Book Review: Meditations – A Short review, for a short book

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

My Rating – Pass

Level – Short, writing can be long and choppy, knowledge of history and philosophy would be helpful

Summary
Basically random thoughts from a guy who thought he was going to die. Most ideas are a reflection of the time in which he wrote as well as stoicism.

My Thoughts
The story of how/why he wrote the book is probably the most interesting aspect of the book. There is not systematic organization to the book, so writings seem unorganized and disjointed and occasionally repeat themselves.

If you have any familiarity with philosophy, any religion, any famous idioms or maxims, you will not get much from this book. You could probably save yourself the $1 (Dover Thrift Edition all the way) and just google Marcus Aurelius quotes and find the good parts.

 

Book Review: How to Read Genesis

How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman, III

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, short

Summary
This book is exactly what the title says it is a guidebook to understanding and reading Genesis. Longman explains what the book (Genesis) is, who wrote it, whom it was written to as well as its place among other ancient literature. He breaks down the structure of the book into three parts: primeval history, which is verses 1-11; patriarchal narratives, 12-36; and Joseph’s story, 37-50. He then wraps up with notes on how we as Christians should read it, paying particular attention to our view after the cross. That is, with our knowledge of Christ, looking back at the Genesis story and reading it looking at how it points to Christ.

Longman does not take a view of young earth nor does he give much attention to evolution. This makes sense in that it is not an exposition of Genesis, but rather a guide to reading it.

My Thoughts
This should be the starting point for anyone curious about anything in Genesis 1-11 – age of the earth, historical Adam, the flood, giants, people living hundreds of years, even evolution. A broad understanding of what Genesis is and is supposed to be will help you to understand these issues, even those he doesn’t delve too much into.

For those that aren’t as concerned with these issues, it is still a very important book in helping you understand literature that nearly defies genre or categorization. Genesis is literally the foundation of the Bible. Far too many people are quick to either throw the book out or bury their heads in the sand and just say ‘its literal’.

Every Christian should read this book to help them grow in understanding and knowledge of the Word.

Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney

My Rating –Put it on the List

Level – Not very readable, seems longer than it is

Summary
The book is exactly what you think it is based on the title. He jumps straight in with the first chapter explaining what he thinks (based on scripture) the spiritual disciplines are and why they are important. There are 10 disciplines and he devotes two chapters to the first, and then one each to the others – Reading the Bible, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and Learning. He wraps up the book with a chapter on ‘perseverance in the disciplines’ and the importance of making them habits.

I assume most are quite familiar with the first five, and likely stewardship as well, however he has a bit of a twist. When most people here that word in context of church, they think money (though, presently, some may start to associate it with the environment), but he talks about time as well. I think this is an interesting point, that I’ve never really heard discussed. Often in the American church it’s about what not to do, as in, avoiding sin, not instead, focused on what to do. Don’t spend your time getting hammered. Makes sense, that’d be a sin. However, what if you spent 12 hours on Saturday watching college football? Not a sin, but…is it really the best use of your time? Are you really being disciplined, are you gaining from that? Obviously, this hit home for me.

The others, many people are familiar with, but in the American Evangelical church, things like fasting and solitude sound a little too Catholicy, so I’ve never really heard them taught. I was especially intrigued with fasting. It is abundantly clear in scripture that this is something we ought to do. But, I’ve never in my life done it. I’ll admit, though he says you really aren’t supposed to ever tell, but I tried fasting based on this chapter and bits of Piper’s A Hunger for God, on Fridays during lent. I’ll write more on that later, but the book is probably worth the price just to read that chapter. Continue reading

Dover Thrift Editions

This isn’t quite a series or book review, but if you haven’t been looking for the Dover Thrift Editions when you are buying books, you need to start. These are pretty much all classics of Literature at about as cheap as you can get.

I’ve bought these editions for as low as $1, and box sets at $8. For the most part, Kindle and other ebooks can’t even compete with the prices. If you have Prime you have free shipping already, but if not or you pruchase from somewhere else, you can load up on seven to eight books for super cheap and have then mailed for free.

If you like classics or have any interest in reading them, I highly recommend doing it with these editions. I buy all the classics I read this way. Though, maybe they are not always the best translations. If you are reading Tolstoy or someone else who’s book translations are disputed, do a little research first, it may not always be best.

I’m not getting paid, nor is this whatever the hell those fake post are called, to write this. I just like books and happen to have Prime. I’m also trying to hit a lot of the classics I missed in school or are just now hearing of. That being said, remember I do have an amazon store, so if you want to go browse it, you can click on Dover Thrift Editions to see what all they have to offer.

 

Updated Reading Challenge

My 2016 Reading Challenge

Through a quarter of the year, I’m on pace to reach my goal. So far, I’ve read 11 books, which would put me on track to read about 44 this year, easily meeting my challenge of 31. I doubt I’ll actually keep this pace, but it’s a nice thought. I’m geeking out a bit with the Goodreads tracking function, because it allows you to order the books by page numbers (as in below, with the exception of Tyndale) and also tells you the number of pages you’ve read (0f books you’ve finished). I’m at 2,163 in case anyone was interested. Actually, it looks like they are only counting eight books in that number, not sure why.

Books so far:

  1. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
  2. Pirate Latitudes
  3. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
  4. A History of the World in 6 Glasses
  5. Four Views on the Historical Adam
  6. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
  7. How to Read Genesis (How to Read Series How to Read)
  8. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will
  9. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
  10. Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions)
  11. 1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)

 

I’m currently reading Bavinck, Crime and Punishment, Thinking Fast and Slow, The American President, and The Last Girl, as well as Morning by Morning.

A few more on my list (whether I get to them this year or not):

  • Novels – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Hyperion, Girl on the Train, and probably some free kindle stuff.
  • Christiany books – Don’t Waste Your Life, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Radically Normal, Lost World of Genesis 1
  • Bible Study – pretty much all the Minor Prophets, using the New American, Tyndale and Word Biblical Commentaries.
  • Non-fiction – Misbehaving, Jimmy Carter’s Reflections at 90, Sapiens

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

My Rating –If You are Looking for Something

Level – Easy & quick, medium length

Summary

It’s about pirates. If you are like me, what more do you need? Actually, it’s technically not about pirates, it’s about privateers and they are very particular to make it clear that they are not pirates. Anyway, if follows an English privateer in Port Royal (like, from Pirates of the Caribbean) who has a chance to attack a Spanish fort, that is considered impenetrable, to get to a Spanish Galleon that he hopes is carrying lots of gold.

He assembles his core team, which is of course a color, ragtag bunch, as well as a few dozen other unnamed crew members and sets sail. With storms, other ships, and of course, a kraken, the mission takes on almost an “Odyssey” feel. There are number of interesting twist and turns as the adventure takes much longer than expected. Read it and decide if it has a happy ending or not.

My Thoughts

I’m a fan of anything pirates or Michael Crichton, so I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a little long, and meanders a bit at the end, before finally concluding. I’m also a big fan of the ‘round-up.’ The part where the protagonist sets off to assemble is crew. Crichton does a great and entertaining job of this, early on in the book. If anyone cares, I’ve read that this book is incredibly accurate in regards to maritime history, but, obviously, I can’t confirm that.

There are parts that are predictable and cliché, and an anti-climactic dual that was disappointing, but overall, if you are heading to the beach and want a fun book to read, this is a great option.

Book Review: Atlantis Trilogy

The Origin Mystery (3 Book Series) by A.G. Riddle 

My Rating –  Must Read for Sci-Fi or historical fictions fans. Put It On The List for everyone else.

Level – Fairly easy and medium length, reads quickly.

Summary
So, this is actually three books, but you knew that, because… ‘Trilogy’: The Atlantis Gene, The Atlantis Plague and The Atlantis World . I’m not really sure how to summarize this. Starts out with some spies, then a bunch of attacks across the world, then you get everything for the rest of the series – global plaques, ancient history, Nazis, aliens, cool Tibetan Monks, long (very long) running timelines and conspiracies. Just go buy it.

My Thoughts
I actually found the first book on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library on one of the rare cases that it worked. I ended up reading the rest of the series through it as well. I found myself driving home after work thinking about the story and wondering what would happen next, looking forward to getting home and reading for an hour or so before Mrs. MMT and Sprout got home.

The story kind of bounces around different categories, as mentioned above, but I suspect, that overall if you don’t like some nerdy things, you may not like it. If you have any interest at all, the book will be great. I have to admit, towards the end of the third book, it winds down as if he (the author) isn’t sure how to ended, and it was just kind of done. You begin to see the ending coming anyway, so I don’t think it detracts too much, but it does end with a fizzle.

Still, go buy all three in paperback and knock them out at the beach or lake over the summer.

Zondervan Counterpoint Series

I’ve posted many articles about reading recently and wanted to highlight a series here. I first came across these a few years ago and was instantly intrigued. I thought it was a great way to show differing views with the spectrum of Evangelical Christianity. After reading a few, I’ve put them on my list of must haves for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of a topic.

The book starts with a topic (Adam, Hell, Women in Ministry, etc.), and then has three to five people make their case for their particular view. The authors are usually scholars who have written many books or commentaries on the subject. However, the generally do well writing to a broad lay audience. After each makes their proposal, the others make short critical responses. The original author then has a chance to briefly respond to the criticisms.

I really can’t imagine a way for Christians to get such an in-depth, but (fairly) short and simply written scholarly discourse. Every Christian who has an interest or struggle in belief in a certain issue should start with the Counterpoint series.

If you are interested in buying, you can find them quickly through my amazon store.

On Commentaries

I’m a big believer in the use of commentaries. I put them second on my list of books to buy, once you have the basics. This is mainly because some parts of the Bible are just strange. Others are thousands of years old and in a geography you may not be familiar with. The books of the Bible were written in different languages than we speak today and was given to an audience with a vastly different understand of the world. Finally, good commentaries can give you the differing views out there on a particular difficult topic, or even historical views that have changed due to some new information.

Which ones should I buy?

The unfortunate (for your wallet) answer is, all of them. Seriously, maybe not everything that exist (dozens of commentaries on each of the 66 books), but I have come to believe that you should get the best one you can find for each book, though some can be grouped together. A friend of mine told me this once and I really didn’t like it. It’s tedious and expensive, but it really is the right answer. Well, actually, it is the best answer for some. Most people aren’t going to go buy something like that New International Commentary full set of 46 volumes that cost about $1,500. If you want that many and are willing to spend, it’s better to go book by book.

Why is this case? Honestly, some volumes of a set are just weaker than others. I’d also argue that some books (of the Bible) are more familiar to you with less technical issues, in which case, you can get by with a cheaper, less in-depth commentary.

There are multiple levels of technicality, depth and type of commentary to buy. First would be a single volume(ish) and this is where I’d recommend starting if you haven’t used commentaries before. The second level is for Bible study or devotion, these will be shorter, less technical and written more to a believer about a text and growing in the Word. Third level is for those prepping to lead a Bible Study or a pastor for a sermon; or someone looking to invest the time for a deeper understanding. Final level is academic. These may be highly technical and not always translate the original languages. They will be most engaged in scholarship and least engaged in personal growth. Most people will never need/use these if they aren’t a pastor, seminary student, professor or big nerd.

Example of a commentary length/depth based on 1 Peter (which is only 5 Chapters) –

New Bible Commentary – 17 pages

Expositor’s Bible Commentary – 80 pages

Tyndale Commentary – 248 pages

Word Biblical Commentary – 416 pages

My Recommendations

Single Volume(ish) – I say ‘ish’ because, while there are good intentions of getting a commentary to one volume, that leaves you with one big-ass book. I personally use and recommend the New Bible Commentary. I also use the abridged version of the The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which is actually two books, Old and New Testament.

Bible Study/Devotion:

  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary – This is another great into/first step, offering lots of great info from an evangelical perspective and can be had at a great price when you buy use or the old (12 volume) edition.
  • NIV Application – Has its feet in both the study and devotional side, though is quite large at 42 volumes.
  • Sets like the Weiserbe and Boice (I haven’t used either, put Boice is on my list) that are more focused on devotion is something I have in mind here. If you ever buy an entire set from a single author, it must be for devotional purposes, as no one person can be an expert on every book of the bible.

Message preparation:

  • New American Commentary – These are solid scholarly written books, while remaining somewhat brief (41 volumes, so combing some books). Easy to find used volumes for $10-15.
  • Tyndale – Probably the least technical of those I’d recommend. Also, great prices, they printed them in paperback and you can find old copies or used ones at a great price. Olive Tree often has them on sale for $99, which is a hell of a deal.

Academic:

  • Baker Exegetical Commentary
  • New International Commentary
  • New International Greek Commentary
  • Word Biblical Commentary

 

Other Places for Recommendations:

You’ll probably notice that I didn’t go into detail about which commentary for which book. Two reasons for this, my main goal is to give you an idea of what’s out here and secondly, I haven’t read multiple commentaries on every book of the Bible. Instead, I use these guys to help me select which commentaries to get.

Best Commentaries

Challies

John Piper

Ligonier

You can also find all the commentaries I’ve used or recommend at my amazon store.