Book Reviews

Reading List for October, 2019: Alienated America, the Gospels, Greece and Rome, and more…

A week of bed-rest made time for some serious reading this month.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch by Donald J. Sobol

This is the third Encyclopedia Brown book I’ve read with my sons at the lunch table. The guys enjoy trying to figure out the mysteries before we read the answers, and they also get a kick out of the author’s delightful turn of phrase. The favorite from this book:

“I don’t trust Bugs any farther than I can throw a cheese cake under water.”

For me, these stories hearken back to a simpler time…a time when even the town tough was literate enough to name his pocket knife “Excalibur”.

Alienated America by Timothy P. Carney

Possibly the best post-2016 analysis I have read to date, for a number of reasons. Among them:

1) It focuses on why Trump won the primaries, not the general.

2) It asks the question “who thought (thinks) the American dream was (is) dead, and why?”

3) It explores the underlying factors that led to numbers 1 and 2.

Though written by a practicing Catholic who leans conservative, I found the book to be very balanced in its treatment. And every pastor will be (or should be) interested in the conclusions he draws.

I have read and enjoyed J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, but Alienated America goes deeper and explains more, I believe.

White Sand 2 by Brandon Sanderson

A world divided into two parts, one where the Sun never shines, and another where it always shines. Political intrigue, supernatural powers, strange creatures. Brandon Sanderson knows how to draw a reader into an imaginative universe and keep his attention up to the last page.

This is the second of three White Sand graphic novels, and I am already sad that there is only one more left. Fortunately, Sanderson is one of the most prolific writers out there, and his other series beckon.

The Gospel of the Lord by Michael F. Bird

Since I’m preaching through Luke, I thought it would be a good idea to delve a little deeper into the Gospels themselves. How were they written? What evidences do we have for their veracity? Why four? Why is John so different from the Synoptics?

In what can only be described as an academic tour-de-force (footnotes abound) Michael Bird tackles these questions, and many, many more. His thorough research comes down consistently on the conservative side of the spectrum.

For those already “in the loop” in this particular area of biblical studies, Bird makes a fairly convincing case for Marcan priority, but a less-than-convincing case for the existence of “Q” (a hypothetical fifth Gospel that served as a source for the others) – and, to be fair, it seems that he himself holds to “Q” somewhat reluctantly, although he does a better job of explaining it than I have read elsewhere. For my part, I believe the existence of “sermon notes” taken by those present for Jesus’ ministry adequately fills in any apparent gaps that would make “Q” a necessity.

The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers

This is yet another book I picked up to help with my studies in Luke. I found it very helpful, to the extent that it will probably become a go-to reference book for any future New Testament studies I do.

The author treats in details the historical, cultural, religious, and economic aspects of the first-century wold. At the end of each chapter he also provides a list of books for further research.

The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham

Filling in some of the blank spaces in my knowledge of a fascinating period of history – from the fall of Rome to roughly 1000 AD. This book covers in great detail the development of medieval society from the fragments of Empire, and the ways Rome continued to shape the nations and cultures that grew out of her burned out stump.

Observation: I listened to this as an audio book, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the print (or digital) version.

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Of the Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books I have read so far (all of which are very, very good), this one is my favorite.

A few reasons why:

Unlike most fantasy series I have read, where the world created by the author continues in a static (usually semi-medieval) state for the duration, The Alloy of Law moves the story three hundred years into the future, and now there are trains (woo hoo!), guns, electricity, and even the occasional horseless carriage. And Sanderson pulls this off very convincingly.

Sanderson does a masterful job of subtly linking this story with the events of the previous trilogy. Some questions are answered, more questions are raised.

It seems to me that Sanderson relaxed and had more fun with this one. The interaction between the two main characters (named Wax and Wayne…) is hilarious. Towards the end there is a literal “Deus ex machina” moment, as if the author is deliberately breaking a rule of writing just to see if he can make it work. Spoiler alert: he can.

Definitely a must read…but you should probably read the first three Mistborn books first to get full enjoyment out of it.

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