Sunday, August 9, 2015

Quick book reviews (#10)

I have fallen even further behind on my book reviews. I’m going to try and write a few book review blogs in a row to try and catch up a bit. Worth noting, the order in which I’m reviewing these books is not chronological. Some of them I read over a year ago and some in the last few months. As in the past, 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.

I have mentioned before my reading style where I usually am reading at least five  non-fiction books at the same time, bouncing between them depending upon my mood. I normally don't let myself read fiction because I have trouble putting it down, but I have been reading some on vacations as you'll see below. 

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest of Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (4.5 stars)

The title really gives the broad outline of this book, but doesn't do justice to how good the story is. What makes it so compelling are the many details about the individuals, the times, and the rowing itsef. These young men came from a variety of backgrounds, but they each had to overcome a lot to succeed as they did. Some had to overcome poverty and others difficult family situations. All of them had to push themselves farther than they ever imagined to succeed first in the US crew competitions and ultimately the Olympics. I may be a little prejudiced since I rowed crew one year in college, but I found this book a fascinating look into the lives of these young men and through them into that time in America. I would recommend it to anyone interested in a wonderful non-fiction book that reads better than many works of fiction.   

The Divergent Series (Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant) by Veronica Roth (3.5 stars)

Now that this science fiction series is being made into a movie series (with the first two already out and the third, inevitably, being made into two movies), pretty much everyone has heard of the books. Like many young adult science fiction, these books center on a few misfit teens who turn out to be heroes in a dystopian future that takes until the end of the last book to figure out. After all, what teen (or adult, for that matter) doesn't feel like an outcast in a world they don't understand?

The basic premise is that the known (rather small) world has been divided into a set of factions which each dress a particular way and have a set of rigidly defined characteristics. (Sound like high school?) The main protagonist, of course, doesn't really belong in any group but chooses to join the warrior faction (the jocks?). She thrives though never quite fits in. The second and third books depict increasing struggle between the factions with the protagonists in the middle and the key to everything. You can probably guess who saves the world and how things end up. 

For all my cynicism about them, I rather enjoyed the books. They very much play to the formula, but they are each fun reads. I felt they were not as good as the Hunger Games series and considerably less well done than the Harry Potter books. As is often the case (though not with Harry Potter), the first book is the strongest, but I enjoyed them all and devoured the three of them during a one-week vacation last year. I'd recommend them to anyone that is willing to look past their holes and formulaic nature. Enjoy the ride! 

Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh (3.0 stars) 

In this book, a non-Christian journalist (he is Jewish, actually) decides to explore Christian pop culture by attending Christian concerts, visiting a Christian trade show, interviewing the owner of a large Christian bookstore, and talking to Christians at various Christian events. Generally, it feels like Radosh has done his homework when he quotes the New Testament and George Barna (the leading pollster of Christian thought and action). The anecdotes that Radosh recounts are often funny and he is not usually overly harsh. Despite that, it never feels to me like he really understands the culture, but that may be because it is one in which I am immersed.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me, probably to see what my reaction would be. As with most recommendations from people whose opinion I value, I read it. The book is from 2008 and much of it reads somewhat dated. Despite that and other flaws, I found value in seeing how an outsider views Christian pop culture. I would recommend this to Christians who are willing to consider critically our culture without being defensive.  

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink (3.0 stars)

This  book is a fairly quick read that makes one basic point--we are now all in sales whether we realize it or not. Whether someone is trying to convince someone else to hire them, trying to change another person's opinion, or selling more traditionally, it is all sales. Pink goes on to give examples of companies that have eliminated the normal sales role and instead rely on everyone in the company to extol the virtues of the product and thus sell it. Like many books, this is really a single idea that should have been a magazine article rather than stretched into a book. The basic idea is worth considering and the first few chapters will yield anyone interested the bulk of the value of the book.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles (2.5 stars)

As a fan of history I enjoyed this book, but doubt most folks would be willing to persevere enough to finish it. The problem is that the author makes it too much of a dry text book rather than a compelling tale of the multi-century conflict between two ancient civilizations, Carthage and Rome. Miles uses lots of data from ancient coins and cultic ruins to help flesh out the story. That use of possibly new data is not enough to make up for the uninspiring way he tells the story. The book did leave me, however, with enough interest in the topic to try and find another book about it.

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