Each year I like to write a little recap of the books I’ve read. As usual, I didn’t get through as many books as I would have liked, but I really enjoyed almost all the ones I read this past year, and found some of them to be particularly thoughtful and life-impacting.
Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville
One of the most widely quoted books on the topic of American history and society, Tocqueville’s book truly is a masterpiece. Not only is it insightful, it is also a literary gem. I found myself captivated by the author’s eloquent and vivid presentation of the subject matter from the first sentence of the introductory chapter. And in addition to learning a great deal about the early years of our nation, I was equally inspired to further develop my own writing as an art form. The work is far too vast to do it justice in a brief review, so suffice it to say that I found much of it to be as pertinent to our present state of affairs as it was when it was written in the early 1800s. This was quite eye-opening and certainly broadened my understanding of some of our current issues and crises. Tocqueville draws stark contrasts between aristocratic and democratic forms of government, in particular, and gives his thorough analysis of the benefits and dangers of each. Truly a fascinating read that would be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in American history and government.
The Soul’s Quest for God
I enjoy having a spiritually challenging book to read through systematically, either along with my quiet time in the morning or at night before I go to bed. That’s what prompted me to pull this book off my shelves. Although I’m familiar with R.C. Sproul and have heard little clips of him speaking, this is the first of his books that I have read. The book seems to flow from a statement in his preface, “the Christian life is often marked more by a sense of the absence of God than a vital sense of his presence.” The book itself came across as an eclectic conglomeration of thoughts pertaining to the soul. I especially appreciated the emphasis he placed in the first chapter on us taking responsibility for diligently studying the Word of God.
He says, “Nothing can be in the heart that is not first in the mind. Our hearts cannot be inflamed about something we know not of. Unless we know God deeply, we cannot love him deeply.” In his chapter highlighting some of the history of the church and the Word of God, he remarks, “Tired of endless disputes, Christians today embrace the idea that what really matters is right relationships, not right doctrine. The idea that one is more important than the other is a faulty premise; both right relationships and right doctrine matter.” This book proved to be a great companion to my quiet time readings and provoked me to think more deeply about a variety of spiritual matters.
Church History in Plain Language
A fabulous read, this 500+ page tome gives the reader a survey of Christianity through the ages. I have long been a fan of church history and found this work to be replete with interesting stories and well-researched information. Vapid writing, regardless of the subject matter, is distasteful to me, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading the colorful storytelling of Mr. Shelley on a topic that is often relegated solely to the required coursework of seminary students. Each chapter is brimming with glimpses into the past and thought-provoking considerations for the present. The book is divided into eight ages: “The Age of Jesus and the Apostles,” “The Age of Catholic Christianity,” “The Age of the Christian Roman Empire,” “The Christian Middle Ages,” “The Age of the Reformation,” “The Age of Reason and Revival,” “The Age of Progress,” and “The Age of Ideologies.” Each section, then, is comprised of a handful of chapters that contain numerous sub-headings and a handy list of suggestions for further reading at the end. An enjoyable read and wonderful resource for those who are interested in knowing and understanding our Christian roots.
Uncover Exciting History
The subtitle is a perfect description of what you will find in this engaging book: Revealing America’s Christian Heritage in Short, Easy-to-Read Nuggets. From Christopher Columbus, Christ-bearer to the New World, to the Klondike Gold Rush, to the Navajo Code Talkers, I enjoyed these well-written, eclectic snippets of American history, occasionally accompanied by commentary from Ms. Puetz. Each chapter concludes with a section called, “Digging Deeper” with questions, ideas for further study, and recommended resources, making this a great educational resource! Although the nature of the book necessitated leaving out a great many details, Ms. Puetz did a remarkable job capturing the essence of each person or event. My Mom read portions of it and remarked that for those who do not share an intrinsic love of history she thought it would serve to ignite previously dormant interests in the assortment of historical topics presented throughout the book. I whole-heartedly agree!
The Musician’s Way
You would think that a book subtitled, “A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness” would tend toward dry, colorless explanations reserved for only the most devoted musicians. I can’t say that I was overly excited when Mr. Klickstein asked if I would be willing to review a copy of his book, but within the first chapter my perspective completely changed! In addition to being an excellent writer and communicator, Mr. Klickstein presents so much helpful information that you will be itching to sit at the piano with his book beside you while you practice. At least I was!
>>Read full review here>> http://musicmattersblog.com/2010/04/30/review-of-the-musicians-way-win-a-copy-for-yourself/
R.C. Sproul, Jr.
This book was the first I read as part of a Great Authors webinar series put on by Vision Forum. My understanding of economics is very elementary, so this book was a great starting point to help me understand some basic economic principles. It includes chapters on: Stewardship, Creation, Prosperity, Profit, Money, Inflation, Debt, Poverty, Equity, and Government. Perhaps more than anything, it reminded me how practical and helpful an understanding of these principles is for daily living in general, and for establishing sound business practices in particular. The chapter on Prosperity is the one that has stuck with me the most, especially the discussion of what “conditions must exist for economic growth and material welfare to happen.” While the book is certainly enlightening, one should be aware that reading it is sure to make you more aware of the disastrous policies and practices that have been adopted by our government. R.C. Sproul shares a few thoughts at the end of the book on how to work toward a solution and sums it up by stating, “Prayer and education are the two strongest tools the Christian has. It is up to us to use them and to call our nation to true, national discipleship, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
This account of the life of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, has eclipsed numerous books to become one of the most enlightening reads of my lifetime. Having heard bits and pieces over the years about the abortion industry and its underlying philosophies, I was nevertheless unaware of the extent of the depraved views that undergirded the drive for birth control, abortion, sterilization, and other monstrosities that are now so eagerly embraced in our society. What’s more, the Christian community as a whole has played right into the evil intentions of eugenicists who sought to undermine the power of Christianity through their heinous practices. Every Christian should read this book and do some serious soul-searching and Scripture-studying to realign our cultural practices with the ways of God.
A captivating novel on the life of the famous reformer, John Calvin, this book was definitely a page-turner! I loved the vivid word pictures Mr. Bond created with his writing that quickly transport the reader back to the tumultuous 16th Century in Europe. The story is told from the perspective of the fictional character Jean-Louis Mourin, personal attendant to Calvin. Historical events and figures are woven into the plot and the “voice” of Calvin is extracted from his many writings, lending an authenticity to the story that is refreshing and inspiring. The author is obviously passionate in his presentation of the truths adduced during the Reformation, and I found myself drawn to a greater appreciation of the things God has led me to understand and believe in the past several years and the man who was used so mightily of Him to proclaim those truths. There is a sense that perhaps the author has elevated Calvin to a super-human status, as he is depicted as a nearly faultless individual, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good story with depth beyond that which is usually served up in the notoriously superficial fictional fare.
What He Must Be
Voddie Baucham Jr.
One of the things that has often been impressed upon my heart in studying the Bible is the importance of godly marriages. We see especially in the history of Israel how devastating the results were of their intermarriage with the pagan nations around them. Voddie Baucham is passionate about helping Christians understand the biblical principles pertaining to marriage. He says, “We must train a generation to follow hard after God in spite of what their forefathers have done…The marriages of our sons and daughters will serve as the foundation upon which the next generation is built.” He then goes on to outline five “musts” that he believes a young man should be to qualify him as a suitable husband: He Must Be a Follower of Christ, He Must Be Prepared to Lead, He Must Lead Like Christ, He Must Be Committed to Children, and He Must Practice the Four P’s. The book draws heavily on Scripture and other authors, and does a good job of laying down points for consideration without becoming unnecessarily narrow in their application. One of the things I try to keep in mind as I read books like this is that I will one day, Lord-willing, be marrying a person, not a set of principles. It’s easy for us girls to become so set on our own ideals and expectations that we entirely miss the heart of the one God gives to be our husband. It’s helpful to have certain standards and criteria in place, but above all, we must have a heart that is seeking wholly after God and trusting Him to bring the right person at the right time.
Ever, only, ALL for Thee
Pamela D. Bugden
As soon as I saw the subtitle of this book, I knew I wanted to read it: “Frances Ridley Havergal: Glimpses of Her Life and Writings.” Having read Kept for the Master’s Use by Miss Havergal last year, I was touched by her love for the Lord and ability to communicate it so beautifully. I had no idea how extensive her writings were, though, nor how highly she was revered during her lifetime! This book really is just a glimpse, but it sure made me want to take a closer look at Miss Havergal’s books and music. As a writer, I was especially challenged by this perspective that she shares:
“Writing is praying with me, for I never seem to write even a verse by myself, and feel like a little child writing; you know a child would look up at every sentence and say, ‘And what shall I say next?’ That is just what I do; I ask that every line He would give me, not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes.”
It is, in part, through reading books like this, that I receive the blessing of walking with the wise and being instructed by older women. Life regains focus as I am reminded of the necessity of the centrality of Jesus Christ in every aspect of life.
Escape From Slavery
Francis Bok with Edward Tivnan
The first-person account of Francis Bok, who was captured from the market town of Nyamlell at the age of seven and forced into slavery in North Sudan. Some friends of mine who are also good friends of Francis’ lent me this book after telling me a little bit about his story. It was every bit as interesting and eye-opening as they indicated. The culture of Sudan depicted throughout the book stands in stark contrast to the American culture in which I’ve grown up. It is hard to even comprehend the reality of what is taking place in nations plagued by political unrest, militant religious organizations, and economic devastation. Perhaps the only real way to understand is to experience it yourself, but reading books like Escape From Slavery sure goes a long way toward gaining a broader vision of the world.
Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled
Rachel Starr Thomson and Carolyn Joy Currey
This collection of excellently-written stories is sure to make you smile! Cousins Rachel and Carolyn recount experiences in their families as they homeschooled their way through life. And considering that between the two of them, the total sibling count tops off at eighteen, you better believe that they have some great ones to share! Woven amongst the lighthearted tales are tidbits of wisdom and lessons learned. Both of the girls are engaging writers, and I think the book would make a great read-aloud for any family with children.
Alex & Brett Harris with Elisa Stanford
Even though I really appreciate the ministry of Alex and Brett and the incredible impact they are making on this generation, I didn’t have any particular plans to read this latest book of theirs. It didn’t seem like it would be relevant to where I’m at in life right now. I should have known better. Several others in my family were reading it, so I picked it up one day just to take a closer look. Several hours later I had finished reading the whole thing! The book is a short 160 pages, but it is packed full of biblical truth and practical tips that will challenge and inspire any reader who wants to live wholeheartedly for the Lord. It’s obvious that Alex and Brett have built their “Do Hard Things” maxim on the foundation of a strong relationship with the Lord, much time in the Word, and taking to heart the proverb that “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Through personal stories, commentary on the stories of other rebelutionaries, and additional insights, the brothers aim to lead readers to the same understanding that the Source and End of their “hard things” should be the Lord Jesus Christ. Rebelutionaries of all ages will glean hope for where they’re at in life and a vision for how they can start doing more right where God has placed them – I know I sure did!
The Pirate City
Every once in a while I find myself in a mood for a good story. So, ignoring the stack of books I was already in the process of reading, I quickly scanned my couple shelves of fiction books for any possibilities. A whole set of Ballantyne books stared off the shelf at me, so I decided to give this acclaimed author a try! The writing is superb, and I appreciated the historical veracity of much of the details that made their way into the story. The setting is the infamous Pirate City of Algiers. The reader is introduced to the city through the plight of the unsuspecting Rimini men when they are captured and forced into servitude. The story takes a number of twists and turns, and while I think some of the characters could have been further developed, it was still an engaging and worthwhile read.
The Second Mayflower
This is another of the books that was included in the Great Authors webinar series this year, but I didn’t finish reading it until later in the summer. The Second Mayflower begins with a look back to the impetus behind the first Mayflower. Mr. Swanson remarks, “Men of vision will always seek something better for their children and grandchildren. They will act upon that vision, and that is how history is made.” What an insightful and refreshing perspective in a culture that is so plagued by spiritual myopia!
The book goes on to explore the seeds of destruction that are leading to our downfall as a nation and the growing tyranny that has resulted. For those who would object to such a characterization of our country, Mr. Swanson makes a pointed observation, “…the tyrannized seldom know they are tyrannized, and that is precisely the reason why they are tyrannized.”
Perhaps the thing that I appreciate the most about this book is the way it helped me gain a perspective of the bigger picture of the history and present state of our nation. In particular, although I have been a proponent of home education for years, I feel like I have a renewed understanding of the diametrically opposing philosophies that govern state education versus home education. One of the fundamental purposes of compulsory state education – enacted first in Germany in 1819 and followed soon after by America in 1852 – was to remove children from their families and build a state-centered society. Not only has this been wildly successful, but because we have lost our sense of history, many people today no longer recognize the underlying worldviews that drive the educational choices that are laid before them. Even many in the modern homeschool movement have either forgotten or never fully understood the cultural war in which we are engaged. The homeschool movement, at its heart, is a conscientious objection to a counter-biblical worldview in which the state usurps the roles of family and God.
After laying forth the bleak state of our current affairs, Mr. Swanson spends the latter half of the book sharing his hope and vision with the reader. With his customary frankness, he identifies key problems and then proposes biblical solutions. I appreciated this point, “Those with the strongest commitment to their religion in terms of its application to daily life are usually the ones who are most influential in society, whether it be Muslims or Marxists. If Christians will reclaim this culture for Christ, they must develop a strong sense of God’s requirements on them in all areas of their lives.” While advocating the advancement of the Gospel, Mr. Swanson adds, “A Gospel stripped of a God-centered worldview will not penetrate very far into culture and life.” We can see the veracity of this statement all around us. It’s time for us to do something about it that will really make a difference!
The Savvy Musician
Whether you’re looking for inspiration or practical ideas, this book will deliver! Dozens of charts and lists provide handy references, and over 150 vignettes highlighting the efforts of musicians and organizations give you an idea of how an entrepreneurial mindset can play out in the real world. Author David Cutler has done a fabulous job of organizing a vast amount of material into the book’s 350 pages. And After reading it, I have a whole collection of websites that I want to look up for more information and ideas!
The Savvy Musician is geared to the professional musician more than the music educator, but the wealth of information ranging from business issues, to marketing, to event planning, and more is equally relevant for anyone running a business in the 21st Century. Many of the principles and ideas had me thinking of applications for both my music studio and my publishing business. I know I’ll be turning back to this book over and over again in the years to come!
Here’s a glimpse of the great topics you’ll find addressed in The Savvy Musician:
So You Want to be a Musician?, The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Minding Your Business, Marketing is Everything, Print Materials that Scream Success, Pounding the Virtual Pavement, The New Recording Paradigm, Extraordinary People Skills, Personal Finance for Musicians, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Funding Your Dreams, Outstanding Performance Plus, Artistry & Relevance, Leaving a Legacy, and Opportunity Brainstorm.
Escape From Reason
Years ago I read the first of the trilogy of essential books by Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer. I’ve had it in mind to continue with this book ever since, but just finally got around to it this year. Now I can’t believe I waited so long! One of the things that I love the most about Schaeffer’s writing is that it walks you through the fundamental philosophies that undergird our society and contrasts them with those of Christianity. The result, then, is that the reader is able to build from these ideas to form appropriate applications in every sphere of life.
In the foreword, Schaeffer emphasizes his belief that, “If we are to communicate the Christian faith effectively…we must know and understand the thought-forms of our own generation.” We don’t have to spend years studying every false religion or worldly philosophy, but if we learn to peel away the layers and expose the thought processes themselves, we can communicate effectively with any person on any topic.
Schaeffer leads the reader through the historical evolution of the relationship between Grace, the higher, and Nature, the lower. The essence of modern philosophy is that we create a dichotomy, rather than a unity, between the upper and lower so that we separate our physical being from our spiritual ideas. This separation is merely philosophical, though, because in reality “men act the way they think.” Later, Schaeffer emphasizes, “What makes modern man modern man is the existence of this dichotomy and not the multitude of types of things he places, as a leap, in the upper story. No matter what expression he places there, secular or religious, it still amounts to the same thing if it is rooted in this dichotomy.” This is a critical insight, for even Christians have a tendency to relegate God and His Word to spiritual matters that reside in the upper-story. But if we do this we are no different fundamentally than another who seeks meaning through any other leap from rational thought to pursuit of a philosophical ideal. Instead, we must recognize that “Christianity…provides a unified answer for the whole of life” and “God made the whole man and is interested in the whole man, and the result is a unity.” Therein lies the truth and beauty and meaning of life!
He Is There and He Is Not Silent
As soon as I finished Escape From Reason I couldn’t wait to start this third and final book of Francis Schaeffer’s trilogy. This statement, about a third of the way through the short 75-page book, expresses the heart of the message: “It is God Himself and His character who is the moral absolute of the universe…He must indeed not only be there, but He must have spoken. And He must have spoken in a way which is more than simply a quarry for emotional, upper-story experiences. We need propositional facts. We need to know who He is, and what His character is, because His character is the law of the universe.”
Schaeffer breaks down the big questions of life into the proposed answers to eventually conclude that Christianity is the only rational choice. He says, “The truth of Christianity is that it is true to what is there.” He addresses The Metaphysical Necessity, The Moral Necessity, and The Epistemological Necessity, and in each instance arrives at the conclusion that Christianity is not the best answer; it is the only answer. Truly a fascinating work that helps clarify one’s understanding and equip him to communicate more effectively with those who have questions about life and faith.
The Knowledge of the Holy
This is a brief, but classic, work that I read in preparation for a Bible study in which I was involved this fall. There are 23 chapters, each only several pages long, that expound on some of the many attributes and aspects of God’s nature. A statement in the preface encapsulates nicely why it is so critical to study God: “It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.” In the first chapter, Tozer adds, “A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well.”
I found each chapter to be insightful, uplifting, and thought-provoking. The far-reaching implications of learning more about God – through the combined study of this book and Scripture – compel me to think that one would do well to engage solely in the study of God for the remainder of this life. It is, of course, an inexhaustible study. And I have personally experienced the rich transformation that has been effected in my life as a result of what I have learned thus far. Another word from Tozer toward this end, “For the Scriptures not only teach truth, they show also its uses for mankind. The inspired writers were men of like passion with us, dwelling in the midst of life. What they learned about God became to them a sword, a shield, a hammer; it became their life motivation, their good hope, and their confident expectation. From the objective facts of theology their hearts made how many thousand joyous deductions and personal applications!”
Phyllis Schlafly: The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority
Every so often I just have this need to read a biography. I scour my shelves, looking for something I haven’t read that looks interesting. The writing style of Carol Rosenthal immediately grabbed my attention, so I decided to give this one a try. And as soon as I started reading, I could hardly put it down! I’ve heard the name, “Phyllis Schlafly” for almost as long as I can remember, but I knew nothing of her story or the causes the propelled her to become one of the most influential women of the 20th Century.
It seems clear that from a young age Phyllis was destined to make a great impact on our country. But one of the things that impressed me most about her story was how hard she worked. Whether it was doing grunt work, improving her communication skills, or researching a current issue, she always invested herself 100% in the task at hand. I appreciated this observation of her rigorous academic studies in the City House school she attended: “Strict discipline was considered a prerequisite, not an inhibitor of creativity.” This philosophy served Phyllis well into adulthood as she tackled monumental tasks. She is credited with almost single-handedly stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment that would have been “destructive of family living.”
Her uncompromising and outspoken positions earned her the vilification of the media and many political leaders. I was inspired by her conviction and boldness in the face of tremendous opposition. And I was equally impressed by her ability to balance numerous roles and responsibilities, including being a wife and mother to six children. Every generation needs strong, articulate women who know what they believe and who are willing to invest all their energy to fight for the truth and for the preservation of their families and the future of generations to come. Obviously no one is perfect, but I am grateful to Phyllis Schlafly for her tireless efforts that have done more to preserve our godly heritage and way of life than perhaps we will ever realize.
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
At the recommendation of a friend, I borrowed and read through this short book. The fact that the four chapters are based on lectures given by the author makes it a bit awkward at times. For example, in several instances he cites lack of space or time as a hindrance to further developing an issue he has raised. With such a short book, the reader wonders why he couldn’t have added another page or two to develop his thoughts more fully. That criticism aside, Mr. Carson does lay out some helpful perspectives on the topic of love, including a list of five different ways the Bible speaks about the love of God:
1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.
2. God’s providential love over all that He has made.
3. God’s salvific stance toward His fallen world.
4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward His elect.
5. God’s love directed toward His own people in a provisional or conditioned way.
I enjoyed the style of writing, which included a mixture of probing insight, helpful illustrations, and occasional touches of humor. It’s a great starting point for someone interested in a more in depth study of what the Bible says about the love of God.
The Marshall Fields
This book is a fascinating journey into the life and legacy of one of America’s most successful and wealthy businessmen – Marshall Fields. From the birth of Marshall Fields I in 1834 to the two living Fields heirs at the time of writing in 2002, the author chronicles not only the personal happenings of the Fields family, but artfully interweaves what was going on across the country and even around the world at the time. To condense 168 years of history into 367 pages is, of course, an impossible task, but I appreciated the overall scope of the times that I gained by reading this biography. To read a multi-generational account that doubles as an exposition of world happenings is truly a rich and memorable way to study the concurrent years of history!
The writing itself was not particularly impressive, with sometimes sloppy sentence construction and, more noticeably, a feeling of flatness to the characters. Some of this is due to the lack of information that has been preserved from earlier generations and some, it seems, could be the fault of the individuals themselves. Though lacking nothing in terms of material wealth and pleasures, emptiness pervaded the life of each generation. This gave rise to multiple marriages, substance abuse, illegitimate children, and general feelings of listlessness. Ultimately, there was very little purpose or vision beyond the money itself. Perhaps spurred on in part by the tax benefits, most of the Fields involved themselves to some extent in philanthropic endeavors, and Marshall Fields III poured millions of dollars into politically-motivated causes and efforts in the early to mid-1900’s. In fact, this was a key motivation behind his foray into newspaper publishing, including the eventual founding of the Chicago Sun (later the Sun-Times).
Marshall Fields I passed down an inheritance of millions (billions in today’s money) and a position of influence in numerous corporations and organizations, but with it came a legacy of marital dissatisfaction and absentee fatherhood. Toward the end of the book, the couple brief quotes by the contemporary inheritors of these bequests hint of bitterness and affirm the biblical truth that there is no profit to a man who “gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26).