Saturday, August 17, 2013

Quick book reviews (#5)

I’ve written another set of brief reviews of books I recently read. (Actually, I’m way behind in doing these and some of these books I read several months ago.) These reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am generally a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars.

Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas (4.0 stars) 

I’m a fan of Eric Metaxas' writing, based on reading his biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What Metaxas does here is combine short biographies of seven Christian men into one book. In addition to Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, he looks at George Washington, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson. I found all of the biographies compelling, even the ones on men I had read about in the past. The biographies both intrigued and inspired me. My one complaint is that he did not attempt to draw any conclusions from the biographies. I expected that he would either show how each of the seven men exemplified some Christian attribute or show what they shared in common that made them who they were. Instead, it is just seven short, inspiring biographies. I found the book well worth the time and I would encourage reading it to anyone who wants to see what individual Christians can do to influence the world.

Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington III (3.5 stars) 

I found Ben Witherington’s book to be a slow read, but with enough good elements that it was worth the time I invested in it. As the title states, he tackles the topic of work, one which I think has been neglected in Christian circles. He takes a fairly theoretical and theological approach while making the concepts accessible to most readers. He does a good job of looking at differing views on work and helps show the strengths, weaknesses, and downright errors in those views. Along the way, Witherington makes interesting observations and assertions, such as retirement having no biblical basis. On that point, and most of his other ones, I whole heartedly agree. The problem with the book is when he attempts to move away from the theory of work. His next to last chapter, which pulls largely from work by Andy Crouch, was lost on me and the last chapter on finding balance between work, rest, and play did not work for me either. Despite these issues, I recommend this book to anyone wanting explore and better understand the proper role of work in the lives of Christians. 

The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin (3.5 stars)

Hanna Rosin’s book was all over the news a few months ago when it came out. It draws heavily from a couple of Atlantic articles she wrote (The End of Men, July/August 2010 and Boys on the Side, August 2012). The basic premise is that women are becoming the dominant force in everything from business to academia to the bedroom. Rosin uses a wealth of statistics, her own research, and personal anecdotes to make her case. I found her book compelling, thought provoking, and often frustrating. Ultimately, I found myself depressed by Rosin’s almost gleeful attitude on much of what she describes. I don’t find women dominating men to be any more desirable than men dominating women. Unlike Rosin, I also don’t think that women becoming as cavalier about sex as frat boys is a good development. Regardless, I would recommend the book to almost anyone interested in learning about some very important trends in our society. Or, you could save time and money and just read her two Atlantic articles! 

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak (3.0 stars) 

This book is Steve Wozniak’s (Woz’s) autobiography. It stands in sharp contrast to Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, just as Woz and Jobs are very contrasting individuals. This book is not a great read (at least in part because Woz is not a great writer), but it is an interesting companion to Isaacson’s work. Woz is an unapologetic engineer and this book (from 2006) is his attempt to set the record straight. I came away amazed that he and Jobs were ever able to be friends. Woz comes across as brilliant and compassionate, but somewhat clueless. My guess is that I would much rather have spent time with Woz than Jobs, despite his penchant for sometimes cruel practical jokes. However, without Jobs, I don’t think what Woz would have amounted to much. I also think Woz probably would have been happier. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing another side of the Apple/Jobs story.  

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada (3.5 stars)

Geoffrey Canada’s book (an updated version of the 1996 original) is an interesting and very personal account of growing up in the inner city in the era before guns. He contrasts that with the current inner-city environment that is saturated with guns. His upbringing was by no means nonviolent or idyllic. However, the lack of guns meant that he and many others had a better chance of surviving and getting out to a better life. Canada chose to instead go back and try to help the next generation. I read this book as part of the research for my long-promised blog entry on guns. The book unfortunately offers little in the way of solutions and I came away convinced that the problems and suffering caused by guns in cities may well be an intractable problem. At least, the example of Canada’s efforts provides a glimmer of hope. I would recommend the book to anyone looking for some exposure to the issues around guns, violence, and poverty in urban environments.

I have an amazing stack of books (OK, they are really just bits in my Kindles) I’m hoping to read over my upcoming and much needed vacation. Hopefully, I will be much more prompt about writing my next set of book reviews!

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