Following in the footsteps of my older brother, Scott, who has posted yearly book reviews on his blog for several years, I decided to do the same. Since my blog is not yet one year old, this is the first time I have tried this. It’s a little behind, but better late than never right (nervous laughter). I’ll try to do it in rough chronological reading order. Also, this list only includes books finished in 2007, not merely started in 2007 and continued to 2008.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
At the risk of sounding trite, Gladwell takes a serious step down from his enthralling The Tipping Point, and at times seems to master the concept of “thinking without thinking” in Blink. It is a book that raises a lot of interesting concepts about the unconscious and how our decisions are based on split-second reactions. But it reads more like a collection of loosely-related, repetitive New Yorker columns, and gives mostly anecdotal “evidence” rather than experimental, observational, documented research.
Rating: 1/4 stars
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
I remembered reading this “classic” in high school with somewhat fond memories. I did a brief review earlier in the year. In a nutshell, it is a coming of age story about a narcissistic teen. It’s really not surprising that it is revered in our age of consumerism, narcissism, and radical individualism.
Rating: 1.5/4 stars
Technopoly, Neil Postman
I also wrote a review on Postman’s book, found here. This is an extensive description of the state of information overload and frivolity we are immersed in today. Postman gives extensive contextual and historical background of media technologies and the necessity to examine both their positive and negative consequences. It is even somewhat prophetic, as Postman wrote it well before the Internet took control of our lives. The only things missing are proposed solutions, which Postman would argue that many critics’ jobs aren’t to pose solutions, but to point out problems.
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
I had read these books a couple years ago, and enjoyed them immensely. They are well-written, engaging, descriptive, and fun. I re-read most of the first six before reading the seventh and final installation of the series in the summer. Goblet of Fire is probably my least favourite, and Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix were my two favourite, followed closely by Deathly Hallows.
Rating: 3/4 for the series
The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
Until this reading, I had never read the original, unabridged version of Bunyan’s allegory on the Christian life – only children’s versions with illustrations. While it was a bit difficult to traverse the old English Bunyan uses, I found it quite edifying, especially with so many Scripture verses interspersed. I never realized how Scripturally-bound Bunyan’s work was until this reading.
The Church at the End of the 20th Century, including The Church before the Watching World, Francis Schaeffer
Schaeffer addresses many aspects of the church, Christian culture, liberalism, and their interactions, and a succinct review is difficult in this arena. Schaeffer urges the church to live in real community grounded in truth in order to minister to the secular culture surrounding the church. A disturbing observation Schaeffer makes (that I would agree with) is that the church seems to follow closely behind in adopting political or humanistic ideals, words, and thoughts. This has turned the church into a political organization rather than grounded in Scriptural truth. Schaeffer says:
When the young people say to us, “I hate god words,” if we are to be Christians we must say, “I hate god words too.” For such god words are separated from all verification and falsification; they can be made to mean anything. The new theologians seem to be saying something more than secular thinkers are saying because they use such religious words. But they are really saying the same things with a different set of linguistic symbols. There is many a liberal theologian today who uses the word God to equal no god — to give optimism in what is to him a totally pessimistic predicament, using words only as psychological tools to give psychological help or to aid in sociological manipulation…Unless we see the new liberalism as a whole and reject it as a whole, we will, to the extent that we are tolerant of it, be confused in our thinking, involved in the general intellectual irrationalism of our day and compromising in our actions.
Holiness, J.C. Ryle
This is a book I read together with my friend Ken, and it was possibly the most edifying, challenging, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book in my life (other than the Bible of course). We read the version that includes J.I. Packer’s biography of Ryle (pictured). I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to grow more in their faith and sanctification. Ryle covers biblical explanations and responses to sin, growth, sanctification, holiness, the fight, and the cost. I was challenged to ask God to show me my sin more, and for grace and strength in confessing, repenting, and overcoming it. It’s one of those books that I would like to revisit every year or two.
Roots of Endurance, John Piper
This book is a biographical look at the lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce written by John Piper. It is the third installment of Piper’s biographical series based on some of his sermons/lectures. The running theme through the three men’s lives that Piper focused on was perseverance in tough times. Newton, who penned arguably the most famous hymn in history, “Amazing Grace,” was a slave trader. Simeon was a preacher in England who persevered through hostile opposition in his church. Wilberforce served in English Parliament and was a key force in abolishing the slave trade. It was a good, lighter read, though it seemed somewhat disjointed at times.
The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom
This was probably the most difficult book to get through in 2007, thanks to Bloom’s combination of elitist language, difficult outline, and vast knowledge of philosophical history, an area in which I am lacking. Bloom starts the book with posing his criticism of the current culture’s devotion to “open-mindedness.” Bloom argues that there are two types of openness, the openness of indifference and the openness to knowledge and validation. The openness of indifference is what is plaguing the American mind, Bloom argues, and it is really a closing of the mind. This openness holds to the motto “be whatever you want to be” or “it depends” and according to Bloom: “results in American conformism – out there in the rest of the world there is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here we can create all the life-styles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing.”
The second openness is one that is open to critically learning from history and other cultures in their original form, and to be open to develop one’s own thoughts from them rather than accepting them at first glance. Bloom launches into a long, verbose, and difficult history of how the American “mind” came to be what it is, discussing German philosophy ad naseum. He closes with a discussion of the University and how it has lost its purpose of enriching students. It is merely a dull, lifeless garden for cultivating students for the workforce. The disappearance of the study of humanities is disturbing to Bloom, because they are the lifeblood of the University. While I agree with much of Bloom’s criticisms, it seems almost odd of his devotion to and near-worship of “the University.”
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
In the precursor to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien relates the enchanting tale of Bilbo Baggins’ adventures with thirteen dwarves, the wizard Gandalf, elves, trolls, men, bears, goblins, and a dragon. While it may have a lower reading level than the Rings, The Hobbit stands on its own as sound literature, and adds much to the background of the Rings. I’m looking forward to reading The Lord of the Rings in 2008.
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
While not a doctrinal treatise on heaven and salvation, Lewis writes allegorically about a dream of bus trip through heaven and hell. What I appreciated about this work of fantasy was that often it is impossible to lay out difficult realities in non-fictive prose. Some subjects require imaginative scenarios and fantastic use of language to express what otherwise would be inexpressible. My favourite quotation from Lewis in this book (comes from the introduction) is: “If we insist on keeping hell (or even earth) we shall not see heaven: if we accept heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of hell.” In other words, we can’t take anything from earth with us to heaven – whether it be earthly treasures that can be destroyed, or even our sins.