Book Reviews

Reading List for August, 2022: Some Philosophy, Some Fantasy, Some History…

Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

After reviewing the first few “Wheel of Time” books individually, I decided to wait and do a review of the entire series after I had finished it. At the outset, I feel the need to explain my reading process. Given that each one of these books HUGE, the question could legitimately be asked “how did you ever find time to read all that?” These days my fiction “reading” has been relegated to audio books that I consume mostly while driving. And I have been doing a LOT of driving of late.

So now…on to the books.

The Story

The series follows generally the trajectory of five youths, Rand, Mat, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Perrin, as they are uprooted from their rural village and set on a course where each of them are instrumental in saving the world from the power of the Dark One. Along the way we watch their characters develop and their abilities increase. We also meet a host (like, hundreds upon hundreds) of other characters, many of whom have their own stories developed in great detail.

The Writing

Robert Jordan is without a doubt a master of the fantasy genre. His world-building is on a par with Brandon Sanderson (who actually wrote the last three books, but more on that later). The only quibble I have in this regard is the lack of linguistic diversity. The nations of his world, fragmented after a great “breaking”, have somehow managed to maintain linguistic unity (separated only by distinguishable accents) for around three thousand years. Even the Seanchan, separated as they are by an ocean, speak their own language. There is an “Old Tongue”, but that seems to have little bearing on current speech (unlike, say, Latin or Greek to our own languages today). Despite that slight defect, Jordan did an outstanding job detailing customs, dress, festivals, history, and psychology of the many nations that make up his world.

One common critique of Jordan’s writing is that he goes into a lot of detail on minutia. This is absolutely true…and at times makes the books a little frustrating. I don’t know how many times I growled “just get on with it” at the dashboard of the car as I sat in traffic. Yet, the last book brings the whole thing together in a crashing finale that had me at the edge of my seat. It was totally worth slogging through the middle books.

Another complaint I have is one I also have, to a greater or lesser degree, with most modern fantasy writers: he at times feels the need to delve into the risqué. This adds nothing to the story. In fact it detracts from it greatly. Tolkien was able to write his monumental works without ever going there, and people still enjoy what he wrote. I don’t see why his modern descendants have to diverge from his pattern.

The Last Three Books

Jordan died before he was able to bring the Wheel of Time epic to a close. He did, however, leave extensive notes, and his estate made the very wise decision to call renowned fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to complete the saga. They could not have made a better choice. I have read all of Sanderson’s Cosmere books (to tell the truth, I only picked up WoT to pass the time while I awaited the next Sanderson book to be published), so I was anxious to see how this would pan out. Would he be able to take up the mantle and bring Jordan’s work to an adequate close?

Not only did he bring it to an adequate close, he made it better. How is that even possible? I don’t know. I just know I never had to growl at my mp3 player at all during those last three books. And the grand finale? Unbelievably intense.

So here’s my current rating of fantasy series:

1. Lord of the Rings
2. Mistborn (Cosmere)
3. Chronicles of Narnia
4. Wax and Wayne (technically an extension of Mistborn, Cosmere)
5. Stormlight Archive (Cosmere)
6. Wheel of Time

From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest by T.Z. Levine

Since beginning my philosophy classes at the university, I have felt acutely two deficiencies: 1) ignorance of the overarching history of philosophy, and 2) a lack of knowledge of the main concepts of some of the major philosophers. A teacher will say “of course here he is borrowing from Kant” and my eyes will glaze over. I wish I could understand, but, well…I Kant. (sorry)

With that in mind, between semesters I picked up “From Socrates to Sartre, the Philosophic Quest” by T. Z. Lavine. This was a good investment in time and effort. Lavine traces philosophic thought from Ancient Greece up until the late 1980s (the book was written before the fall of the Berlin Wall), and shows how the major philosophers interacted with each other and reacted to each other. I came away from the reading with a basic grasp of the arch of philosophic history and thought.

Another advantage to this book is that the author apparently has no philosophical axe to grind. He presents each philosopher’s thoughts fairly, and challenges them on the points where they can be challenged. I enjoyed this aspect of the book immensely.

Highly recommended for those whose philosophical curiosity has been piqued.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

I just finished the first book of the Wingfeather series – “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” – and one word keeps coming back to me: “delightful”. This was simply a very fun read. A great story-line, and surprisingly good world-building, are skillfully mixed with a highly-developed sense of whimsy that made this book a pleasure to read.

You might get this to read to your kids, but you will find yourself enjoying it as much as they do, if not more. I have the second book in the series ready to go in my Audible app.

Who Chose the Books of the New Testament by D.A. Carson

I picked up “Who Chose the Books of the New Testament” as part of reading I’m doing for an upcoming Church History course. It’s short (60 some pages), but packed with good information. With Christian students on secular campuses in mind, D.A. Carson blows apart modern narratives regarding the formation of the canon of scripture. The book contains a study guide, and a helpful list of resources at the end. It is part of a series called “Questions for Restless Minds“.

If you are a college student facing these kinds of questions from professors or peers, or are just curious about the subject in general, I recommend this book as a good starting point.

North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

If my impression of the first Wingfeather Saga book could be characterized by one word – “delightful” – then that of the second book, “North! or be Eaten” can be characterized by four: “Well, that escalated quickly.”

While maintaining some of the whimsical nature of the first (toothy cows, anyone?) this next installment of the series gets real serious, real fast. Whether purposefully or not, the author in his fantasy reflects the dark nature of the evil of this world, which specifically targets children for mutilation and destruction.

Don’t see this as a negative review, however. There’s a lot to love about this book, and I think it’s a worthy sequel to the first.

Just…buckle your seat belts.

The Age of Entitlement by Christopher Caldwell

In his book “The Age of Entitlement” author and journalist Christopher Caldwell blows up one sacred cow after another. The Reagan years? Not as great as conservatives think. The end of the Cold War? Probably better for the Left than it was for the right. But all of these (and more) are incidental to the Sacred Cow of all sacred cows that he is after: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Throughout the book he demonstrates how the sweeping changes made to US law have brought us to the government overreach, the polarization, and the economic crisis we face today. His proposal, which he supports with page upon page of examples, is that the Civil Rights Act essentially set up a parallel constitution, and that the national divide is between the followers of the new constitution and the old. Except that the proponents of the new constitution wield all the levers of power, and winning elections is increasingly irrelevant to how the nation is actually governed.

I highly recommend reading this book…but with a note of warning: you won’t feel good about it. Unless you are part of the new (since the 60’s) entitled class – then you will probably feel very good about it indeed.


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