Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
My Rating: Put it on your list
Level: Quick and easy read, fairly short.
Summary
Away in the dark near future, there is a still a profession called ‘fireman’, but they don’t save houses from burning (houses are fireproof now), but now they start fires. Not for houses, but for books. The book follows the story of one of these firemen as he starts to question why they are doing what they do, and instead starts saving and hiding books. After he is found out, he becomes the victim of the system he used to be a part of.
My Thoughts
This is a classic of dystopian fiction. The scary thing is, though some elements are over the top, much is too accurate. Bradburry rightly predicts (originally published in 1951) that books won’t be banned by the government or people in the majority for challenging the status quo, but instead, books will be questioned or banned for offending some group or another. We see this happening today, especially with elements of history that people do not like. He also predicted the heavy use of what are basically headphones. I went for a walk this morning and noticed every one of the dozen or so people I saw had headphones in.
As a big book-reader and someone who isn’t paranoid about the government, I see Bradburry’s vision as much more accurate than something like 1984. He was even wrong that the government would actively burn books by the will/request of the people. We don’t have to worry about that now, people just stopped reading them. Hell, people buy digital books, so you can’t even burn them anyway. But it doesn’t matter, in the most recent Pew study (2014) 23% of people hadn’t read a book in the past year. That’s up from 8% in 1978, the first year they asked. The median number of books read a year by American adults is 4. We don’t need to burn book, and the government doesn’t need to ban them. We are doing this to ourselves. We have 100 of channel showing pointless shit on TV and endless ways to stalk people we don’t even like on facebook and twitter, who needs books?
Maybe his most accurate portrayal was related to this. One of the characters in the book, whom the police watch due to being ‘peculiar’, lives in the only house that doesn’t glow blue at night. The family has their lights on and can be seen through the window sitting around talking, everyone else has their lights off and is watching TV, so that only a low, flickering blue color can be seen from the street. Where he is wrong is that no one thinks it odd now, but most people likely never think about it. I know I never did, but now if I walk around at night, I notice all the windows from the back of the houses and some of the bedrooms are dark and flickering blue. It becomes kind of eerie if you look or think about it too much.
 Anyway, over all, the book is a bit over-dramatic at times, well not being dramatic enough in others, due to un-imagined technological change. The concepts are great and the portrayal of why life could be like in this dystopian future is frighteningly accurate at times. I as I said above, it is a classic in the genre, and a book to put on your reading list.

Book Review: Fearless Parenting

Fearless Parenting: How to Raise Faithful Kids in a Secular Culture

My Rating: Probably not worth your time

Level: Quick, easy read; short book.

Summary
The title of this book is a little strange. For the most part, the book is about Biblical parenting in a secular world (which is more or less what the subtitle says). The name comes from the second chapter, where the authors tell you to reject fear as your basis of parenting. That is all well and good, but the response in this chapter is in relation to the first chapter, which might be one of the worst examples of writing in any parenting book, ever. I’d highly recommend skipping the first chapter, if you have any plans on finishing the book.

The remainder of the book is pretty solid; with almost a completely different feel than the first chapter (as if there were two authors…). The first few chapters are general reminders and thoughts on parenting from a Christian perspective that should be familiar to most church-going families. Some of the topics covered later in the book include clothes, materialism, social media, and ‘screen-time’, and they all contain good, practical advise.  The one section where the book really does shine is in discussion of kid’s sports. In it, the author calls out parents who try to live vicariously through their children in sports and challenges parents to ramp down the amount of sports played and to not make them the number one priority in the life of your family. The section of the book was redeeming enough for me to not rate the book lower.

My Thoughts
I wanted to like this book more, but it was hard to get past the first chapter. In it, the author ‘projects’ what life make be like in 2030. Some of the ‘data’ points (such as rising crime, or Trump reducing/balancing the budget) are somewhere between disingenuous to out right lies. In case you decide to fact check (which I did), he heads you off by pointing out that if you think he is being ‘too political’ (or, what I’d call, maybe just being a complete political hack) it is because YOU, reader, are too politically correct. Along with misused data, the author also gives us an Orwellian tinged far right-wing dystopian fantasy; including the suggestion that new government agencies will be created and that pastors will have to submit their sermons/teaching for approval by the state.

Honestly, this first chapter is just embarrassing. It hurts me on two levels. First, as a Christian, it is embarrassing that this book is written by/for and published by Christians. I suppose the author may shrug it off and say, ‘this is just what could happen.’ However, his projections are based on neither facts nor anything to do with Christians. It is straight up far-right political (hackery?, propaganda? fantasy/nightmare? I can’t even come up with the right word for this). It reminds me of the chain email that went around (you probably got it from your mom or grandpa) 2008/2009 that claimed that Obama was the anti-christ and that Revelation said he would be a Muslim. Of course, the book of Revelation makes no such claim, and Islam would not be founded for a another couple of centuries. Overall, I think the first chapter could best be summed up as an email your grandmother would forward you because she is scarred. I think this is probably one of the biggest reasons why young people leave the church today. This is beyond the scope of a book review, but a generation ago, people left the mainline churches because they sounded like democratic party meetings, and now people are leaving evangelical churches because they sound like republican party meetings.

Second, this chapter was bad in it’s use of statistics. George Barna and I both have master’s degrees in City Planning, so I feel he should know better. Which leads me to another criticism of the book overall – with one of the authors being the head of a major polling/research group, the book was very lacking in data. I was interested in this book partly because I thought, with Barna being co-author, it would be data heavy. Then again, based on the first chapter, maybe that is for the best.

This has already gone on too long for a review, so I’ll wrap up quickly. The sections/chapters on social media and screen time offer some great guidelines and I appreciate anytime a parenting book (especially Christian focused) offers practical examples. The section materialism was impressively counter-cultural. It did a good job of calling parents out for their endless wants and purchases as a way of setting a poor example for our children. Finally, I was really impressed with the section on sports. This is something of a sacred cow in America, particularity for things like Baseball and Football (especially here in the South). It is an incredible challenge the author lays out, telling someone you may skip a tournament, or not enroll in a sport because it has games on Sunday. They do well in discussing the impact too many sports have on your family life (e.g. vacation time or even canceling vacations), on your children’s health, and, most convictingly, your own idols (vicarious living, or idol of parenting a sports star in think on how that reflects on you).

I haven’t seen a parenting book really reflect on sports to this extent before, and it almost makes the whole book worth reading. However, due mostly to the drag of that first chapter, I think this book is mostly not worth your time. If you are specifically looking for some guidelines on materialism, social media/screen use, and sports participation, it may be a worthwhile. However, you can probably find some decent guidelines for most of these online somewhere, or perhaps in other books.

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

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World

Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Quick, easy read

Summary
Huxley’s most famous book is set in a dystopian world roughly 600 years in the future; puns abound as the time is known as the Year of Our Ford, a reference to Henry Ford and the roll out of the Model T (all crosses at churches are cut to a ‘T’ and Ford is a used as a swear). The book explores eugenics as were feared by some at the time of the right (1932), including forced sterilization; strict classes separation for the sake of ‘order’; ‘sleep-learning’ and classical conditioning; open sexual ‘freedom’; and most famously, self medication with high power psychopharmaceuticals, in the book known as ‘Soma’.

The book is famous enough I won’t spend any more time on the summary, but will note that it somewhat kicked off an era of in which some of the most famous dystopain books of the 20th century were written. Most notability, within 20 years both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 were written. Both Brave New World and 1984 are widely considered two of the best books of the 20th century (though I find 451 more frighteningly accurate).

My Thoughts
This book is most famously contrasted with 1984, so I will get that out of the way, as the offer two competing views about books and our free time. In 1984, the government bans book, in Brave New World, there is no need. We have TVs (though hilariously viewed from his time as small and black and white), special entertainment complexes after work, orgies, and of course, Soma. Huxley’s view of the future had us seeking our own pleasure as the reason for our undoing.

Along with technological issues, the other surprising thing to the modern reader might be his fear of the breakdown of the family. My copy was published in 1946 and in his forward he writes that he has heard there are parts of the US where the divorce rate is pushing 50%, of course we are now roughly that as a nation. As someone born in the 80s, after the sexual revolution and the advent of the no-fault divorce, this fear of his seems quaint and almost strange. Additionally, in the forward, he reflects that he set his world in the distance future, but feared we’d be closer to it by the end of the century. The sex didn’t get quite as crazy (mostly due to his fear of what would happen with minors) as he thought, and eugenics has (mostly) fallen away, but he was correct on some level as far as conditioning goes. Though, in our current world, the conditioning comes from media and our consumerist culture than it does from government ‘learning centers’ and schools. What he did nail was ‘Soma’, the explosion of pills lit up in the 90’s, 60 years after the writing of the book, not 600 (Xanax was released in 1981, less than 50 years out).

He (obviously) didn’t get everything correct, but many of the overall issues are still with us today, especially the way we are conditioned, often without knowing it. The writing is good, maybe not as quick and clear as it could be, but overall this is an easy and entertaining read. If you are a fan of dystopian literature, this is a must read. For everyone else, I think you need to put this on your list, if for nothing else than it’s cultural impact and significance. I think it is always fascinating to look at what those in past thought the future would be like.

 

Books for Fathers Day

With Fathers Day coming up in a few days, I figured instead of my usual Wednesday book review of a single book, I want to be lazy and just give you a list of books that are interesting for fathers.

Best pre-dad book I’ve reviewed – The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life
Best pre-dad I haven’t reviewed – Be Prepared
Best book for early childhood – Brain Rules for Baby (Updated and Expanded): How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Best Gospel-centered parenting book (my review) – Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
Best book for men in general, but certainly has a few value for fathers and husbands (my review) – Disciplines of a Godly Man (Paperback Edition)

*This book is more focused on women, but is actually a pretty good read. My advice to dads and pre-dads who fear their wife might be over-protective is to have them read this book (y’all both read, she’ll appreciate the effort if nothing else) – Bringing Up Bébé

A few others to consider:
The Pregnancy Instruction Manual: Essential Information, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice for Parents-to-Be (Owner’s and Instruction Manual)
The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance
Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less
How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

Sorry if the suggestion skew young as they are all about pre-dad to preschool, mostly baby and toddler books, but I’m young (ish) and have just the one toddler, so I don’t know what to tell you other than to check back in the next few years for more.

Book Review: Generation Z

Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Pretty easy ready, goes quickly, about 200 pages.

Summary
The book is exactly what it sounds like, and introduction to Generation Z, who he defines as those born between 1993 and 2012, how they will be different form previous generations and what the churches needs to do about it.

The book is broken into two parts, plus a pretty extensive appendices. The first part is focused on the Zs and the second on the difference and the churches new approach. The focus is mostly on the changing demographic of Zs, they are less white, more multiethnic, more liberal (economically and socially), and less Christian. White does a good job explaining the way technology is changing their lives, especially as it relates to early sexualization and porn.

My Thoughts
I think White does a good job of not being alarmist. It is a fact of history that the next generation will be our undoing, people have been saying it for thousands of years. So, it was good to read him taking a measured approach. There is a lot of media hype over the ‘nones’, and he explores how it is possible that a middle group who could go either way on the church is now siding with the no-religion group because it is the more socially advantageous position as it is more of the culture norm (the same way the opposite was true 50 years ago and through most of American history). I’ll add two reason I think the ‘nones’ are overblown, one it is cool now to be ‘independent’, we see it with political parties. I see it in church going people who are very devout, they like to say that they don’t like names or denominations. This is already a bit of a tangent, but second, I’ve worked with detailed surveys throughout my career. People are bad at them. You can look at the polling data and see that 9% of self-identified Atheist are certain there is a god when asked. I think it is something like 14% when the question is asked of self-identified Agnostics. Likewise, there are a number of self-identified Christians who say it is impossible to know if God exist. Due to this, I do think church attendance will continue dropping with the Zs and whatever comes next, but the core of the devout won’t change too much.

I like his definition of Z better than some of the others I’ve seen. Other have them starting in 2000 or even as late as 2005, and I think his focus works a little better. More importantly, there is a difference between them and the millennials, just as there was between X and boomers, and SIlent and Greatest before them. The first half of this book is good for anyone looking for a brief primer on the upcoming generation. The book as a whole is important for Christians to understand the changes that are coming, especially pastors and youth workers. Anyone in this latter group should make reading this book a priority.

*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. See more here.

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

My Rating – If you are look for something to read

Level – easy, fairly short

Summary
Bill Bryson decides he wants to hike the whole of the Appalachian Trail. He realizes that it will be long and he will be on his own, so he puts it out there that he’d like to have someone come with him. An old friend calls up and agrees to go. The first part of the book deals with their antics as they start off on their hike. Then the book somewhat drifts in the middle as he returns home (the plan is not to do the tail all at once, but instead break it up into different parts). He gives a bit of the history of the National Park service in general and the AT in particular.

All the while doing minor hikes in the area of the trail that runs near his house, as well as taking trip down in Virginia and Pennsylvania to do other parts for a few days at a time. The final part of the book, he meets back up with his buddy Katz, to hike thru Main’s 100 Mile Wilderness. He wraps up the book with some final thoughts and reflections on his experience.

My Thoughts
By far the best part of the book is his early exploits with Katz. Anyone with jackass friends or people who have gone on long multi-day hikes with, let’s say, less equipped people, will appreciate the humor of the situation. The middle part really seems a bit listless and even like a later edition. Maybe it was just less interesting to me as I am pretty familiar with the AT and hike the Smokies at least once a year.

This is also a movie now. I have no idea if it is any good, but if it’s on Amazon Prime or something, it’s probably worth watching.

Personal Reading Survey

One of the resources listed in R. Kent Hughes’ Disciplnes of a Godly Man (my review), is the Personal Reading Survey. In it, Hughes has contact several prominant evangelicals and asked them the following four questions:

What five book, secular or scared, have infuenced you the most?
Of these, which is your favorite?
Favorite novel?
Favorite biography?

Now, according to my editor, I can just rewrite the whole freaking thing. So, I’ll list some of the people asked, and then give you his list of books mentioned at least five times (he list all that are mentioned twice, but I don’t want to type that much, go buy the book). He asked 34 people, men and women, preachers, academics, and authors, including James M. Boice, Charles Colson, Elisabeth Elliot, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, Charles Swindoll, and Warren Wiersbe. Somewhat annoyingly, not everyone answered all the questions, or answered the correctly, so to speak.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity was the most listed book with 10 mentions, followed by
Calvin, Institutes – 8
Tozer, The Pursuit of God – 6
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest – 5
Dostoyevski, Brothers Karamazov – 5
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina – 5
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress – 5

Lewis made in on the list further down with thee votes for The Great Divorce. Tolstoy is the only novelist with two books, War & Peace also received two mentions. Three people in the survey made the list, which is pretty cool – Elliot actually had two books, Shadow of the Almighty (4) and Through Gates of Splendor (2), Colson with Loving God (2), and Packer’s Knowing God also had two mentions.

No surprise to see Mere Christianity on there. They may have been the first explicitly Christian book I ever read (if not, it was the second, after Screwtape Letters). The number of reformed people means Institutes was bound to show up. Buswell’s A Systematic Theology of Christian Religion (though one mention came from a guy that actually listed the Bible) received two mentions (though didn’t make the list in the book) and was the only other systematic to make it.

Tozer also received a few mentions for Knowledge of the Holy. C.S. Lewis had five other books mentioned (no Chronicles). Looks like Utmost for His Highest was the only devotional mentioned (though I don’t know some of the books). Maybe the most surprising is the preponderance of Russian Literature among the list for novels. I enjoy Russian Literate, having read Crime and Punishment (my review), currently reading War and Peace, with the rest of the books mentioned still on my list. They are great books, but it seems odd that they would be so common on a Christian list. Maybe it is something I haven’t gotten to yet.

So there you go, if you didn’t have enough books to read, there are some more. Sadly, I’ve read only one of those listed five times or more. Though I have Institutes on my list as the systematic and Utmost as the devotional I plan to read next year. I was torn on whether I wanted to read Anna Karina or Brother’s next, but I guess I should read both. I’m going to go buy Pursuit of God right now. Honestly, Pilgrims Progress just doesn’t interest me, but it’s place on the list makes me want to give it a try. We will see, I hope to read and review them all, but like Goodreads says, ‘So many books, so little time.’

Book Review: A Different Kind of Happiness

A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love

Rating – Put it on you list

Level – Easy, moderate in length

Summary
First of all, do not be thrown off by the cover/title. This is not a fluffy self-helpy type book. Instead Dr. Crabb challenges the readers to love like Jesus, but not the usual Sunday School love you hear about in church. He lays out true sacrificial love and all that it entails; and maybe the best part, he asks, doing you even want to try?

The book is broken in to two main parts, with a third part, that’s really mostly a conclusion/summary. The first part is the idea of happiness. Crabb says there are two kind, first thing happiness and second thing. Firs thing, better known as joy, though he uses them interchangeably, is happiness IN Christ. Second thing happiness is the happiness of pretty much everything else – family, money, health, etc.

The second part consists of an introduction what he calls Spiritual Theology, followed by the seven questions to ask and answer of this theology. The questions are:

  • Who is God?
  • What is God up to?
  • Who are we?
  • What’s gone wrong?
  • What has God done about our problem?
  • How is the Spirit working to implement the Divine Solution to our human problem?
  • How can we cooperate with the Spirit’s work?

He wraps up with some concluding thoughts and presents the question(s) he was hoping this book would ask. Finally, he spends a little time trying to answer that question.

My Thoughts
This book was surprising challenging. I say challenging, I guess I’m basing that on the cover. I had never read anything from Dr. Crabb before. Then all of sudden this summer, he was everywhere to me. First as I have been looking into Christian & Biblical Counseling, his name comes up often. Then I met with the community group pastor of my church who bases some of his small group leader training on ‘Inside Out’, Crabb’s most famous book. About that time, Baker Book’s email to people whom want to receive review copies had this book. So, despite the cover, I gave it a try. Continue reading

Read This, Not That – Disciplines

This is my first post in my new series, go read the intro.

Read This, Not That

20160925_145853.jpg

Disciplines of a Godly Man     VERSUS    Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

My Review – Godly Man                     |     Must Read                |     $9.52     |     232 pages +50

My Review – Spiritual Disciplines  |     Put it on the list     |     $9.65     |     304 pages

Ease of reading
Well, I guess first off I should point out that the books aren’t exactly rivals. Godly Man is, like the title says, for men. Due to this focus, there are things men should do, whereas Spiritual Disciplines are for all, but all explicitly Biblical disciplines for Christian practice. This means that they do take different perspectives. However, there is a great deal of overlap (hence the comparison) such as – reading the Bible, stewardship/giving, learning, serving/ministry, prayer, worship, and evangelism.

Where they differ are in chapters like Fatherhood, Marriage, Friendship, and Work for Godly Man, and Fasting, Silence & Solitude, and Journaling for Spiritual Disciplines. These difference are one of the reasons I rate chose Godly Man as the better option. Though all disciplines in each book are both Biblical and practical, I find Godly Man to be more helpful in practice. It gives much more guidance for men and their day-to-day lives.

The other reason I recommend Godly Man is the way it is written. This includes its actual layout and divisions, but mostly his style of writing. Hughes’ writing is much more personal and pastoral in nature. An older man who was leading a Bible study I was a part of earlier this year commented that finishing the Spiritual Disciplines book is a discipline in and of itself. This reason alone is strong enough for me to say pick up this book first. People who don’t often read, or are completely disinclined to read, likely will not make it through Spiritual Disciplines. Alternatively, anyone can make it through Godly Man. It is written more clearly, while also being shorter, yet broken into more chapters (17 disciplines compared to 10).

For those inclined to read and that are just starting to get interested in disciplines, Spiritual Disciplines is still worth the read, especially with some of the disciplines lost in American Christianity but common of the ancient and global church. Spiritual Disciplines, in this sense, can been seen as something like a “Disciplines 201” book.

Read This, Not That

I’m excited to launch a new series called “Read This, Not That”– the purpose of which is to help people with finite time and money decide which books would be best for them.

From my teenage years through my late 20’s, I subscribed to Men’s Health magazine. One of its more popular regular features was called “Eat This, Not That,” which compared the same meal from two different places and told you which one you should eat, and which one you should not. The column featured everything from a burger and fries to a variety of salads.

Now, Men’s Health used actual, measurable metrics such as total calories, fat and protein content to support why one meal was good while another was bad. That’s not quite what I will be getting at – however, if a book is bad and I think you should avoid it, I will say so. In fact, both books I compare might actually be good, but not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to read multiple books on one topic (and have a life). I guess that’s what I’m here for.

While I will attempt some metrics (cost, number of pages, and a made-up scale of readability), for the most part, my choice will be purely subjective. Whereas the “not that” in the Men’s Health series often meant you should avoid it, that will in no way be what it means in my series.

Hopefully, you will find it helpful in selecting from all the books out there, even if my analysis makes you think you should actually go with the ‘not that’ book. I’ll kick off next week with a post on discipline.