My Rating – Must Read
Level – Quick, easy read; short (< 200 pages)
Modeled on the old school (though not as old as I thought) ‘food pyramid’, McCracken seeks to give us guidelines for what to consume to gain wisdom. The book is broken into two parts. First, keeping with the food metaphor (eating too much, too fast, and unbalance) is the ‘source of our sickness’ which has three chapters: Information Gluttony, Perpetual Novelty, and ‘Look Within’ Autonomy. Part two lays out the pyramid in these chapters: Part Two Intro, The Bible, The Church, Nature, Books, Beauty, The Internet and Social Media, and What Wisdom Looks Like (which is part summary and part conclusion for the whole book). There is also an introduction (An Unwise Age) that does well to diagnoses many of our current issues.
The first part of the book was unexpected. I thought the focus would be just the pyramid, but McCraken does a great and concise job of diagnosing the problem. That made the book stronger and I appreciate his continued use of the food metaphor. Overall, I agreed with most of his food groups, but not all. In his defense, he points out that the metaphor breaks down a bit, but the overall focus was balance. Starting with the Bible is a good choice, obviously you can’t really read it more than all other books combined, and his point isn’t that you should read other books.
The next two levels, the church and nature, were really well done. Considering these are all short chapters, everyone should read this the book, but these two chapters were probably the best. He does a great job of pointing to the communal aspect of church, and reading this now (hopefully with the end in sight) in the pandemic, is an important reminder of what we are missing. I was skeptical of nature at first. I enjoy the outdoors (fishing, hiking, camping, etc.), but I’m usually wary of Christians how push it as necessary (conflating the outdoor life with ‘manliness’), but that is not at all what he did. He writes of the value of nature for our brains, touching on neuroscience, and the enjoyment of God’s creations. He reaches back to Augustine and Calvin and the ‘two-book’ theory of general revelation. It is probably one of the best handlings of nature by a Christian author that I have read.
Books, of course, was great. He is a big book guy, I’m a big book guy. I remain skeptical that if you are not an avid reader, that you would agree with him. Most people aren’t going to read 30-50 books a year, but maybe he could have set a goal for people on the lower end, or people who don’t challenge themselves to read, preferring, instead, to live a life of functional illiteracy. I must point out, because it is so often incorrectly quoted, that C.S. Lewis said read ONE old book for every three NEW books. People often flip the quote.
The weakest chapter for me was beauty. I understand he was likely being vague so that it could encompass various arts, but I wonder if the point would be clearer/stronger, if he dove into one think (i.e. Music). Or at least encourage people to actively participate. This may not be what he actually believes, that we must create, but I find that to be a little closer to the truth. The final chapter is on social media/internet. He makes a compelling argument to not abandon them completely and offers strong guidance on how to cultivate use. I am not a heavy social media uses, so much of what he offered seemed simple, but I know it is more difficult for others.
I thought one thing that was missing, or maybe just not pointed out clearly enough, was TV. I could see how quality TV/Movies (he is a professional movie critic) could fit into beauty, but also (he points to bingeing on Netflix) social media/internet. Maybe I’m just old for thinking of TV as a separate category (don’t worry, I do stream shows, no cable at the MMT household), but on the other hand, I don’t know many things that waste as much of peoples time in mindless consumption as TV. Sure, you may mindlessly scroll for 30 minutes on Facebook, but people will eat dinner in front of the TV, then watch for another four hours, before going to bed.
The only other issue I had, and to stick with his food metaphor, was this was really just a sampling. Again in his defense, I believe this was by design. I will likely pull more books from his end notes than I typically do. I’ve read most of the tech ones (his big omission was Irresistible, about the way tech has been made to be ‘addictive’. I had not read many of the books from the nature chapter, that seem like they integrate theology and nature well or on a psychology and nature level.
Overall, I think everyone needs to read this book. It is relatively short and can give you great guidance on your consumption. Extra points to him and the publishers for adding discussion questions. I already know a guy who is doing this book with his men’s group. This book would be a great discussion starter on how you are spending time and ways you can reorder your intake, especially on tech and books. It isn’t perfect, and many people will disagree with the levels (outside of the top and the bottom, hopefully), but it is a compelling starting point and a must read.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.