Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Traitor to His Class

by H.W. Brands

The only reason I hesitate to say this is the best presidential biography I've read is because it's been so long since I've read some of the others and I don't trust my memory. Professor Brands has written a highly enjoyable book. He starts out recounting the events of Roosevelt's morning on December 7th 1941, intercut with vignettes from Pearl Harbor and the surrounding seas. In the process he mentions some of the things Roosevelt had done, giving a picture of what his presidency had accomplished and where it stood with the American people. The prologue ends with the opening words of Roosevelt's address to Congress on December 8th. Not that I needed it, but it made quite an appetizer for the full biography.

I ended up going through the book at a pretty good pace. Professor Brands painted an informative and engaging picture of Franklin Roosevelt and the events of his life. Of course, both Roosevelt and the current events of his life make fascinating subject matter. While the overall tone is positive, Brands doesn't hesitate to point out the points where Roosevelt erred or was less than honorable. I often ask myself, as I read through these presidential bios, if I would vote for the man I'm reading about. I can see myself having many reservations with Franklin Roosevelt. He was very much a politician, never hesitating to employ some spin or play to his audience. But his presidency had so much influence on the America I grew up in--what I think of as "normal"--I can't help but see myself casting my vote for him despite any reservations. In fact, I'd even be tempted to award the man, at least as presented in this biography, the title of America's greatest president to date. He had the character to lead the country through two of the biggest crises in our history and, for good or ill, accomplished an incredible amount during his long administration.

I may have to get a copy for my shelf.
LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett

Every so often I feel compelled to pick up and read a classic book--some tome that is either considered a great work of literature or has at least left its mark on our culture. I felt that impulse recently when I saw a copy of The Maltese Falcon and decided to pick it up. As I read Mr. Hammett's tale of San Francisco detective Sam Spade, I had a fleeting thought that the characters, setting, and story seemed somewhat stereotypical. But then I realized that it was probably because I had already seen multiple parodies, knock-offs, and homages that Falcon had inspired. (Not the least of which was the 1941 film adaption.) But familiarity aside, the characters, setting, and story were quite entertaining and well worth checking out.

LibraryThing link

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

White Rage

by Carol Anderson, PhD

This book made me angry.* Dr. Anderson puts forth the idea that, since the Civil War, every time the African American community has made an advancement towards equality it's been met with a push back from white Americans, trying to take away those gains. She backs her thesis up with numerous examples of truly disgusting actions by everyone from working class mobs to the highest levels of government.

The book was hard to read. The anecdotes from history generated outrage, and there was no outlet. There were no "happy endings" offered where justice was done, where the good guys were rescued, the bad guys punished, or lessons were learned. Nor did Dr. Anderson offer up a plan of action, any hope that the cycle would end. But then, how many African Americans have had to live with that hopelessness over the centuries? I'm glad my wife pushed me to read the book and I hope I can keep its lessons in mind as I see events unfold around me. Who knows? Maybe I'll get an opportunity to push back against the push back some day.

 Definitely, check it out!
LibraryThing link
* Is that a cheap gag? I'm sure it is. But it's the best hook I could think of.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Book of Three

by Lloyd Alexander

First read in June of 2005.

Check it out.
LibraryThing link

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Sunday, July 30, 2017


edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer

I first heard about this one on the late, lamented Unshelved Book Club. The description of this collection of science fiction stories reminded me of the stories from the 50s and 60s that were my introduction to the genre--stories that optimistically presented a future where science opened the door to wonder, adventure, and a better way of life. This is a collection of modern tales that tries to capture that same spirit. ("No dystopias allowed," as the reviewer phrased it) Unlike the tales of my youth, the stories were very Earth-centric. There was only one that spent a lot of time in space. Instead, these tales explored things like the environmental and social realms of science. And they did it very well, capturing the sense of wonder which enticed me all those years ago. Check it out!

LibraryThing link

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Friday, July 07, 2017

The Benedict Option

by Rod Dreher

So the last few months the phrase "Benedict Option" kept popping up in various blog posts and podcasts I've been consuming. The impression I got was that "The Benedict Option" was a theory that, a) religious conservatives have lost the culture war in America, and b) they should stop trying looking for a political solution and instead just go to ground and nurture their faith in their families and communities. That intrigued me. I was reminded of Harlan Ellison's introduction to Stalking the Nightmare, where the protagonist hides out from an oppressive government and secretly tells stories to pass on his ideals to the next generation. It was a image that's stuck with me through the years, so I figured I'd get in line at the library and check it out to see what exactly Mr. Dreher had in mind.

He starts by laying out the problem: In the U.S., government has become secularly nihilist and the culture has turned against traditional Christians. As a whole, the church in the America is kind of clueless regarding how to respond. Many of us grew up with popular culture telling us we were the good guys. What do we do now that it's telling us the opposite?

Cue The Benedict Option. The Benedict Option is not some new, Purpose DrivenĀ® plan compete with its own merchandise. It's rather a way of life based on the Rule of St. Benedict, started 1500 years ago after the fall of Rome. Mr. Dreher recommends that Christians put their own house in order, to stop being driven by the dominant culture but instead building our lives around things like prayer, work, community, and hospitality. By infusing ourselves and our lives with such values, Christians can at the very least preserve the truly important things in our culture for ourselves and our future generations. Mr. Dreher then goes on to show how the Benedict Option plays out in the areas of politics, the church, the community, education, and our labor. He then calls the reader to "think radically different about the two most powerful forces shaping and driving modern life: sex and technology."

My response to The Benedict Option is mixed. I pretty much agree with Mr. Dreher's assessment of our modern culture and the need to be apart from it. When it comes to the details, some of the ideas he suggests, like homeschooling, I've done for years. Others, however, I have to question. For me, one of the biggest flaws of the book is its dedication to Western Culture. At one point, while speaking on education, he uses the phrase "the canonical Western texts". That raised a red flag for me. I want to live out and preserve Christian values, and I see those coming from the Bible, not some larger collection of Western literature. Certainly, Western Europe has produced many great teachers and theologians that are worth studying. But I wonder if one couldn't also build up a solid Christian community within some other cultural tradition. Would, say, a Confucian Christendom be any less valuable than the Greco-Roman Christendom of our heritage?

My other beef with the book, ironically, was that it didn't seem religious enough. Mr. Dreher speaks a lot about things people can do, things people should do, but not so much about what God is doing. I found chapter 3, where he speaks of the Benedictine Rule and the spirituality of the monastery Norcia, to be delightful and uplifting. But then in chapter 4, "A New Kind of Christian Politics", it's like he changed gears and is all about trying to regain some control in our communities. It's funny--at one point he says, "The deeper our roots in the past, the more secure our anchor against the swift currents of liquid modernity." It occurred to me that of all the stories in the Bible involving boats, I could only think of one that mentioned anchors. And in that tale, Acts chapter 27, they ended up cutting free of them.

I suppose in the end, I was expecting The Benedict Option to be words from a theological perspective but instead found words from a political one. Oh, well. I can't deny they are words worth reading and ideas worth wrestling with.

LibraryThing link


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blue Shoes and Happiness

by Alexander McCall Smith

Another book in the series--number seven, to be specific. There are only a few cases in this volume. Mma Ramotswe looks into food theft, blackmail, and unspoken dread at the Mokolodi Game Reserve. The rest of the book is filled up with the relationship issues between various characters. All in all it makes for amusing waiting room material.

LibraryThing link

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