My Year in Books – 2022

Another year has come to an end, meaning it’s time for me to write another review of my year in books. I finished the year having read fifty books exactly, and I think it included a similar mix of genres as most years do for me. Without further ado, here we go…

I read several more baseball biographies in 2022, starting with Joseph Thomas Moore’s Larry Doby. Doby does not get nearly as much attention as Jackie Robinson, though, as the first African-American player in the American League, joining the Indians just a few months after Robinson broke through with the Dodgers, he endured many similar experiences. He also came maddeningly close to being the first African-American manager in the MLB, though it was not to be. Lonnie Wheeler’s The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell was a fascinating read. Bell must have been quite the player! The book also provides insight into the workings of the Negro Leagues. Lew Freedman’s Warren Spahn was okay, but it had some glaring errors in it which should easily have been caught if not avoided in the first place. Doug Wilson’s Brooks is excellent. Even if you’re not an Orioles fan, there is not much debate that Brooks Robinson was the best third baseman in MLB history—certainly the best defensive third baseman. The book recounts his outstanding baseball career but also describes his personal life. Uppity, by Bill White, is a great baseball book but also a great commentary on society and the inner workings of baseball’s powers that be. White was a player, a radio and television commentator and a league executive, so he has rich and varied perspectives to share. Jim Kaplan’s The Greatest Game Ever Pitched interweaves biographies of Spahn and Juan Marichal with the story of the 1963 game in which the two pitching greats both went sixteen innings, throwing more than 200 pitches each, before the Giants finally won on a Willie Mays solo homer. Great book.

A number of political memoirs were part of my reading. Kayleigh McEnany’s For Such a Time as This was more than a reflection on her time working in the Trump White House. It was polite in references to Trump, sometimes even admiringly so, but it was not as gushy toward him as Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ memoir. Nikki Haley’s Can’t Is Not an Option was her first book, written back in 2012. It describes her growing up years, including unique challenges she faced as the daughter of Sikhs growing up in a small South Carolina town—the first family of Indians to live there, in fact. She describes the challenges she faced being taken seriously in politics, too—challenges she overcame to become not just a state legislator, but the first female and first non-white governor of South Carolina. Kristi Noem’s Not My First Rodeo is a political memoir, but it is a lot more than that. Living in South Dakota likely gives me a greater appreciation for some of what she shares in the book, but its overview of how she grew up and what has influenced her thinking is the main purpose. Of course, as someone widely considered to be a future candidate for national office, it also serves to introduce her to those who don’t know all that much about her.

This is not exactly a political memoir, but it has political relevance, so I will put it here: Fighting for Life by Lila Rose describes how Rose grew up to become one of the most influential anti-abortion activists in the United States and the head of Live Action. It was sad to read that she found such limited support for life among churches she interacted with, leading her to eventually adopt Catholicism, but her perseverance in doing whatever she can to bring an end to abortion is admirable.

The Silencing, by Kirsten Powers, was written in 2015, but I just purchased it last year. It contains a message that is not unlike that in Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted or similar books, but it does not make her revelations about the manipulation of news and the shutting off of certain perspectives and ideologies any less alarming. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote The Coddling of the American Mind, an excellent examination of the flaws in critical theory and the increasingly-common practice of shutting out, or shutting up, speech which is deemed offensive.

Carol Berkin is an excellent historian and her book A Brilliant Solution is a fine overview of the crafting of the U.S. Constitution. David Waldstreicher, however, in Slavery’s Constitution, puts slavery at the heart of that document. While the Constitution did kick slavery down the proverbial road for twenty years and failed to deliver on the soaring rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence for just about anyone but white men, Waldstreicher is guilty of some of the same flawed thinking that is seen in the 1619 Project, though not to the same extent. To his credit, he wrote his book nine years before the 1619 Project, but he did defend it.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Travels with George is an interesting addition to the vast canon of books about Washington. Philbrick and his wife, and their dog, travel to many of the locations that were significant in Washington’s life, leaving readers with a combination history book and travel log. The book’s subtitle is “In Search of Washington and His Legacy,” and I am not sure that it does much to clarify Washington’s legacy, but it was a fun read. Phyllis Lee Levin’s The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams describes exactly what the title says, but given that Adams was one of the most qualified individuals to ever hold the office of President of the United States, it is worthwhile reading.

Thomas Kidd’s Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh may be the book that has been missing from the voluminous and ever-increasing mountain of scholarship on Jefferson. It is not a biography in the traditional sense, though it contains some of those elements. Rather, Kidd endeavors to explain Jefferson’s thoughts and beliefs. Perhaps identify them would be a better way to put it than explain, because Jefferson was so full of contradictions that one can not really be expected to either explain or understand. But finally someone, in one relatively small volume, elaborates on the ways in which Jefferson was influenced by the Bible and Christianity while also explaining that while Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, he was not claiming to be one in the sense that anyone else would define that word. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to try to understand Jefferson accurately.

Celia, A Slave, by Melton McLaurin, is a book I picked up in the basement of a combination bookstore/convenience store/souvenir shop in Tennessee. It is an incredible story and one I had never before heard. Celia, at the age of 18, killed her master. To tell much of what happened next would certainly be a spoiler, so I will refrain, but it is a story that deserves to be more widely known—and it is short, at less than 200 pages. David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason. It is a sizable book but it is an exceptional biography of a key figure in the abolitionist movement and the fight for equality for blacks. Barracoon, by Zora Neal Hurston, recounts her experience in 1927 visiting and interviewing the last-known surviving slave brought to the United States from Africa. That alone would make the book worth reading, but the combination of the memories shared with her by Cudjo Lewis and Hurston’s own observations, the book is an invaluable part of understanding that sad part of American history.

The Zealot and the Emancipator, by H.W. Brands, is a dual biography of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln and how their lives intertwined in the fight against slavery. The book would have tremendous value even if it only described Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it does much more than that. Reading it shortly after I read Blight’s biography of Douglass was advantageous, too, since the efforts of Brown and Douglass intertwined literally for a time. Caroline Janney’s Ends of War tells the story of what happened to Confederate soldiers after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. I had read a fair amount about the surrender and about what transpired thereafter on the Union side, but Janney shed light on realities I had never before considered. This is a much-needed book for anyone interested in the end of the Civil War.

Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army was tremendously interesting and it is probably not a book I would have picked up on my own; it was recommended, and loaned to me, by a friend. It is a story about football but also about Pop Warner, Dwight Eisenhower and Jim Thorpe. It also includes insight into the Native American schools of the period. It was Anderson’s book that prompted me to put David Maraniss’s recent biography of Thorpe on my to-read list (and since I got it for Christmas, I will likely read it in 2023!)

We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway, is a powerful look at a very small part of the Vietnam War—the battle in the Ia Drang valley. I know it has been made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it. I cannot imagine how a movie could do it justice. Anyone reading it has to come away with an incredible appreciation for what the men sent into that valley did and endured, regardless of opinions on the war itself.

After Queen Elizabeth II died, I decided I would finally read Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, which Smith wrote a decade ago and which had probably been sitting on my shelf almost that long. It was a delightful and enlightening book. Smith is an American, so she had a unique and perhaps more neutral perspective that some other authors might have—though she clearly sided more with Charles than Diana in their marital issues, which surprised me. Obviously, since it was written in 2012, the last years of Elizabeth’s life and reign are not included, but for anyone interested in knowing more about the queen as a person, about her reign and about her approach to her responsibilities as monarch, I would recommend this book. (As an aside, it also helps those who have seen the various movies and television series about the royal family know how much of it is fact and how much is fiction; in the case of The Crown, I would say there is far more fact than fiction).

Leah Wright Rigeur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican was a thought-provoking look at the African-Americans who were part of the Republican party from the 1940s to the 1980s—a group that was a distinct minority among African-Americans and within the Republican party. Sadly, the Republican party has still not, in 2022, done what it could and should do to attract African-Americans to the party.

Thomas Sowell’s Inside American Education is about twenty years old now and some of what he writes about here is no longer pertinent. A surprising amount of it is, however. Sowell expresses real frustration with the American education system, most of it well-justified. Some of his frustration seems to be directed at teachers, and could even be taken as thinking poorly of teachers, but I think he is mostly frustrated with a system that allows ineffective teachers to remain ineffective and employed. I also read his Charter Schools and Their Enemies, which is only a couple of years old. There is a lot to like about charter schools in theory but they are not the perfect solution to the problems that are endemic in American public education. Still, Sowell effectively highlights the way so many of those who oppose charter schools—specifically teachers’ unions and educators—are in fact hurting the educational prospects for the very children they are, at least in theory, supposed to be concerned about educating.

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner was one of the classics I read in 2022. I do not think it would be my first choice as assigned reading for a high school class if I wanted a fictional work that addresses the relationship between whites and blacks in America, and specifically the way that relationship changed after the Civil War, but it is worth reading.

I have not seen the movie based on the book, but I read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It is quite a tale; not what I expected initially, to be honest. I can see how it could generate good discussion in a class or a reading group.

The Horsewoman, by James Patterson and Mike Lupica, is a different style than most of the other Patterson books I have read, which tend to include police detectives and murders. There were parts of it that were predictable, and it bears many of the hallmarks of Patterson’s writing style, but it was a decent read. The Russian, by Patterson and James O. Born, is the thirteenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series and is much more typical Patterson fare. Sparring Partners, by John Grisham, is a collection of three short stories, the first of which brings back Jake Brigance—a character familiar to Grisham fans. The stories were enjoyable, but I don’t think they rise to the advertised level of “three of the greatest stories Grisham has ever told.” Grisham’s stand-alone novel for the year was The Boys From Biloxi, which I found to be different than many of Grisham’s books and one of his better offerings in recent years. In some ways it reminded me of a Jeffrey Archer book in the way that it looked at the way two individuals grew up in the same town, originally as friends and later as opponents. Speaking of Jeffrey Archer, his Next in Line is the latest installment in the Detective William Warwick series and is what one expects from Archer. Though still dealing with Miles Faulkner, Warwick also gets involved in rooting out problems in the royal protection division. Daniel Silva’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman finds Gabriel Allon finally retired from his position in the Israeli intelligence service, but he still draws on heir resources numerous times to solve the riddle of forged paintings and murder. Along with Archer’s book, Silva provides an enjoyable read along with insight into the world of fine art.

Marie Benedict’s The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a fictional account of what may have happened during the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie for eleven days in 1926. The Washington Post called the ending “ingenious,” but I think that’s a stretch. Still, it was an enjoyable read and it does offer an interesting possible explanation for her disappearance. Kristin Harmel’s The Book of Lost Names is a riveting bit of historical fiction, telling the story of forgers who helped to save Jewish children from the Nazis. The ending is too perfect—predictable but oh-so-unlikely; that aside, it is a book I would highly recommend.

Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Lost Girls of Willowbrook is not a book I would recommend, or not casually. To the right reader I might. It is a work of fiction and the bulk of it is centered on what has to be among the most common nightmare scenarios known to mankind—being wrongly locked up in a mental hospital with no one outside knowing where you are and no one inside believing your story. Mix in a serial killer and you get the book’s gist. What is perhaps most alarming, however, is that Willowbrook was a real place, on Staten Island, survivors of which are still living. Wiseman admittedly takes liberties with the story, but far too much of it is based on reality. If anyone thought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was bad, The Lost Girls of Willowbrook takes it up a notch—or three. Wiseman has Nurse Vic to Kesey’s Nurse Ratched, but she is not the major figure in the story. The book has a lot of profanity, though; far more than I think necessary even given the story.

The Sower, by R. Scott Rodin & Gary Hoag, provides a biblical look at fundraising and financial giving. It is a short book but has valuable insights for those tasked with raising money and those seeking to steward wisely their financial resources. The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, by Steve Ventura, et. al., was an easy read. It does contain some valuable leadership principles but there is nothing there that cannot be found in other leadership books. Leonard Strob’s Mission Directed is written for leaders of Christian schools—namely administrators and board members—but it could be helpful for the leaders of other ministries, too. It would be a helpful resource for board training and development.

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is subtitled “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.” It is a good book and an important book but it also comes up short. Dreher effectively highlights the similarities that exist between what is happening in America today and what happened in totalitarian regimes, specifically the USSR, in the past. However, other than one brief mention, he either does not see or chooses not to point out that some of the things he points out are done as much by Donald Trump and his America First minions as they are by progressives and the political left. It is a significant misstep. It is a misstep shared by Os Guiness in his The Magna Carta of Humanity. I have more comments on that book that I usually include in these annual rundowns, so see the comments at the end if you are interested.

Dane Ortlund’s Deeper is a book about sanctification, a subject that does not get nearly the attention it should in evangelical churches. It is not about sanctification in the way many would assume, however. His Gentle and Lowly is a study of Matthew 11 and is an effort to understand the mind and heart of Christ. It draws extensively on Puritan writers. Before You Lose Your Faith is edited by Ivan Mesa and includes essays by a dozen or so Christian thinkers, including Trevin Wax, Brett McCracken, Karen Swallow Prior and Jared C. Wilson. It is a book intended to address the “deconstructing” movement and it addresses a variety of topics that those with questions would likely consider. A good read for someone straying into deconstructing or for anyone who wants to be able to effectively provide answers to someone who is doing so. The Believer’s Armor, by John MacArthur, is basically a transcript of MacArthur’s sermons on the fifteen verses in Ephesians 6 that describe the armor of God. Wayne and Elliott Grudem’s Christian Beliefs is a short book with short chapters providing an overview of “twenty basics” of the Christian faith. I don’t agree with the Grudems on all twenty, but it is a helpful book, especially for someone who is a young Christian or who needs reinforcement in the foundational elements of faith.

Sam Storms and Justin Taylor edited For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. As in any such book, some of the essays were better than others. Of course, different people reading the book might also have different opinions about which ones the “better” ones are. I particularly enjoyed a couple of the essays about Piper the man, in a biographical sense, but I think Bruce Ware’s essay, “Prayer and the Sovereignty of God” might be the entry that I found most meaningful and thought-provoking. I also appreciated Justin Taylor’s essay outlining how faithfully and effectively Piper preached against abortion during his years in the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Oddly enough, given his reputation as a Greek scholar, I found William Mounce’s essay the least effective of the book and found myself disagreeing strongly with his recommendations for how to use, and not use, Greek in preaching.

Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas is a short book, one that could easily be read in the days leading up to Christmas, and I would recommend it for that. Keller brings attention to the importance of Christmas and provides unique perspectives on some of the realities of the birth of Christ.

So, there it is, another quick rundown of another fifty books.


The Magna Carta of Humanity, by Os Guinness, is a bit of an odd book. The cover features the famous picture of Washington crossing the Delaware. The book’s subtitle is “Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom.” Guinness dedicates the book to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and indicates at the end that it is a tribute to the exposition of Exodus by Sacks. More than once I wondered if I would have been better off just reading Sacks and Rabbi Heschel, so often and so extensively did Guinness quote them. Guinness endeavors to make the point that the covenant between God and the nation of Israel at Sinai is the real impetus for the design of American government and freedom and that “a rediscovery of the foundational principles of the Exodus Revolution” is what is necessary to heal America. But only in the last two chapters of the book does Guinness ever replace Sinai with Calvary—a hugely significant problem. There are numerous other issues with his contentions as well, but I will confine my comments here to two.

First, Guinness embraces the Jewish understanding of Exodus 3:14, which says, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” Rabbi Sacks and others, he points out, put the emphasis on the future tense, rendering the verse, “I will be who I will be.” Guinness says that the danger of the more commonly Christian interpretation “I Am who I Am” is that it takes the understanding in a “Greek direction” and “mak[es] God into…the ‘pure being,’ or the ‘ground of all being’ who does not, cannot and will not change or feel anything.” The not feeling anything is a stretch, but I see no problem at all with the rest of that. It is in fact imperative that we understand God as unchanging. The idea that God will be who He will be, apart from who He is, leaves open the possibility that God can be anything at all in the future. Oddly, Guinness even states this, writing, “God, as he reveals himself at Sinai and afterward, is faithful and unchanging….”

Second, Guinness either fails to understand or chooses not to acknowledge that much of what he calls the Exodus Revolution was expanded, for the better, by the teachings of Jesus. For example, he quotes Exodus 22:21 as a “command to ‘love the stranger as yourself’” that “flies squarely in the face of the human tendency to care only for ‘people like us’….” But that is not what Exodus 22:21 says. That verse is actually a negative command—“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” So, too, is the next verse—“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Not wronging or mistreating someone is certainly a good thing, but it is not nearly the same as doing good to them. One is not doing a bad thing, the other is doing a good thing. It was not until Jesus’s instruction to “do to others as you would have them do to you” that it became a positive command.

It is not a bad book, but it would not be high on the list of books I would recommend to someone wanting to study the issues Guinness intends to address.

My Year in Books – 2021

Another year has come to an end, which means it is time again for my annual review of books I read. As per usual, there is a variety of genres and subject matter included.

Laura Story’s I Give Up recounts Story’s gradual release of her desire to be in charge of her life and her realization that fulfillment comes through surrender to God’s working. Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission emphasizes the importance of discipleship. In Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, Christopher Yuan develops what he calls “holy sexuality,” which includes chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. Yuan is probably not as well known as Rosaria Butterfield, but their personal testimonies have some similarities and he, like Butterfield, has written and spoken at length about faith and sexuality. While Butterfield is now married, Yuan remains single. Randy Alcorn calls Holy Sexuality and the Gospel “profoundly relevant in an age of toxic confusion.” I agree with that. I think Butterfield, though, goes too far when she says it is “the most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times.”

John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory is an important book about the reliability of Scripture. In The Dawn’s Early Light, an older book byJoe Stowell that I picked up somewhere, Stowell addresses the “deepening darkness” of our times and how to counter that darkness biblically. Impossible People by Os Guinness describes the challenges faced by Christians today and the task they have of continuing to display courage in the face of opposition. Jesus Unleashed by John MacArthur is an overview of the way that Jesus dealt with confrontation during His earthly ministry, providing a clear look at His willingness to stand firm in the face of opposition. (This book is an abridgement of MacArthur’s The Jesus You Can’t Ignore).  

Paul David Tripp’s Sex and Money examines the obsession of current culture with those two things and their inability to bring genuine satisfaction or fulfillment. The Entitlement Cure, by John Townsend, would be a good read for parents but also for anyone who is bothered by the sense of entitlement that seems to pervade modern culture. His recommended antidote is what he calls “the hard way.” Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, by LeRoy Eims, was recommended by another pastor as an excellent book for developing men as leaders in the church. The book was fine, but given that it was originally published in 1975 there are more recent books that are just as good or better and would be more relatable for contemporary readers.

Uncoiling My Corkscrew is a book by a friend and former coworker, Marvin Williams, that recounts lessons he has learned in his life. Henri Nouwen’s Turn My Mourning Into Dancing is a short book with helpful biblical insight for finding joy even in the midst of difficulty. H.A. Ironside’s Full Assurance is probably about ninety years old now. It is a short, easy read, and is certainly of its time in terms of some of the language and illustrations, but it capably explains how and why Christians can have assurance of their salvation.

At some point last year I found myself wondering when African Americans first appeared in Coca-Cola ads. (The answer is Mary Alexander, in 1955). That led me to read Brenna Wynn Greer’s Represented, a fascinating look at the individuals who were influential in bringing African Americans into popular advertising and media and also, in the process, “reimagin[ing] African America citizenship.”

I read Melba Patillo Beals’ I Will Not Fear primarily because I had so appreciated A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier when I read it five years ago. Both women were among the Little Rock Nine. Beals’ book does recount that experience but goes well beyond it in describing the experiences she has had in her life. There were a few times that I wondered how one person could have so many of the experiences she recounted, given how unusual they seem, and there is never an explanation given for why she moved so many times, but it was a worthwhile read for the most part. I suspect her earlier book, Warriors Don’t Cry, is probably more along the lines of what I expected.

Stephanie Grisham’s I’ll Take Your Questions Now provides a very interesting look at the Trump presidency. Grisham, who worked for First Lady Melania Trump and/or in the West Wing, including a stint as Press Secretary, from the beginning of the Trump presidency until she resigned on January 6 after Melania Trump declined to tweet out a condemnation of the invasion of the Capitol, provides a very different look at Trump and the Trump White House than Sarah Huckabee Sanders did in her memoir. It will be interesting to read Kayleigh McEnany’s recently-released book to see where it falls in comparison to those two, but I suspect that Sanders, who is running for office herself and has accepted the endorsement of Trump, opted not to include some of the less-flattering information that Grisham did not shy away from including.

There were a number of history books. Rosemary Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash offers a look at the role of women during the Revolutionary Era, particularly in the area of politics, and suggests that the women’s rights movement really began during that time period. David Waldstreicher’s In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes is an examination of political festivals in early American history and the rise of nationalism. It is an examination of an aspect of American history I had never considered before and has some notable insights.

Mark David Hall’s Did America Have a Christian Founding? has some merit, but I found it did not address the subject as clearly and carefully as it should have. Hall admits that it is the first book he wrote for the general public (not, in other words, for an academic audience) and it seems he may have erred to strongly on the side of not getting too deep.

Harold Holzer’s Lincoln at Cooper Union provides a fascinating look at the events surrounding Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in early 1860, as well as the speech itself, a speech that Holzer suggests made Lincoln president. Though it is not well known today, particularly compared to the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, it was a very important speech for Lincoln. While the Gettysburg Address was supposedly written in haste, the address at Cooper Union was a thoroughly researched and thought-out rebuttal of the expansion of slavery.

Regarding slavery, Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause is an exhaustive look at abolition. It looks beyond the individuals and events usually included in studies of American abolitionism and thus includes valuable new perspectives. Unfortunately, I do not think that Sinha accurately represents the role played by those who believed that slavery was inconsistent with biblical principles. In a book that is just as voluminous, though, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, in The Mind of the Master Class, examine the role that faith played among Southern slaveholders, including their belief that slavery was consistent with the Bible. The book also manages to touch on the impact that Christianity had on slaves themselves. The book does help to understand the worldview of the enslavers even if one does not come away agreeing with them.

Sarah Rose’s D-Day Girls presents the many ways in which women were involved in Nazi-occupied France in helping to defeat the Nazis. Much like books by Erik Larson, among others, this is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. I recommend this book for anyone with even remote interest in WWII history. Similarly, Lynne Olson’s Madame Fourcade’s Secret War is also about spying and the Nazi resistance in France, but her book is specifically focused on the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who held a more influential role among the French resistance than any other woman. Olson recounts the incredible personal sacrifices Fourcade made, including being away from her two children and being captured twice by the Nazis. I recommend this one, as well.

Alex Kershaw’s The First Wave tells the story of the men who were “the first wave” of the D-Day invasion. The book was published in 2019 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I have not read a lot about D-Day, but I am confident that this book belongs alongside any other histories of that day.

Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya is also about a female spy—a Soviet intelligence officer code named Sonya who served in China, Japan and England. It is a pretty incredible story, all the more so since it is true, but I did not like it as well as I liked Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor, which I read in 2019.

Molly Guptill Manning’s When Books Went to War is a delightful look at a very unique aspect of WWII. Specifically, it recounts the efforts involved by the War Department and the American publishing industry to produce millions of small paperback books that soldiers could carry with them throughout the war. The resulting Armed Services Editions, of which 120 million were eventually produced, were beloved by troops who would create waiting lists for popular titles and trade finished books amongst themselves. I have looked, and you can find some of these Armed Service Edition books on Ebay. I haven’t purchased one yet, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.

That makes for a good transition to the fiction I read in 2021, because one of the books I chose was Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read it because it was one of the most popular books printed in Armed Services Edition format and I had never read it. It is a pleasant read, and I can understand why Manning reported that it helped soldiers remember “regular life” back home. That is, after all, what the book is about; it has no real plot or climax to speak of—it simply tells the story of the life of Francie Nolan.

I always try to read at least one classic book and this year that was Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In looking at a list of the most banned books during Banned Book Week I realized I had read three of the top five. Now I have read four; J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye will have to wait until another year. I have not seen the film, but I can imagine Jack Nicholson as McMurphy. I found it an enjoyable read and Chief makes a terrific narrator. I am somewhat surprised it is in the top five banned books; I can think of others that would seem more fitting for that honor, though I can also imagine why it is in that group. It is said that the book was influential in the closing of asylums, which, if true, could place the book alongside The Jungle in terms of influence, but I do not know enough about whether that is true to make that claim definitively.

Christine Mangan’s Tangerine is set in Morocco in the 1950s, is full of vivid detail and is a well written debut novel. It is not surprising that many reviewers called it “Hitchcockian” or that it has been optioned by George Clooney to become a film starring Scarlett Johansson. The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters, is set in 1920s London. The book’s main character and her mother are forced to rent out part of their home in order to afford to keep it following the deaths of the men in the family. The resulting story is well-written and provides evidence of why Waters is considered an excellent writer of historical fiction, but the book hinges on a lesbian affair that develops between the main character and the wife of the couple that move in as lodgers. The book does do an excellent job of portraying the costs of choices, especially choices that are intended to be secrets.

If you read these reviews annually then you know there are a few fiction writers whose work I read regularly. This year that included Jeffrey Archer’s Turn A Blind Eye and Over My Dead Body, books three and four respectively in the William Warwick series; John Grisham’s The Judge’s List, which brings back Lacy Stoltz of the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct who first appeared in The Whistler and is, in my opinion, the closest to Grisham’s early novels that he has been in a while; James Patterson’s Fear No Evil, the latest Alex Cross novel; and Daniel Silva’s The Cellist, a significant improvement over last year’s Gabriel Allon novel The Order.

At the end of Over My Dead Body there is a conversation with Jeffrey Archer in which he states that Stefan Zweig is his favorite author. I had never heard of Zweig, but I decided to read his novel Beware of Pity. Zweig was purportedly one of the most popular writers in the world in the 1920s and ‘30s, yet somehow his popularity has faded. Beware of Pity is the only novel that he published during his lifetime, though The Post Office Girl was published posthumously. In Beware of Pity Zweig tells the story of an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer in 1914 (the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand occurs at the end of the book, though it is not significant to the story). As the title implies, the book is a cautionary tale about how pity can change someone’s life.

The Burglar is the first book I have read by Thomas Perry. I enjoyed it, and Perry does a nifty job of making a criminal—the burglar—a character the reader finds himself rooting for, and he never really addresses any negative to the fact that the main character makes her living breaking the law. Somewhat similarly, Colson Whitehead, in Harlem Shuffle, has a protagonist who breaks the law—willingly in terms of selling some stolen items and serving as a fence for others, and reluctantly in terms of some mischief his cousin gets him into. Whitehead, at least, depicts the negatives associated with criminal activity, and his main character also pursues a mostly honest living as a furniture salesman. Whitehead interweaves storylines about race and social status even among those of the same race in this story set in the 1960s. Whitehead is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but this is the first of his books I have read.

Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted is her account of the way in which the mainstream media manipulates and cherry-picks news stories to cover and angles to take. Given that Attkisson is a five-time Emmy Award winner, her insight has to be taken seriously.

During our family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina I picked up two books primarily of interest to those who live there or who have, like me, spent a lifetime vacationing there. Amy Pollard Gaw’s Lost Restaurants of the Outer Banks and Their Recipes is exactly what the title says. It is also a fascinating look at restaurants that were notable and influential in the area for years, including a bit of history about the local culture. John Railey’s The Lost Colony Murder on the Outer Banks recounts the true story of the 1967 murder of Brenda Joyce Holland, who had gone to the area to work at the long-running outdoor drama “The Lost Colony.” The murder was never solved, and Railey did some investigating of his own, leading to his conclusion about the perpetrator. Since the man Railey thinks was responsible is now dead himself, it seems unlikely anything will come of it, but his theory certainly seems plausible.

Quite possibly in response to my growing frustration with the modern game of baseball (and particularly the commissioner) I found myself reading a number of autobiographies and biographies of baseball players of yesteryear. Say Hey, by Willie Mays with Lou Sahadi, tells the story of Mays’ life and career. Perhaps no greater evidence could be given of the way the game used to be to the way it is now than the fact that Mays used to play stickball in the streets of New York when he first started playing for the Giants, even forgetting about a home game once because he was so into the stickball game. Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty is an excellent book and should be read by anyone who wants to know what Cobb was really like. He does not have a great reputation, and while he surely did have a temper, much of what is purportedly “known” about him is inaccurate. Thom Henninger’s Tony Oliva is a wonderful biography of a man who is finally, as of December 2021, getting his due, having been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee. Oliva was an incredible player—a dominant player for a few years before injuries limited his effectiveness. It was fun to learn, as well, that Oliva, a Cuban, married a woman from a town just about an hour from where I currently live. They have been married 53 years now. Doug Wilson’s Pudge, a biography of Carlton Fisk, is all the more impressive for the fact that Fisk himself never spoke to Wilson during the book’s writing. For a player with the work ethic, grit and competitiveness that Fisk had, it is amazingly sad how poorly he was, in the end, treated by both Boston and Chicago.

There were two other baseball books, Bill Gutman’s It’s Outta Here!, an interesting history of the home run, and Kevin Cowherd’s When the Crowd Didn’t Roar. Cowherd’s book is not purely (or only) a baseball book but it was an interesting look at what, prior to COVID, no one could have imagined–a game played with no fans. Following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, and the unrest in Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles played a home game against the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium. The gates were locked and no fans were allowed in the park.

Terry Teachout’s Pops is marvelous biography of Louis Armstrong. The Good Life is Tony Bennett’s 1998 biography and he has since written two more books, but I finally got around to reading this one. Perhaps most interesting is Bennett’s recounting of his battle with his record company over his desire to record the kind of music he liked—classic American songbook—and not to make what seemed popular at the moment. Given that Bennett, who now struggles with Alzheimer’s, just released his final album at the age of 95—recorded with Lady Gaga, whom Bennett influenced significantly—it would seem that he had the stronger argument.

I will wrap this review up with three books that deal with contemporary culture. We Too, by Mary DeMuth, is an effort to address the role that the church needs to play in addressing #MeToo—both in terms of listening to and affirming victims and proactively preventing future victimization. While the book makes some good and valid points, I didn’t really like it overall. I suspect that some other individuals have addressed this issue in ways that I would consider more effective. Because I never give any individual book lengthy space in these annual reviews, I will put additional thoughts on this one in a postscript.

Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is considered must-reading among many Christian thinkers. The book is a thorough overview of the philosophies and worldviews that shaped the thinking and actions that led us to where we are today, looking specifically, but not exclusively, at the sexual revolution. This is one of those books that I filled with highlighting and marginalia as I interacted with the text. It is well worth reading, but I think it does miss in a few areas. A couple of times Trueman seems to overreach, failing to adequately support the conclusion he reaches. I think he ascribes far too much influence to the Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley in particular. Oddly, around the middle of the book it almost seems that Trueman learned two new words and wanted to show them off, as he includes “adumbrate” and “lacuna” far more times than seemed appropriate—especially since very few people use either of those words ever. At the end of the book, as Trueman was making his conclusion, he suggested that he could have made the same arguments using art or architecture instead of sexuality and I think that was a significant error on his part. While there are certainly fads and influences that can be seen in those two fields, neither have inherent binary characteristics and neither is inherently moral. As a result, Trueman undermines the importance of the very argument he spent 400 pages making about sexuality—though I am sure he had no intention of doing so.

In part of his book, Trueman addresses critical theory. It is not a major element of his book, though, and it does not as a result, get a lot of space. For a better understanding of both what critical theory is and why it is so dangerous, read Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. This book is all the more powerful because Pluckrose and Lindsay are not conservatives. They fall into the categories that most would expect to embrace critical theory, yet the effectively show why critical theory should be opposed. Rarely will you find a book recommended by such disparate thinkers as Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is about fifty pages shorter than Trueman’s book and, while they do not have the same purpose, I would probably have to recommend this one over Trueman if someone pressed me to select one over the other. Both, however, are timely and relevant.

I don’t think I said so at the top so, in case you were not counting, that was fifty-three books for 2021. Thanks for reading my thoughts. Hopefully you found a title or two you now want to read for yourself.


Postscript: further thoughts on We Too

Mary DeMuth’s We Too is a book that claims to be a “how to” manual for the Church to “respond redemptively to the sexual abuse crisis.” While it has elements of that, I suspect there are other, more helpful books on this subject. I actually found myself liking the book less and less as I read it. DeMuth suffered horrific sexual abuse as a child, so she knows whereof she speaks. At the risk of sounding like I am dismissing that, which I am surely not, she reminds the reader far more often than seems necessary of that fact. At times she comes across as condescending. At other times one wonders why she did not just publish a giant post-it note saying to refer to Boz Tchividjian to know how to effectively deal with abuse. The book is only about 200 pages, so she could probably have taken the time to deal with some matters more carefully. On the subject of forgiveness, for example, she spends about three pages, and as a result does not deal with it in nearly the detail and accuracy it requires. That error is exacerbated by the fact that she spends most of those three pages using Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers as her example. DeMuth also errs in oversimplifying other recommendations that could be valuable. For example, when suggesting that parents and churches place children into potentially dangerous situations by teaching them to respect adults, she says, “We strip children of their autonomy when we insist that they be kind to elders.” Well, children are not supposed to be autonomous. They are children. Effective parenting strips children of their autonomy on a regular basis. There are many ways in which children can be taught what is and is not appropriate behavior, and what to do if something inappropriate happens, while still teaching them to “be kind to elders.”

DeMuth also makes the valid point that those who are informed of abuse sometimes make it about them and thus diminish the victim, but it is important to recognize that someone who learns of abuse will understandably feel angry and guilty if the victim is someone they know and care about—particularly if they think they could have done something about it had they known sooner. It is foolish to suggest that such individuals can simply absorb the victim’s story and not have an emotional response to it. DeMuth references Rachael Denhollander several times throughout the book, including in the acknowledgements, but Denhollander is not the author of any of the more than twenty endorsement blurbs at the beginning of the book. This is pure speculation on my part, but it does make me wonder if that is because Denhollander recognized some of the same issues I am touching on here. The bottom line is that what DeMuth is addressing in the book needs to be addressed, but there have to be more effective books out there than this one.

My Year in Books – 2020

It is difficult to say that much good came out of the worldwide disruption caused by COVID-19, but I am sure that I am not the only one who found that I had more time to read in 2020 than I had for quite a while. In fact, I read 61 books in 2020, the most since 2012, when I also had 61. So, here is my annual review of those books…

I will start with fiction. I cannot remember a year when my reading did not include one or more of James Patterson, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2020 was no different. I read James Patterson’s Criss Cross and Deadly Cross, the latest additions to his Alex Cross series. These were what you expect from an Alex Cross book, but I have to say that the timeframe covered by this series is not very realistic. Deadly Cross is the twenty-eighth book in the series. If anyone in real life experienced what Alex Cross has in those twenty-eight books, in the time period covered by those books, well…let’s just say it’s not possible, let alone plausible. I also read Patteron’s co-authored Lost and Blindside (both with James Born) and Princess (with Rees Jones). Lost is a stand-alone book (at least so far); Blindside is the twelfth installment in the Detective Michael Bennett series and Princess is the latest in the Private series.

Camino Winds by John Grisham is his second book featuring Bruce Cable and Mercer Mann and the eclectic group of friends Cable has accumulated on the island. It is not what I would call a typical Grisham read but it is no doubt exactly what people have in mind when they think of the term “beach read” and it does include an ingenious murder. The backstory about a prescription drug and nursing homes is completely fictional but raises some alarms of what could be possible, too!

John Grisham’s A Time for Mercy is his third book featuring Jake Brigance, who first appeared in Grisham’s debut novel. I was not the only person, based on Amazon reviews, to get a copy of the book that had major printing errors. It was fine until page 69 or so and then it became truly unreadable—missing pages, duplicated pages, etc. I had to return it and get another, which was correct. I was shocked, though; Doubleday is no fly-by-night publisher and Grisham is one of the best-selling authors in the country; that such a book could get out with such incredible errors is rather surprising. The story itself was what you would expect from Grisham; or, more precisely, from classic Grisham. Jake is, again, defending someone no one else in town would want to touch. It is not a pleasant story—but neither was A Time to Kill. Grisham manages to use a stereotypical presentation of rural, Southern Christians without belittling or mocking them, which I appreciated.

Jeffrey Archer’s Hidden in Plain Sight is the second in the William Warwick series, which is a spin-off of the Clifton Chronicles. It follows an Archer pattern of having a nemesis that just won’t go away, but it does also take a slightly different tack by having Warwick transferred to the drug squad when he gets promoted.

Mark Pryor is another author who has appeared regularly on my reading lists in recent years. In 2020 I read The French Widow, his ninth Hugo Marston novel. Marston, of course, seems to do surprisingly little in his actual job as head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris, but he does manage to help the French police once again solve a tricky crime. The book again includes transgender French police Lt. Camille Lerens, which I could do without, but Pryor seems to include her primarily to be able to say that he does so—or to be cutting edge—since her transgenderism has absolutely nothing to do with the story. This book does take the approach of, at times, speaking from the perspective of the killer, which is a unique twist, and Marston does a good job—in my opinion—of keeping the reader guessing until near the end of the book.

I actually did not finish a fiction book until April of 2020, when I completed The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I try to include at least one classic work per year, and this was the one for 2020. I enjoyed it. I have actually not seen any of the various theatrical versions, so I cannot comment on those, but D’Artagnan and his three pals are not necessarily, or certainly not always, admirable individuals. If I was going to recommend one Dumas book it would be The Count of Monte Cristo, not this one, but it is worth reading.

This may be a surprise to some, but The Last Trial is the first Scott Turow book I have ever read. As the title suggests, it is the end of the career of a character that I now know has appeared in other Turow novels. I suspect that some of what this book includes would make more sense or be more meaningful to those who have read others in the series, but I found it an enjoyable read–but then I enjoy courtroom dramas.

Daniel Silva’s The Order is the third or fourth Gabriel Allon book I have read. I enjoyed the others much more than I did this one. Suffice it to say that this book presents the theory of a missing “gospel” that the ultra-conservative wing of Catholicism will literally do anything to prevent coming to light. The papacy is also connected to a far-right political group in Europe. And never mind the unlikelihood of the now-dead pope’s private secretary asking the head of Israel’s security service to help investigate; after all, in his last book Silva had the prince of a Muslim nation doing the same thing. I haven’t read or seen The DaVinci Code, but I suspect that this book has a lot of similarities. I wouldn’t recommend it.

I do not remember how Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching even got on my radar. I almost put it down after the first page because of the language, but I didn’t. The frequency of obscenities decreased, but there is plenty of foul language and—shocker—it adds nothing to the story. From what I can tell from what the book includes about Cole’s other works she usually writes romance novels, but this one was supposed to be a thriller. And it was, but I think Cole tried too hard. There are elements of reality in the book but in her effort to deal with issues of racism she takes a far-flung approach that is unrealistic. And then the ending is even more unrealistic than that. So again, I wouldn’t recommend.

Probably the biggest departure from my usual fiction reading was Asha Lemmie’s Fifty Words for Rain. First of all, this is Lemmie’s debut novel, and I think that bodes very well for her future. It is the story of a girl, Nori, who is the daughter of a Japanese woman of aristocratic lineage who had an affair with an African-American man who was in Japan because of WWII. The story touches on the importance of honor and tradition in Japanese culture but also touches on racism—realistically, unlike Cole’s book—and, most of all, about the power of sibling love. It is a richly told story and I found myself really invested in it, but I was, I confess, disappointed in the ending.

That was it for fiction in 2020. So, moving on…

Jon Bloom’s Not by Sight is an interesting read. It is, by its own description, “the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories,” and it does provide the reader with a new perspective on some very familiar passages of Scripture.

Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity examines twelve questions that most Christians have either asked or been asked—or both. Questions like, “doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?” or “doesn’t religion cause violence?” Perhaps the most timely questions were those on taking Scripture literally, whether or not Christianity is homophobic or denigrates women and how a loving God could allow suffering or “send” people to hell. John Lennox calls it “compelling reading” and I agree. It is well-written and thought-provoking.

The subtitle of David Jeremiah’s Reset—“Ten Steps to Spiritual Renewal”—gives you a good idea of what to expect. I am not a huge fan of “steps to…” books, but this one does have some good insights. It is what you would expect from David Jeremiah in terms of style. Jeremiah’s What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do is a good overview of the epistle of James. John MacArthur’s Only Jesus is essentially a significantly condensed version of The Gospel According to Jesus. The book begins by asking, “What did Jesus mean when He said, ‘Follow Me’?” and then proceeds to answer that question. MacArthur’s Stand Firm is a short book that addresses how Christians are to live in a post-Christian world.

Charles Bordonaro’s Free to Be Me is a good book for anyone who wants to understand what “security” really means for the believer apart from the strict Calvinist interpretation. It highlights the freedom that believers have in Christ without ever suggesting that such freedom is a license for ungodly living. Suffice it to say that it also presents a very different view than R.C. Sproul’s Willing to Believe, which is solid, as Sproul always is, but which comes down in a very Calvinistic conclusion. It is an interesting book for understanding more about Pelagius, Augustine and Arminius in particular, but also Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Finney and Chafer.

J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness is subtitled “The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life” and it looks extensively at the writing and teaching of Baxter, Edwards and Owen. It felt appropriate to read something by Packer since he passed away in 2020 and it is valuable introduction to Puritan thought.

John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ is a small book and obviously put out hastily in order to respond to the pandemic, but the truths that the book contains apply far beyond COVID. The back cover of the book is headed with this from Piper: “This is a time when the fragile form of this world is felt. The seemingly solid foundations are shaking. The question we should be asking is, Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken―ever?” That is a powerful question and, like I said, it applies far beyond the current pandemic.

The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess is her first book. She is a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary and she completed her undergraduate degree at Liberty University. I did not agree with everything that she wrote, but she did do an admirable job of addressing how our political views and our understanding and interpretation of Scripture are likely more intertwined than we realize. I told someone recently that I would read the book again, so perhaps that is the best compliment I can pay to the way that the book makes the reader think.

Pulpit Aflame, edited by Joel Beeke and Dustin Benge, is a collection of essays in honor of Steven Lawson, and is one of the best books I have ever read on sermon preparation and delivery and the ministry of preaching.

As I always do, I read a significant amount of history in 2020. Andrew Lawler’s The Secret Token is another book about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Lawler spent significant time in Outer Banks communities around the colony’s location and he investigated every possible lead he could find. I do not think he leaves the reader with any new conclusions, but that’s probably because—in my opinion—we will never really know what happened.

I intended to read extensively about women in American history in 2020—historically and contemporarily—given that 2020 was the one hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Carol Berkin’s Revolutionary Mothers and Nancy Loane’s Following the Drum both provide great insight into the roles that women played in the American Revolution—Berkin’s more broadly and Loane’s specifically at Valley Forge. Melissa Lukeman Bohrer’s Glory, Passion and Principle examines eight women of the revolutionary era, some of whom are familiar (Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren and Phillis Wheatley) and others who should be (Sybil Ludington, Lydia Darragh). She gives a better understanding of who “Molly Pitcher” was and she selects one woman (of a number of them) who dressed and fought as a man (Deborah Sampson). Karin Wulf’s Not All Wives focuses on women in Philadelphia during the colonial era in order to explain the law of coverture and the way that women who were no longer, or who had never been, married were able to survive.

Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming is the first in a projected trilogy on the Revolution and, despite being about 800 pages long only gets to 1777. Perhaps most interesting to me about the book was the re-introduction to me of Dr. Benjamin Church, a leading figure in the Massachusetts patriot movement who was convicted of spying for the British. That led to me reading John Nagy’s Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy, which I would love to write a rebuttal to someday since I do not think that the evidence that Church was indeed a spy is sufficient to warrant his conviction.

Like Atkinson, Alan Taylor is a Pulitzer Prize winner. But his American Revolutions covers fifty more years in one hundred fewer pages. To be fair, he and Atkinson have different goals in their works, and Taylor provides much more insight into what led to the revolution and then also describes the first years of the newly-independent nation.

Edward Larson’s Franklin & Washington is a fascinating dual-biography about two of the most famous Americans ever, examining how the two men worked, often together, to pursue American independence.

It is important to get the full title of Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality because the subtitle is exactly what the book is. Allen, a Harvard professor who has recently announced her candidacy for governor of Massachusetts, takes the Declaration line by line to examine what it meant—and means—and particularly to understand what equality really means vis-à-vis that founding document. I highly recommend this one.

Of course, at the time the Declaration was written, the founders removed the attack Jefferson originally penned against slavery, and it would not be until a Civil War more than eighty years later that slavery would finally be abolished. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning has perhaps been one of the most talked-about books in the past year or two and it makes for itself an audacious claim—“The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” If for no other reason than that Kendi has become so influential it is worth reading. Kendi does offer some valuable insights, but I cannot say that I agree with all of his conclusions or assertions.

James Gorman, Jeff Childers and Mark Hamilton edited Slavery’s Long Shadow: Race and Reconciliation in American Christianity, and the essays it includes are worth reading. Some are more denominationally-specific than some readers might care for, but those could certainly be skipped. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that Richard Hughes, a Scholar in Residence in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University, begins his essay “Resisting White Supremacy” by asserting that the “heart of Jesus’ preaching was his concern and compassion for disenfranchised and oppressed people” and that “to listen carefully and attentively to what those people wish to tell us about the contours of their lives” is the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ. The gospel is not a social justice message and any attempt to make it one distorts who Jesus was and why He really came.

In When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War, John Patrick Daly suggests that Christians “interpreted the Bible and Christian moral dictates in light of individualism and free market economics” and that interpretation is what led to some Christians using the Bible to oppose slavery while others used it to support it. The use of Scripture on both sides of the slavery debate is a subject of great interest to me, and thus I found Daly’s book worthwhile, but I would not suggest reading it and only it on this subject, as it needs to be balanced out with other perspectives.

Back to the fight for women’s suffrage, Catherine Clinton’s The Other Civil War examines the efforts of women in the 19th century to achieve equality. They were generally unsuccessful, of course, but their efforts are worthy of study. Lisa Tetrault’s The Myth of Seneca Falls explains that the well-known Seneca Falls Convention was not necessarily the starting point for the suffrage movement that it is so often presented as—and that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked so hard to make it. Combining those two books with Susan Ware’s Why They Marched gives readers an introduction to many other suffragists they might want to read more about, such as Lucy Stone, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Julia Ward Howe, Ida Wells Barnett, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and more. Vanguard, by Martha Jones, looks specifically at the efforts of black women in the fight for equality—including, but not limited to, the right to vote.

Shifting gears, Adam Cohen’s Nothing to Fear was a fascinating look at the New Deal and gives valuable information about Frances Perkins, Raymond Moley and Henry Wallace in particular.

The Landscape of History by John Lewis Gaddis and Historiography: An Introductory Guide by Eileen Ka-May Cheng are good for those interested in historiography, but would not likely be of much interest to others.

2020 was certainly marred by racial tension and plenty of authors have attempted to address that subject over the years. But Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness has to be one of the stupidest books I have ever read and my copy is filled with marginalia expressing my thoughts on Metzl’s arguments. Those arguments can essentially be summed up this way: if you favor anything that would be considered politically conservative then you are “white”—regardless of your race or ethnicity—are you are not only what is wrong with the country but you are actively opposing your own best interests.

Another book that has received a lot of attention is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. It contains some personal accounts that are both sad and inexcusable, but overall I cannot agree with her attempt to equate the caste system in India, Nazi Germany and the racial issues of the United States.

Interestingly, the best book that I read on the subject of racial tension was written a half-century ago—Albert Murray’s The Omni-Americans. Perhaps this line will suffice to provide an idea of what Murray spent the book arguing: “The United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people…. Any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another.” In his forward to the anniversary edition, Henry Louis Gates asserted that Murray had a unique ability to argue all sides of any issue and to point out that which was not necessarily clear or even desirable to those dominating the conversation. I would agree, based on this book. And for this book, I am indebted to Wynton Marsalis, who wrote of Murray in his book Moving to Higher Ground. Marsalis spoke specifically of Murray’s Stomping the Blues, which I have not yet read, but he still made the introduction. As for his book, Marsalis proves to be a terrific teacher about what jazz really is. While the book’s subtitle—“How Jazz Can Change Your Life”—might be an overreach, I would recommend this book specifically, and Marsalis in general, for anyone who doesn’t really get jazz.

This Is Your Time is a short little book by Ruby Bridges, who, at just six years of age, was the first to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. The book would be a great introduction to Bridges’ story for anyone who does not know it, and it is worth getting just for the photographs that it includes. It is sad, though, how far we have not come in the nearly sixty-years since Bridges’ experience.

A couple of baseball books in 2020—Ron Snyder’s A Season to Forget tells the story of the truly awful 1988 Baltimore Orioles, who started the season 0-21, and in The Lost Memoir Alan Gaff assembles into one volume the syndicated newspaper column Lou Gehrig wrote in 1927 for Christy Walsh’s papers, telling his personal story and also giving an inside glimpse into the Yankees’ season.

In the genre of memoir and autobiography, I tended mostly to women in 2020. Nadia Murad’s The Last Girl is powerful and should be read by anyone who wants to understand (and can stomach) what ISIS did to Yazidis. Likewise, Rachael Denhollander’s What Is a Girl Worth? is powerful and should be read by anyone who wants to understand (and can stomach) what Larry Nasser specifically, and any sexual abuser generally, does to the victims of their actions. Denhollander’s book also makes her statement to Nasser at his sentencing all the more incredible. I read those books back-to-back. Both stories are sickening and heart wrenching but both women also have incredible stories of resiliency.

Nikki Haley’s With All Due Respect is an interesting look at her life, including deeper looks at her time as governor and UN ambassador. If I had to select a woman to run for president in 2024 I would have a hard time picking between Haley and Kristi Noem. But since I hope that Noem will be re-elected governor of South Dakota in 2022 and will finish out her term, I will have to go with Haley in 2024. I enjoyed Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Speaking for Myself, and while I understand that she desired to present a side of Donald Trump that she thinks too few people know, I think she may have been overly kind to him despite her effort to be balanced.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming was a well-written autobiography. I do not understand why she has become so reviled by the political right. I do not agree with her on much politically, there is no doubt, but I do not think that she is the horrible monster she is so often portrayed to be. Kamala Harris’s The Truths We Hold is well-written, too, and Harris has quite a personal story. She has had some tremendous accomplishments and some interesting ideas, particularly when it comes to criminal justice, but the book also reinforces why I would not want her to be the president.

Alex Trebek’s And the Answer Is… was a unique memoir in its structure but it does give the reader a great glimpse into the life of one of the most famous game show hosts in American history. It would seem that Trebek was a nice and truly decent guy…though I have to hope that he changed his thoughts on God before he passed away.

If you want an easy and light-hearted read, and you enjoy musical humor, Victor Borge’s My Favorite Comedies in Music fits the bill—but the book is not nearly as funny as Borge’s live performances.

And there you have it, another year in books. Feel free to comment with book recommendations—I have plenty of books on my list, but am always looking for suggestions. Happy New Year…and Happy Reading!

All Aboard the Hypocrisy Train

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

To the astonishment of…no one…Mitch McConnell announced within hours of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that a nomination from President Trump to fill the seat “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” No surprise here. The Republicans wouldn’t consider an Obama nomination eight months before the 2016 election, but they’re determined to get Trump’s a month and a half before the 2020 election. Shameful. Embarrassing. Partisan nonsense. No one should be proud of this. Mitch McConnell needs to go.

It is not just Mitch McConnell, though. John Thune, the Majority Whip, echoed his leader, saying, “As Leader McConnell has said, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.” Not wanting to be left out, Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn promptly jumped on board Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy train. According to the Texas Tribune, Cruz announced on Friday that an “urgent confirmation” was needed. In an opinion piece for FOX News on Sunday, Cruz insisted that Trump “must nominate a successor next week and…the Senate must confirm that successor before Election Day.” His reasoning? It is why the American people elected President Trump and a Republican Senate, there is historical precedent, and, given the possibility of a contested election in November, America cannot be left with an eight-member Supreme Court.

A few thoughts here…

First, using George Washington’s election-year nominations as an example doesn’t even really count. His two nominations in 1796 were both confirmed the very next day. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both made election year appointments too, and their nominations were confirmed within a week. But politics have changed so drastically since then that those examples cannot really be considered fairly.

In an article published last month in the National Review, Dan McLaughlin made the same point, insisting both that “History supports Republicans filling the seat,” and that doing so “would not be in any way inconsistent with Senate Republicans’ holding open the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.” Really? Let’s see…

McLaughlin makes the same point that Cruz did, citing “twenty-nine times in history” when there has been an election year or lame duck session appointment. He names Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Then he mentions Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase as Chief Justice, to replace Roger Taney, on December 6, 1864. Four things about this appointment are noteworthy. First, it is a real historical travesty that Roger Taney was ever on the Supreme Court, given his decision in the Dred Scott case. Second, Chase was confirmed the same day that Lincoln nominated him, beating even the quick confirmation that Washington received for his nominees. Third, as I mentioned, Lincoln appointed Chase on December 6. The election took place in November, and Lincoln won. Given that as far as anyone knew at that time Lincoln would be president for another four years, any delay would have been pointless. Fourth, however, and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, Taney died on October 12, 1864—four days shy of one month before the election. But Lincoln did not appoint Chase until two days shy of one month after the election. If Cruz, McLaughlin and Company want to use Lincoln as a precedent, it is not one in their favor.

McLaughlin also points out Ulysses S. Grant as an example. But, like Lincoln, Grant appointed Ward Hunt to the Supreme Court during an election year, but after the election—he appointed him on December 3; it was after Grant had already won re-election; and Grant appointed Hunt to replace Samuel Nelson, who retired from the Supreme Court on November 28, 1872, twenty-three days after the election—meaning that there was no vacancy prior to the election, and the appointment was not during a lame duck session.

Taft’s nomination was in February of the election year. Wilson’s were in January and July of the election year. Hoover’s was in February of the election year. FDR’s was in January of the election year. These would have been terrific precedents in support of Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, but they do not do much to help McConnell and friends in this instance.

Oddly, McLaughlin claims “Dwight Eisenhower did it” but he didn’t. Eisenhower made appointments in 1955 and in 1957, but not in 1956, which was the election year.

LBJ nominated two in June of an election year and both were withdrawn–one due to a filibuster of the nomination to move Abe Fortas to Chief Justice, and the other because Homer Thornberry had been nominated for the Associate Justice position Fortas would have been vacating. Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy one year before the 1988 election, but he was confirmed in February of the election year–by a Democratically-controlled Senate. (And any true conservative now wishes that the Democrats would have declined!)

Second, the Republicans put themselves in the position they are now in. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March 2016. That means Obama still had 20% of his term remaining. But the Republicans refused to even consider the nomination; they wouldn’t even allow it to come to a vote. Even if Trump were to make a nomination tomorrow, he has only about 7% of the current term remaining. Outside of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, there has never been a nomination made later than July of a presidential election year and before the election, with one exception. That exception was Millard Filmore’s nomination of Edward Bradford on August 16, 1852—and there was no action taken by the Senate. So, Cruz’s appeal to historical precedent falls woefully flat. Even John Tyler, who nominated three men a total of five times in the first six months of 1844 quit in June and did not act again until after the election, when he tried twice more in December.

The bottom line is that if Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans would have allowed the Garland nomination to proceed in 2016 this would be a completely different situation. But they did not, and now they find themselves faced with waiting or becoming guilty of obscene hypocrisy…and I think we all know which they are going to choose.

President Trump should absolutely make the nomination. Indeed, doing so could even help the Republicans in the November election, and he has every right to do so. But the Senate should not act on it. In fact, acting on it could well come back to bite McConnell and friends. As Russell Berman wrote last Friday in The Atlantic, “A number of Republican senators have already said they’d want to fill a Supreme Court vacancy while Trump is still in office. But McConnell would need the votes of 50 out of his 53 members to allow Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie (assuming all Democrats voted against Trump’s nominee), and the numbers may not be on his side.” In reality, Berman was being kind. Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are already on record opposing a confirmation at this stage, and just about everyone knows that Mitt Romney is not going to support Donald Trump on this one.

Ironically, McLaughlin states in his article, “Norms are crucially important. If parties cannot trust that the other side will abide by established norms of conduct, politics devolves rapidly into a blood sport that quickly loses the capacity to resolve disagreements peaceably within the system.” He’s right, of course—only he is not right in the way that he thinks he is. He thinks history is on his side, and that that Senate should act to confirm. As we have seen, though, he is wrong about that. The norm of conduct that the Republicans established in 2016 is simple—no confirmation during an election year. No amount of foaming at the mouth or attempting to stretch historical precedent to fit their narrative will change that. The Republicans set the precedent, now they need to follow it. If they do not, they will have only themselves to blame when the tables are turned—which eventually they will be—and when voters express their displeasure—which at least some will.

Additional irony for the fire – since 1981, the only SCOTUS nominee to be appointed and confirmed within the amount of time that is available now before the November election was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore, with the conductor cap added by Jason Watson.

Tulsi Who?

Tulsi_Gabbard_(48563636361)Super Tuesday did not go so well for Michael Bloomberg and today he, too, dropped out. The DNC plan to have Joe Biden win the nomination went quite well yesterday and though Bernie Sanders still won several states and is, for all intents and purposes, tied with Joe Biden in the delegate count right now, the race is not over. There are four candidates remaining, though you would be hard pressed to know that from the limitations one of them is facing. Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, has not given up her quest for the Democratic nomination—and frankly, I doubt she will anytime soon.

If you are thinking, “Who is Tulsi Gabbard?” you are not alone. In fact, according to a article on February 28, only 44% of likely Democratic voters have heard of Gabbard. Until last night, when she was included in the reporting only because there were so few candidates remaining, she had received scant attention from the major news networks and opposition from her own party. But last night she was included. In fact, Donna Brazile was trying so hard to make the point that the DNC is not favoring any candidate that she insisted on FOX News that Karl Rove list Gabbard and her one delegate from American Samoa on his little dry erase board. That little exchange was dually noteworthy since Karl Rove had said, earlier in the day, that Elizabeth Warren was the only woman left in the race. But Gabbard is very much a woman and very much still running. In fact, she later took to Twitter to address the swipe, posting, “I’m not quite sure why you’re telling FOX viewers that Elizabeth Warren is the last female candidate in the Dem primary. Is it because you believe a fake indigenous woman of color is ‘real’ and the real indigenous woman of color in this race is fake?” (That was a dig at Rove and FOX but also at Warren, who famously, and erroneously, claimed to be Native American).

Earlier this week, in The New Yorker, Andy Borowitz wrote a satirical piece that began this way: “Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is under intense pressure to drop out of the 2020 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, her nine supporters announced on Monday. The announcement from Gabbard’s nine followers surprised many Democrats, who had been unaware that the Hawaii congresswoman was still running.”

Of course satire only works when it has an element of truth, and it seems that even many of those who are aware that Gabbard is running are simply choosing to ignore her. Consider, for example, Andy Kroll’s March 2 piece for Rolling Stone, entitled “Operation Bernie Block Is in Full Effect.” It said:

The Democratic field is now down to five candidates: Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. One way to organize the field is into two camps: the progressive flank (Sanders and Warren) and the moderate establishment flank (Biden and Bloomberg). Going into Super Tuesday, there is a leader and secondary figure in each flank — Sanders for the progressives and Biden for the moderates.

Did you notice that? Kroll acknowledged that Gabbard is still a candidate and then immediately discarded her. She was not included anywhere in the rest of the article.

I should point out here that I am not a Tulsi Gabbard supporter. I have admired a number of things about her over the past few months but I am not aware of a single political issue that we agree on, so I certainly would not vote for her. But a considerable part of my interest in Gabbard has been how completely and obviously she has been shut out by the Democratic party. On paper, Gabbard checks every box one would think the DNC would love to have in a candidate. Specifically:

  • She is a combat veteran. She deployed, voluntarily, twice—to Iraq and to Kuwait—becoming the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. She currently holds the rank of Major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
  • She is the first Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • She is the first-ever voting member of Congress who is Samoan-American.
  • She is young – only 38.
  • She is, obviously, female.

In addition to all of that, she holds views consistent with the Democratic party in just about every area. She is a combat veteran who opposes war. She favors increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hour (and even a universal minimum income). She wants to abolish the death penalty and do away with private prisons. She thinks college should be free and existing debt-relief plans for student loans should be fixed and expanded. She supports universal background checks and banning assault weapons. She favors Medicare for All and opposes restrictions on abortion. She wants to legalize marijuana.

So, what’s not to like?

Well, Gabbard is a rebel. Just over four years ago she resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC in order to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. She gave the nominating speech putting his nae forward at the Democratic National Convention. She openly criticized the DNC’s handling of the 2016 election and accused it of rigging the election so that Hillary Clinton would be the 2016 nominee. In November 2017 she said, “The DNC secretly chose their nominee over a year before the primary elections even occurred.” She said the DNC and federal campaign finance laws need to be overhauled.

Earlier in 2017 Gabbard faced considerable backlash after she revealed that she had met with Bashar al-Assad while she was on a fact-finding visit to Syria, though she said she had no intention of meeting with him when she originally planned the trip.

Last summer, in one of the debates she has actually been allowed to participate in, Gabbard harshly criticized Senator Kamala Harris, at that time considered one of the leading Democratic candidates, for her work as a prosecutor in California. Matt Taibbi then wrote in Rolling Stone, “Having wounded a presumptive frontrunner [Harris] backed by nearly $25 million in campaign funds, Gabbard instantly became the subject of a slew of negative leaks, tweets, and press reports.”

In December, Gabbard voted “present” on both articles of impeachment against President Trump. Gabbard said that she had reviewed the 658-page impeachment report and decided that she could not vote against impeachment because she thought that Trump was “guilty of wrongdoing” but that she also could not vote for impeachment “because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.” In other words, Gabbard accused her own party of a politically-motivated impeachment.

In January 2020 Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton for defamation. Clinton had referred to Gabbard as “a favorite of the Russians” and even a “Russian asset”—and Gabbard alleges that Clinton made that allegation as “retribution” for her backing of Sanders in 2016 and that Clinton “holds a special hatred and animosity” for Gabbard. Gabbard is suing for $50 million. She is not backing down from the suit, either; according to a February 12 interview with Maria Bartiromo, Gabbard says the first court date has been set.

Then, in February, after Trump had been acquitted on both counts of impeachment, Gabbard said that Trump was acting within his prerogative when he decided to fire Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who had testified against him during the impeachment hearings, from his position with the National Security Council. That, of course, rubbed many Democrats the wrong way. Joe Biden, for example, said that Vindman deserved to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I do not know that Tulsi Gabbard is likely to win many more delegates than the one she picked up last night from American Samoa. And her continuation in the race will continue to bring criticism from those that choose to acknowledge it at all. (Anderson Cooper and others have suggested that she is auditioning for a place on FOX News). She might find herself gaining considerably more support from those who dislike their choice between the 77-year-old Joe Biden and the 78-year-old Bernie Sanders. Gabbard is, after all, literally half their age. Even setting age aside, some might not like the choice between “socialism and senility” as Marc Thiessen put it last night. But the only way Gabbard has any chance of gaining much support is if the DNC actually lets her participate in debates. She has been excluded from the last five—and took considerable umbrage to the fact that the DNC changed its qualifying rules to allow Michael Bloomberg to participate in the last two—but she does, at the moment, qualify for the next debate, scheduled for Sunday, March 15. In order to be a part of the last Democratic debate, candidates had to have one or more of the following: at least 12 percent support in two DNC-approved South Carolina polls, at least 10 percent support in four DNC-approved national polls, or at least one delegate from any contest that had been held so far. With her delegate from American Samoa, Gabbard now qualifies. But remember, I said at the moment. That’s because Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, already tweeted that the qualifying threshold “will go up” before that debate. And if it does, Gabbard will be left out again.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (

My Year in Books – 2019

After missing the mark in 2018, I once again met my goal of fifty books for the year, finishing with 54 books read in 2019. Here’s the rundown…

As it always does, last year’s reading included a regular helping of fiction, including titles from authors I enjoy and read a lot of as well as new authors I decided to try. In that first category would be Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief, The Sorbonne Affair, The Reluctant Matador and The Book Artist. They are all part of his Hugo Marston series and I have now read all eight of that series. James Patterson’s Target Alex Cross, Ambush, The Inn and Mary, Mary provided a range of Patterson, with the first and last both being from the Alex Cross series (the first being the most recent and the last being from 2005 but one I had not read); Ambush being from the Detective Michael Bennett series and The Inn being (at least so far) a stand-alone novel. I have never read a Patterson book and considered it great literature, but they make for quick reads that give the brain a rest…and the good guys always win.  I read John Grisham’s latest, The Guardians, and, because I read all of Grisham’s books, Theodore Boone: The Accomplice, the latest in his series for young readers. The Guardians is a typical Grishamesque novel, but I am sure that it gives a fairly accurate picture of what some attorneys committed to ensuring that those on death row received fair trials and were justly convicted do indeed go through in their pursuit of justice. The New Girl is the latest in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; it is as enjoyable as all of Silva’s books, and it provides a unique story loosely based on the current Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but it makes some highly unlikely moves that strain credulity, even for a work of fiction. And, having completed his Clifton Chronicles, Jeffrey Archer launched the Detective William Warwick series with Nothing Ventured. If you have read Pryor, Patterson, Grisham, Allon or Archer then you know what to expect from their writing, and these books all follow suit.

Other fiction this year included two books about quiet heroism in WWII Paris. Charles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is an intriguing novel about (surprise!) an architect in Paris during who winds up—first reluctantly and then devotedly—designing architecturally-brilliant hiding places for Jews seeking to avoid capture by the Nazis, and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie tells of an American woman who married a Frenchman who, unbeknownst to her, was part of the French resistance. When he died and she discovered his role, she commits to continuing his work. This story interweaves the incredible risk and sacrifice of so many “everyday people” during war with a love story. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson, is another WWII-era story, though one set in England. It focuses on a young woman who winds up working for MI5, transcribing the recorded conversations of Fascist sympathizers, and interweaves that story with one that took place ten years later when the main character was working at the BBC. All three of these were interesting reads and I would recommend them all, probably in the order they are listed here for anyone wanting them in rank-order.

The Other Side of Silence is the second Philip Kerr novel I have read, and both have featured Bernie Gunther, a former homicide detective in Nazi Germany. This story takes place a decade after WWII and finds Gunther working as a concierge along the French Riviera. The tale also features Somerset Maugham and his work for the British Secret Service during WWII, though the details of the plot rely heavily on Maugham’s homosexuality.

Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night is a delightful work of historical fiction that features young lawyer Paul Cravath and his work on a lawsuit filed by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse over a lightbulb patent dispute. The story also features J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla, as well as an opera singer whose story is not what she presents. A fun and fascinating read that would also prompt interest in the real historical facts among many readers, I am sure.

The classic work of fiction I read in 2019 was James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer. It is a slow read, and there is a legitimate reason why Mark Twain said that Cooper “persistently violated” the rule to “eschew surplusage” with this tale, but all in all it was not as bad as Twain made it out to be.

Moving on… I read a number of biographies in 2019, starting with Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor. I would call this a must-read for fans and admirers of America’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers. King provides an insightful look at the life of the man who committed his adult life to communicating kindly and truthfully with children. Randy Peterson’s The Printer and the Preacher is a dual biography of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield that also tells the story of their mutually-beneficial friendship, and Jason Lane’s General and Madame de Lafayette is a dual biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, whom every good schoolboy and schoolgirl learned about from an early age while studying American history, his wife, and the interesting way in which Lafayette’s commitment to liberty and equality made him both a hero and a scoundrel, depending on the year and the one giving the verdict. Tim Hornbaker’s Fall From Grace is an engaging biography of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the famous Chicago “Black Sox.” Susan Page provides a detailed, but not cumbersome, look at the life of Barbara Bush in The Matriarch and Scott Lamb gives an excellent biography of Mike Huckabee, and keen political insight, in Huckabee. Lamb gives readers a glaring reminder that the American evangelical community all but ignored Mike Huckabee in 2008 despite the fact that he was the most evangelical presidential candidate ever. If the fictional works about WWII mentioned above are of interest to you, then I strongly recommend Tilar Mazzeo’s Irena’s Children, the true story of the incredible work done by Irena Sendler and her colleagues in the Warsaw ghetto.

Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis is a blending of biography and leadership study. Koehn looks at the lives of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson and offers insights from the way each handled “turbulent times” (part of the book’s subtitle) in their lives.

There were two autobiographies on my 2019 list, an old one and a new one. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is the true story of a woman born in slavery, the abuse she endured from her owner, her escape—and subsequent seven years spent living in her grandmother’s attic—and the difficult decisions Jacobs made in her pursuit to be near, and do what was best for, her children. The new one was Gary Sinise’s Grateful American. It tells Sinise’s personal story, which is interesting, but also tells the story of how the part of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump led him to start the Gary Sinise Foundation. The work that that organization has done on behalf of American veterans is absolutely incredible and incredibly admirable. How TIME has never selected Sinise as its Person of the Year is beyond me.

There is always a good bit of American history on my reading list, too, and 2019 was no different. Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor is an intriguing story of Cold War espionage and a captivating spy thriller—and it is a true story! Ellen Wayland-Smith’s Oneida is a detailed look at the attempted utopian community by that name, including all of its strange ideas and living arrangements. Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg is the best and most thorough single-volume look at that Civil War battle that I have encountered, despite the fact that Guelzo sometimes inserts opinion and commentary that is not really befitting the book’s overall approach. I always enjoy David McCullough’s writing, and he brought his usual style to the history of the settlement of the Northwest Territory in The Pioneers.  Bruce Chadwick’s I Am Murdered tells the story of the murder of George Wythe and the subsequent trial.

Due largely to taking a couple of graduate courses on the subject, I read a great deal about slavery during the past year, including these books in their entirety: Daina Ramey Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, Heather Andrea Williams’s American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction, Calvin Schermerhorn’s Unrequired Toil and Educated in Tyranny, edited by Maurie McInnis and Louis Nelson. I would recommend all four. Berry introduces the concept of “soul value” in her work, a valuable approach to considering the lives of the enslaved; Williams’s work is indeed short but it is comprehensive too, making it a very effective overview and a great starting point; Schermerhorn’s book contains a chapter entitled “Geopolitics” that is the most insightful look at the causes of the Civil War I have probably ever seen; and Educated in Tyranny provides a fascinating examination of the role of slaves in the construction and early operation of the University of Virginia.

Some books do not really fit into any other category. For 2019 that would include Millard Seaman’s Gumbo, Gumption and God, a combination history of the founding of Sunshine Bible Academy, where I have served since 2011, and thoughts on the philosophy of Christian education. In Allow the Children Susan Cook explains how the ministry of that name was started and has grown to include the support of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in several countries around the world, as well as children’s homes and pastoral training. Another in that category would be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity was honest and thought provoking, and consistent with the assertion Winner made in a 2000 column for Christianity Today that many evangelicals did not take chastity seriously. The book certainly loses some of its value when considering that Winner is now divorced and an ordained Episcopal priest, and it is worth noting as well that Real Sex is not listed among her works on her faculty profile page for Duke Divinity School, where she is an Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s Just Show Up applies Ripken’s approach to baseball to other areas of life and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness stressed the importance of accurately understanding the “facts” that we are confronted with on a regular basis throughout our lives.

Last, but not least, would be those books that fall into the categories of Christian living and the practice of Christianity. Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship explains how the gospel message should shape corporate worship. Daniel Henderson’s Old Paths, New Power focuses on the importance of praying and preaching the Word of God. It had some good reminders and interesting personal accounts but also seemed to stray at times from what I would personally be comfortable with. In It’s Time to Pray, Carter Conlon emphasizes the importance of prayer, as well, personally and corporately, and he also tells personal stories of seeing the power of prayer at work in incredible ways. Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way describes the way Old Testament figures prepared the way for the coming of Christ but also shows how often we, in contemporary America, emphasize things that have very little to do with the “Jesus way.” Jeremy Walker’s Life in Christ is a short book on discipleship, and Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission addresses both being a disciple and making disciples. Balanced Christianity by John Stott emphasizes not veering too far one way or the other in various areas of tension in the Christian life. Your Victory in Christ is the only book by John Bunyan that I have ever read other than Pilgrim’s Progress, and there is a reason that the former is not anywhere near as well known as the latter. It uses the same style as Pilgrim’s Progress and the message is worthwhile, of course, but it is not nearly as effective. In The Secret Battle of Ideas About God Jeff Myers provides an update to the various worldview ideas presented in Summit Ministries’ Understanding the Times materials while interlacing accounts of his personal struggles. Stop Loving the World, by Puritan William Greenhill, addresses the problem of worldliness—and even greater problem now than when Greenhill wrote in the seventeenth century—and the biblical antidote to that sin. Joseph Stowell’s Radical Reliance is adequately summed up in the book’s subtitle, “Living 24/7 with Christ at the Center,” and his Simply Jesus is a concise book with much the same theme.

So, there’s another annual recap. When I ended last year’s Books in Review post I said that when it came time to write the next one I would hopefully have once again exceeded my goal of fifty books—which I did—and would maybe even have posted more than three times during the year—which I did not. Well, .500 is not bad, is it? And there’s always next year…

My Year in Books – 2018

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, and it did in 2018. I did not read fifty books during the year. It is the first time since 2007, when I started keeping track, that I did not make it. I finished the year with forty-five. As you can probably tell by the fact that I only blogged four times during 2018, and not at all since March 8, I have been a little busy.

But, as always, my reading for 2018 was mostly in the categories of theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

The first book I finished in 2018 is one I had started in 2017 and even mentioned in my 2017 book review post, Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”. I certainly do not agree with everything that Bovy said in the book but it is an enlightening look at the utter ridiculousness that is the ways in which we have endeavored to sanitize our own language and interactions (even our lives) in order to avoid possibly offending anyone. Everett Piper’s Not a Daycare and Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult also offer glimpses of the direction America has taken in recent years. Piper writes from the perspective of a college president and focuses on the trigger warnings and other such stupidity on college campuses. Sasse writes as a homeschooling parent who is also a U.S. senator and who wants his children to become responsible, capable adults. Some of his ideas are almost radical and will likely make parents with even a hint of cautiousness say, “No way!” but he has a lot worth considering.

Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family presents some interesting ways families can minimize the infiltration of technology into every aspect of their lives. Some people would likely find many of Crouch’s ideas akin to torture given the nearly inseparable way in which so many cling to their phones. Worth a read, for sure, if you sense that you and/or your children are finding it harder and harder to look each other in the eye and have an actual conversation. In The Flipside of Feminism Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly provide a conservative counter to feminism, arguing that women have actually become less happy despite all of changes that have come about through the feminist movement.

The first history book I read in 2018 was The Golden Age of Piracy. In it, Benerson Little seeks to debunk many of the most familiar images of piracy (walking the plank, flying the Jolly Roger, etc.) that we see in film and fiction and tell, instead, the true stories of some of the world’s most effective pirates. A recommended read for anyone interested in knowing more about pirates that Johnny Depp and friends will ever tell you. Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell is a fascinating look at the process which culminated in the installation of what we now know as the Statue of Liberty. Jack Kelly, in Heaven’s Ditch, weaves together accounts of the building of the Erie Canal, the founding or Mormonism and the devoted secrecy of the Masons in an engrossing read. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss looks at courageous acts and stands by two hundred years of American presidents, while David McCullough puts together decades of his speeches in one volume entitled The American Spirit. As someone who has enjoyed everything I have ever read by McCullough, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

In Defiant Brides Nancy Rubin Stuart simultaneously tells the life stories of Peggy Shippen, who went on to become Mrs. Benedict Arnold, and Lucy Flucker, who married Henry Knox, an important figure in the Revolutionary War and the Secretary of War under President George Washington. In A Kingdom Strange James Horn offers his take on Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony, more commonly known now as the Lost Colony, including his thoughts on what happened to the colonists who disappeared before Governor White could return.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo sat on my shelf for years before I finally read it. There is a reason why it was a National Book Award winner. It is a compelling look at life in a slum (what Boo calls an “undercity”) of Mumbai, just steps from an international airport and luxury hotels.

Susan Orlean, in The Library Book, simultaneously provides a look at the inner workings of a massive library system and tells the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library that damaged or destroyed more than one million books. This was a captivating read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

In biography, I first read Jon Kukla’s Patrick Henry. Kukla and I used to be neighbors, while he was the director of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, and I had been anticipating this book for some time. I had actually forgotten about it, though, until I saw it while browsing through a bookstore in Corolla, NC. It is well researched, well written, and a solid contribution to the expanding scholarship on one of America’s lesser-known founding fathers. I have fascinated by the story of Alvin York ever since I saw the Gary Cooper film as a child; thus, John Perry’s Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy was a delightful read. It tells the story of York’s heroism in World War I, but goes far beyond that, telling the story of York’s work after he returned home and the legacy he left for the people of the Tennessee hills.

After a visit to Hershey, PA, last summer I found myself wanting to know more about Milton Hershey. Michael D’Antonio provided that for me in his book Hershey. It is an intriguing read about an intriguing life. Meeting Sue Thomas last spring, and then visiting her last summer, caused me to want to know more about her story, as well, and her autobiography, Silent Night, provides an unvarnished look into her life. If all you know of Sue Thomas is the television series Sue Thomas: FBEye, you don’t know Sue Thomas!

Having watched the series Castle, I decided to finally try one of the books supposedly written by Richard Castle, Driving Heat. The book reads like the show. Somehow, that worked for me as a television show but not as a book. Breaking Point is part of Dana Haynes’ series on airplane crash investigators, though it is the first one I have read. It was interesting overall, though parts of the conclusion were like the ending of so many movies—taken too far. The Promise by Robert Crais is a typical Crais novel, but it has the irritating feature of including a number of chapters told from the perspective of a police dog. In Under a Silent Moon Elizabeth Haynes (no relation to Dana, that I know of) introduces Louisa Smith, a Detective Chief Inspector tasked with solving two seemingly unrelated murders. Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun is another book that sat on my shelf for years. Set in South Africa, it shows how a single act, in a moment of passion, impacts so many people. Jhumpa Lahiri, in The Namesake, tells the story of immigrants from India making successful lives for themselves in the U.S., and how the definition of success for their children looks different than that for their parents.

The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson is exactly what you would expect from a James Patterson Alex Cross novel. Likewise, The Blood Promise and The Paris Librarian are just what you would expect from Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston novels.  The Reckoning by John Grisham was one of his better books, I thought. It is very different from most of what he has written before, though it takes place in a familiar setting. Like The House Gun it clearly shows the impact a single decision can have on so many lives. Jeffrey Archer’s Heads You Win was another good read in typical Archer-style. It could easily become a series; I guess we’ll see. Daniel Silva continues to impress me in the second of  his books I’ve read, The Other Woman. And of course, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, is a story many people think they know. Suffice it to say that if you have only seen the musical and/or the recent film adaptation, you do not really know the story.

Sing! By Keith and Kristyn Getty is a short book, easy to read, but does a wonderful job explaining the importance of singing in giving praise to God. I would recommend this book for every pastor and worship leader. Jonathan Leeman’s Word Centered Church is a good reminder about the singular importance of Scripture in churches. Donald Whitney’s Family Worship is also a short, easy to read book with good tips for developing family worship times. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson has some good parts and some good reminders for those who may struggle with frustration when they just cannot seem to get the Christian life “right” consistently, but I am not a fan of the smug, smart-alecky, and even sometimes snarky asides that Wilson felt it necessary to include throughout the book. I find this to be an unwelcome trend among too many contemporary, “next-generation” Christian authors.

But there is nothing smug or snarky in R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. There is a reason this is considered a classic work and perhaps Sproul’s best out of the scores of books he wrote. It is recommended reading for every believer. In The Great Omission Dallas Willard addresses the importance of making disciples of all nations, the last command Jesus gave before His ascension. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to God is a magnificent exposition of Isaiah 53. Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson provides some helpful guidance for those seeking to know God’s leading in their lives. Barnabas Piper’s The Curious Christian is a wonderful reminder of the importance of wonder in our lives. If you have read anything by Ken Ham before then not much in Gospel Reset will be new to you, but there are good reminders in the book about the importance of foundations. In Expository Exultation John Piper clearly explains that preaching is worship and he provides terrific guidance for preachers on sermon preparation and delivery. Highly recommended for any pastor.

That’s it for my 2018 recap. I hope you enjoyed my quick overview of my year in books. If you have book recommendations I would love to hear them; please write a comment or send me a message. Hopefully, when the time comes to write next year’s post, I will once again have surpassed my annual goal of fifty books. And just maybe I will have posted more than three times in the interim!

My Year in Books – 2017

Somehow in a year that has perhaps found me busier than ever, I managed to read more books that I have since 2012, finishing the year with 59. Apparently, books are still both my inspiration and my relaxation, my motivation and my escape, the best means of broadening my mind and giving it a break.

As always, my reading for 2017 was primarily in these categories: theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

Having said that, I do usually indicate which book was the first one I finished in a year, and last year that honor goes to Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila. I have seen the movie Windtalkers and I mention the code talkers every year in my U.S. History course, so I found this book very interesting. The way of life for many of the Navajo boys growing up is hard to imagine—and then for those same boys to willingly serve in the armed forces of a country that had not treated their people well historically or personally is something difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Imagine being told that you cannot speak your native tongue in school—to the point of being physically punished for doing so—and then being asked by the government to use that same prohibited tongue to develop a code that the enemy could not crack. I cannot help but think that my natural inclination would be something along the lines of “no thanks,” although probably not quite that polite. The way in which the code was developed, the speed with which it enabled messages to be communicated and the accuracy the code demonstrated over the course of the war is incredible.

This post will be about 13,000 words long if I devote that much time to each of the books I read last year, so I better transition to shorter summaries and opinions—for my sake and yours.

I will start with history. I read Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, which I would recommend as reading for anyone interested in espionage during the Revolutionary War and particularly for anyone who has also watched the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. (Another excellent book for anyone in either of those categories would be Tim McNeese’s Revolutionary Spies: Intelligence and Espionage in America’s First War).

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse by Eric Jay Dolin was a fascinating look at what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper but also at what it took to build a lighthouse. I have long been interested in both lighthouses and keepers but I had never given all that much thought to what it took to build the lights. Dolin’s book served only to confirm my notion that other than those individuals with a particular interest in lighthouses, the importance of the lights and the keepers is an often-ignored aspect of American history that really should be more well-known. Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York is a compelling narrative about the island purchased from the Native Americans by Peter Minuit in the early seventeenth century became the largest city in the U.S. and a magnet for immigrants from around the world.

Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women is another gripping read. This one tells the stories of women in early twentieth century America who worked in factories applying radium paint to watch dials—only no one grasps the dangers of ingesting radium, which these women do through the process of pointing their brushes. Indeed, they find themselves covered with radium dust, literally glowing when they go home each evening. This is another often-ignored part of American history, one I had never even heard of until seeing a one-act play based on the story last winter and then acting in a full-length version of the same play. Moore’s book has more than five hundred five-star ratings on Amazon, which should serve as proof positive that it is not a dry historical narrative.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is far more than a sports story. It is a look into the realities of life during the Great Depression, the rivalries and attention given to collegiate rowing—a sport a distinct minority of people likely pay any attention to—and the politics of the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany. I highly recommend this book.

John Eisenberg’s The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record is a great read for baseball fans in general and Gehrig or Ripken fans in particular.

I read Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower in February. I had not read it since my sophomore year of high school, though I have thought of it and referenced it often in the interim. Anyone interested in thought provoking contemplation of forgiveness should read this book.

Condoleezza Rice’s Democracy is a unique look at attempts—some successful, others not—for democracy around the world, including some front row perspective from this former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. Rice offers a look at America, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Kenya, Colombia and the Middle East, as well as chapters on authoritarians and on what democracy must offer in order to take root.  The New York Times said, “Both supporters and skeptics of democracy promotion will come away from this book wiser and better informed,” and I agree.

Mindy Belz, editor and Middle East reporter for WORLD, wrote They Say We Are Infidels, and it provides a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle East among those persecuted by ISIS. It is riveting, saddening, aggravating and infuriating, and a book I strongly recommend for anyone who wants a deeper perspective on this conflict than that offered by the nightly news.

In the autobiography/biography genre last year I read some contemporary first offerings by names very-well-known and some not-quite-so-well-known, second go-rounds by entertainers now in their nineties, an insightful look at a couple of classic American entertainers now both deceased, and a looks at two influential men in Christian history, who died nearly 500 years ago and another who died 280 years ago.

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show is an insightful look at the lives of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, before that classic American TV show, during their time together working on it, and after. A word of caution: if you are not prepared to see Griffith and Knotts as they were in real life, preferring instead to think of them always as their affable Mayberry characters, don’t read this book.

Tony Bennett’s Just Getting Started and Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving are the two second go-rounds I referred to above. In reality it is Bennett’s third go-round, as he wrote The Good Life in 1998, but I have not read that one. I did read 2012’s Life Is a Gift, and the 2017 offering mostly recounts the people who influenced Bennett and taught him the lessons he described in 2012. Having turned 91 in August it is certainly unlikely that Bennett really is “just getting started,” but his output does not seem to be slowing down any. In 2011 Van Dyke wrote My Luck Life In and Out of Show Business. In 2017 he followed up with Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging. It is an engaging and humorous book that does offer insights into growing old, though Van Dyke still seems to have the energy and enthusiasm of a kid. Some of his insights on life are very insightful indeed. Some of his thoughts on politics are misguided but not surprising for someone who has spent most of his life among the Hollywood entertainment crowd. His thoughts on faith and what happens after death are confused at best, and saddening for those who have read the 2011 book and know that racism within it is what drove Van Dyke out of the church in the 1960s. But anyone who loves ice cream has to love Van Dyke’s recommended daily helping (with chocolate sauce). Van Dyke, who just turned 92 last month, is married to his second wife (though he had a long relationship that never culminated in marriage with a third woman) and she is 45 years his junior. Bennett is married to his third wife and she is 40 years younger than he. Thankfully there are other seasoned celebrities with long-lasting marriages (92 year old Angela Lansbury was married for 54 years before her husband died in 2003, for example; 87 year old Sean Connery has been married for 42 years and Kirk Douglas, who turned 101 last year, has been married for 63 years, just to name a few) to counter anyone supposing that the secret to Bennett and Van Dyke’s longevity is young spouses!

Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More is well-written. It tells her story as a successful attorney deciding she wanted to do something else—namely, the news business—and how she has persevered and found success in both careers. If for absolutely no other reason, the book’s section on the conflict that emerged between Kelly and Donald Trump after Kelly’s questioning of Trump during the presidential debate provides an inside look at how difficult life can be for someone who appears to have it made when our perspective is limited to their daily time on television. I have met Olympic champion Shannon Miller, so my interest in her book It’s Not About Perfect was a combination of sports fan and personal interest. The book does, of course, tell about Miller’s growing up, training and Olympic success, but it also describes struggles in her personal life and her successful fight against ovarian cancer. Missy Franklin’s Relentless Spirit was written before the Rio Olympics, which certainly did not go the way she would have liked, but it is not written as simply the story of an impressive athlete. While it does include some of that, this book is Missy and her parents talking about sports, childrearing, family and faith.

Lauren Green is the Religion Correspondent for Fox News though, to my knowledge, I have never seen her on television. She is also an accomplished pianist. But her book Lighthouse Faith Green frequently references her pastor Tim Keller and seeks to answer the question of how to have a personal relationship with God in a world, as she describes it, “immersed in fog.” Some of Green’s insights are spot-on. Others tend to ecumenism. Rebekah Gregory was a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing and eventually lost her left leg below the knee after scores of medical procedures and surgeries. Her five-year-old son was sitting just in front of the standing Gregory at the finish line when the bomb went off behind her; fortunately, she took the brunt of the blast and her son suffered only minor injuries. She tells this story, along with the lessons she learned through the experience as well as the rest of her life, and how she has come to realize that God is ultimately in control, in her book Taking My Life Back.

Since 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation I thought it appropriate to read a biography of Martin Luther. I chose Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand, originally published in 1950, which TIME called “easily the most readable Luther biography in English” and R.C. Sproul called “an inspiring summary of the life of the great reformer.” George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life is a comprehensive biography (more than 600 pages with small print) that provides insight into Edwards as well as his time and place. I also read J.W. Hanson’s The Life and Works of the World’s Greatest Evangelist: Dwight L. Moody. This book was republished in 2015 but it was originally published in 1900, and the copy I read was printed not too long after that. A friend came across it and loaned it to me to read.

For theology and Christian living my 2017 reading included several books. Carolyn McCulley’s Radical Womanhood examines the three waves of feminism and how each has attacked God’s design for womanhood, giving readers a clear presentation of the complementarian position. Courtney Reissig’s The Accidental Feminist is another excellent book along the same lines, identifying how the feminist movement has influenced the entire culture whether we readily recognize it or not, and seeking to restore a correct, and joyful, understanding of God’s design.

I read two books by Carter Conlon, lead pastor of Times Square Church, The 180° Christian and Fear Not. The subtitle of the first book is “Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess” and that gives you an idea of what the book is about. Conlon examines the church in Corinth and the self-centeredness that infected that body. He then suggests that twenty-first century America is not much different, calling on the church to do a 180 and live lives instead focused on serving others. Pastoring in Times Square, Conlon has a perspective on this that few others will have. Fear Not addresses the many ways that Satan tries to put fear and doubt into the hearts and minds of believers, reminding readers that perfect love casts out fear.

Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Is subtitled Making Sense of the Old Testament God, and that is what Copan attempts to do here. I do not agree with all of Copan’s conclusions but the book does offer unique insight into what often seems like a God of wrath and even hatred in the Old Testament, seemingly conflicting with the New Testament God. Richard Phillips argues that the five points of Calvinism are comforting in his short book, What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? But unless you are a committed five-point Calvinist you will likely come away from the book thinking something along the lines of “not much.” In None Other John MacArthur shows how to study Scripture to discover who God really is. This, too, is a short book and not theologically complex.

In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith shows how easily we may be led astray from worshipping God and God alone. The book’s subtitle is The Spiritual Power of Habit, and initially I did not see the book in that light, but Smith ultimately is asking readers to evaluate whether they really love what they think—and say—they love, which is often revealed in habits, so the subtitle fits.

Jacquelle Crow is in the last of her teen years, so her book This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years has an extra level of authenticity for teenager readers. It is a book along the lines of Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris or Totally Infatuated by Jacqueline Pierre. It is short but full of rich truth and I would recommend it for any teenager.

In Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias calls for an abandonment of relativism and tolerance and a return to biblical truth. R. Albert Mohler, in We Cannot Be Silent, takes that a step further and calls on Christians to embrace biblical truth and to engage the culture with that truth.

Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond is about exactly that and provides valuable insight for parents. Charles Swindoll’s A Life Well Lived is a short book drawing lessons from the book of Micah. J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology is exactly that, proving short (usually two to three page) chapters on almost one hundred questions about theology. There are a handful of those questions on which Packer and I do not agree, but it is a user-friendly and easy to read introduction or overview to theology. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges is a book I have read before and will likely read again. There is a reason this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It is a succinct look at what holiness look like in everyday life. Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem provides a Lucado-esque look at the promises of Christmas. Lucado reminds readers that Christ was born to die—the Christmas is only the beginning of what culminates with Easter. I read this book a week or so after I preached a message on the humble birth and life of Christ, focusing in large part on Philippians 2, a passage I had never heard anyone use in a Christmas sermon, and found that Lucado too thinks it is a beautiful encapsulation of the Christmas message.

John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is addressed at pastors and is specifically a caution to them to avoid seeking to be culturally relevant and “professional” at the expense of being biblically relevant and God-centered. Mark Dever’s Discipling is a short book and easy read and it is relevant for any pastor or lay leader but also anyone interested in what discipleship means. There is a reason why John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is considered a classic. In it, this seventeenth century Puritan addresses how to deal with the sin nature, focusing primarily on Romans 8.

Andrew Telford’s Subjects of Sovereignty is a book I found among those I received from my grandfather’s collection after he passed away. It is short and I could not find a publication date in it, though Amazon tells me it was published in 1971. Apparently Telford pastored in Pennsylvania, and I am guessing my grandfather must have met him, as the book is signed. I appreciated much of what Telford had to say about adoption, predestination, election and foreknowledge. In seeking to learn more about Telford I found an excerpt of this book published on the site of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, and I definitely do not consider myself an Arminian. Further reason why I am not a fan of labels in general of Calvinism and Arminianism in particular.

Last, and perhaps least, are the works of fiction I read in 2017. I always seem to read James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2017 was no exception. In Cross the Line Patterson continues the Alex Cross saga, this time putting his wife Bree into leadership position and creating some strain in their relationship as they seek to solve the latest crime spree in D.C. The Black Book, written by Patterson and David Ellis, is a stand-alone novel that centers around a cop who loses his memory after being shot but finds himself charged with a double murder. It is an interesting read with plenty of plot twists and an ending that I did not see coming. Haunted was written by Patterson and James Born and is the tenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series. This one finds the Bennett clan vacationing in Maine in a small town that is, of course, caught up in serious drug crime and a local law enforcement officer/former Bennett partner needing Bennett’s assistance.

Baldacci’s No Man’s Land continues his John Puller series and in this book Puller and his brother seek to find out the truth of what happened to their mother. Grisham’s Camino Island was an intentionally different style for Grisham and I found it enjoyable, in no small part because it includes a look into the world of rare books and independent book shops. It does include casual sex but not as explicitly as Gray Mountain. The Rooster Bar, also by Grisham, returns to the classic Grisham model—simultaneously spotlighting the evils of for-profit law schools and the lost-in-the-shuffle madness that poor individuals find themselves facing when they are charged with a crime while also creating an outrageous but just-maybe-possible story of a few law students who profit from that madness and rake in lots of cash—temporarily. Jeffrey Archer’s Tell Tale is a collection of short stories that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Button Man by Mark Pryor is a Hugo Marston novel and a prequel to The Bookseller, which I enjoyed. The Heist is the first of Daniel Silva’s books I have read and it is part of his Gabriel Allon series. It combines espionage and art, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Silva. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas is set in Victorian England. This book read like a blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alex Grecian. Opening Moves by Steven James is part of his Bowers Files series, but it is the first James novel I have read. This one is set around 1997 Milwaukee with a series of copycat crimes going on, including copying Jeffrey Dahmer. The story is well told and even, I suppose, riveting, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings tells the dual story of Sarah Grimké (and her sister Angelina) and Sarah’s slave “Handful.” The story is fictional, but Grimké was real—and she became a passionate abolitionist and member of the woman’s suffrage movement, despite coming from a prominent slave-holding family in Charleston. Kidd is a great story teller, and the book is engaging. It also provides a description of a (real) method of slave punishment I was not previously familiar with, something called a treadmill. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is a return to the town of Gilead, though I have not read Robinson’s novel by that title, and it tells the story of a homeless girl named Lila who marries the local minister. It is an interesting read and provides unique insights into small town life, a Christian worldview and marriage. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Brittania Road tells the story of Polish refugees in England after World War II, including the challenges of rekindling a marriage separated for years by war and of the impacts of war on not just soldiers but women and children—impacts felt long after the war is over.

I think that just about wraps it up. As usual, there are two or three other books I read that did not make it into the review because I did not have much to say about them or they did not fit neatly into these categories. I do want to mention briefly, though, a couple of books that I cannot include in the formal review above because I haven’t read them in their entirety so they are not included in my 59 books for 2017. First is Michael Burlingame’s two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I read most of these two volumes last summer while I was taking a course on Lincoln and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln. Burlingame has done extensive research and the provides great insight into Abraham Lincoln the man, as well as into Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd and his time as president.

Second is Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”, which I am actually in the middle of reading right now, so it will likely be included more fully in next year’s annual review. The book is subtitled Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage and is addressed at the silliness of using the word “privilege” to shut down debate, and is among The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2017. As I said, I am halfway through it (almost exactly), but I cannot help pointing out my fondness for a line on page 84 of the book. After quoting an article in which the authors write “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses. Why not teach incoming students how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy?” Bovy writes, “Or: Why not teach incoming students? (Period. The end.)” I love it….

I hope 2017 found you with ample time to read as well. Perhaps something above will prompt you to pick up one of these books to read it for yourself. Until next year’s annual review, I leave you with this thought from Henry Ward Beecher, one I find to be painfully true for myself: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

Church Convictions

This Friday will be the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. As always, inauguration day will include a number of festivities and many “big names” will be involve din various ways. One of those who will not be involved, however, is Charlotte Church.

Church is a Welsh singer who became well known at the young age for her incredible voice. Her first album was released the year Church turned 12. The album sold millions and made Church the youngest person to ever have a number one album on the British crossover charts. She released a “best of” album at the ripe old age of 16. I would think it would be fair to call Church the Jackie Evancho of the early 2000s. (That comparison is appropriate in another way too, as will be seen shortly). About a dozen years Church made it known that was transitioning to pop music and, to be honest, I do not remember the last time I head anything about her until last week. I own all of her early CDs and enjoy them. I was shocked to discover that she is now 30 years old! Apparently she has still been performing and recording since I lost track of her but, also apparently, not in a manner or style I would much care for.

So what brought Church into the news last week? She was invited to perform for the Trump inauguration–and she very publicly declined. On January 10 Church tweeted to Trump, “Your staff have asked me to sing at your inauguration, a simple Internet search would show I think you’re a tyrant. Bye.” The Huffington Post took Church’s suggestion and did a simple internet search. They found a December 2015 tweet saying calling Trump, “A Sith death eater…….and an amoeba. I really, really detest him.” On a British talk show in 2016 she said, “I don’t hate anybody, but I hate that man.”

Those remarks would actually make it seem rather odd that Church would even be invited by the Trump team.

Church, of course, is not the only performer to have said no to performing for the inauguration. According to a January 15 article in Business Insider these artists have also reportedly declined invitations: Elton John, Céline Dion, Garth Brooks, Kiss, Moby, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster and Rebecca Ferguson. Half of these names, by the way, beg the question of why someone who campaigned on the motto “Make American Great Again” would even invite them. Does the United States really not enough of its own musical talent that British, Canadian, Italian and Welsh performers need to be imported? Not that I have any objection to international talent, mind you, it just seems odd to invite them to sing at the inauguration of the U.S. president. I guess I have never thought about it before, but I do not picture U.S. artists being invited to perform for the inauguration or coronation of other nations’ leaders. (This is not unique to Trump, of course. Barack Obama’s inauguration included Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montero–a Chinese-American born in Paris, an Israeli-American and a Venezuelan now residing in Spain).

None of this is the point of the post anyway. The point is that Church and the others have exercised their right not to provide services on behalf or in celebration of a person they do not like and/or disagree with–strongly, it would appear. If I were Charlotte Church and I believed that Donald Trump was a tyrant then I would decline too. In fact, if nothing else, I respect Church and friends for standing by their convictions and not accepting an invitation to perform at a very visible and, I imagine, very well compensated event because of their stance regarding the individual being inaugurated. After all, performing at the inauguration would imply approval of Trump, or at least an acceptance. Her voice is Charlotte Church’s business, it is how she makes her living, it is, in a manner of speaking, the service she provides. Still, though, it is hers and she should have the right to decide when, where and for whom to sing, should she not? Besides, it is not like there are not other performers who can provide songs for the inauguration. Garth Brooks said no but Toby Keith said yes. Charlotte Church said no but Jackie Evancho said yes. And so it goes.

Here is the question though, and the real reason for this post: why is it okay for a musical artist to say no to a request from (or on behalf of) the president-elect of the United States, to perform at one of the most unique and meaningful events in our republic, but it is not okay for a baker to decline to make a cake or a hotel to decline to host an event or a printer to decline to print t-shirts?  We have all heard the accounts of individuals who did these things, and others, because their convictions are that homosexual marriage is wrong. Accordingly, they did not want to participate in or appear to approve of homosexual marriage ceremonies (or other events that violated their conscience and/or religious belief). It is not like there are not other bakers who can make cakes, florists who can provide flowers, hotels that can host events and printers that can print t-shirts or flyers or whatever, so why cannot those individuals who would have to violate their conscience in order to comply with the request act in accordance with their beliefs? Does someone have to rise to the level of celebrity to have these rights? Does there need to be a track record in the Twitter-sphere of one’s objections to a lifestyle or belief? Sadly, the truth is more along the lines of someone has to be opposing what is seen as acceptable and right by the liberal left, the collective of people who celebrate tolerance and inclusion but fail to practice the same when it comes to them being tolerant of those who not agree with them.

Aaron and Melissa Klein were bakers in Oregon who chose not to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding. The resulting publicity, fines and court cases cost them $135,000 and their business. What will their choice cost Charlotte Church, Elton John or Garth Brooks? I think it is safe to say it will cost them nothing. In fact, the media publicity for them has been positive, praising them for refusing to perform for Trump. (On the other hand, there has been media attention toward Evancho that is questionable and even negative in light of the fact that she has chosen to perform despite having a transgender “sister”).

An article in the December 31, 2016 issue of WORLD entitled “Fair of foul?” examines legislation targeted at including sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in non-discrimination policies and laws. According to the article there is a split among some evangelical leaders over whether such legislation should always be opposed or whether it should be supported so long as there is religious exemptions in the law. I come down on the side of it being always opposed. Religious exemptions, after all, usually only apply to businesses, not individuals, and even then usually only to businesses of a certain size. In a statement issued December 14, 2016 more than six dozen religious leaders expressed their opposition to SOGI laws of any kind. Why? “They argue that SOGI laws violate privacy rights and freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association….” Quite right.

So again, if the convictions of a Church (namely, Charlotte) can allow her to decline a invitation to sing for a presidential inauguration, why cannot the convictions someone learned at church (namely, Bible-believing and teaching churches) not also be respected? What do we gain from making something do something against their will after all? Nothing of value. Nothing we should really want to gain in the first place. If Charlotte, Andrea, Elton and Garth can act according to their convictions, Aaron and Melissa should be able to do the same thing. Anything else is simply intolerant.