mccormick


bookshelf:2013

2013 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)


2013: 50

review date:
12/31/13

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

“When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.” –Sigmund Freud

What’s better: long, thought out decisions or quick, snap judgments? We have always been told not to judge a book by its cover, but at times our unconscious conclusions are more accurate. Malcolm Gladwell carefully investigates the power (both good and bad) of quick thinking. This is an extremely interesting book that will challenge the way you think – and don’t think.

What can I say about Malcolm Gladwell that I haven’t said before? He takes the simplest topics, he digs down deep to find amazing complexity, simplifies the finding, all while entertaining us. From the moment I picked up this book, I didn’t want to put it down.

2013: 49

review date:
12/29/13

Breaking Up with God by Sarah Sentilles

“Sometimes you break up with the person you love because you discover he isn’t who you though he was.”

Losing the faith is a very interesting topic. I have seen so many people lose their faith. I went to a Christian high school and a Christian university. So many of my old friends and acquaintances were once highly-involved, highly-religious young men and women. But something happened; something must have happened.

You have probably heard of a stable Christian dropping his faith after a sudden tragic event. The tragedy and their faith just could not coexist. Christians and non-Christians sympathize with them. We have all faced trials and we all experience doubt.

Breaking Up with God by Sarah Sentilles is not about those faith-shattering events, it is about an up-and-down long-term relationship with God. She grew up in Catholic home with an Episcopalian mother. God had always been a part of her life, but the relationship was far from perfect. Sarah chronicles her childhood legalism, her teenage battle with an eating disorder, her troubled relationships with men in college, and her search for a calling and purpose.

I think many Christians would read this book and see Sarah as a nominal Christian who never embraced a real personal relationship with God. I would disagree. I think Sarah zealously wanted a relationship with God, but the more she tried to connect with God the more distant God felt. And in the end she felt like she needed to break up with this perceived long-distance relationship with God.

I enjoyed this book. At times, the author went on a few long tangents that didn’t add to the book’s discussion of faith. But in the end, I really appreciated her candor and honesty. All break ups hurt, especially when it is with God.

2013: 48

review date:
12/18/13

The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber

The first time I came across this book I was in the middle of my graduate program and I couldn’t give the book the proper attention it needed. My fellow residence life colleagues seemed to really enjoy the book and a lot of discussion was generated. Unfortunately I only had time to skim the book while I did trying to finish my graduate projects.

Several years later I picked the up the book, ready to give it my full attention. Unfortunately, I just could not connect with the book. I am not exactly sure where the disconnect occurred, but I do have one theory.

 I first noticed the type of students Garber describes. They appear to be your typical Generation X student, having a very difficult time finding meaning behind their education. Garber identifies several pop cultural symbols: rock band Smashing Pumpkins, hit movie Reality Bites, and cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead. All these cultural references were relevant in the early 1990’s and in my opinion would be completely alien to today’s millennial student.

In my opinion, using pop cultural references to define entire student perspective is a bit short-sided. One, pop cultural references are always changing so it is impossible to stay up with them. Two, pop culture can’t possibly define a worldview of a population because the majority of the population probably doesn’t follow that pop culture reference. Take Beavis and Butthead for example, the author tries to present them as representatives of youth though they were created and run by a Mike Judge, who was near his mid-thirties during the cartoon’s height of popularity. Also, look at today’s popular culture: does Lady Gaga define our students’ attitude? Does Iron Man show us that students are interested in technology jobs?

I know this may be a weak argument against the book. I know society affects culture and culture affects society. I guess my main objection is that the book does not hold up to the test of time. It was probably an amazing book for the generation is was written for. I don’t think it is a book I would recommend to educators today.

2013: 47

review date:
12/17/13

Great by Choice by Jim Collins

“Look, if you had on shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” – Marshall Bruce Mathers III

How many books on business would quote rapper Eminem? I’m fairly confident that Great by Choice stands alone.

Earlier this year I read Jim Collins’ masterpiece Good to Great and I was delighted with the amount of analysis and insight. Collins does just commend great companies, he and his team dig deep to find what makes each thriving company tick and why failing companies fail.

Great by Choice is nearly a continuation of Good to Great. In this volume, Collins and his team look at particular industries that have been faced unusual trials and search for the company that not only survive trying times but actually beat the competition tenfold – known as 10Xers.

Though numerous companies and their leaders are mentioned throughout the book, the center of attention goes to Southwest Airlines and its CEO Howard Putnam. Over and over again, the decisions or Putnam are praised. He created one of the most respected companies in America while being nearly the only airline to make a profit over the years.He did nothing radical. He did not reinvent the wheel. He did not revolutionize anything. He made simple decisions that helped his company and he stuck to the plan.

Collins and his team break down the simple ideas that help companies flourish through the good times and the bad. This is another great work by Collins, even though it felt more like an addendum than a completely new work.

2013: 46

review date:
12/12/13

10 Days Without by Daniel Ryan Day

What’s the difference between a good blog and a good book?

I think that’s a pretty valid question. I follow a handful of blogs that I find rather interesting. Blog entries tend to be short and specifically relevant. Structurally, a blog tends to less premeditated and more stream of consciousness. Furthermore, how we read blogs on articles online is much different than a book. When I read a book I am taking a time out from my day, however when I read something online it tends to be in the middle of something else, so something quick to the point is imperative.

10 Days Without started out as an experiment that Daniel Ryan Day chronicled on this website. For ten days Day would withdraw from an item or action. Not only was he looking for an experience – to experience emptiness, hardship, and need – but he was also looking campaign for a cause, to shed light on a need that affects millions a people every day.

For ten days Day goes without something, followed by another round of ten days without. In the book Day chronicles ten days without shoes, a coat, media, furniture, legs, waste, speech, and human touch. Each ten day span teaches Day something about himself and the world he lives in. He influences the people around him including his very considerate wife and kids.

In the end, 10 Days Without is a very quick read. I wouldn’t consider the book a life changer, but it is interesting. It does feel like I am reading a blog more than a book, but perhaps that was the Day’s intention.

2013: 45

review date:
12/09/13

What Money Can't Buy by Mark Sandel

Recently, economics has found itself in the most unlikely places. Baseball is probably the best example of this. What used to be a sport of guts and instincts, baseball is now a sport where every microscopic detail is studied and valued.

And in a nutshell that is exactly what economics is, finding value. Professor Mark Sandel explores the idea of value in his book What Money Can’t Buy. Are there certain things in life that should not have a price tag? If so, why do certain things warrant no price while others do? Does pricing an item devalue it?

The ethical inquiry has been slow compared to hurried excitement over popular economics over the past couple of decades. There has been creation of new tools, processes, and market goods but there has been little examination of the morals behind each new innovation.

This book is extremely interesting, even though I felt like Sandel kept repeating the question with different scenarios.

In the end, he (and probably all his readers) agree that there is some moral limitation to the markets yet knowing them ahead of time may be a bit more difficult than we thought.

2013: 44

review date:
11/25/13

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers.”

I don’t know if I can adequately review this book. The topic of prayer is incredibly confusing.

Does prayer change God’s mind? Does the number of prayers have an effect? Does the intensity of the prayer have an impact? Does my view of God have change the outcome?

In reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, I would think the answer is “yes” to each question.

One example would be the number of prayers. Example after example, Batterson shares numerous stories from his personal experiences; praying over and over again until the prayer is answered. After each example, Batterson follows it up with a question, “What if I didn’t pray that final prayer?” It’s as if God has set some predetermined arbitrary number that we have to meet before he decides to act.

Batterson even shares stories from the Bible such as the march around Jericho. “What if the Israelites marched around Jericho only six times instead of seven?” I guess that is a valid question, except in that case it would be more about disobedience to God since He directly told them to march seven. It would make more sense (and fairer) if God always told us the number I needed to pray.

I finished this book thinking this: obviously my doubt in God has made me a poor Christian and God has no interest in answering my prayers. I assume that is not Batterson’s intention but it’s hard to not think that way. When a prayer is not answered was it my inability to believe or was my prayer misdirected? Since there is no definite way to know, you keep praying until either your prayer is answered or you come to the conclusion that it’s not God’s will.

I want to create a prayer infograph that shows cyclical prayer life. It would go something like this:

-Pray.

-Was it answered? Yes, then praise God!

-No, then try again.

-Pray again.

-Was it answered? Yes, then praise God!

-No, then it wasn’t God’s will. Change your prayer.

-Doesn’t that seem a bit weird and cyclical?

Maybe I’m too foolish to understand. Though a Christian, perhaps my doubt is too big.

2013: 43

review date:
11/21/13

Excellence Without a Soul by Harry R. Lewis

“The role of moral education has withered, conflicting with the imperative to give students and theirs what they for the money they are paying.”

If you look at the history of higher education, you would see a clear decline in moral education. Colleges and universities of the past were tied very close with the church thus moral teaching came directly from the church’s teachings. As time progress the connection between higher education and the church digressed.

In many ways the university has deviated from its original goals. The curriculum from 17th century would be completely alien to professors and students today. As the years progressed, the goals and curriculum has changed, and in his book Excellence without a Soul, Harry R. Lewis retells the history of Harvard and the issues confronting the renowned school. As the former dean of Harvard College, Lewis was involved in plenty of faculty feuds, student protests, and national scandals. Many times he saw the school take the easy way over the smart route. Many times he saw the school bend to pressure instead of standing firm on values. He states late in the book, “The college is more interested in making students happier than making them better.”

This is a very interesting book. There are plenty of resources criticizing higher education, but rarely are those criticisms written by someone with such high credentials as Lewis.

When I picked up this book I was really looking for a book that addresses the university’s need to approach morality. Though a lot of the book is dedicated to the history of Harvard and its challenge in every aspect, Lewis does spend a bit of time confronting the issue of morality.

He says it bluntly, “Harvard today tiptoes away from moral education, little interested in providing it and embarrassed to admit it does not wish to do so.” Schools have completely abandoned the idea of morality, mainly because in a postmodern culture morality is a questionable idea.

I found this book to be extremely interesting. I never would have thought working at a prestigious school such as Harvard would be that difficult, but it actually sounds worse.

2013: 42

review date:
11/8/13

Make College Count by Derek Melleby

Going to college has become rite of passage in the United States; it is now the understood next step in education. The question is now “Which college are you going to?” and not “Do you want to go to college?”

It is very exciting to be in a society that highly values higher education, but are we valuing higher education for the right reasons? Is it about the development and learning? Or is it simply about getting a degree that will “guarantee” you a higher-paying, more stable career?

These are the questions Derek Melleby asks in his brief book. Each quick chapter proposes a life-defining question:

What kind of person do you want to become? Why are you going to college? What do you believe? Who are you? With whom will you surround yourself? How will you choose a major? How do you want your life to influence others?

Getting a college degree will bring you value in the job market? But more importantly, getting a college degree will give you an education and develop you into the human being God wants you to be.

A quote from Tom Brokaw, which is cited in the book, sums it all up perfectly. “You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as a ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of is as your ticket to change the world.”

This is an easy and simple read that I think any college student or soon to be college student would appreciate. My only wish is that the book was a tad bit longer and more in depth, but that’s probably because I’m a higher education professional and not a student.

2013: 41

review date:
11/6/13

The Global War on Christians by John L. Allen, Jr.

“No matter how much we may admire the martyrs, most of us aren’t in a hurry to join them.”

Incredibly skeptical. That’s how I would define my attitude going intoThe Global War on Christians by John L. Allen, Jr. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was fairly confident I wasn’t going to enjoy it.

The book is split into three unequal parts with Part One taking up half of the nearly 300 pages. Part One describes in detail the gruesome reality of anti-Christian persecution around the world. It can be very difficult to read for two, very separate reasons. First and most evident, reading about people being beaten and killed is always challenging. The second reason is difficult for an entirely different, more academic reason. Allen decides not to cite his sources for these anti-Christian activities because it is too complicated to find credible sources and he encourages the reader to do the research on the internet. Now in no way do I assume that Mr. Allen is fibbing or skewing the facts, but as someone looking for a resource on Christian martyrdom in modern world, I want a book with some real credentials, but is not the author’s intent and he is clear about that upfront. So in summary of Part One, it got its point across in the first few pages however it goes on for another hundred more.

Part Two is about the myths concerning Christian persecution. I think this section is very valuable, as western Christians tend to carry around assumptions that are clearly untrue or greatly exaggerated. He lists five myths which include discussions on religious minorities, conspiracies,  Islam, motives, and politics.

Part Three, to me, was easily the best part of the book. I really wish this section was at the beginning of the book because Part Three really focuses your thoughts on what Christian persecution does to our families, churches, communities, and the world.

All in all, The Global War on Christians is a good book. It definitely opens your eyes or reminds you of the world around you. The first part of book is difficult to get through but it is well worth it.

Also, I am not crazy about the title of the book. It seems to suggest that there is a global conspiracy to attack Christians, which I don’t think is there. The author approaches the issue of calling it a “global war” and I do think there is a so-called “spiritual” war going on, but the title of book does throw me off a little.

“The faith must always be proposed, never imposed. Do it with great respect, do it gently, and don’t measure success in terms of head counts and market share – but at the same time, do it.”

2013: 40

review date:
10/29/13

Never Blink in a Hailstorm by David L. McKenna

For several reasons, I love working in higher education. I plan on working in higher education for the rest of my working life and I love chatting with men and women who have served in higher education for many years. I have been very fortunate to have some great conversations with some very wise men and women. Their stories energize me and remind me of why I got into this field.

When you read Never Blink in a Hailstorm it feels like you just had coffee with David McKenna.

David McKenna became a college president at the tender age of thirty, thus he has spent a lifetime enduring the trials and tribulations of being a leader. In this book McKenna offers timeless advice summed up by twelve short adages.

With ever adage starting with the word “never,” the book at first glance seems like it will be very negative, but as McKenna concludes, “Nothing is worse than trying to leave when the boundaries are hidden or freedom is fuzzy.”

The book contains interesting stories, funny anecdotes, and most importantly solid wisdom. I felt like I received a lot more wisdom from this small book than the other leadership volumes I have read. Anyone interested in working in Christian higher education administration will enjoy this work.

“If you can’t stand loneliness, stay away from leadership.”

2013: 39

review date:
10/16/13

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

“The world – much as we want it – does not accord with our intuition.”

We live in a pretty complex world. To understand it we need our complex brains to solve complex problems. Things are simply not that simple.

What is the difference between a single person wearing a new style and a fashion trend? What is the difference between a standard children’s show and the venerable Sesame Street? The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is the study of epidemics.

Epidemics are paradigm shifting events. Though they change the landscape, epidemics are usually caused by very small, almost imperceptible, circumstances.

According to Gladwell, there are three rules of epidemics. The Law of the Few dictates that it takes only a handful of people – the correct people – to launch an epidemic. The Stickiness Factor focuses on how to make a message most effective. And the Power of Context maintains that the conditions need to be right to create that epidemic movement. Malcolm Gladwell spends half the book describing his three rules of epidemics and the other half providing a few case studies.

This book was incredibly interesting and entertaining. The more I read the more I wanted to read. I seriously did not want to put the book down.

This genre of book – social psychology or just pulling back the curtain on life itself – is easily becoming one of my new favorites.

2013: 38

review date:
10/11/13

The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby

For past few years, I have been looking for that perfect book; a book I can share with college freshmen, which will help them through that difficult first semester. That book needs to cover the importance of academics, choosing a life path, owning your faith, and everything in between. It needs to provide sound research from experts yet be relevant to a recent high school graduate. It needs to see education as true companion and not an enemy.

This is a very tall order. Perhaps I am dreaming too big and expect too much. So unfortunately The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby is not the book I wanted it to be, which is why my review is not glowing.

I don't have any outstanding issues with the book, just a few small things that made the book underwhelming.

First, I did not really understand the book's structure; the was no unifying theme that helped the chapters flow together.

Second, it's hard not to get a feeling of anti-intellectualism, but let me explain before you rip my head off. I do not think the authors believe knowledge is evil or that we should downplay the importance of education. The authors obviously support higher education and the idea that all truth is God's truth. However, the book does seem to imply that anything you learn (especially from a non-Christian source) needs to be vetted by Scripture first. With this attitude, all new information gets classified as evil until Christian community approves it. Now, I know the authors would probably disagree with that statement, but that is how I felt when I read the first half of the book.

Again, I know those are two weak arguments against the book. Once again, perhaps my expectations for the book were so high that I was doomed from the start.

It is a solid book. The authors are respected in the field of Christian higher education. I am just not sure how to use this book.

2013: 37

review date:
10/10/13

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? By Brian McLaren

"To accept and love God, must I betray my neighbor of another religion? To accept and love my neighbor, must I betray the God of my religion?"

The past couple of decades have been exceptional when it comes to religious diversity. Christianity is no longer the cultural norm in America. Incidents across the world have highlighted our many differences. How do Christians respond to Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and so on?

Brian McLaren's appropriately titled book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? attempts to refocus our goals as followers of Christ.

From a purely historical and literary perspective, Jesus is a very interesting character. He spends almost his entire ministry with societal outcasts while specifically avoiding the religious authority of the day. Now fast forward over two thousand years, where do we find the followers of Jesus? Are they more concerned about loving people or staying in line with Christian values?

McLaren divides this book into four sections.

The Crisis of Christian Identity. Identify yourself as a Christian and you will unfortunately be labeled with several negative qualities. Regrettably, most of these perceived qualities have been earned by well-intended but severely misguided Christians. Just like the Pharisees found in the Gospels, Christians today have become more concerned about staying holy and not sinning that we forget to love our brothers and sisters on earth. To be strong Christians, we need humble hearts. To be strong Christians, we need to focus on loving others as an act of loving God. We will definitely receive reprimands from the Christian mainstream but as McLaren reminds us, "Crucifixion happens, not at the hand of others, but Us."

The Doctrinal Challenge and The Liturgical Challenge. These two sections were a bit weak in my opinion. I understand McLaren's desire to refocus our doctrines and liturgy so that we focus more on others and the love that God wants us to show. I liked the areas where I felt like he was correcting doctrinal misunderstandings, but I didn't like how he tried to change the entire focus of a tradition or sacrament. See chapter on baptism. I certainly don't disagree with his changes or adjustments, I just don't think the changes are the solution. There was not much tie in to the whole theme of the book.

The Missional Challenge. The best way to describe the challenge of being a Christian in a multifaith world can be summed up by Gandhi. One, be like Christ. Two, don't tone done your message. Three, center on love. Four, study non-Christian religions.

In conclusion, this is great book on religious diversity and more importantly, loving others. This is the book I think Rob Bell was trying to write when he penned Love Wins. Brian McLaren does a great job writing in simple and straightforward terms. He does not try to throw Greek words at you to prove a theological point. I look forward to reading more from McLaren in the future.

2013: 36

review date:
9/27/13

The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is one of my favorite authors. I know I have said that before and I will probably say it again.

The Way of the Heart was a rather forgettable book. I did not find myself really engaging into this material. Some of the sections of this book can be found in his other works with more details and depth. With his many republished books, I am not exactly sure if this book came out before or after the other ones.

So in the spirit of the book, I will keep this review short.

“Much can be said without much be spoken."

2013: 35

review date:
9/18/13

This Beautiful Mess by Ryan McKinley

I wasn’t super excited to read this book. I thought the main title (This Beautiful Mess) sounded intriguing, however the subtitle (Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God) sounded convoluted meaning the book would be slightly pretentious and demeaning.

Fortunately the McKinley’s work was intriguing. In fact, I found his words on loving other and finding faith in moments of suffering to be some of the most authentic words I have every read in a book.

The book is divided into three parts: discovery, vision, and practice. First and foremost we need to define what we mean when we say the “Kingdom of God.” Next we need understand what that looks like and how we can live out our faith every day.

This was a quick, simple read with some powerful thoughts. Most chapters end with a short story/poem from somebody. I really did not connect with these enders, so I usually skipped or skimmed over them.

2013: 34

review date:
9/16/13

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

“Disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time.”

I remember the first church I ever went to. Door to door evangelism was the name of the game. Every week when I walked into Sunday school, I was greeted with a welcome card. On the card I was asked how often did I pray that week, how often I read my Bible, how much was I giving to the church that week, which services I attended (there was an option for every single day, multiple options for Saturday and Sunday), and how many doors I knocked on that week.

I was ten years old.

Why was I asked how many doors I was visiting a week? Did the church really think suburban fourth graders were evangelizing up and down the street? I was barely brave enough to go trick-or-treating.

Getting people to church was the goal. The most important thing was to get butts in the pews – or to be more polite, more behinds in the pews.

Clearly that church was not interested in relationships. They were more interested in numbers and appearances. It took me a few years of maturing to realize that this church was a problem and I finally left it for a much-better Christ-centered people-focused church. However, after a few more years of maturing I realized the first church is more the rule than the exception.

“Most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.”

You Lost Me is David Kinnaman’s second book exploring the non-Christian movement among today’s younger population (and that’s non-Christian, not anti-Christian, those terms are not synonymous). While unChristian explored the non-Christian’s perspective on Christianity, You Lost Me examines the religious dropout path among young Christians.

As a college administrator, I am not surprised by Kinnaman’s findings. A person’s formative years (18-29 years old) usually involves an intense time of questioning. Sometimes its outright rebellion, other times its religious exploration, but it is definitely a time where one on doubts the religious and moral beliefs they grew up with.

This is another great book about the reality of Christianity in our country. For better or for worse, American culture is no longer defined by unwritten Christian values. Anyone who works with young students would find some great insight in this book.

2013: 33

review date:
9/10/13

Miracle Men by Josh Suchon

“All year long they looked to him to light the fire and all year long he answered the demands.”

“High fly ball into right field. She is gone!”

“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

I was only three years old that amazing night; the night Kirk Gibson made baseball history. Which means I was only three years old the last time the Dodgers won (or even appeared in) the World Series.

Watching the video, I have relived that moment over and over again. Sometimes I even close my eyes just so I can hear Vin Scully’s golden voice with the roar of crowd in the background.

Obviously as a Dodger fan that moment holds a lot of value, but I think any baseball fan gets goose bumps watching Gibson take Eckersley deep to right to take Game 1.

Miracle Men is a fantastic summary of the 1988 Dodger season. Suchon does a great job describing the energy and focus of Gibson, the stability of Hershiser, and the ingenuity (or luck depending on how you see it) of general manager Fred Claire.

I wish more baseball books were written like this. Suchon does not try to throw in some literary themes or show us how the Dodgers changed the culture of Los Angeles. He gives us the facts and the story. He talks about the men on the field, the men in the dugout, and the men in the clubhouse.

I know the author did his job when I know the ending yet every page keeps me in suspense.

2013: 32

review date:
9/10/13

The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West

I got to see Cornel West speak back in 2008, and even though I did not see eye to eye with him on a few issues, I could not deny his energy, passion, and charisma. Ever since then I have followed Cornel West’s career. I have read a number of his articles and have watched several interviews of him.

I know he has written numerous best-selling books, but I was never sure which one I should start with. I finally saw The Rich and the Rest of Us written by Cornel West and media personality Tavis Smiley. Fighting for the poor is one of the pillars of West’s philosophy and I was eager to read this work and see how he approaches the subject.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I just cannot give it my (worthless) stamp of approval. My major criticism is inconsistency. At one moment the authors are talking about rebuilding America to the great country that it once was, but then quickly turn around and discuss the atrocities of America’s past including genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of Africans, and abuse of child labor. It is difficult to push America as a beacon of hope when it has such an ugly past.

I do appreciate that West and Smiley remain apolitical in their argument, in that they blame both democrats and republicans for this problems at hand. They would be the first admit that there is absolutely no communist or socialist in the White House right now.

I really didn’t get a lot of answers from this book, nor did I feel like I got a lot of good questions. The only solutions I deduced: we need to make it illegal for companies to make a lot of money and being rich is wrong. I don’t think those are reasonable solutions.

Here is the best quote from the book.

“How can we take comfort in the phrase ‘One Nation Under God’ when we ignore the examples of compassion dictated by Christ?”

2013: 31

review date:
8/19/13

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy

Whether you are a Dodger fan or not, Sandy Koufax is an indisputable baseball legend. There are mythical tales that merely describe his wind up.

Before the days of universal baseball coverage and ballplayers watching endless hours of tape, the myth of a pitcher’s curve or batter’s swing frightening. Everyone in the ballpark would stop to watch, not knowing if they would ever see something so magical again.

We may never have players like Koufax ever again thanks to visual media. Today we can replay every mistake and error a player makes. Unlike days past, when folks would only reminiscence about the time Koufax threw so hard that umpire couldn’t see the baseball.

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy is less about Mr. Sanford Koufax but more about the impact he had on the nation during his amazing yet short lived pitching dominance. The first half of the book is rather slow as the author tries to pin together several narratives at once. The odd chapters are a combination of Koufax’s life, the country he grew up in, and the individual stories. The even chapters recount Koufax’s fourth no-hitter in September 1965. The book is much like the Kevin Costner movie For Love of the Game, which premiered years before this book’s publication.

The second half of the book picks up rather nicely. The intensity of the no-hitter gets interesting and the author begins to focus more on Koufax the person starting with the historical joint holdout with fellow Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale.

This book is well-researched and obviously it is written by a fan. The style of writing was not my favorite but I did enjoy the book and I enjoyed learning more about the reclusive lefty.

Go Dodgers!

2013: 30

review date:
7/29/13

Sent by Hilary Alan

A simple story about a big leap of faith.

From time to time there may be a national debate on the role of religion in society but rarely does a young Christian male feel physically endangered for his beliefs. There are numerous churches and charities across the country helping the needy. Additionally, there is a strong, stable infrastructure available to every citizen. All in all, Christians are comfortable in America.

However, this sense of comfort has created a new type of Christian. A morally-strong yet faith-weak Christian. Rarely do our actions match what we profess. We believe in God’s grace yet do everything possible to avoid a homeless person.

Hilary Alan shares her story of faith. Her husband and two kids decided to ditch the so-called American dream for something much bigger, a calling from God. They sold their meaningless possessions and set up home on the other side of the globe. Many challenges came their way, especially in America.

It is a very inspiring story. While reading it, I kept forgetting that what I was reading was real and not some fictional tale. Though the stories can come off a little cliché, her story is very interesting and definitely worth the quick read.

2013: 29

review date:
7/28/13

The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc

“Universities have forgotten their main purpose, which is to help students ‘learn who they are, to search for a larger purpose for their lives, and to leave college as better human beings.’”

“The students are not soulless, but the university is.”

“We need to stop releasing our students into the wild without systematically challenging them to take an inner as well as an outer journey.”

There was a time not long ago when people purchased a house for a simple reason, to live in it. They were thinking about their family and the memories they would make in a new home. They certainly were not concerned about a return on investment and flipping the home at the right time.

There was also a time not long ago when people obtained a college education to learn and find a purposeful career. They were thinking about changing the world and creating a promising future. They certainly were not concerned about a return on investment or having a higher salary than their less-educated counterparts.

The real estate world has seen its fair share of troubles and higher education has experienced its fair share of criticisms. Getting back the very nature of higher education is essential.

Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc have written another volume into the advancement of higher education. The authors call for an integrative education. They call for an education that incorporates the whole person: intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and so forth.

The book is very philosophical. Palmer and Zajonc present very articulate yet very idealistic perspectives. They attempt to balance the idealism with practical, real life examples found throughout campuses across the nation.

Though I love the book’s message, I found myself easily distracted while reading. This may be a symptom of summer busy-ness, but I never felt attached to the book. Unfortunately, this is now a trend for me when it comes to Palmer’s writings, apparently he is not my style.

2013: 28

review date:
7/22/13

The One Thing by Gary Keller

There is beauty in simplicity; in nature, art, business, science and everything in between.

Simplicity recognizes the important thing while ignoring the trivial things. Simplicity makes you more efficient and more effective simultaneously.

The One Thing by Gary Keller is a quick overview of simplicity. Keller is the founder of one of the largest real estate companies in the world and the author of several successful books. Keller draws on his profitable experience and shares his simple secret to success.

The One Thing has an inspiring message, but as a whole the book feels like a long speech by a motivational speaker. The book lacks interesting anecdotes that could really bolster Keller’s message. The pages contain curious graphs however none are based on any real numbers just ideas. And it gets a little annoying that the author has pre-underlined parts of the book, that doesn’t really give me the opportunity to have the book speak to me.

Keller has a good message: focus on the one thing and everything else falls into place. I am not sure if a whole book was necessary, but the message can definitely perk you up. It’s sort of like soda, it tastes really sweet, it gets you caffeinated and pumped up but the feeling doesn’t last long because there was no real nutrition to sustain you.

2013: 27

review date:
7/8/13

Superfreaknomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

“It is a fact of life that people love to complain, particularly about how terrible the modern world is compared with the past. They are nearly always wrong.”

Levitt and Dubner follow up their New York Times Bestseller Freakonomics with another in depth look into the hidden world of everything. Aptly titled Superfreakonomics, we discover the truth about being a woman, life and death, reality of altruism, cheap fixes, global warming, and numerous other interesting facts.

Superfreakonomics is very quick read. It totals just over 200 pages and each page throws a new, interesting fact at you. Like most sequels, it doesn’t quite reach the magic found in its predecessor, however the day Levitt and Dubner pop out another Freakonomics book, I will be sure to buy a copy.

2013: 26

review date:
7/1/13

unChristian by David Kinnaman

“What will we do to address the unChristian perception of our faith?”

The Christian faith is not well-accepted among the general population, and it has sort of always been that way. That should be expected from a religion founded on the narrative of somebody getting openly murdered for his teachings. Christians are warned throughout the New Testament that their faith will be subject to persecution and suffering. Christians should never be surprised with disapproval.

But what do we do when non-Christians detest Christians more than the Christian faith? What is our response when unbelievers like Christ but despise Christians?

The book unChristian sets out to understand how non-Christians or – how they are referred to in the book – “outsiders” perceive Christians today. With tons of research conducted by The Barna Group, “outsiders” identify six characteristics of modern Christians: hypocritical, saved-focused, antihomosexual, sheltered, political, and judgmental.

I really appreciate the work done in this book. Over the past few decades, well-meaning Christians have worked tirelessly to keep Christian culture relevant in America. Unfortunately, instead of serving the poor, loving the needy, or helping the downtrodden, many Christians have focused on Washington. They have become power hungry, thinking this is the only way to make change. This has led to a myriad of problems, a nation that has no direction.

Author David Kinnaman is not trying to make Christianity popular, nor is he trying to give the faith a public relations assessment. He is simply trying to show us how we have screwed up, how our message has been either oversimplified overcomplicated.

The Church is like a hospital, it’s for healing the sick, weak, and needy. Of course there will always be real Christians causing real problems in the Church. We must approach it all with God-honoring humility. unChristian shows us where to start.

2013: 25

review date:
6/24/13

Onward by Howard Schultz

“We are not in the coffee business, serving people. We are in the people business, serving coffee.”

Howard Schultz’s first book, Pour Your Heart into It, chronicled the rise of Starbucks from a small coffee wholesaler in Seattle to worldwide brand synonymous with delicious coffee. Onward, Schultz’s second book, chronicles Starbucks persistence through its most difficult days.

Once Starbucks became a worldwide phenomenon, Howard Schultz stepped down from the day-to-day management of Starbucks. He resigned as CEO while retaining the title of chairman. He remained committed to the heart and soul of the company while leaving the details to others. But in his absence a perfect storm started forming. The economy started to decline. Consumer confidence began falling dramatically. Starbucks’ immense growth suddenly became its greatness weakness. Quickly, Schultz saw the company he built and loves begin to disintegrate. The values he worked so hard to weave into the fabric of the company were deteriorating right in front of him. He knew he had to come back.

What you find in Onward is Schultz’s journey back into an active role at Starbucks. He faced a lot of criticism. Wall Street, employees, trusted friends, and everyone in between had harsh criticism for the returning ceo. Schultz shows us how he struggled and how he thrived.

Reading this book, it is impossible not to feel Howard Schultz’s passion and vision for Starbucks. It is not just a simple place where you get your morning coffee. It is an experience for every single person. Without his passion, Starbucks would have never become a national brand nor would have it survived the great economic recession.

This book is a perfect example of a Good to Great company. Schultz is definitely a leader who is more concerned about the task at hand instead of his own ego. This is another great book about the marriage between leadership and passion.

2013: 24

review date:
6/17/13

Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education by Arthur Chickering, et al.

As of late, spirituality has been the hot topic in higher education. In the past decade, researchers have found that college students are hungry for a spiritual aspect in their college experience and student affairs professionals have worked tirelessly to provide a sense of authenticity and meaning on their campuses. Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality is one the first comprehensive resources created to address this growing desiring for spirituality in high education.

“The majority of Americans today consider their own religious narratives as evolving, open-ended and revisable. Religious authority lies in the individual believer.”

If you know the history of higher education in this country then you know the history of spirituality. The first colleges founded in America were specifically created by the church for the church and this remained the status quo for generations. Once the industrial revolution erupted, things changed quickly. The world quickly became smaller. Technological advancements moved at lightning speeds. Society was forever changed and colleges adapted.

The focus on faith and religion quickly faded. The common narrative implies that colleges abandoned religion in pursuit of science, however the separation was quite neutral. Churches had a unique and particular focus while colleges explored all avenues of arts and science. But as we saw over the past few decades, religion has become somewhat unwelcomed or ostracized on college campuses.

In Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality, the authors set out to find the common the ground, to discover how the whole human works. “Learning is a whole person, whole brain activity. Intellect and emotion are inseparable.”

Each chapter is written by a well-respected expert in the field of higher education. Each chapter offers a special piece to the puzzle of spirituality in higher education: dynamics, policy concerns, history, integration, assessment, leadership, etc.

It is a very good resource for the higher education professional. I really hope colleges and universities across the country begin to take spiritual development more seriously. Working in Christian higher education, I take spiritual development for granted instead of asking tougher questions. We need to explore spiritual development as a community of learners, and then we can finally discover what is true.

"Our ultimate aim is to use knowledge as a source of inspiration for ourselves and other and to improve the world in which we live."

2013: 23

review date:
6/3/13

Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

When I see a man or woman living on the streets, I feel this immediate, intense battle happening inside of me. My first reaction – like most people – is to ignore them, but there is this intensity inside of me to answer the problem. Clearly, there is csome discomfort when a stranger is panhandling but a sense of superiority instinctually flows through me.

“He must be a drunk. She is obviously high or trying to get high. Why don’t they go over to the shelter or church? A shelter will do a lot better than the change in my pocket.”

But over the years, I have learned a lot about the realities of homelessness in America. The problem cannot be defined neatly in a short sentence. It is a complicated issue with numerous causes and zero quick fixes.

Though we all may have different experiences with homelessness, in the end a homeless person is a person. He or she is a loved child of our Creator. And that’s the other side of the battle inside of me.

“How do I help this man? Will giving him a couple of dollars help? Am I really doing the right thing? Where can I do more?”

A couple of college students had this same question. Instead of sitting in class trying to understand the economics of homelessness in America or sitting through another sermon about feeding the poor, these two men set out to experience the other side. Under the Overpass chronicles Mike Yankoski and his friend’s experience living on the streets of America. They spent six months in six different cities, spending a month in each major city. Normal activities that society rarely ever thinks about like eating, sleeping, or defecating became major challenges.

This journey really shows you the personal side of homelessness. When I think of the homelessness, I usually think of no shelter and money, but seldom do I think a lack of relationships or love. What shocked me the most about this book was Yankoski’s apparent lightheartedness. Though he took the matter very seriously and it was definitely not an easy experience, he did appear to portray this aura of freedom. He didn’t have to rush to class or a meeting; life had an unusually different pace. I don’t think he was trying to communicate that in the book, but it was something I noticed.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in how we can help the poor and needy within our own borders.

2013: 22

review date:

5/26/13

Multiply by Francis Chan

In my opinion, Francis Chan is one of the best communicators we have in the church today. His fiery passion for God is wildly infectious. I always enjoy his words.

Multiply has a simple concept. God told us to make disciples so we should go and make disciples. With such a simple concept I was surprised that the book was over 300 pages, but I was excited to read it nonetheless.

The book consists of 5 clearly labeled sections: Discipleship Making, Living as the Church, How to study the Bible, Understanding the Old Testament, and Understanding the New Testament. The first two sections break down the calling of the Church in the local and global communities. How to Study the Bible is kind of weak attempt to advocate both academic and personal exploration of the Bible. (I obviously don’t think “academic” and “personal” are conflicting ideas but it can definitely be presented that way). The final two sections summarize the entire the Bible narrative in an extremely concise way.

In the end, Multiply is a good book designed specifically for small groups in hopes of making creating new disciples. I am not sure in the Bible Cliff-Notes was necessary.

2013: 21

review date:
5/16/13

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I have been a big fan of Jim Gaffigan for a long time. I have most if not all of his albums. Jim Gaffigan (alongside Conan O’Brien) is of one of the palest comedians around (both are member of Pale Force by the way). Additionally, he is one of the kings of self-deprecation.

Over time Gaffigan’s humor has evolved from topics such as overeating and sleep-deprivation to overeating and sleep-deprivation with kids. In his new book,Dad is Fat, Gaffigan gives us a glimpse into his crazy life as the father of five little ones while living in a small New York apartment as Mrs. Gaffigan and him manage his career.

The chapters are short and witty. The book reads much like a classic Gaffigan routine. Though I think a traditionalist would disapprove of Gaffigan reusing his old material in the book, I didn’t mind it too much because most of it was relevant and still funny.

Obviously if you are a fan of Gaffigan you will love this book. If you have never heard of Gaffigan yet you have raised a herd of children, I’m sure you will find this book insightful and honest.

2013: 20

review date:
5/14/13 

Evil Does Not Have The Last Word by Eric Shoars

I tried my hardest to like this book. The dilemma of all-loving and all-powerful God existing while evil and suffering persists has always been an interesting topic to me. I have read a handful of great books by great theologians on this subject.

The author of Evil Does Not Have the Last Word gave me a copy of this book to review, and of course I was very interested based solely on the title.

Maybe it’s because I’m not big into comic book heroes or that I just could not connect with Eric Shoars’ experiences but reading this book was draining to me. I could not connect with the material at all. He definitely gave the book a personal touch by talking about his kids and his own individual challenges, but in the end I was simply uninterested in the presentation of ideas.

I’m not exactly sure where the book missed the mark, but it didn’t work for me.

2013: 19

review date:
5/13/13

Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz

For years I was not a big coffee drinker. Somehow I survived college without giving into the caffeinated demon of the dark roast. However, a year after graduate school, I found myself working for a university that had me help manage the on campus coffee shop. Quickly I learned the science and art that is espresso making. Over time I was transformed from a delicate Frappuccino drinker to a serious espresso connoisseur (also known as a coffee snob).

Soon I began to critique the subtle nuance of every coffee shop I visited. Most were very consistent with being inconsistent. Depending on the barista, your latte could be delicious or terribly bitter. Only one place could give me a reliable tasty latte with great service. This is how I became very impressed with Starbucks.

Eventually I learned a lot more about Starbucks as a company. I heard about its lightning fast rise to the top, the way it hires and trains its baristas, and its community involvement. The man who transformed Starbucks from a coffee wholesaler in Seattle to the name brand mega-company was none other than Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman and CEO.

Pour Your Heart into It chronicles the history of Starbucks and how it grew into a national brand synonymous with great coffee. From the Schultz’s account, you see that the success of Starbucks occurred not by well-developed strategic business planning or incredibly good luck. Starbucks rose to the top because everyone at Starbucks – from the part-time barista to the CEO – believed in the company. Each employee is passionate about working for Starbucks and Starbucks was passionate about each employee.

This book is a very interesting and personal account about the rise of Starbucks. I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in running an organization with passion and authenticity.

2013: 18

review date:
5/1/13

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite authors which is evident in him being the most represented author in my library. I love his extraordinary ability to write about deep theological issues in relatively simple and relatable terms. A skill he probably acquired working many years in the academe teaching at prestigious schools such as Harvard and Yale and then later serving at the L’Arche community of Daybreak.

When I saw that he had written In the Name of Jesus, a book specifically on Christian leadership, I could not wait to read it. Like most of Nouwen’s works, it took me less than a day to read it but it is a book I will not forget.

The book is a response to a simple question: what will Christian leadership need in the twenty-first century? Though written nearly 25 years ago, Nouwen’s words still endure today.

As recorded in Matthew 4, after spending forty days in the desert Jesus was tempted three times. Nouwen walks us through each of these temptations and how they are relevant in our Christian leaders today.

Anyone who wants to serve in a ministry environment or serve in any industry with a Christ-like attitude will benefit greatly from this book.

I am a big fan of quotes and my favorite quote from this book: “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”

2013: 17

review date:
4/25/13

We're Losing Our Minds by Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh

“The sources of the primary problems in American undergraduate higher education – the lack of true high learning, the absence of a serious culture of teaching and learning, and the consequent insufficient quality and quantity of student learning – are deeply cultural, and solving them will require fundamental, thoroughgoing changes in our colleges and universities.”

I am very passionate about higher education. I strongly believe in higher education, yet I too believe higher education in America can use some renovation. I have read a few doom-and-gloom higher education books over the years – some bad ones and some horrible ones – with each one calling for a total overhaul of our colleges and universities. Though I do not really disagree with anything written in We’re Losing Our Minds, I was yet again underwhelmed by the material.

The authors have superb credentials with both of them serving in numerous administrative roles at several distinguished schools. Yet the question that comes to mind is this: if they are so dissatisfied with higher education, why couldn’t they change it while they were in charge? Obviously politics and what not will get in the way, but with so many schools out there, why can’t one become the ideal institution? And if there is one like that, why are we not diving into it and reproduce the results? To me it’s like a chef complaining about all the horrible food other chefs make. The chef needs to stop complaining, stop focusing on others, and cook the best food ever.

Colleges want to be accessible to all. However you risk low retention rates when unprepared students begin to drop out. When your retention rates drop, you must focus on faculty and staff to create programs and mentoring to help students be more successful. When you hire too many faculty and staff your costs increase. When your costs increase your tuition increases. When your tuition increases, you become less accessible.

And when you have thousands of colleges on this same vicious cycle, things can get messy.

As the authors state, learning needs to be the utmost goal. I couldn’t agree more, but what works in theory – as describe in the book – doesn’t work in reality. (“In theory…communism works…in theory” –if you get that joke, then you are smart.)

To me, this book was kind of bland. It was a very long 170+ pages. The second half was better than the first, which is kind of rare. Honestly, I do not feel like I learned much from this book.

2013: 16

review date:
4/22/13

Good to Great by Jim Collins

“I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

I first learned about Jim Collins at the annual Global Leadership Conference organized by the Willow Creek Association. Though he was promoting a different book, I heard only incredible things about his work Good to Great and at the conference I was fascinated with his understanding of how people and businesses thrive.

When I first picked up this book, I was expecting Collins to survey some of the best companies in the nation and tell me a few things these companies have in common. What I did not expect was a thoroughly academically researched investigation into the differences between a good company and a great company.

Collins (and his team) systematically walks us through six stages every great works through to move from good to great: Level 5 Leadership, First Who…Then What, Confront the Brutal Facts, The Hedgehog Concept, A Culture of Discipline, and Technology Accelerators. Each stage is so amazingly simple that you feel almost foolish for not knowing it yet each stage is also so profound you wonder how you could ever accomplish it.

I really think anyone trying to start a business, save a business, build a charity, or just organize something can benefit from this book. It takes all the complicated issues one can have managing an organization into simple practical words. This is a great book, I look forward to reading Jim Collins other works.

“What work makes you feel compelled to try to create greatness?”

2013: 15

review date:
4/10/13

The Little Red Book of Wisdom by Mark DeMoss

“Gifted leaders, I observe, who are confident about their strengths are equally comfortable admitting their weaknesses.”

Founder and president of The DeMoss Group, Mark DeMoss has devoted his life to helping Christian organizations (and the men and women who run them) be as successful as possible. Gleaning from his many years of experience working in public relations and the from the wisdom passed down from his father who was a highly successful and ethical business leader, DeMoss lays out twenty-three simple and concise chapters with large doses of wisdom.

You can easily read this book in a day or so, or perhaps read a chapter every day or so, giving yourself time to chew on the concepts throughout the day.

I want to thank the president of the university for giving me a copy of this book to read.

2013: 14

review date:
4/4/13

Mind Your Faith by David Horner

“For a follower of Jesus the pursuit of a university education should be seen as a positive, exciting endeavor, not something to be endured or escaped. It is to be loved rather than feared.”

Another addition to my faith in higher education library is Mind Your Faith by David Horner. A Christian university professor educated in the secular environment, Horner clearly sees how many universities have given up on teaching meaning and spirituality and how many Christians – who attend faith-based or secular universities – decide to separate their faith and intellect during college.

Faith and reason are not meant to be disconnected; reason does not undermine faith and faith does not abolish reason. We are meant to use our God-given minds to support our faith and worship our Lord.

Horner frequently discusses the prophet Daniel a great example of man who faced many challenges at “Babylon University” yet met every temptation with a strong faith and educated mind. Additionally, Horner walks us through a course in philosophy, assisting the reader in debunking commonly held perspectives such as relativism.

Though I was not amazed by the book, I think Mind Your Faith is a respectable book about the role of mind and faith. Education should be of utmost importance to a follower of Christ, because Christ made it all. I especially enjoyed his constant commendations to community. “Communities are made of relationships that gives us models, hold us accountable, encourage us, comfort us and provide us opportunities for ministry.”

2013: 13

review date:
3/27/13

The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdale

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” –James Arthur Baldwin

It has been a while since I was a freshman in college, but I can still feel that sense of being lost, overwhelmed, and utterly confused. Entering college my goal was to finish school, graduate, and start my “life” as soon as possible. I isolated myself emotionally, stalling any authentic development because I was simply too afraid to see my worldview bubble burst. Instead of thriving, I was purely focused on surviving.

The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdale is a quick snapshot of a teenager’s first year into higher education. Clydesdale follows the lives of over fifty students, starting with them while they finish high school and following up with them after their first year into the college world.

Though society typically portrays college students as reckless party people interested only in drugs, alcohol, and sex, Clydesdale paints for us a more realistic, subdued freshmen class. In their first year out, students are looking for one big thing: daily life management. With so many changes happening within only a few months, students are simply looking for a way to adjust and cope quickly with unavoidable challenges ahead.

Clearly, some turn to unhealthy methods such as drugs and alcohol while some manage the challenges quite successfully. However most, according to Clydesdale, create a “lockbox” for their identity which includes religious/spiritual, ethical, political, and intellectual worldviews as a way to survive while they deal with daily life management. Most college students do not approach these developments until later into their college experience.

All in all, I think is a great book. I grew a little weary every time Clydesdale had to describe an interviewee. It seemed like every other sentence he was telling me the gender, race, and socioeconomic class of a student, which is important information but it does not make for smooth reading.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the freshmen year experience.

2013: 12

review date:
3/23/13

Vindicated by Jose Canseco

I am definitely not hesitant to give a book a bad review, however I am very reluctant to suggest someone should totally skip a book just because I disagreed with the author or found the material to be boring or irrelevant.

Having said that, you should skip Vindicated by Jose Canseco.

The overt Steroid Era of Major League Baseball is a very interesting subject. I was a young boy during this era and like most young boys my age baseball players were my heroes. So to look back on this era and see how much of the game was influenced by illegal steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is sort of like watching my entire childhood vanish.

I read Juiced by Canseco and I was pretty impressed. Though I think Canseco is rather egotistical and delusional. I did feel like he was being honest about the corrupt the world of professional baseball. After reading a few more exposés on steroids, I turned back to Canseco’s newest book to hear his response.

What I got was rehash of old material: a summary of his first book, transcripts of his testimony before Congress, a copy of some speech he gave to some school in Florida, a play-by-play of a couple of voluntary lie detector tests, and excerpts of the Mitchell report. The only “new” material from the book consists of Canseco petting his ego and justifying why we left out damning material from his first book. Too many times he describes some conspiracy yet he states that he is not suggesting it.

I simply cannot recommend this book, unless you get it for free. There are only a dozen pages of new material and even those pages are just Canseco being ridiculous.

2013: 11

review date:
3/14/13

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

This is easily one of the most interesting books I have read all year.

Nate Silver has received a lot of attention lately for his predictions.  He has amazed the masses starting in 2002 when he developed the baseball sabermetric system PECOTA to the 2012 elections where he predicted correctly ever major result except two (North Dakota and Montana). He has this amazing ability to gather data, describe it clearly, and forecast accurately while remaining relevant , light-hearted, and downright funny at times.

I could go over all the interesting details, facts, and anecdotes in the book, but nothing I can mention will do the book justice. I honestly wish this man was my statistics professor in college. I definitely would have considered a career in forecasting – would have been the only way I could work in the MLB.

This book is a bit long but Silver is meticulous in his research and making sure his facts are clear and accurate. If you are not interested in the stock market, poker, chess, or weather then you can easily skip a chapter, however each chapter does build on the previous one.

This is definite favorite for all nerds out there.

2013: 10

review date:
3/4/13 

The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney

“Introverts are like a rechargeable battery…extroverts are like solar panels.”

I have always been a reserved personality. When I was a kid I was downright shy. As an adolescent I started emerging from my shell but as I entered adulthood I never materialized into the extroverted wonder I hoped to become.

Not until my senior year of college did I start understanding my personal balance of introversion and extroversion. After years of graduate school, several years of work, and reading numerous articles and books did I finally feel like I was effectively using my introverted self.

I read Quiet by Susan Cain about a year ago and I was blown away by her insights into the introverted way. I picked up The Introvert Advantage in hopes of finding more information about myself. Though a decent book written by a well-respected professional, The Introvert Advantage cannot compare with Susan Cain’s work.

After reading Quiet, I felt empowered and ready to take on the world. After reading The Introvert Advantage I felt like I had a disease and had just read a manual on how to cope. The title of the book is misleading. Dr. Laney does not really present introversion as an advantage. The subtitle should have been “How to Survive in an Extroverted World” since most of her thoughts concern how to respond to the social world and not how to take benefit from it.

Nonetheless, I think this book describes introversion very well and she does a thorough job providing tips to introverts. I definitely recommend this book if someone is looking for very practical tips of life.

2013: 9

review date:
3/1/13

Bases Loaded by Kirk Radomski

I didn’t get into too much trouble as kid, but when I did I always had a supposedly good excuse up my sleeve:

“So-so told me too”

“He started it”

“It wasn’t me”

“I didn’t know”

“Everybody else did it”

That last one is my favorite because even full-grown adults use that lame excuse every day. Bases Loaded by Kirk Radomski is one big fat steroid-filled excuse. Much like Jose Canseco’s Juiced, which signified the beginning of the end of the visible steroid era, Radomski spends the entire time trying to justify his actions and blaming everyone else for his problems.

Throughout the book, he tends to contradict his own beliefs. He regrets getting into the steroid world yet is happy he “helped” his baseball friends. He understands why his friends were silent during the investigation yet furious when no one talked. He is disinterested in baseball yet treats the game with great respect. He believes steroids make no difference for a good athlete, yet shows example after example how athletes would have been nobodies without steroids.

This book is extremely interesting. Without Kirk Radomski’s testimony there would have been no Mitchell Report and Major League Baseball would have had their heads in sand for a little while longer.

The visible steroid era will be a constant black eye for baseball. There is no single victim and there is no one single culprit. Commissioner Bud Selig, the Players’ Association, the press, and all the PED pushers are responsible for visible steroid era and no matter how hard we try to forget – dismissing records, shutting people of the Hall of Fame, etc, - the steroid era was a bad mistake that we all turned a blind eye to because we were having too much fun.

Except for me…I was too young to know what was going on.

2013: 8

review date:
2/11/13

Bossypants by Tina Fey

“If you want to see a great pilot, watch the first episode of Cheers.”

Tina Fey is a perfect mixture of qualities that make her a superb humorist. She is sharp, witty, profound, self-deprecating, humble, and genuine. Bossypants is her autobiographical journey where we discover the absurdities and oddities that created Tina Fey and her unique sense of humor. From the suburbs of Philadelphia to improvs of Chicago to the world Saturday Night Live, Tina brings a simple attitude about life that makes her relatable and funny.

When you look closely at the world around you, soon you realize that life that you consider “normal” is actually ridiculous and irrational. Tina Fey is the best at showing us the preposterousness of the mundane.

Any fan of Tina Fey, any fan of 30 Rock, or any fan of SNL over the past twenty years will love this book.

2013: 7

review date:
2/6/13

Soulprint by Mark Batterson

I was very skeptical when I got a copy of Soulprint. It seemed like another touchy-feely spirituality book with Jesus’ name thrown in there for good luck. I have read too many self-help, inspirational style books cloaked in Christian mumbo jumbo because Christian books sell.

Though I was very skeptical, I was rather impressed by Soulprint. Mark Batterson does a good job mixing in personal stories, biblical texts, and pinch of psychology. Batterson constantly draws upon the life of David. He holds King David up like a superhero while still recognizing very real and very broken humanity of former shepherd.

The book is divided into five “scenes,” distinct moments in our lives that make us unique like a fingerprint (hence, the name Soulprint).

Holy Confidence: Being confident in what God has given you

Lifesymbols: Items in our life that show you who you are

The Crag of the Wild Goats: The pitfalls of our life…typically pride

Alter Ego: Don’t worry about anyone but God

The Devil’s Workshop: Pretty much what you think it is about

It’s a good book. Really short which could be a positive thing, but the book is well under 200 pages and then the Batterson throws in an excerpt from another book. I am not exactly sure if this book would be worth the price.

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The books was provided to me as part of the "Blogging for Books" program by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing. "This program was designed for one purpose: Give out free books to bloggers in exchange for an honest review."

For more information on this program, check out their information at bloggingforbooks.org

2013: 6

review date:
1/30/13

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I am not a genius, and it is not my fault. That is pretty much what you will get out of this tremendously interesting and thought-provoking book.

The premise of this book is pretty simple: to reveal the truth behind the notions of intelligence, fame, and success. The American dream has always told us that our success is directly related to our work ethic. As long as you work harder than the competition, you will win. But if you dig just under the surface, you will find is nowhere near true.

In Outliers you will see how you birthdate can make you a better athlete, how your 10,000 hours can make you an expert, how timing is absolutely everything, how culture-sensitivity can mean life or death, and how IQ is simply nonsense.

To say it simply, this book was just a fun read. I enjoyed stories and the numbers, and I loved seeing how such little things can affect the big picture. 

2013: 5

review date:
1/28/13

Juiced By Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco is a controversial figure, this much we know is true; everything else is kind of unclear.

Professional athletes looking for an edge – an illegal edge – is as old as professional sports, but things took a terrible turn in the late 1980’s when a young Cuban immigrant named Jose Canseco broke into the big leagues with the Oakland A’s.

After a turbulent career, things only got stranger for the proclaimed godfather of steroids. So in his book Juiced, Canseco lays outs his life, his career, and his role in introducing baseball to infamous world of steroids. I honestly tried to sympathize with Canseco’s situation, but in the end I still found Canseco to be an egotistical, has been looking for honor and glory.

Canseco credits himself as the savior of baseball and revolutionary who will one day be honored when professional sports accept steroids. Though I can understand his “savior” of baseball argument considering the 1994 MLB strike and the 1998 home run chase, I cannot comprehend the declaration that steroids will one day be as customary as ice packs and sunflower seeds. Perhaps I am a little too present-minded and traditional to see professional sports encouraging steroids.

While reading Juiced, I got confused on whom the real Jose Canseco is. At one moment he talks about baseball as if it is just a means to an end, then a few chapters later he treats the sport as if it is a religion. He credits steroids for making him a great athlete, but later explains that he is the talent and that steroids only supplemented his abilities. He considers himself a steroids expert but never once does he considered the idea that his use of performance enhancing drugs may have multiplied his trips to the disabled list.

As much as he tries to fool you, Canseco did not know what he was doing. For a steroid enhanced athlete, he had a few fantastic seasons but a forgettable career. If it was not for the steroid controversy the name Jose Canseco would have lost to long list of notable rookies with lackluster careers.

Though my feelings for Canseco may be sour, I did find the book interesting as a time capsule. When you read it today in the post-steroid era, you really do see how much the owners, the union, and the fans all turned a very, very blind eye to the issues. Everyone is to blame for the steroid era, yet only the players get the guilty verdict.

2013: 4

review date:
1/22/13 

Think by John Piper

Back in the college I was a big John Piper fan. He works a very methodical, moving through each point carefully and thoroughly. In fact, my only complaint then was that his works were a bit too long. But as time moved on and I began reading more, I started finding Piper’s works to be repetitive and superfluous. It sort of pains me to write a bad review for John Piper, but this is my honest response.

When I saw that Piper had written a book on the subject of the mind in our Christian faith, I was thrilled. It appeared like he was finally diverging from his usual style of Christian hedonism. Sadly, I was mistaken.

Now, I do not disagree with anything Piper has written here, however his arguments were either stale or unnecessary. For the entire book he is strongly defending his position however he does mention any detractors until after page one hundred. In my opinion, if you cannot adequately describe your opponent’s position you can never adequately defend your own position. Piper should have laid out anti-intellectual arguments first and work from there. Furthermore, when Piper finally approached the anti-intellectual claims, they all came from a different era; most of them over a hundred years ago. I really did not feel any dissension that would require Piper to write an entire book to counter.

And to top it all off, I felt like his attack on relativism was quite poor. He just marked relativist as dumb evildoers who are paralyzed from any action because any action requires a statement of truth.  It is not impossible for a relativist to stick some truths – they can’t just go around believing in round squares. I honestly felt like I heard better arguments in my Philosophy 101 class.

Clearly, relativism and Christianity cannot co-exist. This is why Christians should use their mind. We should use our minds fully. Our minds are a gift of God and an instrument we can use to love God and love others. It is only one piece in the numerous ways we can connect with God, but it is a very valuable piece.

Once you have read Desiring God who have read every single thing written by John Piper, though Thinking. Loving. Doing. is a great work written by Piper and friends that is simple, short, and to the point. It is a much more useful read than Think.

2013: 3

review date:
1/14/13

The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steve B. Sample

“Sometimes a response is not really necessary, and sometimes no response at all is the best response.”

Clearly, there is no clear unifying definition of leadership. If you ask a thousand people for the qualities of an effective leader, you will probably get a thousand different responses. However the responses that stick out are the responses given by extremely successful leader. Steve Sample is a successful leader.

Though prosperous in the corporate world, Sample’s greatest success exists academic world where he has led the University of Southern California in becoming the premier school in the nation.

To Sample, there are a lot of misconceptions about leadership and he is unusually blunt about responsibilities. He does not try to hide the fact that effective leadership is challenging and unpleasant. Though at times I felt his commentary on things like journalists and the judicial process to be out of place and irrelevant, I found his views to be well-grounded in experience and research. I particularly enjoyed the first chapter on "Thinking Gray, and Free."

The book is only a couple hundred pages, but it is kind of slow read as Sample deliberately establishes his ideas.

2013: 2

review date:
1/8/12

Sticky Faith by Kara E. Powell & Chap Clark

“How we interacted with a homeless person, for instance, will probably make a more indelible impression on our kids' faith than the size of the check we wrote to our church that week.”

It’s a story we have heard all too often. A good kid grows up in the church, reads his Bible regularly, is heavily involved in the youth group, he knows the Lord’s Prayer like the back of his hand, yet he goes off to college and his faith goes out the window. He no longer goes to church, no desire to do devotions, no interest in pursuing a deep faith. And the numbers don’t lie: the majority of young men and women will abandon their faith soon in the young adulthood.

Sticky Faith attempts to find the solution. What makes faith stick? The authors go through a mound of research to expose what works and what doesn’t work. They balance out their research with practical tips for parents and youth group leaders.

I have read a handful of books and articles about “keeping the faith” but I was really impressed with this work. In my opinion, Christians tend to regularly shy away from research probably because research rarely gives us the news we want to hear. So instead believers utilize vague clichés and formulas such as “let the Holy Spirit work” or “just pray and the results will follow.” In this work, the authors use their resources from Fuller Seminary to show how we can help young men and women form a faith that is deep, true, and enduring.

2013: 1

review date:
1/4/13

Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada & Lance Williams

I was never a fan of Barry Bonds. Being a Dodger fan, I loathed anyone who donned the orange and black of San Francisco. However, I did respect the numbers he put up throughout his entire career. We all remember the insane numbers he put up near the tail end of his career. Like everyone else in the world, I suspected Bonds did steroids. I watched the news and read the articles. Everyone knew it but no one could prove it.

As much as I wanted to see Major League Baseball rip Bonds from the history books, I had to give him the benefit of the doubt because there was no solid evidence against him.

And then I read Game of Shadows.

The last remaining traces of respect I had for the alleged home run king vanished. There is no doubt Bonds did steroids. Sure, at the time the MLB did not have a drug policy, but federal government had already prohibited the use of non-prescribed steroids in this nation. Bonds was clearly breaking the law and so was his entourage around him. Additionally, the San Francisco Giants organization, the Players’ Union, and Bud Selig practically encouraged steroid use by turning a blind eye.

I was captivated with how devastating and damning this book is for Major League Baseball. The Steroid Era is (hopefully) over now, and I hope it remains that way.

If you really want to see the ugly underpinnings of Major League Baseball and almost any competitive professional sport, this book will blind you with thorough research.