Friday, February 26, 2010

Horse Soldiers is a big-hearted and thrilling read, with an epic story that reaches not just across the cold mounta ins of Afghanistan but into the homes of small-town America, and confirms Doug Stanton as one of our country's preeminent storytellers

Horse soldiers : the extraordinary story of a band of U.S. soldiers who rode to victory in Afghanistan    New York : Scribner, 2009  Doug Stanton Afghan War, 2001- , Cavalry operations, American Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvi, 393 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 383-393).  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

From the New York Times-bestselling author of In Harm’s Way comes a true-life story of American soldiers overcoming great odds to achieve a stunning military victory.

Horse Soldiers is the dramatic account of a small band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban. Outnumbered forty to one, they pursued the enemy across mountainous terrain and, after a series of intense battles, captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was strategically essential if they were to defeat the Taliban.

The bone-weary American soldiers were welcomed as liberators, and overjoyed Afghans thronged the streets. Then the action took a wholly unexpected turn. During a surrender of six hundred Taliban troops, the Horse Soldiers were ambushed. Dangerously outnumbered, they fought for their lives in the city’s immense fortress, Qala-i-Janghi, or the House of War. At risk were the military gains of the entire campaign: if the soldiers perished or were captured, the effort to defeat the Taliban might be doomed.

As the Americans struggled to hold the fortress, they faced some of the most intense urban warfare of our time. But until now the full story of the Horse Soldiers has never been told. Doug Stanton received unprecedented cooperation from the U.S. Army’s Special Forces soldiers and Special Operations helicopter pilots, as well as access to voluminous after-battle reports. In addition, he interviewed more than one hundred participants and walked every inch of the climactic battleground.

This exciting story is filled with unforgettable characters: brave Special Forces soldiers, tough CIA operatives, cunning Afghan warlords, anxious stateside soldiers’ wives who do not know where their husbands have gone, and humble Afghan boys spying on the Taliban.

Deeply researched and beautifully written, Stanton’s account of America’s quest to liberate an oppressed people touches the mythic. The Horse Soldiers combined ancient strategies of cavalry warfare with twenty-first-century aerial bombardment technology to perform a seemingly impossible feat. Moreover, their careful effort to win the hearts of local townspeople and avoid civilian casualties proved a valuable lesson for America’s ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.

Horse Soldiers is a big-hearted and thrilling read, with an epic story that reaches not just across the cold mountains of Afghanistan but into the homes of small-town America, and confirms Doug Stanton as one of our country’s preeminent storytellers.


Tibetan Tales from the Top of the World by Naomi C. Rose


Come experience the world of Tibet through the simple, yet charming tales told in Tibetan Tales from the Top of the World by Naomi C. Rose.  

This delightful collection includes three ancient tales that offer simple wisdom and show us how to live in peace and kindness. In “Prince Jampa’s Surprise”, children read of Prince Jampa, a brave young man who has been misled about the Varasi by years and years of stories telling of their bloodthirsty ways. Thinking the Varasi are out to destroy his people, Prince Jampa leads a war party into battle, only to discover that things might not be as they seem.

“Sonam and the Stolen Cow” shares the the story of Sonam, a young nun who is falsely accused of stealing a cow. Treated poorly by her accusers, when Sonam sees a chance to escape, she runs off. Very hungry, she meets up with a monkey in the woods, who reminds her of a time her cousin was falsely accused for something she did, which leads her on  a path to finally make things right.

The last story in this collection is “Tashi’s Gold”. Tashi is a lazy worker, who spends much of his time napping. When he overhears two men talking about the magical lake loaded with gold, Tashi decides to go to the lake. If he were rich, he wouldn’t need to work on the farm anymore. He meets with the guardian of the lake, who tells him that riches never come from gold, but the greedy Tashi takes some anyway. But Tashi and his family soon discover the meaning behind the guardian’s words.

Each of these tales is told in a lyrical, flowing prose that draws the reader in.  The author has studied Tibetan culture and wisdom since 1994, and her knowledge and passion to share this wisdom is evident right from the very beginning. Rose also provided the stunning illustrations for this book, making Tibetan Tales from the Top of the World a beautiful piece of work. The stories are told in English and Tibetan. There is a Preface from actor Richard Gere and the Dalai Lama provides the Foreword.  Rose’s previous book, Tibetan Tales for Little Buddhas, won a Nautilus Book Award. It will not surprise me if Tibetan Tales from the Top of the World garners her more accolades.

A truly inspirational reading experience awaits you and your child in Tibetan Tales from the Top of the World!

You can find a trailer for this book at the author’s website.

Rating:  :):):):):)

  • Publisher: Clear Light Publishing
  • Language: English, Tibetan
  • ISBN-10: 1574160893
  • ISBN-13: 978-1574160895
  • SRP: $19.95

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    The Pint Man (book review)

    The Pint Man: A Novel
    by Steve Rushin
    Doubleday, February 2009 $24.95 259 pages

    Reading The Pint Man is an invitation into Rodney Poole’s thoughts. 34, unemployed and aimless, Rodney spends most evenings at Boyle’s, his local, as he drinks one pint after another “of Guinness, with its clerical collar of foam,” filling out crossword puzzles, and having meandering, trivia laden conversations with the bar’s other patrons, in the dim cave of Boyle’s, an Irish pub in Manhattan.  I have a feeling I’ve been in this bar. Or somewhere enough like it to wonder whether The Pint Man is too New York to be read anywhere else. It’s a meandering, poetic sprawl of a novel, littered with odd facts and side notes.

    Rodney’s a wordsmith, a pun and trivia collector, a crossword puzzle fiend. Shy, and deeply averse to change or conflict, he likes the ritual of an after-work pint, even though he’s at the loose ends of being downsized from a job he never liked. His best friend, Keith, is getting married, which nudges Rodney to wonder what he should be doing about moving forward. That thought, like the entire novel, has more of a tentative, wandering dreaminess than any real heft.

    Reading this is like sitting in Boyle’s with Rodney, drinking pints poured by Armen the Barman, and having a far-flung ramble of a conversation: the kind of conversation that only happens in bars, preferably late at night and well lubricated by Guinness. I feel like I’ve met Rodney, at a pub quiz somewhere. There were some passages where I wondered if I’d dated Rodney… or at least the author’s inspiration for him. What keeps Rodney’s aimlessness from being annoying is his bibliophile’s appetite for punctuating the narrative with goofy facts and musings. Quoting Benjamin Franklin “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” one minute, and odd advertising slogans the next- Rodney’s cluttered mind is endearing, at least to a fellow Guinness drinking trivia hound.

    Even the emergence of a love interest, in the person of career girl Mairead, feels tentative and muted. Rodney is a man of comforts and rituals, who is more accustomed to the risks of having a pun fall flat or his odd sense of humor misunderstood, than a man of any grand passions.  That said, I love the unfolding of his and Mairead’s relationship- from a first date, to a few nights talking in bars, to a good wander through The Strand bookstore. The sweet, chaste shyness and banter is a very welcome relief from the usual rom-com trope where Boy Meets Girl, Sparks Fly and they wind up in bed at top speed. Diverting from the expected romantic cliches forces you to slow down and pay attention.

    I wound up getting this from the Star-Ledger, not to review officially in print, but because Debbie the office manager at the editorial department sent it over with a note “This made me think of you.” Maybe what I liked was the recognition of such a strong sense of New York, and a trivia-obsessed mind certain of literary quotes but uncertain of the big details of being a grownup. Or maybe what I liked was the language and metaphor itself- sensory and thick about everything from a pint of Guinness to a walk in New York in August to a fetid bar men’s room, calling for the reader to pause, and really pay attention.


    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    God Against the Gods:The History of War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch

    God Against the Gods begins at the very beginning of monotheism, not with Judaism but with the Sun God Aton. Not a lot of people know that monotheism began with an Egyptian Pharaoh, called Akhenaton, who decided that everyone should just worship one god which was Aton, the Sun god. Kirsch then moves on to Judaism and Christianity and along the way we learn many new and perhaps to some surprising things like the fact that martyrdom began with the Jews, and that the monotheistic condemnation of polytheism doesn’t come from the practices and rituals of these groups but from the fact that they worship more than one god and not the ONE TRUE GOD. Stripped to the basics what rituals pagans did/do is not so different from what the monotheists do.

    The book is divided into two sections.

    Book one is all about the God that failed and it has four chapters. Chapter one discusses Akhenaton and his monotheistic experiment and why it failed, chapter two discusses what pagans do and how that is similar to what monotheists do. It also takes about why the monotheists condemn the polytheists. Chapter three talks about the Jews and how they invented and reinvented themselves and how they dealt with other Jews whom they felt were not pious enough, as well as how the Roman empire dealt with them. Chapter four discusses how Christianity came to be and the things it went through with Rome before the time of Constantine.

    Book two is all about the war of the God against the Gods and it has seven chapters. Chapter five discusses how Constantine was born and how his rise to power came about and how his name became linked to Christianity, causing it to rise to power with him. Chapter six talks about how after Constantine’s victory over his father – in – law, he and the emperor of the east repealed the Great Persecution law against the Christians. This however, didn’t make the Christians go out and spread the word, instead they now were persecuting each other. The chapter ended with the Christians bringing their case to Constantine. Chapter seven recounts the life of Constantine after he became emperor and what he did and didn’t do for Christianity and ends with his death. At the end of the chapter the author tells us that Constantine died with paganism still the religion of Rome but that he set in motion a Christian revolution that his sons late took up. Chapters eight and nine go on to describe what happened after Constantine’s death with his sons taking over and how Julian (the last pagan emperor) come to the throne. Chapter ten talks about the eighteen months of Julian’s reign and how he tried to turn back the clock in favor of paganism. In the Epilogue the author brings us to the present day.

    The book also has at the end a time line of the events discussed in the book and a list of the historical figures discussed in it.

    The book was a short order look at the interaction between polytheism and monotheism and mostly that of Judaism and Christianity. It showed just how each began and how much they took from polytheism, and why they fought it once you take away the propaganda. At times it was a little boring but it was overall a good read.


    Mommies Who Get It

    I have been DELIGHTED to get so many amazing responses to the Parenting, Inc. book review from mommies who are sick and tired of light-up toys and Barbie merchandise (and how about light-up Barbie merchandise?!).  You guys give me hope that when I have kids, I’ll be able to find mom-friends who have the same values I do, and who respect their kids and know what’s best for their development.  Hats off to all of you, and A BIG THANK YOU for sending me links! I’m working on a follow-up post as soon as I recover from this majorly insane week (more on that later, but it involves temper tantrums, peeing on carpets, head-banging and shoe-flinging).


    The ACEP Pocket First Aid Book

    This book is the second choice I made for a go pack library. Small in stature, but packed with a wealth of information. Well worth the $7.00 I paid for it at a local bookstore.

    The book is primarily a pocket sized version of the American College of Emergency Physicians larger version, the complete first aid book, if you will. At 128 pages long and small enough to slip into your pants pocket it will fit very nicely into most first aid kits or a easy access pocket on your own go packs. The illustrations are actual photographs of various procedures and steps, which I found refreshing after pouring through pages and pages of crudely done line drawings that didn’t show things as clearly as this little gem of a book does.

    Divided into nine sections, you can easily find a chapter for whatever types of medical emergency you may encounter.

    Section 1, Techniques and Equipment talks about some of the basic medical supplies you should have and how to use them. It also goes into the way you should apply bandages and slings, which will be some of the more common things you may have to address in the moments after an accident. Especially if blood is present.

    Section 2,Life Saving Procedures, addresses various ways to deal with resuscitation of a victim, life saving priorities and choking incidents. There are some interesting flow charts that take you step by step through some of the situations. It even includes a chart on the usage of a portable defibrillator. Not that we all carry one in our first aid kit, but it’s good information to have available. Many businesses now keep and emergency defibrillator on hand for just such emergencies. The prices keep coming down as the technology and demand for the units increase, so I would expect there to be a growing availability of these units as time goes by.

    Section 3, Circulatory and Respiratory Problems deals with things like shock, heart attacks and problems, fainting, asthma, drowning and penetrating wounds to the chest. In a disaster, any one of these situation can come upon a member of your party with absolutely no prior warning, so it is important to familiarize yourself with this information. One of the points you should keep in mind that when it comes to heart problems, giving the victim a 325mg aspirin helps to thin the blood and may be the key a rapid recovery, or at the very least provide the victim some time until professional help and an ambulance arrives. Make sure you keep a small bottle in your medical kits, and keep the date current on the bottle.

    Section 4 deals with Wounds and Bleeding, and covers everything from a simple nosebleed up to severe bleeding. A couple of points to remember here is that wounds should be cleaned with clean running water or a non-alcohol cleaning wipe. Objects that may have become embedded in the wound may need to be removed as well, to prevent infection and further irritation.

    Bone, Joint, and Muscle injuries are covered in section 5. This is a head to toe look at possible bone injuries, as well as muscular sprains and other problems related to the two. The first couple of pages describe some of the different types of fractures as well as muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries. The section also goes into some splinting procedures.

    Section 6 goes into Disorders of Consciousness. These disorders deal with concussion, cerebral compression, skull fractures for starters. The section also covers hypo- and hyperglycemia, various seizures, strokes and diabetes.

    Environmental Injuries are covered in section 7. These include incidents such as burns and scalding, electrical and chemical burns, heatstroke and exhaustion and cold related emergencies such as frostbite and hypothermia.

    Section 8 considers Foreign Objects, such as splinters and fishhooks, inhaled and swallowed objects, and things that get stuck in your eye, ear and nose. Probably should be a must read section if you have little ones along, from what I have heard about the kiddies.

    Lastly, section 9 deals with Poisoning, Bites and Stings. It’s amazing at how many things exist in this world that can harm you, especially from unseen sources, such as little bugs and the neighbor’s dog. Like the rest of the book, this section also covers a great deal in a small space, and is also important info you need. As a bonus, I would suggest you photocopy the last page of the book, make several copies and have them on hand in your medical kit for emergencies. It will help you through the incident and provide some much needed information to any first responders that may be called.

    The ISBN for this book is 978-0-7894-9265-4 and can be purchased at leading booksellers. Many will have them in stock in their medical section, and can also be ordered from many sources as well. I find it to be a great companion book to the Collins Gem version of the SAS Pocket Survival Guide, and I keep both of them in my go-pack or bug out bag. Pick up a copy and read it thoroughly. Just remember that this book, or any other book for that matter is no substitute for proper first aid training. I would also recommend that you get a full featured first aid manual as well, just to have an even greater collection of knowledge on hand.


    Monday, February 22, 2010

    Book Review: Money Matters in the Church

    Book Review. Money Matters in Church: A Practical Guide for Leaders, by Aubrey Malphurs and Steve Stroope. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). 215 Pages.

    High praises for this book. This practical guide covers dozens of considerations that I wish were specifically addressed in Seminary. One of the rarely stated facts that many pastors face is the lack of exposure to some of the practical aspects of “overseeing” a ministry. Truthfully, most of us pastors are self-trained in areas of finance, campaigns, and budgeting as we work through the challenges of ministry on our own. Unfortunately, though I learned many great things in Seminary from an incredible faculty, some things like these were rarely discussed.

    The authors walk a reader through a well-rounded approach to financial management (stewardship) in the church. From requiring the pastor to develop and articulate his own theology of stewardship, to structure of committees, boards, budgets, and planning for capital expenditures. Particularly helpful were the subjects that are on many leaders’ minds but are difficult to bring up in conversation without sounding “ungrateful” or “self-serving,” like compensation, budgeting, management of day-to-day ministry expenditures and so forth.

    I intend to provide a copy of this book to my key leaders and take my own finance team through a study of these principles. In many ways, I think it will prove to be affirming to our current practices while also providing opportunity to consider areas for improvement and implementation.

    I would strongly recommend it to every pastor and key staff leader who are involved with finances. Some might criticize the focus on such subjects while proclaiming that if we all just “love Jesus” everything else will work out. While dependence on God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit and His Word are of primary importance, I believe that God can use this book to aid pastors in developing a culture of stewardship among God’s people.

    You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon HERE.


    Book review: The House on First Street

    I bought a variety of books on the first leg of the trip, partly to flesh out my research because I want to develop this blog into a full-fledged travel memoir, and partly because I’m me and that’s what I do, and books are among my favorite souvenirs of places I’ve gone.

    With some trepidation, I bought a couple of books about Hurricane Katrina when I was in New Orleans. I say “with some trepidation,” because I remember how awful it was during and after the levee failures; I remember being glued to and talking to a coworker from Metairie and reading blogs from people in the area. It was grim and unremitting and after things were a little better, I stopped paying attention to news of any sort for several months because I was wiped out. And since then, I’ve become somewhat self-protective; I try to stay informed, but I also avoid news stories that are unmitigatedly bleak, that will tangle up in the threads of my brain and replay themselves obsessively and catapult me into despair. So I wasn’t sure whether revisiting Katrina and its aftermath would be wise.

    All that to say that I just finished one of the books, The House on First Street by Julia Reed. And I found it depressing, but not for the reasons I’d expected.

    Basically, Reed and her new husband bought a house in the Garden District, spent a year renovating it, and moved in six weeks before Katrina hit, although the copy on the back says four. Speaking of the copy on the back, I bought the book knowing only that Reed is a reporter. I didn’t know that she’s also a rich girl from the Mississippi Delta and that she would name-drop relentlessly through the entire book–both of which made me far less sympathetic to her. (Drinking game: Take a shot every time she introduces a new person with the description “my good friend and brilliant painter/ writer/ artist/ restaurateur/ fill in the blank.” Be sure to stop before you get alcohol poisoning.)

    I’m betraying my own prejudices and judgments, of course, but I found her difficult to relate to. Before Katrina even hit, her excesses with the house renovation had me angry and depressed. Imported marble from Tuscany? Blocks of blue slate from Pennsylvania? A liveoak tree so large they had to shut down the street to transplant it? It must be nice to have that kind of money to throw around; wish I had a little. She really lost me when she mentioned spending “literally hundreds of hours” choosing the perfect doorknobs. Doorknobs!

    This isn’t to say she’s a bad or insensitive person. She buys huge amounts of food for the National Guard troops occupying the city in Katrina’s wake (as a journalist, she was able to get back in before most people). She provides financial and moral support to her housekeeper, the woman’s family, and her crack-addicted general factotum. She offers incisive critiques of local politicians, as well as lively anecdotes from her time covering the campaign of former governor (and current federal prisoner) Edwin Edwards. But when she glibly mentions writing a $400 check each year so she can ride with “the oldest and most prestigious” all-female Mardi Gras krewe, it’s a stunning reminder that this person operates in an entirely different milieu than any in which I’ve ever moved–or, frankly, would ever want to.


    revolve 2010 book review

    My daughter has always enjoyed the Revolve magazine New Testament. When I received it in the mail to review she was excited to check it out. But as she is now a junior in high school she wasn’t as impressed as before. But she is really mature for her age.

    The magazine has a good layout with a lot of color. I think that middle schoolers would absolutely love it. It has the entire New Testament and some articles that the girls are going to love. It is the NCV version so it’s an easy read.

    If I was to purchase a bible for a middle school girl this would be it.


    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as infamous in her day.

    Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire    New York : Random House, 2000  Amanda Foreman Great Britain , Social life and customs , 18th century, Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of, 1757-1806 Hardcover. 1st U.S. ed., later printing. xx, 454 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm. Dust Jacket. Genealogical chart on endpapers. Includes bibliographical references (p. [423]-432) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

    This wonderfully readable biography offers a rich, rollicking picture of late-eighteenth-century British aristocracy and the intimate story of a woman who for a time was its   undisputed leader. Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as famous in her day. In 1774, at the age of seventeen, Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying one of England’s richest and most influential aristocrats, the Duke of Devonshire. Launched into a world of wealth and power, she quickly became the queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince of Wales, a dear friend of Marie-Antoinette, and leader of the most important salon of her time. Not content with the role of society hostess, she used her connections to enter politics, eventually becoming more influential than most of the men who held office.

    Her good works and social exploits made her loved by the multitudes, but Georgiana’s public success, like Diana’s, concealed a personal life that was fraught with suffering. The Duke of Devonshire was unimpressed by his wife’s legendary charms, preferring instead those of her closest friend, a woman with whom Georgiana herself was rumored to be on intimate terms. For over twenty years, the three lived together in a jealous and uneasy ménage à trois, during which time both women bore the Duke’s children–as well as those of other men.

    Foreman’s descriptions of Georgiana’s uncontrollable gambling, all- night drinking, drug taking, and love affairs with the leading politicians of the day give us  fascinating insight into the lives of the British aristocracy in the era of the madness of King George III, the American and French revolutions, and the defeat of Napoleon.

    A gifted young historian whom critics are already likening to Antonia Fraser, Amanda Foreman draws on a wealth of fresh research and writes colorfully and penetratingly about the fascinating Georgiana, whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the   affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.


    Book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

    Barbara Kingsolver has created a paean to fresh, local food with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I harbor some serious misgivings about the locavore movement (see February 5’s post) but Kingsolver’s loving descriptions of the vegetables and birds she and her family coax through life and death inspired a yearning for fresh, homegrown food in even this grouchy urbanite. If food delights you – not just in the eating, but in the seeing and smelling and preparing – you will revel in this book, not for its arguments in favor of locavorism, but for its mouthwatering portrayal of what a year of local, seasonal food in southern Appalachia is like.

    That’s really what the bulk of AVM is devoted to, in all its fascinating detail: untangling the mysteries of turkey hatching, celebrating the first vegetable of spring (the reedy asparagus), struggling to prevent boisterous zucchini from overtaking your summer kitchen. It’s lovely, all of it. And if Kingsolver stopped at the pure celebration of all this wonderful food, I would have no bone to pick with her book. Unfortunately, she doesn’t. She insists that we should all participate in the creation of what we eat as she does: by growing it (or at least purchasing it from local growers) and by making it from scratch in the kitchen. Although she doesn’t identify what type of imperative this is, whether moral, spiritual, or cultural, it’s clear that she thinks that a life spent in intimate communion with food is, in some deep sense, superior to one that’s not.

    Kingsolver isn’t the first or the only food writer to make this point; Michael Pollan enjoins us to tend gardens and Mark Bittman wants us to spend more time in the kitchen. But this review is about Kingsolver’s book, so I’ll pick on her. The injunction that we should all devote more time to communing with food seems to have something to do with how central it is to our survival, but no one suggests that we all need to be experts on construction because shelter is central to our survival. It’s ridiculous to think that we would somehow be better people if we all took part in building our own homes, so why do we become better people if we all take part in building our own meals? Why not leave it to the experts, if we don’t happen to enjoy it?

    That’s another thing: Kingsolver seems to be incredulous that someone could garden or cook and actually discover that they don’t like it. She agrees that women’s liberation means that “…we’ve earned the right to forget about stupefying household busywork. But kitchens where food was cooked and eaten, these were really a good idea. We threw that baby out with the bathwater.” I have to say that for yours truly, no chore, not even dusting, is more stupefying than chopping veggies. Does that make me hopelessly out of touch with the meaning of life?

    Not only is it possible to dislike preparing food, it’s also possible to be bad at it. That otherwise unassailable people can turn to be bad cooks or bad gardeners brings up a third failing of Kingsolver and her peers: in their haste to erect a democracy of food preparation, they don’t give themselves enough credit for having something not everyone has: talent. There is such a thing as a green thumb, and why must you force yourself on unsuspecting lettuces if you don’t have it?

    There are some other inconsistencies in AVM which are common to the local/seasonal food movement. Kingsolver attacks us for our lack of restraint in eating foods regardless of seasonality; we tell our teens, she says, to wait before having sex, but these are “…words issuing from a mouth that can’t even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now.” Yet her own approach to winter is to can 60-plus jars of tomato sauce so that her family can, well, enjoy tomatoes out of season. She touts the idea of a native food culture, yet offers recipes from cuisines that originated in places as diverse as Asia, South America, and Europe. She champions using local ingredients, and this is probably the ideal she most consistently upholds. But if her reason for doing so is to save on all the energy used in transport, which she alludes to a couple of times, she must respond to the critique of the locavore movement that points out that transport is one of the food chain’s smallest gas guzzlers. The energy used for fertilizers and for kitchen food preparation each dwarf it. Kingsolver devotes exactly one paragraph of this 350-page book to acknowledge these issues, and in it chooses to pooh-pooh them rather than discuss them.

    Read AVM to relish the miracles that daily spring out of the ground to feed us. Just don’t be lulled into believing that you’ve found more than that.


    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Life Lessons From A Horse Whisperer

    Life Lessons From A Horse Whisperer
    by Dr. Lew Sterrett with Bob Smietana
    *Monarch Books
    *218 Pages
    *January 2010
    *Price: $13.99
    *ISBN: 978-1-85424-918-0
    *Purchase a Copy!

    A champion trainer, Dr. Lew Sterrett has used patience and a firm but gentle hand to earn the trust of more than 3,500 horses, from wild mustangs to the most sophisticated European breeds. Through his horses, Lew illustrates Christian relationship principles for parents, young people, business leaders and athletes. Lew’s engaging style and striking anecdotes make this a winning read and not just for horse lovers.

    Lew Street (Ph. D) had little idea that his boyhood interest in horses would open doors internationally for speaking and training. During his years in 4-H, he savored many opportunities to train and show horses and earn national recognition. As a student leader at Penn State University he benefited from many mentoring relationships from which he received valuable training, experience and honors. This foundation provided a basis for an extensive horse career with a unique emphasis on training youth and community leaders.
    Lew has served as the Executive Director of Miracle Mountain Ranch Missions, Inc. (MMRM) since 1977. He has also promoted safety in public riding programs, serving as President of the Certified Horse Association for 7 years. A licensed pastor, certified Youth, Marriage and Family Counselor, he earned his PhD from North Tennessee Seminary in 2007.
    In addition to a host of published resources and regular T.V. programs, Lew travels extensively presenting his horse training messages under the banners of Principle Based Training, Leaders by Heart, and Sermon on the Mount. Find out more on his website.

    My Opinion:
    This was a pleasant book to read and I enjoyed the pictures that were included. A lot of non-fiction can be dull and long winded, but this was very easy to read and the stories were interesting. Who would have thought that horse training would be interesting and the things learned could be applied to your everyday life?

    I Rated This Book:
    4/5 Stars

    Tweet the following to be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card & signed copies of Lew’s book!

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    ‘I received a copy of this book from Litfuse to facilitate my review and I was not compensated in any other way. This is my honest opinion only.’


    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    The Empty Pot

    Name of the Book:  The Empty Pot

    Author:  Demi

    Illustrator:  Demi

    Publisher:  Henry Holt & Company

    Audience:  4th – 6th graders

    Summary: The book is a story, set in China, at a time when an Emperor still ruled.  Everyone in his kingdom loved plants and because there were so many the air smelled like perfume.  As the Emperor realized he was aging and needed to find a successor, he decided to have a contest to see who could grow the best plant.  The emperor gave every child a special seed to see who could grow the best plant, except the seeds were cooked and could not grow.  Only one boy had the courage to bring an empty pot before the Emperor while everyone else brought a beautiful flower.  The Emperor recognized the fact that the little boy was the only one who had not cheated so the boy was made the next Emperor.

    Literary elements at work in the story: The setting brings images of a beautiful garden and a very tranquil environment, yet dishonesty still exists.  The plot demonstrates the rewards of honest effort even though the results are less than anticipated.  The writing provides children of all ages an opportunity to identify right from wrong in a non-judgmental way

    Perspective on gender, race, culture, economic, ability:  The story is set in China yet has no racial or ethnic overtones.  There is no hint of any stereotyping of any sort and the story would be applicable for any socioeconomic, cultural or racial setting and the applicability of the lesson clear to all

    Scripture:  2 Timothy 2:15-16:

    Theology:  The image that first came to me was the Garden of Eden and how beautiful it must have been and how the air might have smelled like perfume.  The story of the talents as told in Matthew could also be used to illustrate how the Bible might look at doing our best and being rewarded for it.

    Faith talk questions:

    1. Why do you think the other children selected seeds of their own rather than the seed the Emperor gave them?
    2. How did Ping feel as he walked to show his plant to the Emperor?
    3. How did the Emperor feel when he saw all the plants the children brought him when he knew they had not used the seeds he gave them?

    Review prepared by Jim Collins, MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2007


    Becoming alive to beauty

    The issue of beauty is central to Christian spirituality.  To take it one step further, it is central to being alive.  What exactly is beauty?  It seems easy to recognize what is beautiful, but hard to define it.  Sunsets, a Mozart concerto, a beautiful bed of flowers on an open field, and many other things would be seen as beautiful.  Some words that can be connected with beauty are awe-filled, fascinating, lovely, thrilling, and wonderful.  Ultimately, they are the things that we can see, hear and feel that inspire us and touch our hearts.

    Yet, with the rise of sensual over-stimulation through media, entertainment, advertising, and the internet has caused us to become numb to what is truly beautiful.  Thus we have become apathetic and unmoved by the beauty that surrounds us.  Thomas Dubay in his groundbreaking book on the theology of beauty writes, “To respond to reality and to appreciate it are normal; not to respond is abnormal.  It seems fair to say that a person blind and deaf to beauty, uninterested in anything noble in literature, science, philosophy, religion, and the arts, focused on sense pleasures alone (licit or illicit), is not only unattractive to others, but most likely incapable of genuine love and delight” (Evidential power of beauty, pg. 73).

    If lifelessness and boredom characterizes our lives, what are we to do to begin to feel again?  How are we to truly appreciate beauty and thus be alive?  There are two specific ways that can help develop our sensitivity to beauty again.

    1.  Minimize sense pleasures in our lives – The constant noise and stimulus that fills our lives through the dramatic rise of technology has inculcated us to experiencing the beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis.  Thus, to begin to appreciate beauty we have to minimize the exposure to the sense pleasures around us.  This will help us to slow down long enough to be able to hear the whispers of beauty that are in our daily lives.

    2.  Be a learner – If you are one who is not immediately drawn to classical music, art, or literature and classify them as boring, before you throw this piece of advice out the window stop yourself and contemplate whether you are the one who is actually boring.  Be willing to take the posture of being a learner and actually sit under some of these works of art or nature and allow yourself to hear and see what they are saying.  Do not be so quick to pride and aloofness that you miss out on the opportunity to experience beauty, which ultimately comes from God.

    The Evidential Power of Beauty - Where Science and Theology Meet

    These are just two small ways to cultivate the journey of being truly alive in appreciation for beauty.  As Dubay says, “God made us for , “a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pet. 1:8)”" (Evidential, pg. 18).  Therefore, let us all decrease sense pleasures and increase humility to sit before the beauty that surrounds us.  For just as God was able to appreciate his creation and call it “good” (Gen. 1), let us also, who are created in his image, deem what is beautiful around us, “good.”


    Taking Risks

    First, a disclaimer: I haven’t kept up with this blog the way I meant to.  I’ve skipped posts on Falconer and Money, even though I have strong opinions about certain aspects of both.  Well, skipped may be the wrong word.  Postponed.  That’s more accurate.  I really will post about them.  Soon.  Skeptic.

    For right now, though, I’m too focused on Stephen King’s Under the Dome to write about much else.  I mowed my way through all 1,100 pages of this book in just under 36 hours, and I’ve been trying to work through my “official” reaction to it since I closed it yesterday evening.  Now, I’ve read a lot of Stephen King books in my time; I’ve certainly read enough to know how much he clearly enjoyed writing this one, and how it fits so snugly into the world he’s created up there in almost-fiction Maine.  For that, I adored reading this book.

    For a lot of other reasons, however, I didn’t.  My biggest problem with Stephen King, and with the majority of the authors that have written more books than the number of years I’ve been alive, is that they don’t take risks.  I don’t just mean big risks, either – I’m talking no risks.  None.  Zero.  It’s safe city.  Reading novels like these is like watching a person who’s poor but think he’s rich.  He follows the same routine, gets by, but doesn’t stretch out of the comfort zone.  It’s a problem with The Bestseller, which I’ll address in a later post.  Let’s get back to The Dome.

    I’ve read reviews in different outlets that I normally respect that raved about this novel.  King writes great characters.  I can’t deny that, and I wouldn’t try.  They stay with you long after the novel is done.  You can predict their actions and their thoughts.  They’re almost always uncomplicated, but that’s part of what makes them so lovable.  They’re black and white.  Two-dimensional.  Simple, with only a hint of complexity.  The plot itself was an amazing idea.  I was able to read this novel so quickly because I felt like King was sitting there next to me on the sofa, just telling me the story as he thought of it.  It was filled with phrases like “and this guy said XXX and that guy said YYY and then they started fighting!”  The simplicity was endearing, and the length made the simplicity seem deeper.

    All those pluses are, oddly, also the downsides of this novel.  King didn’t take the time to polish the prose.  He didn’t develop the characters to the point of empathy, he stopped at likability.  He gave the reader exactly what we always want, on the basest level: entertainment.  This novel was palatable, and likely enjoyable, to anyone literate.  That’s a talent, don’t get me wrong.  But what bothers me is that King clearly has the potential for greatness.  If he pushed, even just a little bit, his writing could be amazing.  If he bucked the routine and said “Man up, reader.  Deal with the unexpected,” his novels would elevate to another level, to a place where they could reach people beyond sheer entertainment.  They could be…dare I say…literature.

    This post is first in a series entitled The Bestseller Epidemic.


    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Book Review: Why Video Games Are Good For Your Soul

    A reader who has engaged with, and likely enjoyed, Gee’s previous books (What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003) and Situated Language and Learning (2004) on video games and learning might be eager to find out what new ideas Gee, one of the lead video game scholar, proposes. They are likely to be disappointed. In his first video game related work, Gee (2003) theorizes about why video games provide a better learning environment than schools, and provides 36 learning principles grounded in modern educational theory which modern video games put into practice and several classrooms do not. In his second video game related work, Gee (2004) makes a critique of traditional schooling and compares it with video games. He argues that video games provide ‘situated’ meaning, in other words, tutorials and practical experiences, while schools usually give students a type of banking education where the teacher gives students the theory without the practice, which leads to information that cannot be related to practice, and in turn leads to poor learning. In his work Why Video Games Are Good For Your Soul, Gee is nowhere near as enlightening as in his previous works, as he only provides a brief explanation of the three different storylines within each video game. The first-level storyline within a game is the developer’s story. This story is the one that talks about Alex and his quest to become a Dragonmaster (Lunar: The Silver Star), Alucard and his quest to vanquish his father Dracula (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), or Kratos in his quest to stop Ares from destroying Athens (God of War). The second-level story is the unique trajectory taken by the players. Although this might not be a story in the traditional context of the word, Gee argues that this is, in fact, a story, and one that, according to Gee, is more important than the first-level story. The variations in this story include which guild the player chose to join, what path did the player take to get to a certain destination, and in general what decisions did the player make to reach the end of the game. This ‘story’ can be perceived more clearly in open-world games like Morrowind and Grand Theft Auto than in close-world games like God of War and Valkyrie Profile, although variations on tackling the problems within each game are always present and also, according to Gee, a part of this second-level story. The third level story is composed of the story of ‘the gamer as a professional’. In an FPS WWII game, the gamer as a professional would be the player taking the role of a WWII soldier, while in Morrowind the story would consist of taking the role of a knight / thief / archer. This story is more evident in some games than in others, while a fair amount of games do not have this story at all. Whether what Gee calls second-level story and third-level story are actual stories or not is up to debate. Nonetheless, the ‘three storylines’ concept is one that gamers have been aware of throughout all of their gaming lives, and that game researchers quickly become aware of; Gee has merely stated the obvious, and given examples as to how these ‘stories’ of different levels work. This book could have been a good addition to the essentials game theory if it were not because of the way in which Gee chose to develop his three-storylines theory. Gee begins his book with an introduction and a short reflection of what the terms ‘video games’, ‘good’, and ‘soul’ mean. The first two terms are accurately described, but when describing ‘soul’ he seems to be at a loss of words. The fact that the soul itself is intangible makes Gee look for definitions in poetry as well as mystic and religious notions, and at times it almost seems like he is preaching. During the rest of the book, Gee treats the reader to an insider’s view of how his brain works as he plays specific games, and how the ‘three stories’ concept fits in each. His first chapter gives the reader a rather disturbing look at Tetris and a distorted view of what Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is. He begins his discussion on Tetris stating that people like Tetris because it is simple and complex at the same time, and people like to solve problems and recognize patterns. He talks a bit of evolution and how humans have evolved to like solving problems and finding patterns, but this argument seems more like speculation based on general knowledge than a scientifically proven fact. His appraisal of Tetris is somewhat accurate until he tries to give the symbols meaning. He says that the symbols could be seen as men and women, or more accurately, kings and queens, and that when they link it can be seen as ‘bonding’ or ‘marriage proposals’. This, Gee believes, results in a formation of a narrative. Most gamers, however, would disagree. Rene Estevez, game player of 18 years and casual reviewer in, commented that this “only makes sense if you’re smoking. If you apply the same logic, then the Rubik’s Cube is a metaphor for racial relations in the modern world”, while Carlos Encarnación, gamer of 17 years, argues that there is no objective in Tetris, as it is and endurance test of the mind that never ends. Gee then moves on to Castlevania, and states that it operates like his “new fantasy version of Tetris” (18). He says that both games have rules, virtual objectives, and some measure of control, and are, therefore, similar. He compares and declares similarity between Castlevania’s zombie-slaying and Tetris’ line-removing mechanics. He then proceeds to analyze Castlevania as an actual symphony which the player creates. In Gee’s mind, objects have musical values, and the more actions the players perform, the more musical notes they unlock. This train of thought demonstrates that Gee, great scholar and linguist that he is, is still an extremely naïve and easily impressed newcomer when it comes to the actual gaming world. After presenting what his mind interprets of Castlevania and Tetris, he proceeds to talk about the different levels of the stories. He says that Castlevania’s first level story is Alucard fighting against Dracula, but that the important ‘story’, the second level story, is the path each player takes in order to finish the game. In order to present evidence about the ‘third story’, Gee talks about Full Spectrum Warrior, Thief, and Riddick. He talks about how in Full Spectrum Warrior players ‘learn’ to be pro-soldiers, as gamers get to control squads and make moral judgments. Similarly, in Thief the player has to decide whether they want their Garret to be an assassin-thief or just a thief. In these and other first person or strategy games, the third story is the enactment of the professional knowledge. He then hastens to add that in-game professional experience does not translate into real world professional experience. This much, at least, is a sound statement – playing Cooking Mamma or Cake Mania for weeks will not make someone into a chef, and playing Virtua Fighter 5 will not translate into martial arts expertise, just like playing a first-person shooter will not translate into real-life gun proficiency. Gee then proceeds to talk about a fourth ‘story’, which he labels not so much as a story but as history. This is the background history of the game world and of your character. Although Gee makes this a separate entity from the developer’s story, it is the developer who, in the great majority of games, originally decides the history of the world, as well as the important aspects of the history of the character. One game that holds all of these stories, Gee argues, is Morrowind. In Morrowind there is a main story where the player sets out to defeat Dagoth Ur, a second-level story which consists of the paths the player takes, the guilds he joins, and the characters he interacts with, a third story in which the player acquires and puts into practice in-game professional knowledge of being a knight, thief, or warrior (amongst other classes), and the fourth level story which consists of the main character’s past, which the player is free to make up. His reflections on learning are disappointing for game theorists and educators alike, as they never go beyond a superficial ‘learning should be fun and games make learning fun’ level. He essentially recycles, summarizes, and tones down the ideas found in his two previous game-related works and mashes them into a few pages. The book is written in a non-academic manner, and the style constantly assumes that the reader agrees with his statement, often using lines like ‘we agreed on the previous section that…’ In the eyes of some, this may take away from the credibility he enjoyed in his previous works. It is very likely that the biggest problem with the book is Gee’s lack of experience as a gamer. Having discovered games at a late age, he seems to be easily impressed and very enthusiastic about things found in the gaming world, which results, like in his analysis of Tetris and Castlevania, in an over rationalization of the content and context of the games. Even though Gee states that the target audience for the book is ‘anyone interested in games’, video game scholars and researchers will likely not find a lot of useful material, with the exception, perhaps, of the ‘three-stories and a history’ concept, gamers are likely to scoff at his ideas, specially at his views on Tetris, and non-gamers will get a wrong impression of what video games are, as some of Gee’s statements might be misinterpreted. In the end, the main concern of the reader, specially those who enjoyed Gee’s previous works, it is not about whether this book is a good read or not, or if it’s useful to some or not, as this book should never have seen publishing at all. The main concern to many readers after having suffered through it is that this work is Gee’s lowest point is whether Gee’s next work can live up to the standards set by him in the past, or if it will be another gaming theory flop.


    Book Review – Situated Language and Learning

    Games Paul Gee’s second incursion into game scholarship follows the footsteps of his previous work, What Video Games have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy (2003), in the sense that instead of looking at games exclusively it uses games to explain and improve on educational practices and theories. While in his previous work Gee talks about video games, learning, and literacy, in this work he talks about education in a more general context. This work’s subtitle is truly fit for what it does – critique traditional schooling by showing what games do better than schools in regards to teaching

    Gee opens his work with reflections on how school children do not learn to read, not in the sense of decoding, but in the sense of comprehension, specially with specialist varieties of language. He argues that the phenomenon called the fourth grade slump, a problem where children who seem to be able to read during their early ages cannot comprehend texts beyond the 4th grade level, is due to the lack of exposure to specialist language during their early development. Gee argues that using games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh train children on how to learn specialist varieties of language, as these games themselves contain a lot of technical words. The majority of the book, then, continues to do the same – point out the educational system’s shortcomings and show how games put into practice some of the best contemporary theories of learning.

    There are, however, two points which stand out among the rest. Gee’s arguments on situated learning and on affinity spaces seem to be the most outstanding section of this book.

    Traditional schooling, gee argues, consists more about dry lectures and memorization of facts than it does about actual practice and experience, and according to Gee, and many contemporary learning theories, it is in practice and experience where learning actually takes place. Gee argues that, for example, in physics lessons, students should not be listening to extended lectures on the topic, but practicing and experiencing physics by engaging on experiments. This learning through experience is what Gee calls situated learning. Gee then proceeds to explain how Rise of the Nations provides for situated learning of the game. He calls tutorials ‘supervised sandboxes’ which allow the player to try out the game and how to play it. This is something that classrooms do not do. In the sections that talk about situated learning, Gee is truly at his best.

    Gee’s other outstanding section deals with affinity spaces. In order to get his point across to the reader, Gee compares the notion of affinity spaces to a similar concept often applied in educational settings: the community of practice. Both in an affinity space and a community of practice a group of people get together to engage with a certain activity. The difference between the two ideas, according to Gee, is that the connotation of a community of practice implies a sense of belonging – if someone des not belong to a specific community (for example 8th grade science students from St. George’s Middle School) they will not be allowed to engage with the activity. In affinity spaces, on the other hand, The other problem Gee has with communities of practice is the notion of practice – an activity engaged with in order to improve, but never put into actual, situated use. Affinity spaces, however, allow for both practice and situated use.

    Overall, the book is well written, and the language used is mostly appropriate. Reading Gee try to avoid academic language by using terms like “Lots of times” instead of “a lot of times” tends to become annoying after the first few pages, but the coherence of argument and the eloquence with which he puts forth his ideas more than make up for Gee’s assumptions of colloquial language use. Still, the greatest flaw of this book is possibly found not in the book itself but in the expectations of the reader. After reading Gee’s previous work dealing with games (2003) which focused first on games and second on literacy (and even then literacy was linked strongly to games), a reader expecting a book on game-based education (as I was) might be disappointed, as the book focuses on education and how educators and policy makers could learn from educational principles implemented in games.

    Although Gee’s book does talk about games, they are treated as models of educational learning and not as games. The focus on the book is not games, but education, which makes the book an excellent addition to any educator’s library. The book’s ideas might influence teachers to change the way they handle their classes for the better. However, someone who is interested purely in games – rules of play, narrative, history, or effects on society – will be disappointed.


    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Review: Becoming by Mark Lichterman

    Becoming: A Chronicle of Metamorphosis

    By Mark Lichterman

    Metropolis Ink (June 15, 2008)  

    Amazon Buy Link:

    “Do you remember your radio and “Captain Midnight,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Junior Miss” and “Let’s Pretend”? The first time you inhaled a cigarette? Your first swallow of hard liquor? The thrill of the first exploration of the body of your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife… your own body? Your first orgasm? Remember when as a people we loved America, and showed it? Then you might be ready for a nostalgic, funny, romantic, sexually frustrating novel. A novel that may remind many of us of ourselves, “way back then,” when God’s most mysterious creation was the opposite sex. A novel about life and the often funny, sometimes sad, day-to-day things that stir the memories of our lives…”

    The above is a quote from the blurb for Mark Lichterman’s Becoming and I put it there because it so aptly describes the novel. When I decided to review this book, I was worried because number one, I rarely have time to sit down and read a book as long as this one and two, because I stupidly felt I’d never be able to connect with anything in it. I’m female, Christian, grew up in the country, and the time period was before my time. I was wrong, wrong, wrong! The subject matter is timeless, the characters so genuine they jump from the pages and into your heart, and being the mother of boys—I could even relate to the male point of view.

    The story begins in 1939 on Chicago’s eastside and follows five-year-old Mitchie for the next seventeen years of his life. A true coming of age story told in graphic detail. And the humor—did I mention the humor? I found myself laughing out loud many times. I especially loved when the humor came at a time when it was totally unexpected, the way it is in ‘real life’. I can’t say all I’d like to say about the book because it needs to be experienced first hand and I don’t want to spoil that experience for the reader by saying too much.

    Mr. Lichterman is a talented storyteller with a beautifully unique writing style and strong voice. His characters are delightfully flawed, giving them an unsurpassed charm and authentic quality. Becoming transcends all gender, ethnic, and geological backgrounds, so no matter where you’re coming from, if you love truly great coming of age stories, give this one a try.

    My one complaint is I felt the book ended too soon. Yes, even at 736 pages, I was sad when reading that last page and know these characters will be with me for a long time.




    Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity"

    Today I received my copy of Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith. I haven’t so eagerly anticipated a book in months.  Needless to say, this one will warrant a thorough blogging-through-the-book, so I’m looking forward to doing a series of posts over the next few weeks.  This book spins of the title of his first hit written a decade ago, A New Kind of Christian, a book that was deeply transformational to me.  This new book explores the 10 most often ask questions McLaren encounters all over the world from pastors and lay-leaders of the emerging, postmodern church.

    The 10 Questions:

    1.  The Narrative Question: what is the overarching story line of the Bible?

    2.  The Authority Question: how should the Bible be understood?

    3.  The God Question: is God violent?

    4.  The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and why is he improtant?

    5.  The Gospel Question: what is the Gospel?

    6.  The Church Question: what do we do about the church?

    7.  The Sex Question: can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?

    8.  The Future Question: can we find a better way of viewing the future?

    9.  The Pluralism Question: how should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

    10.  The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: how can we translate our quest into action?

    McLaren will soon be uploading a weekly video channel at  McLaren also uploaded two chapters to his site that did not make it into the final cut, which I’m uploading here for anyone to download:

    1.  Making eschatology personal

    2.  A New Kind of Bible Reading

    I know it’s a bit early, but I’m going to go ahead an declare this will be the most important book of 2010 for the church to grapple with.

    awwh... look at us, so cute


    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Book Review: Back in Black

    I read paranormal and historical romances. My groaning bookshelf can attest to my interest in both genres. However, once in a while, I’ll come across a contemporary romance series that I can’t put down.

    I remember when I first picked up Lori Foster’s Simon Says. I wasn’t sure how I’d like it. It was about some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting group called the SBC (Supreme Battle Challenge). I devoured this book. It was fast paced, sexy, and a fun read. And because I’m anal, I had to pick up each of the books in the series (even though I read them out of order).

    So it should come as no surprise that when I saw her latest offering in the series, Back in Black, I had to pick it up. If you haven’t read any of these books, let me just start out by saying these heroes are sexy, smart, and h-o-t! I’m not into MMA fighting, or at least I wasn’t until I read these books. There’s just something so raw and elemental about the sport that it made me uneasy. Men beating each other, twisting each other like pretzels…it didn’t seem interesting at all. Until I read about heroes who “live” that life. It opened a whole new world for me.

    Not that I’m a big fan now, but I at least have a better understanding for their discipline and willpower. It’s obvious to the reader, when reading any book in this series, that Lori is a big MMA fan, and that she’s done her research. She manages to give the action just enough grittiness without getting graphic. It’s a fine line to walk and she does it flawlessly.

    So, on to the book!

    Here’s the blurb:

    SBC president Drew Black is as controversial as they come. But the hot-headed entrepreneur is a perfect match for his popular sports club venture: uncompromising and extreme. Maybe too extreme. With a reputation for saying what he thinks, Drew’s been causing a lot of friction. That’s why someone’s been called in to clean up his image—before he does any permanent damage.

    The lucky lady is Gillian Noode, a PR expert who’s smoothed out the rough edges on many a man. But Drew is rougher than anyone she’s ever met, and he refuses to change for any woman, for any reason. To make matters more complicated, Gillian’s starting to like him raw. Now, opposites aren’t only attracting, they’re igniting. But in the rising heat, which one of them will end up on top?

    I’m not going to give spoilers. I prefer not knowing what’s going to happen in a book before I read it. However, I will give you my impressions of the book.

    Drew is HAWT. He’s rough, smart, and sexy as hell. He isn’t pleased with the idea of someone trying to clean up his image, but he’s also attracted to Gillian in spite of what she’s there to do. Gillian has plans and if she can give Drew some polish, it’ll make her career. Sparks fly between Drew and Gillian from the start. Drew, although he isn’t a fighter and has a dirty mouth, turns out to be honorable and sweet in his own way. How could Gillian possibly resist?

    But things aren’t all sunshine and roses in the SBC world. A group called WAVS (Women Against Violent Sports) is out to discredit the SBC organization and Drew Black. Foster does a marvelous job of giving reasons behind WAVS’ dislike of the sport, as well as a backstory for the group’s leader, Audrey. The plot twisted and turned, leaving me to wonder how the two organizations could ever see eye-to-eye.

    All in all, it was a great read. I almost wish there had been a little more tension between them before they got together, but I can’t complain. It seemed natural for them to get together, and how can you be upset about that? They’re a good couple and each of them realize it. They mesh together so well.

    There’s also a side story which Lori manages to weave into the plot. Unlike some side story romances, it doesn’t detract away from the main purpose of the story. If anything, it blends in seamlessly, giving the book a lot more depth. I’ve read several books where there is another romance going along with the main plot, but they don’t intermingle. This can be distracting for the reader even if it pertains to one of the characters you want to know more about.

    Her effortless blending of plot and subplot kept me reading this book into the wee hours of the morning. I’d have to give this book two big thumbs up (and a #1 foam finger too). It was a delight. I hope you have a chance to read it and enjoy it as much as I did. Besides, how can you not love the title? It makes me want to break out some AC/DC and start rocking out!

    If you’re interested in the series** order, it’s as follows:

    Causing Havoc
    Simon Says This was named the MMAWorldwide book of the year.
    Hard to Handle
    My Man Michael
    Back in Black

    **Please note, I haven’t included the novellas for this series.**

    Have you read any books lately that you feel the need to recommend to everyone you meet?


    Author Focus: James Van Praagh

    Some say he is one of the best psychics of our time, I certainly believe he is exceptional at what he does and I applaud the way James has shifted the psychic realm to mainstream interest. Through his ,any books James Van Praagh has explained simply the processes he experiences to communicate with Spirit and show how easy it can be for everyone to achieve the same closeness with our dearly departed.
    Books by James Van Praagh:
    HEALING GRIEF: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss
    HEAVEN AND EARTH: Making The Psychic Connection
    LOOKING BEYOND: A Teens Guide to the Spiritual World
    MEDITATIONS With James Van Praagh
    REACHING TO HEAVEN: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death
    TALKING TO HEAVEN: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death
    UNFINISHED BUSINESS: What the Dead can Teach Us About Life

    You can see him at Penrith Panther this moth here is the link:


    The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - Book Review

    I am convinced that The Postmistress by Sarah Blake will be made into a movie sometime this century.  Not only do I think this novel is interesting enough to be a film, but I think it could win Best Adapted Screenplay or maybe even Best Picture at the Oscars if placed into the right hands.  I read the book in one sitting, closed it, and sort of gasped Wow!  Even days later, I am having trouble finding the words to describe exactly how good The Postmistress is to convince you to go out into this horrible snowstorm and buy this book immediately.  I read this book during a highly stressful and busy week in my life, but despite all my distractions, this book instantly took me out of my life 2010 and put me in 1940.  I can’t quite put my experience and enjoyment into the right words, but I can give you an idea of what I felt while reading this book by telling the follow story. 

    In 2005 my husband and I traveled to Europe to travel to 15 cities in 8 countries in 14 days.  It sounded good on paper, but never having traveled to Europe, we had no idea what to expect, no matter how much research I did or how many travel guides I studied.  After traveling sixteen hours straight (due to my compulsive need to arrive at all airports way too early, as being a former flight attendant has taught me it is imperative you must) and having to switch flights due to an airline strike, we arrived in London a day late completely frazzled.  I had been awake for nearly two days, especially since I was forced to sit behind eight of the most annoying and shockingly drunk people on a red eye international flight.  After arriving at the wrong airport and being forced to take the same tube trip just one month after the London bombings occurred, I stepped into the bright sunlight nearly in tears and utterly exhausted.  I was starving and stressed out, but I suddenly stopped, dropped my suitcase, and gasped Wow! when I had my first look into the streets of London.  Unfortunately for me, I was crossing a busy street at the time while looking the wrong way, and I had dropped my suitcase on my foot, which sent my shoe flying into traffic, causing it to get run over.  I was literally stuck in the middle of two-way traffic while standing on one foot, and yet lost in experiencing the first moment I ever saw London, my favorite city in the world.  It was such a Wow! moment in time, and it had nothing to do with my shoe or near-death experience.      

    I tell you the above story for two reasons.  One, it is very hard for me to put into words the way I feel when I read fabulous books, especially during hard times in my life.  The Postmistress is one of those fabulous books, so I’m just trying to come up with a way to get you to understand how darn good the book really is.  My other reason is that I think it is hopefully more entertaining for you to read a different type of book review than you can find by other wordpress bloggers, or even EW Magazine which gave it a great review this week.  Instead of me saying that this book takes place in Cape Cod and London during WWII and it is historical fiction novel written by Sarah Blake, I can tell you my own way to make it more appealing to those who get scared off by historical fiction or WWII stories.  Plus I am not the type of blogger who writes things like “this book is in the vein of The Help by Kathryn Stockett or Atonement by Ian McEwan.”  If I can get just one of you to look past your dislike of historical fiction or WWII stories by explaining what I felt while reading a book of this magnitude, then I’ve done my job.  

    I want all of you to read The Postmistress because it is such an interesting story about three women and how their lives become intertwined during war-time.  The war, while important and quite interesting to those of us who already enjoy reading WWII stories, isn’t all that those of you who don’t like reading about wars will be thinking about.  The story of The Postmistress really is about what happens to these women during the war and the consequences these ladies have to live with are the true heart and soul of this novel.  There are so many other things I learned from this book that I never knew about, which was a major bonus.  Anytime I find a book that can take me out of a hard week, and it overwhelms me so much that I forget what I was dealing with back in reality, well… I think that is the type of book worthy enough of your attention.  I’m simply telling you that The Postmistress is a must read of 2010.  Go get it, love it, and come back and talk about it!

    To learn a little more about The Postmistress, watch the following YouTube video and see Sarah Blake talk about her novel and how she was inspired to write it.

    To buy The Postmistress, click here.

    To visit Sarah Blake’s website, click here.


    Friday, February 5, 2010

    Review of Roy Hallums' "Buried Alive"

    Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes Correspondent, called this book “…vivid, absorbing and chilling.”  She was correct.  The descriptions are vivid, the story is absorbing and the fact it is true is chilling.   Roy Hallums was a contractor working in Iraq who was taken hostage and held captive for 311 days by a Sunni terrorist cell. 

    My caveat before I continue is that I did enjoy reading the book and found it difficult to put  down.  It was interesting to me that Hallums could find humor in some of the events that took place during his captivity.  Without the humor in this book, it would have been a very difficult read.  I almost felt bad for laughing at some of the events he described.

    Having said that, I was disappointed he did not explain his faith with the exception of mentioning praying that God would get him out and asking God to let it rain if he was going to make it out alive.  There was also a mention of  a prayer vigil held by his family and friends.  I am certain that Hallums attributes his rescue to answered prayer just as much as the military men and women who participated in his rescue.

    I found this book to be worth reading.  There are still contractors and others being held hostage who have never been found.  The Hallums family has a good ending, but that is not always the case.  We need to pray for those still missing and their families.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


    Book Notes, Feb 5, 2010

    I’m reading so many books right now I feel I could run four or five blogs. I’ll only mention a few of them here. I’m interested to know if other Messianic Jewish Musings readers have read any of these or if there are ant great books burning on your soul right now.

    The Last of the Just, by Andre Schwarz-Bart
    Okay, I should be done with this one by now, but I tend to read fiction slowly, a little each day, unless I am reading a page-burner.

    This is difficult though brief fiction. I am considering it as a selection in the upcoming Jewish Book of the Month Club here on MJM. I want to get a whole lot of you reading books together and discussing them (it may fail as an experiment, though I’ve already been told by one person they intend to get a group at their synagogue all participating). We’ll launch sometime around Passover.

    The problem with Schwarz-Bart’s book is that sometimes the prose is unclear. Did that really happen or was the character imagining it? What exactly happened in that part? Sometimes I’ll read a paragraph five times and not understand it. Other times I’ll read a dozen pages with no problem. He needed a better editor, IMO. But the powerful parts are unforgettable.

    Maybe it will be a selection a little further down the road in the book club, after people have had time to get into reading the great Jewish books and will not be put off easily by a little difficult prose.

    The Last of the Just is a different kind of Holocaust story, tracing a family back a thousand years in a line of Lamed-Vovniks (the thirty-six righteous sufferers in Israel whose righteous suffering keeps God from judging the world — an idea that is not too distant from the vicarious suffering of Yeshua).

    Holy Subversion, by Trevin Wax
    A Baptist pastor from Tennessee writes a simple but effective book explaining the gospel in holistic terms. I am delighted with the idea of an Ephesians Road, a variation and subversion of the Romans Road which for a previous generation made the gospel a weak message of life after death, all but irrelevant to living now. This is a great book to give to those who need to see a bigger idea than “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” God has a wonderful plan for the cosmos, and if you’re smart and humble, you’ll lay down everything to join in the Tikkun Olam.

    I will review it next week here on MJM.

    Divine Reversal: The Transforming Ethics of Jesus, by Russ Resnik
    This is a major book for the MJ movement. I hope entire synagogues will read it.

    Russ Resnik, longtime Messianic pioneer and Executive Director of the UMJC, shares with Jewish wisdom the ethics of Yeshua. Ethics is an area we need a great deal more of in our movement. Russ blogs about this and gives you a taste of what the book is about at

    The New Moses: A Matthean Typology, by Dale Allison Jr.
    My podcast yesterday and the one next week are about this book.

    Dale Allison is a top-shelf New Testament scholar. He develops the theory that Matthew emphasizes the Moses theme in order to protest a movement in his time to remove the Way of Yeshua from Judaism. Matthew, he says, sees Yeshua in completely Jewish terms.

    How about you? What are you reading? Have you read any of these? What books do you recommend for the book of the month club?


    Book Review: The Windup Girl

    Are you ready for this? Prepare thyself for the unthinkable: A positive book review from me! Spoiler Alert: I like this book. A lot.

    Paolo Bacigalupi (a name I only mis-typed twice just now) has delivered a brilliant science fiction novel about the collapse of the global economy, genetically engineered plants run amok, cyborgs, food wars, politics, race relations, religion, and, well, lots of other things.

    The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok several centuries from now. Genetically modified animals and crops have (accidentally) swarmed across the world, destroying countless species of plants and animals and bringing most countries to their knees. The dwindling Japanese have created a race of New People to replace their shrinking work force. American companies feed the world with sterile foods that cannot be planted and grown, only bought. Oil-starved machines have been replaced with animal labor. Hideous diseases are constantly mutating to kill plants, animals, and people.

    Through hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, the Kingdom of Thailand has survived this global collapse (the Contraction) by balancing power between a brutal Environmental Ministry that burns factories and farms to contain the endless contagions and a schemeing Trade Ministry that wants to engage with the outside world and usher in a second age of global Expansion (we’re in the first one right now).

    To explore this world, the author gives us several characters from very different worlds, including:

    • Anderson, the American industrialist trying to get access to Thai genetic material and open Thai markets to his company.
    • Hock Seng, the Chinese refugee who lost an corporate empire and his family and is now trying to rebuild his life as a hated migrant worker.
    • Jaidee, one-time muay thai champion turned government agent dedicated to protecting his homeland from biological invaders.
    • Emiko, a Japanese “windup” abandoned by her owner and left to survive as a sex worker and hunted by the authorities for being unnatural.

    It’s rich, it’s complex, it’s exciting and horrifying and thought-provoking.

    But it’s not perfect. For starters, it takes a very long time for the various characters’ story lines to coalesce into a real plot. Much of the book feels like four separate stories jammed together to paint a richer portrait of this dystopian future. This issue no doubt comes from the author’s background in writing short stories instead of novels.

    There is also a certain stagnant quality to the character arcs. Each person clings to their central identity throughout the whole book without evolving or learning or changing at all. Which made the chapters feel a bit repetitive.

    When the plot finally does come together, it still feels a bit thin. There’s plenty of action and drama, but I didn’t find myself very invested in the outcome.

    Bottom line: The Windup Girl is a well-conceived novel that explores countless science fiction concepts in technology, biology, economics, and politics. But it suffers from a disjointed and less-than-epic plot. Still, it’s 350 pages worth reading.


    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Spurgeon on Prayer

    “Priceless as the gift of utterance may be, the practice of silence in some aspects far excels it. . .I am persuaded that we most of us think too much of speech, which after is but  the shell of thought.  Quiet contemplation, still worship, unuttered rapture, these are mine when my best jewels are before me.  Brethren, rob not your heart of the deep sea joys; miss not the far-down life, by for ever babbling among the broken shells and foaming surges of the shore.

    “I woud seriously recommend to you, when settled in the ministry, the celebration of extraordinary seasons of devotion.  If your ordinary prayers do not keep up the freshness and vigour of your souls, and you feel that you are flagging, get alone for a week or even a month if possible.  We have occasional holidays, why not frequent holy days?  We hear of our richer brethren finding time for a journey to Jerusalem; could we not spare time for the less difficult and far more profitable journey to the heavenly city? 

    “. . .It would be a great thing every now and then for for a band of truly spiritual brethren to spend a day or two with each other in real burning agony of prayer.  Pastors alone could use much more freedom than in a mixed company.  Times of humiliation and supplication for the whole church will allso benefit us if we enter into them heartily.  Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has heaven-gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central glory.  I look forward to our month of special devotion, as mariners reckon upon reaching land.  Even if our public work were laid aside to give us space for special prayer, it might be a great gain to our churches.  A voyage to the golden rivers of fellowship and meditation would be well repaid by a by a freight of sanctified feeling and elevated thought.  Our silence might be better than our voices if our solitude were spent with God.  [Emphasis mine.]

    “That was a grand action of old Jerome, when he laid all his pressing engagements aside to achieve a purpose to which he felt a call from heaven.  He had a large congregation, as large a one as any of us need want; but he said to his people, ‘Now it is of necessity that the New Testament should be translated, you must find another preacher:  the translation must be made; I am bound for the wilderness, and shall not return till my task is finished.’ 

    “Away he went with his manuscripts, and prayed and laboured, and produced a work–the Latin Vulgate–which will last as long as the world stands; on the whole a most wonderful translation of Holy Scripture.  As learning and prayerful retirement together could thus produce an immortal work, if we were sometimes to say to our people when we felt moved to do so, ‘Dear Friends, we really must be gone for a little while to refresh our souls in solitude,’ our profiting would soon be apparent, and if we did not write Latin Vulgates, yet we should do immortal work, such as would abide the fire.”

    C. H. Spurgeon


    The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini

    If you’re trying to relax before going to bed, this is not the book to read. If however, you’re looking to stay awake for a while, consider reading it aloud with a partner. There are several X-rated scenes here, but they are handled tastefully, and with proper anticipation—on yours, and the characters’, parts.

    The story begins with Darcy (a descendant of our beloved hero) advising Bingley about the purchase of a new Lamborghini (Netherfield). Darcy tempers Bingley’s enthusiasm with a warning to slow down his actions with thought, just as our Darcy did, but this Darcy uses the F word as he does it.

    In this modern version of our tale, Darcy is a judge (fitting, I thought, since that is, after all, what he does throughout the text), and Elizabeth is a confident lawyer in his court. When he first meets her, he assumes she’s on trial for speeding, only to have his first impression put quickly to rest as she defends a Mr. Collins, on trial for solicitation of prostitutes. (Darcy mentally gives him herpes to punish him).

    This is a “thoroughly modern” version of our story, according to the back cover, and while, at first, the use of profanity and sometimes obscene situations may be off-putting to readers of this publication, I’d venture to recommend reading it anyway. This story is fun and light, and many of Angelini’s changes work well, if you can stomach an occasional Harry Potter reference (too lowbrow for some of you, but perfectly acceptable for others), many sexual puns and intimate scenes, and Mr. Hurst’s metamorphosis into a gay hottie who resembles Rupert Everett. 

    Bingley is a doctor (you might wonder, is he smart enough for that, until you recall some of the doctors you have met), and Jane a resident in his circles; Darcy has meaningless sex with Caroline until he decides not to anymore; the Netherfield Ball is a Halloween party; the first proposal Darcy makes to Elizabeth is of writing a joint law review article; and karaoke is as you’ve never seen it.

    This is a sexed-up version of our beloved tale, and if you’re one who has always read much of the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth as being sexual in nature, you will probably be more comfortable with the openness of that tension than those of you who prefer chemistry to be understated. The latter group does not likely imagine Georgiana warning her big brother not to “dip [his] stick in” a woman she dislikes, but regardless of your reaction to such lines, the sex is intense here because the connection on all levels is intense here. Darcy and Elizabeth belong together, and one barometer of that fit is their sexual chemistry.

    There are others. Each is a professional who works to develop a plan for any situation that requires attention. Each is smart and successful and wants, long-term, to find love that transcends the “relationships” of the past. Both exercise to absorb desire (Elizabeth runs; Darcy rides). Both agree to keep the affair short—and then almost simultaneously realize that they have fallen in love with the other.

    The relationship—or rather—the break-up of it—feels very real. It is mutual, but it makes them both miserable. She was so tough, and becomes so broken, even as she tries desperately to resurrect her world. She wears his shirt just to smell him, even when it starts smelling like her.

    Before you know it, you’ve been reading for an hour, when your plan was a few minutes before drifting to sleep. And I haven’t even started on all the links to the original novel. I thought I spotted Wickham right away, only to discover that the guy flirting with Elizabeth had to be the Colonel Fitzwilliam character. I thought the proposal of the brief was the real thing; it isn’t. Then I thought the suggestion to get back together was the real thing; it isn’t either. Two decoys! Darcy reaches out to Elizabeth’s boss—Mr. Gardiner—when he needs help with Elizabeth. Then it turns out there is a Wickham, but he appears much less often (and in an even worse context) than I had imagined. Georgiana is not the subject of Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth—she’s the one who suggests he write it. These are smart twists that kept me constantly revising my assumptions, as, one might argue, Elizabeth and Darcy must do, both in the original novel and in this one.

    Lines from P&P are sprinkled throughout the text, in contexts that make sense. One of my favorite changes occurs when Elizabeth (who thinks Caroline and Darcy are dating when they aren’t) comes home to Jane snuggling with Charley, and groans inwardly that the house is “overrun by Bingleys.” Even Lady Catherine’s infamous shelves in the closet are included in this veritable treasure hunt for details from Austen’s novel.

    This is indeed a story of the trials of a man, and the pun works well. It is also a deeply emotional, romantic, sensual, and literary exploration of a companionate relationship in our complicated world. And I’ll never look at pears in the same way again.


    Mortimer Smith and the Diminished Mind (book review)

    One common retort to those who criticize the historical ascendancy and stranglehold of “progressivism” in education is to simply deny the charge. Diane Ravitch, for instance, met just this type of denial when she published “Left Behind: A Century of Failed School Reform.” Critics, generally with an affinity for “progressive” pedagogy, told us that Ravitch’s history was hopelessly biased and a bunch of spin. Progressive ideals, they say, did not fail: they were never really tried.

    It is too bad for these critics that books like The Diminished Mind by Mortimer Smith, were published. TDM was written in 1954 as a way to chronicle the educational landscape as it looked at the time. Smith’s verdict?

    I do not think anyone will challenge the statement that pragmatism has become the official philosophy of the public education; there may be an occasional maverick scattered her and there but the great majority of the professors of education are committed to this philosophy and they transmit it to the future teachers and administrators whom they train to run the American public school system (Smith 1954, PG78-79).

    By “pragmatism,” Smith is referring to “the pedagogical principles which formed the basis of what came to be known as progressive education and is now more commonly referred to as modern education.” (PG78)  The educational pragmatism Smith judged to be the dominant philosophic force in education (ushered in by Dewey; perverted by followers) included the idea that education is to center around the child’s immediate needs and should serve not to convey knowledge but to “reconstruct experience” (which, of course, Dewey was never really clear on what was meant). These ideas manifested themselves in various curricular theories, two of which Smith examines in some detail: education for life adjustment and education for social reconstruction.

    Chapters II and III (Adjustment Replaces Education and Adjustment Replaces Education Continued) discuss and thoroughly document the rise of the “life adjustment” theory of curriculum through the public schools. As Smith explains, since the idea was that education should prepare students for life and that students learn best what is interesting to them at the time, students should learn less academics (language, mathematics, science) and more “applied” life skills (hygiene, socialization, gardening). Smith details several school districts and theorists of education’s attempts to do such thing as get rid of the requirement to learn grammar in school, in favor of learning reading and writing through only “real world” reading and writing tasks. (Sounds eerily like a precursor to the failed “whole language” approach to reading acquisition.)

    Chapter IV (Educational Brainwashing, Democratic Style) demonstrates how pragmatism was also taken in another direction: the idea that curricula should focus on “social reconstruction.” Quite bluntly, this was the idea that schools should guide students and advocate for social virtues that educators felt promoted “social justice.” Rather than educate by relaying various points of view (and facts allowing individuals to arrive at their own points of view), schools needed to become mechanisms of social change. Smith even documents how many of the educators advocating this position drew their inspiration from the educational goals and methods of the Soviets.

    What Smith istroubled by in both of these philosophies that were alive and well in the 40’s and 50’s – besides the obvious – is that they get away from what Smith sees as the fundamental goal of education: to introduce young minds to the facts and ideas that have come before so that they might take them into the world. The new theories were as anti-academic as they were indoctrinational:

    [T]he controversy today is between those who continue to believe that the cultivation of intelligence, moral as well as intellectual, is inextricably bound up with the cultural heritage and accumulated knowledge of humankind, and those who feel that education’s primary task is to adjust the individual to the group to see that he learns to respond “satisfactorily” to the stresses and strains of the social order.” Ideally the tow tasks are not mutually exclusive but the advocates of the latter consistently deride the former, engaging in a vigorous anti-intellectualism and a belittling of, and contempt for, content in education.” (Smith 1954, PG20)

    Another difficulty that Smith notes with both “life adjustment” and “social reconstruction” theory of education is that both are quite unegalitarian while professing to be egalitarian (or, if you like, undemocratic while purporting to be democratic). While education theorists at the time were crying for more egalitarian and democratic education, both of the theories that they were espousing attempted to steer individuals towards pre-determined ends, seeing students almost as tools to be manipulated. While both professed to be child-centered, both saw the child as something to be molded in a specific way, and while both philosophies professed to be liberating the child, they both stultified the child by treating her mind as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

    The rest of the book is devoted to decrying the ascendancy of an academic elite in education schools which bought and taught these anti-academic theories, a lament that is reminiscent of ED Hirsch’s current labeling of ed schools as a quite unanimous “thoughtworld.” Chapter V (“The Stranglehold of the Educationists”) examines how this ascendancy occurred and how it has been able to self-perpetuate even in the face of varied criticism. Chapter VI (“Putting Parents in Their Place, or, The Customer Is Always Wrong”) recounts the troubling way in which these educationists silence dissent. It is ironically noted that while the educationists mentioned in this chapter often push for “democratic schools,” they never fail to accuse the numerous parent groups who criticized their methods as having no rightful voice in education policy. The final chapter (“The Prospects Before Us”) take an optimistic view of the potential for bringing back schools’ primary purpose: the conveying of academic knowledge.

    When one reads books on educational history, one tends to notice that things occur in cycles: educationists seize on each new idea (often a rehashing of old ideas), press it to the extreme, and, when it fails to produce the hoped for result, begin looking in the other direction, ad infinitum. It is difficult to say whether the re-academicizing of the public schools has occurred the way Smith so hoped in his final chapter. On the one hand, there has been a renewed emphasis on standards-based learning; on the other, those standards are often decried as watered-down.

    Whatever has happened since, Smith has given us a very good document of the educational landscape in 1954. Progressive education was tried and it did fail. Anyone who cares to see that it is not tried again will want to read this book.


    Smith, Mortimer. The Diminished Mind. Chicago, IL: The Henry Regnery Company, 1954.