Looking Back (part 5)

Here we are, finally…a look at the books I read in 2011. Then I can get back to blogging about other things, most of which will probably prove more interesting than a reflection on my reading habits over the past five years!

The first book I read in 2011 was Sarah Palin’s second offering, America By Heart. Combining accounts of her travels around the country to visit with voters and deeper examinations of her convictions and policy commitments, I found it a good book. It would be particularly helpful if Palin ever decides to run for public office again, but even if she does not it will be appreciated by any who want to know more about Palin in her own words, as well as anyone who enjoys the political scene. I also read George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points. In fact, I read several memoirs of Bush Administration officials during 2011, as I will highlight shortly, which proved to be particularly interesting since not having long gaps between reading them makes it easier to identify slight discrepancies or matters of opinion in recollections of certain events, and helps put various pieces together into full pictures. I enjoyed Bush’s book. It provides a nice survey of his years before the White House, and is honest about his academic struggles, struggles with alcohol, and other things that he would not necessarily have had to address. Later in the year I read Tim Pawlenty’s Courage to Stand. At the time, Pawlenty was a likely candidate for the GOP nomination in the 2012 presidential race–a position he later formally announced–but he did not last long in the race, choosing to drop out after the Iowa Straw Poll. I won’t use this space to discuss that in much detail other than to say that to drop out after the Iowa Straw Poll is a clear indication to me of someone who is not really committed to running for President or ready for what the race will entail. (And as a side note, his hasty departure was disappointing to me, but I would prefer someone who is not committed to what it will take to drop out sooner than later, so in that sense it was good). I later read Herman Cain’s This is Herman Cain!, a short book that did not really do much to increase my interest in Cain as a serious candidate for the nomination, but a helpful read for anyone interested in knowing more about his background and policy ideas. It was ambitiously subtitled “My Journey to the White House,” a journey that has since, of course, come to a premature end. Dick Cheney’s In My Time is a thorough look at Cheney’s entire career in Washington, which is much more extensive than his eight years as Vice President. Reading it will likely dispel any suggestions made by many that Cheney was not qualified to be VP, but will not likely change any opinions about his churlishness. Meghan McCain’s Dirty Sexy Politics is a very unique look at the 2008 presidential race from the perspective of the adult daughter of John McCain who was on the campaign trail, but marginalized by the campaign. She is not shy about the fact that she does not fit many of the stereotypes of a Republican, and she unashamedly embraces positions that many, including her father, do not. Parts of the book are unnecessary and immature, but for political junkies it is an interesting read. Finally, Condoleezza Rice’s No Higher Honor rounds out my Bush-era memoir selections. It is a good book, extremely literate and detailed, and is the longest of the three by a substantial margin. As I mentioned, it is very interesting to see some of the differences between Bush, Cheney and Rice. Rice has high regard and respect for George Bush; she often clashed, however, with Donald Rumsfeld and not infrequently with Dick Cheney.

My first book in 2011 in the area of spiritual development and Christian living was Brother Andrew’s The Practice of the Presence of God. It is an excellent look at what it means to take joy in serving God regardless of how insignificant the service may seem from a human standpoint. J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom’s Lead Us, Guide Us is an excellent book on seeking, identifying and following the will of God. Phillip Keller’s Lessons From a Sheep Dog is a short and easy to read book that provides some insights into the Christian life through lessons Keller learned from his sheep dog. Andy Stanley’s The Best Question Ever is another good book about following the Lord. John Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ is an excellent look at that subject, and Erwin Lutzer’s One Minute After You Die is an informative examination of what we can know about Heaven…and Hell. John MacArthur’s Slave examines the usage of that word in Scripture and its implications for what it means to completely follow Christ. Rocking the Roles is Robert Lewis and William Hendricks’ look at the roles in a marriage relationship. Robert Morgan’s The Red Sea Rules is a short book that examines lessons that can be learned from the Israelites encounter at the Red Sea and applied to the Christian life today. Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan is a good book that examines how many Christians behave toward God like fans rather than committed followers. R.C. Sproul’s commentary John, on that gospel, is a thorough examination of the book that reads more like messages from the text than a verse by verse commentary–which is appropriate, since that is what it is. And Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts is a thought-provoking book written in a unique style (sometimes like a stream of consciousness) that reminds the reader of the importance of giving thanks to God, and looking for reasons to give thanks–and the impact that living that way will have on one’s attitude and interaction with others as well as with the Lord.

I also read a considerable amount about education in general and Christian in particular during 2011. Neila Connors’ If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students is an easy to read book that reminds education leaders about the importance of providing encouragement, feedback and social interaction opportunities for teachers. James Deuink edited A Fresh Look at Christian Education, which provides essays on a variety of school-related topics from faculty members of Bob Jones University, and he also edited Preparing the Christian School for the 21st Century. Ardell Jacquot’s Guide to Successful Christian Teaching is full of practical advice for the Christian school teacher. Howard Hendricks’ Teaching to Change Lives is beneficial reading for any person who teaches, at any level or in any setting. Charles Walker and his son Brian provided an updated look at John Milton Gregory in their book A 21st Century Perspective of the Seven Laws of Teaching. E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural Literacy is a further examination of that subject, including curriculum suggestions. Douglas Wilson’s The Case for Classical Christian Education does a good job of laying out exactly that, and his Repairing the Ruins provides further examination of the subject. Richard Whitmire’s The Bee Eater examines Michelle Rhee’s efforts as chancellor at reforming the public school system in the District of Columbia. Dayton Hobbs’ Classroom Discipline From A to Z is a practical guide for classroom teachers. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise provide an outstanding examination of the benefits of classical education in The Well-Trained Mind and explain how parents can provide a classical homeschool education. Leigh Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, also expounds on the benefits of the classical model in The Core. Glen Schultz provides a strong case for the need for Christian education in Kingdom Education and outlines what it should look like. Frankly, I found it much more informative and worthwhile than ACSI President Brian Simmons’ Worth It, which is supposed to justify the cost of Christian education. Gordon Brown’s Guiding Faculty to Excellence is a good book and a valuable resource for Christian education leaders, and Kenneth Gangel’s Team Leadership in Christian Ministry will be valuable reading for leaders in any Christian ministry. D. Bruce Lockerbie’s A Christian Paideia is a collection of speeches and articles Lockerbie has presented, but it provides one of the strongest cases of the need for Christian education and what it should, and should not, include that I have seen.

In the area of history… James Swanson’s Bloody Crimes continues his examination of events following the Lincoln assassination, and in this case looks specifically at the retreat of Jefferson Davis through the South. An excellent book. Nicholas Best wrote an interesting look at the final days of World War I in The Greatest Day in History, and understanding the events covered in this book goes a long way to understanding how not too long thereafter the world found itself in the midst of World War II. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is an amazing story of the life of Louis Zamperini. Parts of the book, quite honestly, are hard to read, and if it were a fictional story there are times when one would easily accuse the author of piling on unnecessarily, stretching the string of things one person must endure to unbelievable extremes. The fact that it is a true story makes it absolutely incredible, and the power of the Gospel that is seen throughout the story is also terrific. Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer is a very thorough examination of the life of the German theologian and his efforts to defeat (even to kill) Adolph Hitler. Basil Miller’s George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles is a short and easy to read look at the incredible life and ministry of Muller. Walter Borneman’s 1812 is an interesting look at the War of 1812, and Joseph Ellis’s First Family is a very readable and fascinating look at the Adams Family, but John and Abigail in particular. Ron Chernow’s Washington is a massive biography of our first president, but very well done and incredibly interesting. It draws substantially on Washington’s own letters and journals. David Hackett Fischer wrote a wonderful biography of the explorer Samuel de Champlain in Champlain’s Dream, a book that, because of Champlain’s involvement of so much of French history in the new world for so long, also provides an insightful look at that subject. Candice Millard wrote a fascinating book in The Destiny of the Republic, one that’s primary focus is the assassination of James Garfield, but that examines the life of the assassin and the scientific developments of the era in general and the work of Alexander Graham Bell in particular, in the process.

My fiction reading again included works by John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson and Jeffrey Archer. It also included The Sonderberg Case by Elie Wiesel, and the classics Mutiny on the Bounty by Nordhall and Hall; Pygmalion and Candida by George Bernard Shaw; To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf; The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky; and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I will not go into any detail other than to say that I am completely at a loss as to why Woolf’s book is considered one of the greatest of the 20th century and Dostoevsky’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, novel ever written. They certainly did not have that impact on me.

One interesting autobiography that doesn’t really fit into any of the categories above is Dick Van Dyke’s My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business. It is interesting for its content about his personal life and his involvement in show biz, but there is a part of the book that has really stuck with me that concerned his experience in church. van Dyke discusses attending church growing up, reading the Bible and even many deep-thinking theologians, serving as a Sunday school teacher and an elder in the Presbyterian church. However, when Van Dyke and another elder suggested during the Civil Rights movement that their church partner with an African American church in town to facilitate better understanding and relationship building, and to include each attending a service at the other church, other elders said in no uncertain terms that blacks had never been in their church and never would be in their church. When this attitude was not confronted and defeated, Van Dyke left the church and has never been back. A convicting reminder that it can take the stupidity and bigotry of only one person to destroy the testimony of Christ.

So, there we are…a look back at five years of reading. It seems pretty clear to me that my reading is defintiely confined, for the most part, to history and politics, Christian living and spiritual development, leadership and education, baseball and fiction that usually is along the lines of mystery, intrigue and crime. I don’t really foresee that pattern changing anytime soon, but who knows…. I always have a long list of books waiting to be read, and I often have two or three going at a time. But I am also always looking for good books…so if you have a suggestion, let me know!

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