Book Reviews

Reading List for September, 2020: Pilgrims, Power, Philosophy, and more…

My reading got off to a great start this month, then slowed down towards the end. Still, some solid offerings.

Exercise of Power by Robert M. Gates

Other than books I read for ministry study and sermon prep, I have no real method for the choosing of reading material, other than to maintain a diverse selection of genre and subject matter. This year a friend pointed me to a list of “Summer Reading” published by Al Mohler on his website. Since then I’ve been slowly making my way through that selection.

And I almost skipped this one. The title and the author made me think it would be a and technical treatise on US foreign policy. It is indeed the latter, however it is anything but dry and technical. Rather, Gates brings his vast experience, gained by serving in eight presidential administrations, to bear in a very interesting, sometimes riveting, analysis of where the US has gone right, and where it has gone wrong, in the years since the Cold War.

This is not a salacious “tell-all”, nor is at a defensive apologetic for policies Gates supported. Indeed, he is at times severely critical of decisions he supported. His clear-eyed look at what went right and what went wrong leads him to both compliment and criticize decisions made by all the administrations since Johnson – including the present one. I came away from this reading with a much better understanding of the challenges faced by the executive office when it comes to crafting a coherent foreign policy.

One other takeaway: China has always worried me. After reading “Exercise of Power”, that worry has been replaced by true fright.

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The latest in my ongoing quest to expose my guys to a basic cannon of Western literature before they leave our nest. It had been years since I cracked open Tom Sawyer, so it was kind of like reading it for the first time. Twain’s not-so-well hidden disdain for Christianity is neatly juxtaposed with illustration after illustration of biblical truth.

Both of my sons got into the story, and it garnered some good discussions.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Recent reading on Jordan Peterson’s use of archetypes led me to “The Writer’s Journey”, which has turned out to be one of the most fascinating books I have read this year.

Starting from Jung’s concept of a collective subconscious that engenders commonalities across time a cultures, Christopher Vogler identifies basic plot elements and character types present in compelling books and movies.

Of course, I take issue with the Jungian aspect of his analysis, preferring to see these archetypes as having been written into the human story by the Author. Besides this, however (or perhaps because of it), it is fascinating to see how these basic building-blocks are present in everything from Shakespeare to “Titanic”.

Indeed, as I read I was interested to note how many of the archetypes are present in the Missionary Max books, even though at the time of their writing I could not have told you what an archetype was.

Volger turns several times to Scripture for examples of his principles. I would love to see someone expound further on how the biblical narrative follows, sets, or breaks the storytelling mold.

Unsurprisingly, this book has become somewhat of a standard for Hollywood scriptwriters. If you are at all interested in any kind of storytelling, I highly recommend it to you.

They Knew They Were Pilgrims by John G. Turner

As Thanksgiving approaches, what better reading material than an in-depth look at the Plymouth Separatists – aka “The Pilgrims” and the community they founded.

“They Knew They Were Pilgrims” is neither hagiography nor hit piece. Rather it is a well-researched historical treatment of the origins, actions, and repercussions of that hardy band who landed at New Plymouth in 1620.

If you are at all interested in getting beyond the Norman Rockwell paintings and Macy’s Day Parade balloons, I highly recommend this book.

O Nascimento da Filosofia (The Birth of Philosophy) by Giorgio Colli

How did philosophy bloom in ancient Greece? Where did it come from? What were its intellectual antecedents?

These are questions that Italian author Giorgio Colli seeks to answer in “The Birth of Philosophy”. He puts forth some interesting theories as to the progression from oracle to enigma to dialectic, but fails, in my humble opinion, to answer the question “why Greece?”.

This is the Portuguese translation of a book that was originally written in Italian. Unfortunately I cannot find an English version.

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