the reasonableness with which he discusses policy, in the book and on TV.  These discussions are pretty standard, but the account of the NPR debacle is worth the time to read the book.  We could use more voices like Williams's in public discourse.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Under the Banner of Heaven, by John Krakauer

Author Jon Krakauer has a good sense of relating the human experience, as he writes about summiting Everest, living in the wild, rape in a college town, or military service.  In Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Krakauer examines the case of the murder of a young mother and her baby, and the fringe Mormon group that inspired it.

Krakauer gives us a history lesson on Mormonism, with a focus on the fundamentalist, polygamist sects that have spun on the main branch.  As long as I can remember, I have considered Mormonism to be a non-Christian offshoot from orthodox Christianity, with too many fundamental theological aberrations for them to be considered Christian.  Krakauer points out some of these aberrations (although he himself doesn't claim faith one way or another), but more importantly, he describes the questionable historical foundations on which Mormons base their faith.

However, he does a disservice to Mormon history by focussing on fringe groups that have split from "official" church teaching.  I would expect practicing Mormons not only to be upset by his narrow characterization but by his tendency to lump fundamentalist Mormons together with mainstream Mormons.  This led me to consider what parts of my own tradition's history could be represented (or misrepresented) as problematic.  What fringe groups or independent congregations could be described that would embarrass me or that I would call heretical?  To take a glaring example, for much of my life I have been a Baptist, but I in no way identify with the radical Westboro Baptist Church (few Baptists do).  More broadly, sociopaths and criminals regularly justify their actions in the name of religion, but in almost every case, actual adherents to those religions disavow those bad actors.

Krakauer tends to present the bad actors in this book as representative of the fundamentalist sects to which they belong, leaving the reader with the impression that the polygamy, incest, autocracy, and, ultimately, murderous acts, are typical of Mormonism, and that mainstream Mormonism has simply found ways to keep it covered up, both in their history and in contemporary life.  I remain no less convinced that Mormonism is a cult, but I don't believe Krakauer has given them a fair shake in Under the Banner of Heaven.

This was an interesting book to read, even with its anti-Mormon tendencies.  Hopping back and forth between Mormonism's beginnings to current events, and between mainstream Mormonism and many of its offshoots, the story tends to become fractured.  Krakauer used some shocking events as a springboard to paint a biased, unflattering picture of Mormonism.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Twelve Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson

I first became aware Jordan Peterson, psychology professor at the University of Toronto, when he came  under criticism for his statements against political correctness in Canada.  Since then, he as become a folk hero of the Right in the U.S., even though some of his views on Christianity and politics aren't quite in line with traditional American political conservatism. 

In 2012, he began taking part in Quora, a web site where people ask all sorts of questions and other users spout their opinions and still other users upvote the answers.  In response to the question, "What are the most valuable things everyone should know?" and generated a bunch of positive responses.  He refined that initial response into 12 "rules for life" and now has expanded the list into the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.  I have listed the rules below.  If you don't want to read his book, at least read and reflect on these rules.  They're pretty straight forward and can impact the way you live and think.

If you like the rules you will love his book.  He expands on each rule in very personal, sometimes humorous, and usually profound ways.  Some themes persist throughout.  One is a rejection of the totalitarianism of Communist movements in the 20th century.  Peterson makes repeated reference to the dark, murderous results of Communist ideology--one of the primary sources of the chaos he refers to in the title.  Another theme is responsibility.  We must take responsibility for ourselves and those under our care and in our circles. 

Every rule has the potential to stick with you, and every chapter has multiple points of potentially profound revelation.  A highlight for me was Rule 4, Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.  Under rule 1, he points out how few people in any field--music, writing, scientific inquiry, wealth--accomplish widespread success.  (Google Price's law.)  This idea frees me from the self-condemnation that can come from my feelings of inadequacy.  Peterson would say be proud of what you have accomplished and determine to improve each day.  This may be an over-simplification, but that's what I got out of it. . . .

Each of the rules and Peterson's discussion lends itself to self-discovery and challenge.  He writes with a lot of wisdom and wit.  Please, if you have a perception of Peterson that he's some kind of racist or radical right-winger, forget it.  He's not.  Here's what he is: a resource to offer solid advice for improving yourself and the world around you.

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back
Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today
Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
Rule 10 Be precise in your speech
Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding
Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Rediscovering Americanism, by Mark Levin

Mark Levin is one of the more thoughtful and intelligent voices of right-wing radio today.  He worked as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, and has published a number of books dealing with the founding principles of the United States.  His book Rediscovering Americanism: and the Tyranny of Progressivism challenges current American political thinkers (and non-thinking followers) to reject the siren song of progressive ideology.

Much of Levin's argumentation is based on the idea that "the principle of natural law permeated American thought from the beginning of our republic and well before."  Progressivism is bound up in the denial of natural law, but, Levin writes, "the abandonment of Natural Law is the adoption of tyranny in one form or another, because there is no human or benevolent alternative to natural law." 

Levin then digs into some of the roots of American progressivism.  Some of the names you will recognize, others will probably be new to you but wielded influence on the more well-known thinkers and leaders.  The progressive idea, according to Levin, boils down to the idea that "the American heritage and founding principles must be thrust aside if there is to be human progress."  This idea took hold in the early years of the 20th century and is enjoying a resurgence today (even if it never really went away). 

Levin argues convincingly against the "administrative-state tyranny" that progressivism yields and in favor of constitutional republicanism and property rights.  While his argumentation and sourcing are sound, his exposition is somewhat lacking.  I respect the reliance on the original sources, but at many points his lengthy quotes could have used some condensation and his own exposition could have been refined.  This was especially true listening to the audiobook, as the quotes and Levin's own contributions were hard to distinguish.  Similarly, in the Kindle version, there are no block quotes or variations in font, so while reading it's hard to distinguish between Levin and his sources.  I have not consulted a print version to see how it treats extended quotes.  This may all be a result of my own inattentiveness, I don't know, but I would have liked more distinction between the quoted part and Levin's text.

As I have noticed in Levin's other books, the bombastic, confrontational voice we hear on his radio show does not show up much in Rediscovering Americanism.  This is not quite an academic tome, but it is dense in its argumentation and source materials.  Wrestle through it and you will be rewarded with a better understanding of the intellectual foundations that underpin today's political controversies (whether or not today's politicians realize it).  You will also gain a deeper appreciation for Levin's radio show, as he shows the substance behind his on-air discussions.

Monday, May 13, 2019

And the Good News Is . . ., by Dana Perino

I have to admit, I have developed a bit of a crush on Dana Perino.  She is so much fun to watch on The Five, playing the straight man to Gutfeld and Watters.  She seems so smart, level-headed, well-informed, even-tempered, and, of course, quite lovely.  Her book And the Good News Is . . . gives insight into her personality and background that might not be so evident watching her on TV.

Throughout the book, Dana's positive outlook and appreciation for her life sets the tone.  She writes lovingly about her family and upbringing, riding horses and working on the family's ranch.  She clearly is crazy about her husband, with whom she quickly fell in love during a flight.  And of course she loves her dog--that goes without saying!

The most substantial part of the book deals with her work in Washington, culminating in her time as George W. Bush's press secretary.  She holds nothing back in describing her admiration and appreciation for President Bush.  I especially loved her stories about his visiting injured troops in the hospital.  She got to see first-hand on many occasions the way President Bush could connect with people, both strangers in public and among close friends and staff.  If you don't have an appreciation for President Bush, read these portions of Perino's book and you'll love him the way she does.

And the Good News Is . . . was published in 2015, so we don't get any tidbits from the Trump era of American politics.  But Perino's tone in the book, and her consistent tone on Fox News is of someone who is kind and civil, no matter the circumstances or opposition.  I love that about her.  She is exactly the kind of voice and personality that we need more of in American news media.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Running for My Life, by Lopez Lomong

When Lopez Lomong was snatched away from his village and his family during Sunday morning worship, his life was forever changed.  In Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games, he tells his sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes miraculous, and consistently inspiring story.  At only six years old, Lopez was taken by Sudanese rebel soldiers who wanted to train him to be a soldier.  With the help of some older boys, he escaped the soldiers' camp and bushwhacked all the way to Kenya, where he found a place in a refugee camp. 

With thousands of Lost Boys of Sudan and other refugees, he made a new life in the camp, going to school, scrounging for food, and playing soccer.  The older boys who controlled the soccer field mandated that everyone had to run the perimeter of the camp before they could play.  It was a big camp--that daily run was 30 km, about 18 miles.  Little did he know where those runs would take him.

After ten years of life in the camp, Lopez was accepted to immigrate to the US.  A family in Syracuse, New York adopted him, so with only the clothes on his back and very limited English, he moved to the United States, was embraced by this white American family, and started school.  He didn't have much education up to that point, but he could run, and led his high school to state championships.

Lopez's love of running and his adoptive parents' supportive insistence that he get a college degree led him to run for Northern Arizona University, where he enjoyed enough success to enter a professional career.  Eventually he made the US Olympic team, and was selected to be the flag bearer for the opening ceremonies in Beijing.

As he built his career, he never forgot where he came from, and has spearheaded efforts toward development in his native Sudan.  After more than a decade of believing his parents to have been killed at the time of his abduction, he was reunited with his parents and brothers.  He continues to work, in partnership with World Vision, to improve life in South Sudan.

Running for My Life shows the best of the human spirit, as Lopez overcame so many obstacles to fulfill his dreams.  It shows the best of the United States, as the country, and specifically his adoptive family, welcomed him, supported him, and contributed to his success.  His life has been so positive after coming out of such miserable, tragic conditions, that I couldn't help but to be deeply moved and inspired.  As a runner, I enjoyed reading about his training and racing experiences.  But on a much more profound level, I enjoyed reading about his journey and the hope he gives to others.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Not Forsaken, by Louie Giglio

Louie Giglio is well known to American Christians, especially those who are 40 and under.  Founder of the Passion Conferences, sixsteprecords, and Passion City Church in Atlanta, Giglio has made an outsized impact on American Evangelical Christianity.  Giglio's new book, Not Foresaken: Finding Freedom As Sons and Daughters of a Perfect Father, explores fatherhood and reminds us that we are children of the perfect father.

A major issue Giglio addresses is comparing our earthly father to our heavenly father.  He writes, "No matter what has happened on this side of eternity between you and your dad, you are not forsaken by God.  No one who knows Him as Father will be forsaken."  Giglio points out that "the number one image of God that Jesus paints for us again and again is that God is a Father.  He is our perfect Abba Father."

As anyone who has heard Giglio speak can tell you, his speaking is captivating and lyrical.  He tells great stories, both from his own life and from the Bible.  Not Forsaken captures his speaking style very well.  (Apparently this is a result of an author who helped him transcribe his sermons and prepare them for the medium of print.)  In a way, this is a great strength.  But it's also a deterrent--he takes a long time to make a point, and at times the book seemed repetitive. 

Not Forsaken is a great reminder to us all that we are children of the perfect father.  No matter what wrong or incomplete perceptions we have about fatherhood based on our earthly fathers, God is the remedy.  He calls us to know Him and to be like him.  To this I say, Amen, brother!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!