Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quick book reviews (#8)

Here is another set of brief reviews of books. I have fallen way behind on writing these, so these are from books I read as much as a year ago. I have almost twenty more reviews to write in order to catch up! 

As usual, these reviews use a scale of one to five stars based on Library Thing (where I post these reviews as well). I am a tough grader and seldom give out the full five stars, so keep that in mind when looking at my ratings.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (4.0 stars)

David and Goliath is a Gladwell book through and through. Like his other books (such as The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers), it is a fun, quick read that builds its case via lots of anecdotes. In this book, he starts off using the familiar Biblical story of David and Goliath. Gladwell argues fairly persuasively that contrary to popular thinking, Goliath never stood a chance. Foot soldiers, even really large ones, were easy targets for stone hurlers and other range-weapon fighters. Gladwell contends through the remainder of the book that overcoming perceived disadvantages is what makes many people successful. He then uses examples of people who have overcome disadvantages (poverty, dyslexia, dead parents, etc.) to show how they were instrumental to their successes. Gladwell concedes that few of these people would wish their situations on others (and indeed they shelter their own children from those situations), but they still understand that those circumstances were critical to their successes. I would recommend this book to almost everyone who wants to explore the causes of success or just wants a fun book to read.

Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France by Richard Moore (4.5 stars)

This book explores the world of professional cycling through the lives of two great competitors and their rivalry during the 1986 Tour de France. The French Bernard Hinault was a grizzled veteran and winner of a record-tying five Tours de France. Greg LeMond was a young, free-spirited American with seemingly limitless potential. What makes their rivalry even more compelling is that they were on the same team. The resulting clash made that Tour de France arguably the greatest one ever. And, it made this book a joy to read. As such, it was a marked contrast to another cycling book about a five-time Tour winner, Sex, Lies, and Handlebar Tape (see my critique in my last set of book reviews). Moore does a great job of giving glimpses into the lives and motivations of LeMond and Hinault, rather than just recounting the events. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in cycling or understanding what drives competitive athletes. The book is rewarding and well worth the time to read it.  

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton (3.5 stars)

Walton gives a new perspective on the Biblical Genesis 1 creation account by viewing it in light of other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. He does this by working through eighteen propositions/chapters about Genesis 1. The first two are the critical ones that provide the foundation for the remaining ones. The first proposition is that Genesis one needs to be viewed as ancient cosmology not as scientific exposition. The second proposition regards ontology and was much harder for me to get my head around. He asserts that ANE cosmology is function oriented (describing functional ontology) rather than material. The simplest example he gave is that creating a curriculum does not refer to the material manufacturing process, but the process of organizing the ideas and goals necessary to form the curriculum. I found some of what Walton proposes to be compelling, but I confess that I don’t have the necessary expertise in ANE cosmology or the philosophy of ontology to see all the flaws in his arguments. Despite that, I found what he wrote to be well worth considering and recommend this book to anyone willing to be challenged in their understanding of the Biblical creation account in Genesis 1.

Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. by Christopher Yuan & Angela Yuan (4.0 stars)

This book is a particularly hard one to summarize in a paragraph. The simplest description is that it is the story of a mother and her homosexual son. It is, however, the successive layers of complexity and feeling that make the book compelling. The mother, Angela Yuan, starts out as a fairly stereotypical Chinese immigrant, wife, and mother. Her son, Christopher Yuan is the complementary successful son of immigrants. His struggles with his sexuality, and his life in general, send the whole family into crisis. The book chronicles their intertwined roads to redemption. Part of what makes the book compelling is that each of them write alternating chapters. Neither of them pulls punches nor succumbs to pat answers. I think Out of a Far Country is worth reading for anyone seeking to better understand people in crisis and especially for Christians grappling with one of the most divisive issues of our times.

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