It’s the end of the year, time to finish up some reading projects, and cram in a couple others.

An Introduction to Greek Philosophy (Great Courses) by David Roochnik

I’m just going to come out and say it…online classes are horrible.

Not only does the medium limit the scope of what can be presented, but teachers who are undoubtedly extremely good at transmitting information “live and in person” struggle mightily to communicate the same content online.

These observations are based on my own experiences as I have been attending university classes in my pursuit of a Philosophy degree. There is no doubt in my mind that I am not getting the full benefit of what each teacher has to offer.

Which brings me to one of ways I have been trying to make up for the deficiency – listening to audio courses in the subjects I am studying. It still doesn’t make up for class time, but it least it gives me something more to work on than what I can obtain in a Google Meet room.

This particular series of audio lectures, on the development of Greek philosophy from the Pre-socratics up through Aristotle, is very well-done. Professor Roochnik is skilled at making the high concepts of Hellenic thought accessible to his listeners. He also does a good job of showing how the thoughts of Socrates, Plato, et al are relevant to today’s culture.

The Audible version also comes with a downloadable PDF file containing class notes.

If you are even mildly interested in philosophy, I would highly recommend this series.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

In this second book of the Stormlight Archive, author Brandon Sanderson continues his tradition of excellence.

Now that I have several Sanderson books under my belt, certain patterns emerge: a magical “system” that the heroes have to learn, an oppressed people seeking to free themselves, heroic figures in both the dominant and subservient cultures…these can be found in every one of his books that I have read so far. And yet, due to the masterful quality of his writing, they somehow do not become redundant.

Another aspect of Sanderson’s style is the heart-pounding finale, usually involving a battle, an individual fight scene, or a race against time. The end of Words of Radiance involved all three.

For those who are getting into the “Cosmere” storyline that flows through many of Sanderson’s books, Words of Radiance is a special treat. Hoid gets much more “screen time” in this book than in any I have read so far. Also, if you have read Warbreaker, there is quite the “ah ha!” moment at the very end of Words of Radiance.

Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick

Up until recently my knowledge of what happened at Custer’s Last Stand was limited to what I learned in school, the movie Little Big Man, and that old Bill Cosby routine. I figured that none of these sources were particularly reliable, but never really took the time to find out for myself.

Enter Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick. Meticulously researched and compellingly written, this book brought the drama of those fateful June days in 1876 to life.
It turns out that the most important conflict was not between Custer and Sitting Bull, but between Custer, his superiors (including President Grant) and his subordinates.

New Testament Greek for Beginners by J. Gresham Machen

Back in November, 2019 I made the decision to become literate in New Testament Greek. To this end, I embarked upon the project of studying Machen’s “New Testament Greek for Beginners”. Today, I finished it.* This has been one of the more rewarding aspects of 2020 for me, both on a level of personal Bible study, and as it applies to sermon preparation. While in 2021 I will be moving on to other texts, I feel that Machen provided me with a solid foundation on which to build.

*Full disclosure: I did all the exercises up through lesson 29. Then for the last four I did only the Greek to English, as the English to Greek became much too time-consuming.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

One of my more profitable reading ventures this year has been my foray into C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. “Out of the Silent Planet” was outstanding. Many told me that they didn’t enjoy Perelandra – the second book of the trilogy – as much. However, I found it to be much more profound than the first. It helps to remember that the science fiction genre is simply a framework that Lewis exploits so he can explore deep philosophical and theological questions.

In Perelandra we find the main character, Ransom, fighting to save an Eden-like creation from the same corruption that condemned the original Eden. The meat of the book is not in the action: rather, it is in the conversations between the various characters.

Note: It is essential to have read Out of the Silent Planet before tackling “Perelandra”.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

It was France during the darkest days of the German occupation. How much could one American woman with a prosthetic leg accomplish?

If that woman’s name was Virginia Hall, quite a lot, as it turns out. “A Woman of No Importance” is the intense, exciting, often chilling account of how one improbable figure became a thorn in the Nazi’s side, and eventually played a key role in bringing them down.

A Study in Scarlet by Alfred Conan Doyle

My newest project in the ongoing quest to introduce great literature to my boys is to read all the Sherlock Holmes books to them, in order. We just finished “A Study in Scarlet”. At first the guys were a little put off by the Victorian writing style, but they were soon captivated by the mystery and Holmes’s method of deduction. Now both are eagerly awaiting the next book.

Observation: I can’t imagine this particular book being very popular in Utah.

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