Book Reviews

Reading List for October, 2020: Past Apocalypse, Post Apocalypse, Pretend Apocalypse, and more…more

October was a good month for reading. There is a decent variety, but a strong undercurrent of war and desolation. That’s just the way it happened…

1939: A People’s History of the Coming of the Second World War by Frederick Taylor

The years leading up to the Second World War have always fascinated me. Most of what I have read on the subject deals with the political and diplomatic machinations that lead to the outbreak of the conflict. In this interesting treatment of the subject, author Frederick Taylor looks at the onset of the war through the eyes of common people in England and Germany.

I found this book informative, helpful, and not a little haunting. The last few paragraphs are especially poignant.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

File A Canticle for Leibowitz to the category “How Did I Live This Long Without Reading This Book?” Ostensibly, it is post-apocalyptic fiction, and as such, is an entertaining read. But in truth the nuclear wasteland of the future is simply a background against which the author ponders such weighty issues as good and evil, sin and redemption, civilization and barbarism, secularism and religion, church and state.

I have a feeling I’m going to need to read this again just to grasp the profundity of it, and comprehend all the symbolism employed. I’m also going to have to brush up on my Latin and Hebrew.

Operation Chastise by Max Hastings

Operation Chastise is an in-depth, but also gripping account of a daring British air raid on German dams during the Second World War. Author Max Hastings takes the reader from the conception of the idea (which was almost shelved), to the development of the unique explosives needed to carry it out, to the tense climax of the operation. The account of the mission itself gave me some much-needed adrenaline as I listened to it during my morning run.

The author also delves deeply into the human cost of the operation, both in the high toll it took on the heroic flyers themselves to the massive amount of death and destruction caused by the breaching of the dams.

An outstanding read.

Ride, Sally, Ride by Doug Wilson

I began this book genuinely expecting to enjoy it. I appreciate Doug Wilson’s writing, and think he has a lot of good things to say…especially on the topic of the sexual revolution and its dire consequences – which is what “Ride, Sally, Ride” is about.

I had high hopes. The concept – a not too distant future where the new “thing” is granting person-hood to high-tech sex dolls – has a lot of potential. And to tell the truth, Wilson’s description of the eventual breakup of the United States is pretty much how I imagine it happening. Not only that, but Wilson has a way of turning a phrase, and this did make me chortle heartily at several points throughout the story.

But here’s the thing: as always, Wilson has a point to get across. And let me say once again, that point – that sex is best enjoyed when it is engaged in the way God intended – is a very good and important point to make. Wilson, however, is so intent upon making it that he is not going to let little things like plot line, character development, or believable dialogue get in the way. Thus, a weak story is populated by two-dimensional people who all seem to talk just like Doug Wilson.

This is a problem for many preachers who try their hand at fiction. I should know. In my books I fight mightily against the urge to “preach”…with varying levels of success.

One other complaint: I am not opposed, per se, to profane characters using profanity, even in books meant for a Christian audience (although I did not use any in my books). If the goal is to portray the world as she is, well then, how she is includes lots of bad words. However, when it appears in Ride, Sally, Ride, it comes out of nowhere, is completely inconsistent with the character that uses it, and helps the story along not one little bit.

Even before Ride, Sally, Ride came out, many of the “usual suspects” in the Twitter-sphere were already dumping on it. I’m not a part of that crowd. This is not “Moscow Man Bad” or “WDS” (Wilson Derangement Syndrome). Wilson is correct in his analysis, and biblical in his prescription of the solution.

I just wish the story had been better.

God’s Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era by Michael Medved

I’m not a fan of what is commonly termed “American Exceptionalism.” I believe God has a sovereign purpose for America. I also believe he has one for Uganda. It is God that raises up nations, and brings them low, and no nation beside Kingdom Israel has a monopoly on His divine favor.

Yet it is an inescapable conclusion that America was particularly blessed at her founding by a convergence of biblical worldview and sound governmental theory. This heritage of Christianity has served as a strong bulwark throughout many dark moments of her history.

And it is equally undeniable that there have been many occasions throughout history where God has acted in such a way as to benefit the US. In God’s Hand on America Michael Medved delves into some of the more startling “coincidences” that shaped history throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The book is well-written and shines the light on several aspects of history of which I was previously unaware. His description of the Battle of Midway alone (as well as its aftermath) is worth the price of the book.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker is my least-favorite of Brandon Sanderson’s “Cosmere” books to date. That’s not to say it’s a bad book. Sanderson on a bad day is better than many, many authors on their best day.

Though it got off to a good start, I felt that by the end he was hurrying up to finish. A lot of details were “explained” verbally at the end, instead of being revealed in the story itself.

Also, a significant portion of the plot revolves around the practice – common in our own world from ancient times up through the Industrial Revolution – of political marriages for the production of an heir. In itself this is not a problem, but Sanderson dwells more on the “mechanics” of heir production than I would have liked him to.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

I read Letters to a Young Poet on the recommendation of my Intro. to Philosophy professor. She was commenting on how art can give birth to philosophical thought, and indeed, Rilke’s letters bear that out.

This isn’t a long book, but I have a few random takeaways:

1. The genuine concern and kindness with which Rilke treats a younger poet whom he has never met is impressive.

2. The biographical sketch provided by the book tells of a man who, as a boy, was repeatedly failed by the adults in his life. Perhaps this offers some insight into number 1.

3. Rilke’s worldview, though beautifully expressed, is ultimately a sad one.

So far, Letters is the only work of Rilke I have ever read. I doubt it will be the last.

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