Book Review: The Stand

The Stand

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy read; Very Long (1,150-1,200 pages depending on the edition)

Summary
A mysterious flu-like disease sweeps across the country, then the world killing 99.6 percent of the population. While the disease is 100% fatal, not every one contracts it. The story follows a few different people (some before, some after the flu) that all plan to meet up with a 108 year old woman in Nebraska, before moving to Colorado. Others do not follow the woman, but instead the ‘dark man’, and meet in Las Vegas. Those in Vegas plan to destroy those in Boulder, and eventually take over the world. Those in Boulder prepare to make their final stand (get it?).

If you’ve read much Stephen King, you know there will be twist and turns and other weird things, it can be hard to tell where he is going, because he probably wasn’t sure as he was writing it. My version of the book was the ‘complete and uncut’ version that was republished in 1990. The original was released in 1978, but was about 400 pages shorter. You can read his intros to the book for the explanation, though I still found it somewhat strange, as the book is broken into three ‘books’, why not just publish a trilogy?

My Thoughts
Actually, I’ll start with my dad’s thoughts. King is probably his favorite author and he has read all of his books (including the first publication of The Stand), and according to him, it is a toss-up between this book and Salem’s Lot as King’s best. When I asked other King fans about this, they tended to agree or call Salem’s Lot a close winner, so I guess I know what to read next.

Despite the massive size of the book, it really reads quite quickly. Much of the book is dialogue, so the pages aren’t that full. As always, King writes conversations and peoples’ thoughts so well that speed threw most pages. Some people complain that it drags, but I didn’t really feel that, though I felt he was oddly disproportionate to different times and scenes.

I found the story and people to be compelling, especially the early part of the book, post-flu. It kind of reminded me of the TV show ‘Last Man on Earth’, except most of King’s characters are far more intelligent and resourceful. I found myself thinking, that was smart, I’ll have to remember that…just in case. The first few hundred pages will really make you think, and the rest you read quickly with anticipation as to how it will end. If you enjoy Post-Apocalyptic fiction or are a King fan, this is definitely a book to put on your list.

*Spoilers (am I required to do that for a 40 year old book?)
This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but I read the book in June and people at work started calling in sick, saying they had a summer cold, a phrase I had never heard before. Honestly, I started to get a little paranoid. I have three final thoughts, to of which are critiques, but it it will ruin the ending if you haven’t read it; so, you’ve been warned. First and foremost, the ending with Trashcan Man blowing everyone up is stupid and even worse it is completely unrelated to the guys who walked there. The didn’t need to be there, Trash might have killed everyone regardless of their presence. Other problem also with the ending, it was really stupid that Stu and Fran drive back to Maine. Boulder had just turned the power back on and had doctors and a functioning hospital, but they leave despite having an infant and her being pregnant again. Finally, with chapter with Stu and Tom making their way back to Boulder are some of the best writing and sweet/sad story lines you may ever read. Probably makes up for the other parts I didn’t like. Definitely worth the read.

Book Review: Believe Me

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

When you receive an advanced reading copy to review, you are supposed to have the review out before the book is published, something I rarely do. However, today is one of the days I’ve done it correctly. This book will be available for purchase starting tomorrow, June 28.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Short, easy read

Summary
The subtitle kind of says it all. How did Evangelicals so overwhelmingly support Trump (more than any other candidate in history)? He received 81% of self identified Evangelicals. There are people who dispute the support, due to the self identified label and have found that people who attend among those who attend church weekly, the support drops to 40’s. However, Fea is a historian, and clearly knows that we as Evangelicals are now tied to Trump, whether we like it or not.

The book isn’t necessarily a critique of Trump or his policies, but just an explorations as to why this man, of all people, would be considered the ‘Christian candidate.’ Excluding the intro and conclusion, the book is broken into five chapters: Evangelicals Politics of Fear, how people have used fear to drum up support; The Playbook, how Christians have used fear over the past 70 years or so to affect politics in certain ways; Short History of Evangelical fear, from the Puritans to today Christians; Court Evangelicals, those famous Christians today who seek power and influence the ways courtiers once did with kings; and Make American Great Again, what exactly does Trump mean by this, when was it great, and for whom?

My Thoughts
I’m pretty sure the first time I came across Fea’s blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home was during the 2016 elections. He very clearly, as was I, seemed confused as to how Trump had the Evangelical vote. Many Christians now, including some of the most vocals supporters, say they chose Trump because he was better than Clinton, but many of them were supporters in the Primary. Fea points out in the book, that prior to Trump jumping in the race, Carson lead the Evangelical vote, but shortly after, Trump took it over, lost it briefly a few months later, and after recovery always lead. To some people, this made sense, to others it is absolutely confounding.

A twice divorced billionaire, who brags about infidelity, believes if you are rich you can grab random women ‘by the pussy,’ doesn’t believe in asking for forgiveness (a pillar of Christian beliefs), and is so ostentatious that he seems to be the physical embodiment of avarice seems to be an odd choice for the so-called Evangelical vote. This book is essentially Fea trying to understand what happened.

If Court Evangelical is a new term to you, it will likely be the most interesting chapter. The most striking to me was chapter five, Make America Great Again. As Christians, we need to seriously consider the ‘great again’ part and it’s implications. It might be great for me, a Protestant white guy, but what about basically everyone else that exists? And how serious is he about getting back to the ‘good ol’ days’?

There’s a lot more I could write about this topic, and if you are interested, the book is a must read. It is a great intro into how to think about Evangelical support for Trump. Even if you are supporter, especially if you are a ‘supreme court’ supporter, you should really read this book. I do have two brief criticisms and then a final thought before this gets too long.

First, a theological issue. Fea must come from an Arminian branch of Protestantism, as he misunderstands a few things about Puritan thought as well as Calvinism. It doesn’t necessarily change anything in the book, but if you come from a Reformed or Lutheran background, you’ll see some theological and hermeneutical errors. Second, he is a little too quick to say someone in not a Christian. While I agree that Trump shows not a single ‘fruit of the Spirit’ nor any ‘good works’, I’m hesitant to ever doubt someone’s profession of faith.

Finally, I really appreciate the intro and concluding chapters in this book. I’m told some people do not read these, but you really should. I am sure Fea will be attached as a ‘liberal’ or people will say he is not a Christian for writing this book, but the intro makes it pretty clear what he is trying to do. Even more, the conclusion is a great piece of writing on the confusion about the support for Trump. He wrote so much of what I’ve felt or wondered. It’s not that voting for Trump is wrong, it’s that the fact he is viewed as the Evangelical leader just makes no sense. If you are rich, or think the most dangerous think in America is Mexicans picking our fruit, or if you want to ban Muslims, or if you are just a party line Republican, then Trump makes the most sense. And all of that is fine, but to tie him up in religious language and say he is the best candidate for Christians is just confounding.

This vote will follow Evangelicals for all of American history. If you are curious as to how we go her, this book is a must read.

 

*I received a free copy of this book from Eerdman’s Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This is my first review for Eerdman’s and the first time I’ve received a galley proof in hardcopy.

Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy

Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

My Rating- Must Read

Level – Easy read, medium length

Summary
The book basically tries to answer the question of what would it look like if we worked, ran businesses, spent money/time, and gave money/time in a way that was entirely shaped by a Biblical World View. After the intro the book is broken into 12 chapters that are based on the six ‘keys’ to practicing ‘the King’s Economy’. One chapter will introduce the key and the next is a shorter chapter that gives examples of how that key works in the real life, with examples of people/organizations that the authors know.

The six keys are – Worship, this is about who we worship. Is it God or money and how does that look in the way that we give. Community, the focus here is about having a broad community of all types of people, particularly those from different economic classes. Work, why do we work and what is the point of work? Also, what does the Old Testament concept of ‘gleaning’ look like in a modern world? Equity, based on the command that their be no poor among us, this isn’t necessarily just about making sure everyone has money, but that every one has a job and kind provide for themselves (or help to give to others), even further, it is about making sure that those jobs are enough. Creation Care, this is about environmental stewardship. Finally, Rest, and this is a call to bring back the practice of Sabbath.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It was probably the most thought provoking and in some way challenging book I’ve read in a long time. Sadly, it isn’t often you read a book targeted at a popular Christian audience that makes you think, even rarely does one challenge the way you should live.

I’ll get the two nit-picky things I didn’t like out of the way first. I didn’t really like the intro, and this was due to their misuse of stats that is a pet peeve of mine. In the intro, they are trying to show that we are richer now than ever, but more unhappy. Unfortunately, they use GDP per capita, which is a useless statistic, because it ignores income inequality and the fact that middle classes wages have been stagnant for decades. It also ignores cost like tuition and healthcare that have risen more rapidly than anything else. However, I don’t disagree with their premise, if nothing else, we are at least more materialistic than ever and constantly surround ourselves with distraction. Second, and I think this is more on the editors or publisher, they only ever refer to Jesus as King Jesus, and this is done to reiterate the title, and it is just awkward and I wish authors/editors wouldn’t do that.

No back to the good part, if you are modern American Christian, especially on the conservative or Republican side, this book will be a challenge. I’d suspect many hardcore Republican’s won’t finish this book as it challenge the assumption that making money is the most important thing in life. It also encourages people to pay living wages, which Republicans generally oppose vehemently. Of course, there are aspects that all sides of the political spectrum will like and dislike, which is a great reminder that neither political party works from a Biblical worldview and we ought not act like they do.

The first chapter, about putting God first and showing that by how we give should challenge the way we all handle money. American’s like to think of ourselves as generous, but in reality we give about 2.5% of income. The Community, Equity, and Rest were interesting chapters that should make you think, and if you take take it seriously, will affect your life. And of course, it should right? The Bible calls us to be different, and especially the chapters on Community and Rest are reminders of just how different we should look. The Creation Care chapter was good and I agree with all of it, I’m a big advocate of environmental stewardship. However, it was probably the weakest on a Biblical basis, and I’m not entirely sure it fit well with the rest of the book.

The best chapter, and worth the price of the book alone, is the Work chapter. For one, many of us, especially white-collar workers who have a lot of options, struggle with what work should look like in out lives, but the crazy part is gleaning. In the Old Testament, the Jews were not allowed to fully harvest their own fields. God required that they leave the edges unpicked so that the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners would have something that they could eat. Obviously, we are not a majority subsistence agricultural community anymore. So the authors dive into what it could look like and the ideas are fascinating and in some ways pretty radical to the way we view life in America.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of their options, or at least the way that they would work out in most places, but they are thought provoking nonetheless. It is certainly something I’ve never thought about before, but it has been on my mind sense I finished the book a few weeks ago. If you really want to be challenged and forced to think and try to rethink the way we view the economy today, and how we should view it as as Christians, this is a book for you. It is probably my favorite so far of 2018, and is definitely a  must read book.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Top post of the first half of 2018

I noticed many other bloggers do something like top post/most read of X year or the more prolific ones do a top of the month, or even week. I always kind of wondered how they knew, and that’s when I discovered the depth of the stats pages blogging platforms provide. I brought this up to Mrs. MMT and she thought it was stupid…that I didn’t know this was a thing. To be fair, she is an accredited PR professional, and my desire in life is to be a monk, but with sex, and fishing, and college football. Wait, where was I?

So I dug into my stats, and up until a few months ago, my most viewed overall (and winning by far and away for most views the day it was posted) was the time almost two years ago that I hosted the 2016 August Biblical Studies Carnival. That has since been passed by what is also my most read post of 2018 so far. My top five most read of 2018:

  1. Book Review: Sapiens
  2. Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple
  3. Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
  4. Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life
  5. Tie – 10 Year Anniversary; Book Review: Four Views on Hell; Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion

Why these posts? I have a few ideas, we’ll start from the bottom. Interestingly, Darkness is the only book review to make the list that I actually posted this year, so it’s probably there just due to recency. Similarly, Anniversary was post two weeks ago, and probably brought more of my Twits than book reviews due to the pictures of me and the Monday Morning Wife. Not sure about Four Views, other than Hell is weird and people have questions about it. Feels pretty cool that people found me from that.

My guess is that Imperfect, and the two disciplines books were popular searches due to Lent. I’ve already stated, I don’t know how to do Lent, but I do have two thoughts to help. First, you are probably looking up Lent because of fasting. I’ve heard nothing better than this Theocast podcast on fasting. Their idea that it isn’t necessarily about giving up food (Protestant view), but more about reclaiming time is fascinating. Second, if you are deciding which book to read, I can help. Imperfect is not about spiritual disciplines, but is still awesome and you should read it, and I’ve already written a post about why you should read Godly Man over Christian Life (though, if you are a woman, it’s still a better book).

So, this brings us to Sapiens. Why? Well, my stats pages tell me the terms searched that led people here, and basically, it was people searching for a ‘Christian review’ of the book. I was shocked/proud to find out that if you google this, I’ll be one of the top 5 or so (it changes) links shown. That’s really cool, but people were probably disappointed in what they found. I didn’t write a ‘Christian’ review in the sense people were probably searching. I mean, I am a Christian and I did review the book, but I think what people were look for was a Christian response. So, as a man of the people, I plan to write a Christian response to this book based solely on my guess what people were actually questioning (off the top of my head, it’s evolution).

Two final thoughts – I do Advanced Review Copy book reviews for a few publishers, but of the six book reviews that have brought the most readers this year, only one (Imperfect, from Baker Books), was one of these. Second, the May 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival is up over at 5 Minute Bible.

That’s it, those are my top five as of June 1, 2018. I plan to do an end of the year post for the most read of 2018, so stay tuned I guess. Thanks everyone who reads or follows me and I apologize in advance to anyone who found my by accident. I’ll try to do better next time.

Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – short book, but if you don’t remember anything from high school physics, it could take a bit a work to read through

Summary
A summary is somewhat difficult, I guess the title says it all. It is 12 short chapters, all related to what he thinks are the important summaries of what you need to know to understand astrophysics. The first chapter being an intro, and the final chapter, no so much a conclusion as concluding reflections, which might have been one of the more interesting parts of the book. Other topics/chapters include ‘Big Bang’, dark matter, dark energy (which I had never heard of), the enormity of space, the minutia of atomic size, and oddly, the periodic table. Each chapter is broken down randomly into subsections of varying size and focus.

My Thoughts
In some ways this is a strange book, it is part summary of astrophysics, but also part journal, and based on the subsections, part lecture notes or maybe parts or popular journal/magazine articles. This made the book a little disjointed, not so much by chapter topic, but the consistency inside each chapter. There would be a fascinating section in chapter that drills down to serious science, then the next section would be a personal story/reflection, some times entirely autobiographical.

The book is written for a popular audience and most sections read quickly. Other than unironically condescending people who believe in things with only theoretical proof (existence of God), only to then explain his knowledge of things with only theoretical proof (the multiverse), the writing is light-hearted and funny. It would definitely make you think, especially with some of the more abstract concepts like dark energy. Contemplating subjects like the size of the ever-expanding universe or just how long it has been around is fascinating.

I guess if you’ve ever wondered, ‘what is astrophysics or how should I start learning about it?’, this is a great place to start. I wish the chapters were a little tighter, but they are certainly interesting, and you will learn (or re-remember) many things. However, the book is so short, it is definitely worth picking up if you are looking for something.

Book Review: On Pills and Needles

On Pills and Needles: The Relentless Fight to Save My Son from Opioid Addiction

My Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Easy, moderate length (250+), but reads quickly

Summary
A detailed summary of the book is difficult to do. The subtitle more or less says everything you need to know about the book. Van Warner writes a first hand account of watching is his son struggle with addiction to opioids, starting as a teenager and extending through his mid twenties. The book is broken into 25 broad chapters that generally follow a chronological pattern of thought, but not always. There are a few bits of information regarding the pandemic that is the opioid crisis, but these are mostly scattered throughout the narrative of his son’s life. If you seeking answer to the problem, or even just the ‘Christian response’ (the publisher is Baker Books, after all), you will not find any in this book. However, if you are somehow lucky enough not to know anyone with this addiction, it is worth the read, if for nothing else than to gain an understanding of what happens, what addiction look like, and the impact of family and friends of the addict.

My Thoughts
Van Warner is a great writer in a narrative sense, and I found myself compelled to keep reading this book just to see what happens next. It is an emotionally enthralling book, and if you have normal level of empathy and emotions, it is likely you will not get through this book without crying multiple times. That being said, be aware that there is little else to this book than the story of his son. I’m not really sure what I expected when I ordered it, but there isn’t really any resolution or response to the issue. No ‘warning signs’ or way to prevent this from happening. Nothing along the lines of, how to help those hurting or what we should do as a church. All of  which is fine, it is clearly not the intention he had in mind while writing this, but be aware if that is the type of book you are looking for.

Outside of the lack of resolution, the only thing I didn’t like about the book is the typically evangelical hypocrisy of being anti-government, while blaming the government for not doing enough. While he rightly attributes the initial problem to the Pharma Companies, specifically the one that falsely claimed Oxcy was non-addictive, he does lament the government hasn’t done enough. He also point out that Florida is ground zero of the crisis, with an astonishing 93 of the top 100 opioid prescribing doctors working there. Of course, FLorida is notoriously lax in government regulation and I’m sure this and the low tax (meaning less government) environment is partly what brought him there from New York. He himself doesn’t necessarily rant that much against government in his book, but it is odd to read from the perspective of evangelicals, knowing that most of us are heavily pro-business and anti regulation, inexplicably claiming that the free market couldn’t lead us astray, and then, when they inevitably do, we wonder why the government didn’t help. Those critiques are a little past the realm of this book review, but if you become aware of them while reading, it tends to gnaw at you.

Likewise, he blames ‘bureaucracy’ for his son spending two months in county jail, while he supposed to be transferred to another county jail. All this happens in context of his sons possession and intent to distribute charge being dropped. Being dropped. He doesn’t seem to realize how lucky he is that his son is well off and white. Poor people and minorities don’t tend to have felony drug charges just ‘dropped’, but instead spend years in jail.

I’m hesitant to leave that in for just a book review, but the author does seem to be misguided often. Regardless, his story is revisiting, if lacking insight in to solutions. I have a colleague whose son is currently in the grips of heroin addiction, after starting with Oxcy. The things the author writes about, the stories, the pain, the interactions with counselors and police, could have come from her. There is a shocking amount of similarity. I’m sure that is the same for many others out there. If you are looking for a story to help you internalize the crisis, this is a must read. It is probably helpful for anyone in pastoral ministry, counseling, or youth/child workers. There isn’t a list of things that parents/teachers can look for as far as signs of drug abuse, but there are gleanings from the detail of his story. For those with any interest in the epidemic that is currently among us, this is a book you need to add to your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Talking with Your Kids about God

Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have

My Rating – If you have time

Level – Easy; reads quickly, moderate length (just under 300 pages)

Summary
The title of the book is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t really a parenting or family book. This might be just because I have a three-year old, but when I see ‘kids’, I think children under 10 and skew even younger. This book is really a basic apologetics intro that can also be used with maybe high schoolers or fairly knowledgeable middle schoolers. There are discussion questions after each chapter, broken in to two parts ‘open the conversation’ and ‘advance the conversation’. The former could be used for middle school or newer Christians, the latter for high school, but also for discussion in a small group or other Bible Study. Very few people have much knowledge of apologetics, and this book would likely be new to most parents, let alone ‘kids’.

The 30 conversations are grouped into five equal parts – the existence of God, science and God, the nature of God, believing in God, and the difference God makes. There is an introduction to each part, then the six topics of conversation. Each topic is then summarized in ‘key points’, followed by the ‘conversation guide’ which consist of ‘open the conversation’, ‘advance the conversation’, and ‘apply the conversation’.

My Thoughts
As stated above, this isn’t really a book for kids. Maybe the first two parts would work to discuss with middle schoolers, but the discussion questions certainly seem more advanced. Those two chapters seem to be the strength of the book, as far as a parent is concerned. As parent, it would be worthwhile to read through these, so that you can know the discussions to have with your children as the move on through school and start to learn about so-called conflicts with the Bible and belief in God. I can’t really see reading through this book or using the advanced conversation questions with a child that is first learning of the conflict, but reading through as a parent, it would be a good reminder of the conflicts they will face and if you’ve never learned much in the way of apologetics, this will certainly move you in the right direction.

Maybe I’m underestimating people too much, but I think this book is much more suited to a small group/Sunday School/whatever you call it, discussion than something to read with children. In that sense, I can’t really recommend this for parents, but I think it is worth checking out as a group leader. The book is fairly basic, but I just don’t see that enough adults have ever learned these ideas, so you need to start with them first. Especially the part, ‘the nature of God’, as this moves out of apologetics and into more of a systematic theology.

Two other criticisms I have are that the existence of God, is a pretty good over all part of the book. There are convincing arguments of the existence of a God, but Crain never steps into the realm of the existence of our God, the God of the Bible. Which leads to the most glaring omission in the book, the Bible. There is no major section devoted to ‘the truth of the Bible’ or ‘how do we know the Bible is true’ or something else along those lines. For me, this is where apologetics or knowledge of God has to start.

One surprising strength of the book, is the final part, ‘the difference God makes’. Again, this really lends itself to a discussion group, as it more or less a group of discussion about the impact our knowledge of God should have in our lives. I really enjoyed this section and will likely use it, if not the whole book, with the group that I lead.

Overall, a pretty good book. I’m not sure it met the stated goal of discussion with kids. Catechisms are still probably the best thing for that. However, I do think it would work really well as an intro to apologetics, a basic primer on the knowledge of God, and could open up great discussion on the impact this knowledge has on our lives. With the ‘key points’ and ‘discussion guide’, I think this book could be repurposed into an interest group study.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Why Nations Fail

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Moderate, you’ll need some basic familiarity with economics, politics, and history; Long (462 pages before acknowledgements, notes, etc.) overly repetitious and a bit tedious.

Summary 
As I start to write the review, it dawns on me that perhaps the title is a bit misleading. It isn’t so much about why they fail, as to why the never even get off the ground. Some nations seem doomed from the start, however, other become wildly successful. Ultimately, I think, the point of the book is who are the ones that are successful and how does that happen? Acemoglu and Robinson pin it two factors, which taken with their opposites form something like a matrix or quadrant, and you need to overlap with the positive of both. These are whether or not you nation is politically inclusive and, and perhaps more importantly, the whether or not you have extractive institutions.

The politic aspect is fairly straight forward, are you in a dictatorship (or other controlling, top down government) or in a democracy (or other form of responsive government)? If you have no say in politics, and government is controlled by a few or just one person, it is fairly easy to see why that wouldn’t work. The more complicated and impactful side is the extractive institutions. These can take many forms, such as contract law or heavy taxation, but a good example is property rights. If you know you have solid and secure property rights, you are more likely to invest and build up your business. If you fear that an institution may step in at any moment and take your land or business from you, why bother?

The book itself is broken into 15 chapters, with an interesting preface about Mubarak and Egypt. The first chapter compares Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora; the two cities have similar culture and geography, so why is one rich and the other poor? The chapter serves as the intro to the book and leads into the second chapter where the debunk the reasons for poverty being related to genetics or weather, among others. Chapters 3 through 12 are basically case studies where the authors look a different political situation throughout history through the lenses of responsiveness and extractiveness. In 13 and 14, the authors discuss nations that fail today those that have become successful. The final chapter looks at our attempts to help impoverished nations and how understanding the causes, as the have proposed, will help us to better understand why those attempts have failed and how we can do better going forward.

My Thoughts
First, about the book itself – the authors are both academics, and the book certainly reads that way to an extent. The book could have been much more concise, dropping at least 100 pages without missing any case studies are points. I think part of the issue may come from the publisher/editor, in that instead of setting up most of the chapters as case studies that then looked at their points each time, it might have been better to make their points, and then touch on case studies as proof. Instead, each chapter could almost be read independently, meaning there is too much repetition of their point.

To the content of the book – it was fascinating, anyone with interest in economics, history, or politics, this book is a must read. One of the the more interesting points of history to me, was the impact of the Plague on serfdom in Europe. Eastern Europe reacted one way, England another, which would then impact America (as it was founded with this change as part of history), which ultimately effects me today. Had the reaction in England been the same as the Austria-Hungary reaction, who knows how different the Western World would look, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this review right now.

Another point the spend some time on that is worth considering is looking beyond just economics. The point to growth of the economy under Stalin, but that the nation still failed. It is also helpful to see and understand how the impacts of colonialism, which was not inclusive but very extractive, still effects those countries and peoples today. The point was driven home a little more for me because I live in the South, which they actually spend some time on. The impacts of slavery on the economics of white people is still being felt today, though less so than a few decades ago. The discussion centers on the fact that obviously slavery is extractive and was horrible for black people, but it also never would have worked politically because it included so few people in the institutions. Most white people were shut out of the economy and wages and this impact lasted a long time. They point out the that median income in the South was about 40% of the median income through the rest of the nation as recently as 1950.

All of this works back to a reminder that part of why life is good for me today is pure luck. From serfdom in England, to the Civil War, on through today. If Lincoln had let the South succeed and be it’s own country, it clearly would have failed, based on the theories of the authors. Meaning, I could be living in a failed state right now, instead of America. They call it ‘small differences and critical juncture’ in history, but it is basically an accident of history; it is somewhat sobering to consider.

Overall, and interesting and challenging book. It could certainly be a bit shorter and cleaner, which is why I didn’t rate it higher, but a book that is well worth the read and one to put on your list.

Book Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion

This is the second book in a series, check out my review of the first book – Hyperion.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; fairly long at over 500 pages.

Summary
This is a continuation of the first book, Hyperion, so the story line of the Pilgrims in continued, but there is also the introduction of another main character story line. To avoid spoilers (if that is a think for a book published over 20 years ago), I’ll say the Pilgrims all meet the Shrike, all have their stories (more or less) meet a resolution, and find out that their stories are even more intertwined than they knew.

The additional character is Joseph Severn, a Cybrid for the personality/memory of John Keats. Much of the book takes place from his vantage point. Not only his own story, but he is inexplicably tied to the Pilgrims and view what is happening to them in his dreams. CEO Gladstone puts him up in TC2, so that he can keep her apprised of the Pilgrims.

Severn/Keats and the Pilgrims stories also mix together, as does the Ousters, for a few twist and turns you don’t expect coming, including a few new back stories.

My Thoughts
One quick thought, that I didn’t put together form the first book, but become more apparent in this one, why does the cover art show the Shrike with only two arms?

As for the actual content of the book, as much as I enjoyed it, I have to admit, it wasn’t as good as the first. However, if you’ve read the first, this is still a must read. If you haven’t read the first, go read it, then come read this one. This is still a great work of fiction. He is writing during the early days of the internet, but his future thoughts on what it could be come are frightening and a little ephemeral, and in some parts could best be described as ‘trippy’. Smart phones were more than a decade away when the book was published, but the equivalent he uses, sure sounds like them, especially if we were to lose them now; from page 480

“After seven centuries of existence and at least four centuries where few citizens existed without it, the datasphere…simple ceased to be. Hundreds of thousands of citizens went insane at the moment – shocked into catatonia by the disappearance of senses which had become more important to them than sight or hearing.”

The Pilgrim story conclusions are interesting, though some are unsatisfying, and at Severn is not an interesting character. However, the book touches on some of the wildest ideas of AI and has so many intertwined stories and crazy new back stories, it is well worth the read.

Book Review: Hyperion

Hyperion

My Rating: Must Read

Level: Fairly easy read, long (almost 500 pages) but reads quickly

Summary
This is the first book the the Hyperion Cantos series and centers around the stories of seven ‘pilgrims’ as the travel to the distant world Hyperion and a voyage to meet the Shrike. The story take place 700 years in the future, where we have left Earth after it’s accidental destruction and colonized multiple planets throughout the galaxy.  On the ship, each pilgrim – the priest, the soldier, the poet, the scholar, the starship captain, the detective, and the consul – tales their story.

Each mini-story is incredible and interesting in it’s own right. But it is nothing less than impressive they way Simmons weaves the stories together with histories, biologies, geographies, ecologies, and political back stories of a dozens worlds and scores of peoples. It is an amazing, sprawling, interwoven, epic fantasy.

My Thoughts
I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but I was impressed with this book and honestly shocked that it ins’t more famous. The shear volume and intricacies of the stories and back stories are impressive. I actually found myself staying up late to read and being excited to come back to the book to see what would happen next. I ordered the next book in the series as soon as I was wrapping this one up.

I don’t know how much I should concern myself with spoilers for a nearly 30 year old book, but I’ll just say the pilgrim stories for the priest and scholar were so fascinating to me, that they are worth the price of the book alone. Either one could be it’s own novel, and the concepts Simmons put are great thought experiments.

Of course, the book being so old, there are interesting parts that are oddly anachronistic now, which make them especially funny being projected in the future. For instance, one of the top technologies is the personal fax machine. But his concept of the ‘all-thing’ is basically our modern internet with smart phones, so that was interesting to see. Overall, a great, fun book that is a must read for anyone who likes sci-fi or fantasy, but also for anyone who enjoys thoughtful fiction.