2014 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)

 2014: 44

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Just Babies by Paul Bloom

Morality is such an interesting subject. Whether you are devoutly religious, staunchly atheist or somewhere in between, understanding the fundamentals of morality are enormous. Obviously, a religious person’s morality originates from a deity or sacred texts. But even then you begin to ask an even bigger question: is something moral because god said so or is that deity under that morality too. For an atheist the questions are just as complex. Is morality an encoded piece of our DNA? Did our morality evolve over the millions of years? How do we decipher morality today?

Just Babies by Paul Bloom is a quick introduction into the world of morality, ethics, or whatever you want to call it. In this short work, Bloom quickly surveys the many different studies concerning morality that have been done over the years particularly with babies and infants.

This is a good work if you are looking for something short and sweet. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt is more in depth and interesting. I was hoping Just Babies would focus on more origins of good and evil like the book’s subtitle suggests. We seem to know that morality is part nature and nurture, but we still have a lot of questions concerning the nature. We obviously are born if some instinct in wrong and right but where does it come from? Why does human life find it so important to keep it going? Why are we so concerned that our genetics keep advancing?

I didn’t find the answers in the book, but maybe that is something I should not have expected.

  2014: 43

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Baseball as a Road to God by John Sexton

You knocked it out of the park. Playing hardball. Thrown a curveball.

Anyone who loves baseball knows that the sport is more than just a game, it is a perfect analogy for life. And if baseball were a religion, John Sexton would be a modern theologian. John Sexton, the president of New York University, gives of his thoughtful exegesis in his work Baseball as a Road to God.

This book is very straightforward. You do not need a graduate degree in theology or profound historical baseball knowledge. Sexton simply grabs some of the major themes found on the baseball diamond and connects them to religion’s greatest teachings.

It is a wonderful, quick read that I highly recommend. This book could not have been more perfect for me. It is a book about baseball and religion written by a university president.

 2014: 42

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The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

“Yes, the consumer in us wants Wal-Mart prices, with all the fat gone. But the employee in us wants a little fat left on the bone, the way Costco does it, so that it can offer health care to almost all its employee, rather than just less than half of them, as Wal-Mart does. But the shareholder in us wants Wal-Mart’s profit margins, not Costco’s. Yet the citizen in us wants Costco’s benefits, rather than Wal-Mart’s, because the different ultimately may have to be paid for by society.”

The world has changed and it continues to change and not in the notable, transforming ways history has seen before. Governments are not being toppled. Political revolutions are not exploding. But the power is shifting, it is shifting the people.

With the rapid rise of consumer technology, more people are connected than ever before. The world has become much smaller, or as Thomas L. Friedman says, “The world is flat.”

Consumers do not have to rely on the restricted knowledge of real estate agents to find the perfect home, as countless internet sites can show you the entire market. No longer do we have to drive from car lot to car lot to find a great deal on a used car. And no longer do you have to throw on a suit and walk up and down an office building looking for a job. The information has come to the people and the people have changed the game.

Now small companies with little or no capital can become a global player over night. Established companies have learned to adapt and quickly.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman is a very interesting read on the changing times. The latest edition of this book was written in 2007, right before the start of the great recession, so it would be interesting to see if Friedman’s thoughts were changed by this major market malfunction.

This book is good but a little long. Friedman includes a lot of interviews and anecdotes, however his stories do not have the power or sharpness of Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakonomics authors.

2014: 41

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Education's End by Anthony T. Kronman

Meaning. Authenticity. Mission. Purpose. Values. What is the meaning of life? This is a huge question. It is a question we all need to ask and answer. College students struggle with this question on an entirely different level as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

When I picked up this book I was looking for a good argument to bring back the debate of the meaning of life to the college campus. Unfortunately, I did not find what I was looking for here.

Now being a Christian, I understand that my critique is clouded. I have a certain view of the meaning of life and my view is relatively exclusive but that does not mean I excuse myself from exploring the issue. As Kronman states, secular humanism rejects the assumption that there is a single right answer. Kronman backs up this statement very well by showing how in every field there are a wide range of opinions and thinking. And though I agree that there will always be disagreement, we are all no matter the question looking for the correct answer. Let us look at the answer for the meaning of life from all avenues including atheism, spiritualists, devout religious, and everything in between.

Additionally, I didn’t find the book to be an adequate overview of how colleges and universities operate. The book felt more like a harsh critique of humanities professor, reviewing how the failed to advance the field.

This just was not the book I was looking for so I cannot recommend it, but the arguments listed are still well written.

2014: 40

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Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

People are interesting. Social science is extremely interesting because it does the near impossible: explaining people. The explosion of social media over the past decade has given social scientists a treasure trove of data as internet users self-select their identities and behaviors.

Dataclysm is another volume in the social science world, however it does not compare to the genius of Freakonomics or anything by Malcolm Gladwell and Nate Silver. Christian Rudder is one of the founders of the dating website OKCupid. Most of the book extracts information from OkCupid’s database which I found less than interesting.

Internet dating sites are huge. They have definitely changed how people flirt, mingle, date, and even marry. But in the end, you are pulling information from very select group of people, something Rudder even mentions in the book. I expected the book to me robust in information, but rarely does it wander off the profiles of OkCupid users.

If the title or subtitle of the book included a direct reference to dating sites, then I think I would have been a little less unimpressed but I would have been a little less interested too.

2014: 39

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Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

“‘Don’t drink cow’s milk. You should never drink the milk of another animal. Humans are the only animal that drinks the breast milk of another animal.’ Then again, humans are the only animal with Internet acces.”

The minute I found out Jim Gaffigan was coming out with another book, I basically ran t my computer and pre-ordered on Amazon. I am a huge fan of Gaffigan’s stand up and his first book Dad is Fat, I could hardly wait to get his new work Food: A Love Story.

Simply said, this book is hilarious. Critics will be quick to point out that the most of the book is a rehash of Gaffigan’s old routines, and they would be right. However, in the book, Gaffigan weaves his material gradually throughout, changing and adapting the jokes for the written word. This is much different than other comedians that drop their entire routines on paper almost word for word. Jokes that are written are much different that jokes that are spoken, and Gaffigan does a superb job translating his words to paper.

If you are a fan of Jim Gaffigan or a fan of food, you will love this book. If you are a fan of Jim Gaffigan and not a fan of food, well, that’s just weird.

 2014: 38

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American Higher Education in Crisis? By Goldie Blumenstyk

Higher education is a very complex world. College campuses are no longer simple places of higher learning. Campuses are virtually small cities with their own security force, emergency response systems, medical personnel, food services, technological infrastructure, etc. So it is pretty easy to say that colleges and universities cannot operate like the old days. 

Today, colleges are at a crossroad. For better or for worse, newer technologies are finally starting to disrupt the educational process. Can colleges, which are infamous for begin slow adapters, survive these insanely rapid changes?

Society is very good at identifying problems and failures but not very good at recognizing success. So where is education working well? Our public high school education system does not seem to be succeeding, no matter how much money politicians throw at it. Our top-tier private colleges seem to always be lambasted for being too elite and exclusive.  Public universities and community colleges are definitely praised for their open access but their student success rates are dismal. 

What is not working? We know that answer. What is working? Well, that is a good question

Is there an American higher education crisis? I am not sure there is a crisis on the horizon, but I definitely think there will be immense changes. Colleges and universities will have to rethink their goals and re-strategize their missions. 

This work from Goldie Blumenstyk is an excellent guide to modern issues in higher education. The book simply asks the most common questions you hear about colleges today and then gives us a very clear and concise answer. If I had to teach a masters level class called “Introduction to Higher Education Administration,” this book easily would be my central text. 

 2014: 37

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The God Argument by A.C. Grayling

Being a Christian, it may shock some people that I do enjoy reading anti-theist books. Many times I find the logic more rational and discussion more vibrant in books arguing against the existence of religion.

The God Argumentby A.C. Grayling is an impressive work. The book is split into two simple parts: against religion and for humanism. The first part is an unsurprising step by step deconstruction of religion. Several well-thought out arguments are presented including: for every good thing done in the name of religion there is a ghastly, horrific act done in the name of religion, Intelligent Design has no place in science, and the lack of knowledge does not equate to supernatural or theistic evidence. All of these points are well argued and pretty accurate even if I find his conclusion lacking: “The cumulative case against religion shows it to be a hangover from the infancy of modern humanity, persistent and enduring because of the best interests of religious organisations, proselytization of children, complicity of temporal powers requiring the social and moral policing that religion offers.”

The second part of the book is the construction of humanism. “Why cannot we have art and music, personal consolation and inspiration, a positive and humane outlook on life?” This part of the book left me wanting more. I am sure a humanist would point out that my Christian worldview clouds my ability to find subjective goodness in our society, and I think that is a fair point.

However, I was not satisfied by the arguments for humanism. I am not saying I disagree with the arguments, I simply was left unconvinced.

I agree that the world’s greatest atrocities have been done in the name of religion, but if religion is simply a man-made fabrication, then ultimately the greatest atrocities have been done by humans and humans alone. They simply just used religion as their excuse. I am not convinced that a world without religion would lead to a kinder world, just a world with different excuses.

On the same level, there is a correlation between decreased religious involvement and decreased violence over the past few centuries, but as every economist would say: correlation does not imply causation.

A very solid read, and definitely worth it.

 2014: 36

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Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan

K.P. Yohannan is an amazing man with an amazing heart for the poor. His story is remarkable yet simple. He saw a need and he dedicated his life to fixing it. He saw millions of people without the message of God’s love, and nothing could hold him back from sharing it.

If you are interested in missions, or need your faith in humanity restored, this is a great book for you. 

2014: 35

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Aspiring Adults Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska

Higher education is no stranger to criticism. Dissenters have been criticizing higher education since colleges started popping up across the colonies. Recently, however, no book has been more disapproving and controversial than Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. To simply summarize their research: college students are not learning. Using the College Learning Assessment (CLA), Arum and Roksa concluded that students are showing very little growth and that colleges are not the transformational learning environments that faculty and staff preach to the masses. This is a huge indictment for colleges and universities who over the past few decades have seen its tuition increase exponentially while the job market remains dreary and uncertain.

Though the book was a well-researched work, the measure of learning used seemed incomplete.

Is the CLA the best assessment available to measure learning? Can one assessment do that? Are the number of papers written and pages read throughout a semester be an effective indicator of learning? For me, there were a lot more questions than answers after reading Academically Adrift.

Arum and Roska follow up with a new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, which furthers their research into the years immediately following graduation. Are colleges and universities properly preparing students for the world after graduation? Are they employed, unemployed, or underemployed? Are they ready for the emotional and social challenges of adult life?

As you can probably determine from the title, the authors do not paint a very good portrait. The college graduates followed in this study matriculated in the tumultuous year of 2009, only months removed from the worst economic downturn in American history since the Great Depression. According this work, colleges are not preparing students for adult life which includes fulfilling employment, owning or renting a residence, independence from parents, successful spousal relationships, and optimism towards the future. Their conclusion: “Large numbers of students pass through higher education experiencing few curricular demands, investing little in academic endeavors, and demonstrating only limited learning” (p. 115).

So is college really worth it? Are colleges doing the job they promise society? If not, who is to blame? Arum and Roska confidently assert that “rather than defining undergraduate experiences in a manner conducive to the development of young adults, institutions today have let themselves be defined by the preferences of undergraduates” (p. 119)

To a certain extent, the authors have hit the nail on the head. Colleges and universities have relentlessly studied the needs, desires, and wants of students and have molded their structures and organizations to better serve the students.

But why? Why do colleges do this?

Colleges do this because we live in a society that at least nominally believes in education. We as a society believe in an education system that is available to everyone, so that everyone can have an equal chance to get the education they need and have the happy and successful life they want. Therefore, many colleges have worked tirelessly to make their campuses more accessible. Remedial classes are created to serve the academically unprepared. More financial counselors are hired to help find the finances. Counselors are added to help students handle the stress. Other staff members are employed to ensure the experience such as campus safety officers, housing coordinators, health administrators, technology personnel, etc. Additionally, campuses must add staff members to comply with governmental regulations like Title IX, Clery Act, and athletic associations.

Today, college is more accessible that it has ever been. Gone are the days when you had to be from an elite family or social class. Gone are the days when you had be the top of your high school class. Gone are the days when you were simply too old. Gone are the days when a minor disability held you back forever.

Naturally, these changes have not been cheap. There is no doubt about it, going to college is an expensive investment and students are not exempt from buyer’s remorse. They cannot return their education back like an item at a department store. They cannot sell their education away like a car or house. All they have to show for it is a fancy piece of paper called a diploma and hopefully a transformed, cultivated, educated mind which over a significant period of time (four years for some, six years for most) is sometimes difficult to notice.

Do colleges and universities need to change? Absolutely. Like most industries in the modern world, if colleges to do not adapt to the emerging technologies and changing cultures, it will quickly fade away. Aspiring Adults Adrift does a superb job breaking down the problems in today’s field of higher education. What is fails to do effectively, in my opinion, is find the sources of the problem. They know the symptom, but what is the cause?

We want everyone to have access to college, we want everyone to have the opportunity to succeed and graduate, yet we do not want to lower our academic standards, increase tuition, or cutback important services. That is a very tall order.

Aspiring Adults Adrift, and its predecessor Academically Adrift, bring up the necessary questions and show us our faults. Now let us go and find the solution.

 2014: 34

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Christ-Centered Higher Education by David L. McKenna

McKenna is simply a legend. Without him the concept of the Christian college as we know it today would not exist. He served as President of three different Christian colleges. He was integral in the creation of the Consortium of Christian College s and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Anyone who has attended or worked at a Christian college is indebted to McKenna.

In a nutshell, Christ-Centered Higher Education is the history of Christian education in America starting after World War II. McKenna was a key figure in helping Christian colleges adapt in a turbulent time. His knowledge, hard work, and passion helped Christian institutions throughout the nation. When experts were forecasting an early grave, McKenna saw an opportunity for his beloved colleges to thrive.

McKenna gives us his story in three parts. The memory shows us where we have been. The meaning shows us why we are here. And the momentum shows us where we need to go. I highly recommend this book. It is a great lesson for every single Christian college faculty and student.

2014: 33

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God Believes in Love by Gene Robinson

There is no way I can write a review of this book without upsetting someone. It is nearly impossible in today’s religious climate to discuss gay and lesbian issues without creating dissenters or even enemies.

So let me say this, I do not have the answers. Following the Lord can be very confusing (why do we pray and ask an immutable, omniscient God for things? He can’t change and already knows everything). I come into any discussion with a sense of humility; an understanding that there is so much I do not understand.

Gene Robinson loves the Lord and has dedicated his life to serving Christ and serving the Church. He believes in love, he believes in marriage, and he practices what he preaches. God Believes in Love is Robinson’s response to the gay marriage debate within Christianity. Robinson breaks down the arguments into ten simple questions. He confronts civil rights, social norms, and of course, theological understandings.

His responses are clear, concise, and pretty straightforward. I was not surprised by any of his answers. If you oppose Robinson’s interpretation of Scripture then you could probably an entire book on the faults in his theology. I doubt a dissenter reading this book would be persuaded by anything Robinson’s discusses.

By reading this book I received a better understanding of this issue. When gay marriage is discussed on television or from the pulpit, we make it a political or theological issue and not a personal issue. I know many people that would consider Gene Robinson a depraved sinner destined for damnation because of his sexual orientation. What a horrible thing to think about. Instead I think of Gene Robinson as a man loved by God, a love that cannot be impeded in any way. Is that not I should love him?

If you a Christian leader looking to love others unconditionally, this is a great book for you.

2014: 32

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Quiet Influence by Jennifer Kahnweiler

Another volume in the introverted movement, Quiet Influence by Jennifer Kahnweiler is a brief but practical guide

As I do more and more research on introverts (and myself), I have noticed that introverts tend to be an impatient bunch. We like to get to the point, avoiding fluff and other nonessentials. In this mindset, Quiet Influence is the perfect book. It gets straight to the point. It presents six strengths found of “Quiet Influencers” and their accompanied weaknesses.

Having said that, I still think Quiet by Susan Cain is the premier work on introverts followed by The Introvert Advantageby Marti Olsen Laney. However, those books are a bit long and drawn out. If you want quick, simple, straightforward guide, then this is the book for you.

2014: 31

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A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

“It is not a good sign for fans when their team’s venue is better known for the attractiveness of its flora than for the excellence of the athletes who have played there. Which brings us to the subject of Wrigley Field’s ivy.”

I am not a Cubs fan, but I have the utmost respect for Chicago faithful. The Chicago National League baseball club is truly the last underdog left in Major League Baseball. The Cubs have a beautiful and rich history that is tarnished by frustration and disappointment.

Nonetheless, on the corner of Addison and Clark sits the jewel of the Chicago Cubs, the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In A Nice Little Place on the North Side, George Will gives us a detailed description of Wrigley Field that feels more like a love letter than a history lesson. Through the pages, you can definitely feel the passion for this stadium.

Not being a Cubs fan, I was afraid this book would focus on obscure Cub history, but quickly I found myself completely immersed. The history of Wrigley Field is not just Cub history, it is the history of baseball.

This is a great book for any baseball fan. 

2014: 30

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Ready Set Grow by Scott Wilson

What does it take to make things grow?

What does it take to make a church grow? What does it take to make a church grow strong and healthy?

Ready, Set, Grow by Scott Wilson is one story of how a pastor’s journey to take his church from good to great. I appreciate that Wilson looked for multiple resources to grow his church. I value his commitment towards professional excellence in his church. However, I could not shake a feeling of arrogance from Wilson.

As I read the book I simple continued to feel strange, until I finally realized that I would not want to be on his team. I am a big believer in being a constant student of leadership, management, and spiritual growth, but it seemed that Wilson was more interested in testing the commitment of his team instead of real growth. He seemed more interested in seeing his team accomplish the challenge than actually challenging his team to learn.

Perhaps someone stuck in a church-building rut will enjoy this book, but it wasn’t the one for me.

2014: 29

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Leading for a Lifetime by Warren Bennis

“Stripped to its essentials, leadership involves just three things – a leader, followers, and a common goal.”

I was really excited to read this book. I loved the premise: a study on older leader and younger leaders, finding out what they have in common and where they differ.

Unfortunately this book never seemed to bloomed into the book I was anticipating. Half the book sets up the definition of “geezer” and “geek” (aka old and young) leaders. While the last half of the book is nothing more than pieced together interview excerpts.

The overall concept of the book, the basic ideas of leadership, and research is all good, I do not find fault in the content. However I felt like other books on leadership do a better job tying everything to together.

2014: 28

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Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Johnny Carson signed off from The Tonight Show in May 1992. I was six years old at the time, and obviously I had no interest in late night comedy. Fast forward a few years and I was doing whatever possible to stay up and watch Letterman and Leno crack jokes at 11:30. This was the world before DVR’s, so I would constantly flip back and forth between CBS and NBC to catch the host’s punchlines on O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, and other 90’s stars. As I matured and stayed up later, I would watch Conan O’Brien and I thoroughly enjoyed his off-the-wall version of the talk show.

I am not sure exactly why I was attracted to late night comedy at such a young age. When you are that young you rarely understand the fullness of the joke, you can barely keep your eyes open, but I enjoyed every moment watching these humorists night and night out.

Leno, Letterman, and O’Brien are three completely different comedians; however they all have one thing in common: utmost respect and adoration for the king of late night comedy, Johnny Carson.

Carson did not invent the game, nor did he even change the game. Johnny Carson perfected the game. For thirty years, “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” was a staple in American society. If you did not watch it, you were out of the loop.

However, Carson the host and Carson the man were to be two completely different people. Henry Bushkin was officially Johnny’s lawyer and unofficially his confidant and fixer. In this very entertaining book, Bushkin gives us a peek into the personal world of Carson. He was a loyal man with some strong vices

Bushkin has several opportunities to exploit his former relationship with Carson, to drag the late night host through the mud and construct a formidable shadow of Carson. Had Bushkin done this, he probably could have moved more books, however this book is a simple, straightforward account of Bushkin’s experiences. There is little condemnation of Johnny in the book as well as very little romanticizing.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed this brief glimpse behind the curtain.

2014: 27

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How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski

After reading this book, I began to see that the flaw was not the author’s information but the author’s premise.

The book is titled plainly, How to Stay Christian in College. It appears to a very simple statement; a normal thought we should all consider when we or a loved one goes to college. I feel that this title immediately creates an adversary, in this case, the big, bad, evil world of higher education. Instantly, college professors, textbooks, the girl down the hall, all become enemy of my faith and they all must be either avoided or challenged.

Again, the author has great intent. He outlines the many problems a young Christian college student will face as soon as they arrive on campus, and then he summarizes how you can combat these evils. Most of his responses are good and adequate ways to stay faithful, some a tad ridiculous. In the book he gives you a script on how to contend with a relativism-promoting professor. If any student tries to use that script, they will be outwitted almost immediately, and they will be humiliated unfortunately.

My question is this: instead of trying to protect kids from the perceived evil world of higher education, what are we doing or not doing that is making our children so easily defeated when they hit trials in college? When students fall from the faith, we blame college professors or Satan’s tactics, we don’t blame the student or the church.

God has given us a powerful brain. It can lead us to Him or it can mislead us away. We should never be afraid to doubt or question God. Truth will always endure, and God is truth.

Honestly, and I hate writing this, I really cannot recommend this book.

2014: 26

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The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Several years ago I was having a conversation with one of my college students. We were having a lively discussion on gun control. At that time the shooting at Virginia Tech had only taken place a little over a year ago, so the conversation of guns and a college campus was still rather fresh. My student was taking a very libertarian view on gun control; he believed the absolute safest plan was no gun control. He specified that the more guns on campus the safer we would be. Always up for a good discussion, I asked him more questions about his views. I wanted him to carefully present his argument so that we can look at the issue openly. I then asked him if he had seen a certain movie that addressed gun control. His response was eye-opening:

“I will never watch that movie.” Upon my request for more information he added, “I will never watch that movie because I disagree with everything that filmmaker stands for.”

“Have you seen any of his movies?” I asked.

“Nope, and I don’t plan to” he snapped.

That is when I realized there is not one single argument I could make that would ever move him. I could spend all afternoon citing sources, creating hypothetical situations, and asking him questions until he starts running in circles but his mind was made up and there was no changing that.

I think about that conversation a lot. I have always had a “chicken or egg” debate with myself. Which came first: his views or the arguments he uses? Though logical, it seems rather silly to think that we all sit down and think of the arguments first only to make up our minds second. In all honesty we make up our mind first and then go looking for the arguments.

This is why I picked up the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Once I opened this book, it was extremely difficult to put down. This is easily one of the best books I have read in a while.

Like any book on morality, Haidt has to spend some time getting us all up to speed on terms and prevalent philosophies. He does not try to insult the reader – which is a pleasant change from some authors. Haidt walks you through the origins of morality and how they control us more than we control them. I really enjoyed his ongoing metaphor of the elephant and the rider; it was a nice visual to work with throughout the book.

Each chapter leads to more questions which fortunately leads to new chapters. The book is split into three sections which could have been easily split into three separate books.

As a word of notice, Haidt does come off a bit demeaning towards religious perspectives. I am not sure how intentional this was, however I definitely can understand why someone researching morality would be a bit repulse by religious men and women who can be very inhospitable in an intellectual study on morality. I am a Christian and I am not offended by his words.

2014: 25

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Leading with a Limp by Dan B. Allender

If I had to sum up in one phrase all the leadership literature I have read over the few years, I would say, “Leading is difficult, very difficult.”

Every moment of every day is affected by leadership. Whether it be at work, at school, or at home, our lives are affected by the decisions of our personal leadership or by the leaders above us.

Leadership is certainly not for the weak. Or is it?

This is the theme of Dan Allender’s Leading with a Limp. When we think of leaders, we tend to think of men and women who live in their own personal solar system. These leaders are different. They only work. They never stop. They don’t look, sound, or act like us. They seem to be of another species. However, this view of leadership is skewed and only found in our heads.

Allender points us to the leaders God chose throughout the Bible. The most revealing fact is that almost every single leader we find in the Scriptures are chosen by God and only accepted reluctantly by the person. God delights finding men or women who do not seek out glory or position, but God’s glory and merely results.

Leading with a Limp is a great reminder that society’s definition of leadership does not equal God’s definition.

2014: 24

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Dear Luke, We Need To Talk, Darth by John Moe

I picked up this book after reading the praises given by some of my favorite comedians.

The simplest way to put it: I was underwhelmed. The overall joke of the book –unseen communication from life’s biggest cultural events –gets old pretty quickly. Very few of the fake letters, emails, or memos made me smile.

Now I don’t think the writing is unfunny or without wit, but the jokes would work better in a comedy sketch and not on paper. The concept of the book reminded me Bob Newhart’s comedic style without his legendary delivery.

2014: 23

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College Unbound by Jeffry J. Selingo

“Even as we imagine what higher education will look like in the third decade of the new millennium, we must carefully balance the demands of the future with the strengths of the current systems that make US colleges and universities the envy of the world.”

If you try to stay up to date on higher education literature, you are going to collect a large amount of criticisms. This is not a new trend, colleges and universities have been fighting off critics since their inception.

There are different types of critics. There is the retired administrator who blabbers about “the good ol’ days” when students cared and grades meant something. There is the disappointed professor who blames administrators for only caring about the bottom line, parents who care only about the return on investment, and students too distracted by technology and parties. There is also the careless yet successful outsider who never trusted formalized education yet is crazy successful today.

There are probably many other types of critics, but each critic calls for major reformation even though their perspectives are superficial, misinformed, and/or one-sided.

So when I picked up College Unbound, I was expecting another insufficient criticism on higher education. Simply put, I was completely wrong. College Unbound by Jeffry J. Selingo is probably the best analysis of American higher education I have ever read. Selingo is the editor of the most comprehensive news publication for academia, The Chronicle of Higher Education. He brings the most well-rounded, in-depth, comprehensive perspective to this study I have ever seen.

Selingo sees value in our current system while blatantly demanding change. How colleges recruit, how students choose, how students pay, how colleges operate, and how we all innovate needs to change if higher education in the United States hopes to remain “the envy of the world.”

We cannot let our schools go the way of the automotive and newspaper industry.

I definitely think this book is a must read.

2014: 22

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Incarnate Leadership by Bill Robinson

Being a college president is no easy task. He or she must lead a small army of well-educated administrators. He/she must juggle faculty from various specialties and focuses. He/she must comply with federal, state, and local regulations and oridances. He/she has to shake hands with potential donors. He/she is responsible for the lives of so many students. And if he/she is a Christian institution, he/she must also rummage through theological disagreements from all sides.

But most importantly, he/she needs to do it all with a smile.

It is not an easy job. Being a college president is the ultimate course in leadership.

Bill Robinson, the now retired president of Whitworth in Washington, led several universities for over three decades. He is now almost the guru of Christian higher education (which is also why he is serving at the interim president of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities).

Incarnate Leadership is a quick case study in leadership, and who else to study as a better example of leadership than Jesus. Robinson takes one simple introduction of Jesus from the words of John, breaks them down, and shows you why Jesus is the way of leadership. He throws in little stories and anecdotes from all his years in leadership to make the book feel like a one-on-one casual chat.

I really admire Bill Robinson. I admire his experiences, I highly regard his accomplishments, and I value the wisdom of his words.

2014: 21

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Jackie and Campy by William Kashatus

In lore of baseball, Jackie Robinson is a hero. In Dodger baseball, Jackie Robinson is a legend. Being the first black ballplayer in Major League Baseball, Jackie faced immense pain and scrutiny throughout his entire career. Yet almost supernaturally, Jackie did not just survive, he thrived, becoming one of the best all-around ballplayers.

Soon, Dodger head Branch Rickey added more talented black players to the Brooklyn roster. One of the most memorable additions was backstop Roy Campanella. From the start Campy was a forced to be reckoned with both offensively and defensively. Jackie and Campy were soon the faces of the Dodgers, if not all of baseball. With such talent, success, and determination, one would assume Jackie and Campy were united.

They were not. In the book, Jackie and Campy, Kashatus examines the vital difference between the aggressive Robinson and the gentle Campanella. Though they were never close friends, their years playing together only intensified their differences. Jackie wanted action. Campy wanted harmony.

The book is a well-researched, well-documented study of the two hall of famers during their careers. Robinson and Campanella in a way represented the two attitudes found in black America during the 1940’s. Though an academic would think about Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, a young man in 1950 would have pointed to numbers 42 and 39.

This another great book about the Dodgers, baseball, and American civil rights. It is always amazing to look at this time and see that MLK and the civil rights movement were still decades away. The amount of pressure on Jackie and Campy are beyond any comprehension I could ever imagine.

2014: 20

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Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis & Philip G. Ryken

“Your college years are uniquely wonderful. Few other experiences in life will have the same once-only quality of your college education or provide you the same luxury of opportunity to expand your intellectual and spiritual awareness.”

Wheaton College is one of the most prominent Christian colleges in the United States. Being a top ranked liberal arts college, Wheaton commands top notch faculty completely devoted to the liberal arts. Liberal Arts for the Christian Life is a compilation of short essays dedicated to great importance and significance of Christian higher education written by the educators of Wheaton college.

The book is split into 5 sections: Terminology and Background, Theological Convictions, Habits and Virtues, Divisional Areas of Study, and The End of Christian Liberal Arts. Each chapter does a great job weaving together Scripture with the arts and sciences. For the student interested in college or the professionals looking into education, this book offers some amazing snippets.

2014: 19

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I Like Giving by Brad Formsma

Giving feels good. Giving feels great when it comes from deep within, and not from whatever is left over. When giving becomes a way of life, it becomes a source of undefeatable joy.

This is the basic idea behind Brad Formsma’s I Like Giving. In this short book, Formsma retells his journey towards giving and how it changed his life. Sprinkled throughout are stories from other amazing men and women who have been changed by giving, either as the giver or the receiver.

After you read this book you will feel compelled to live a life of giving; compelled not by guilt, but by a deep desire to live freely and authentically.

2014: 18

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The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin, SJ

Along time ago during a class in college, I watched a movie titled The Mission. It starred Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro as Catholic priests working in 18th century South America during the historical events surrounding the Treaty of Madrid. The movie, of course, takes a lot of creative liberties but all in all, it is a fantastic movie. For me, this movie was my introduction to a Catholic group known as the Society of Jesus or as they are commonly known as, the Jesuits.

Reverend James Martin, S.J. is a Jesuit priest who has the incredible gift for writing. It is extremely difficult to write seriously about deep theological discussions without being boring or melodramatic . Some writers try to throw in light-hearted stories or silly jokes to keep the mood up but typically it always feels tacked on. Martin, on the other hand, weaves together a perfect combination of significance, levity, and wit.

In The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, Martin practically gives you a short summary on Jesuits. At nearly 400 pages, I would not usually call this book short, but seeing what one must do to become a Jesuit, this book does seem pretty short.

I am not Catholic nor do I plan on becoming Catholic, but I have deep respect for the Jesuits and other Catholic organizations that have shaped the world we live in today. The Jesuits are committed to many things, but one of the highest commitments is practical ministry. This book is a quick example of their practical ministry. Martin simply presents different religious and social topics and discusses them openly. He shares from the Scriptures, the Jesuit order, and from his own life experiences.

Though I enjoyed the book, I definitely thought the book could have used a bit more editing, but I live by a “less is more” motto. Between this and his other book Between Heaven and Mirth, I would definitely recommend the later.

2014: 17

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Building a Culture of Faith by Cary Blazer & Rod Reed

“Younger adults are not coming to us for answers; rather they are seeking a person who will allow their questions to be voices and their story to be told.”

I am beginning to notice that collaborative works are very popular in higher education. Editors compile interesting ideas, thoughtful essays, and in-depth studies written by amazing men and women in the field of higher education to provide the reader with a wealth of knowledge and insight. I like these books because they present a great arrangement of diverse professionals in the field. On the other hand, I find these books a bit unbearable; though they may share a common theme, the chapters ultimately feel like separate, unconnected works – because they are.

That all aside, Building a Culture of Faith is a very interesting and important read. To do Christian higher education correctly, every faculty, staff, and student needs to understand the core principles. From the president of the university to adjuncts to the wide-eyed freshman, everyone is responsible for the spiritual formation of the school.

I think this book would be a great investment to any university administrator looking for innovative ways to focus their campus on Christ.

“One of the most important things Jesus did was listen to people in such a way that they discovered the image of God within themselves.”

2014: 16

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One.Life by Scot McKnight

“How can I discern the lord’s will for my life?”

This is a question we all have; especially young men and women finishing high school or college. Our theology constantly reiterates that God is in control and that He has a master plan for this world and He has a special plan for you. You would think that such control would impart assurance, instead we wallow in uncertainty.

What if I get it wrong? I get a maximum of 100 years on this earth, what happens if I choose the wrong vocation, the wrong spouse, the wrong church? We want to be fully immersed into God’s plan, but what is God’s plan?

I picked up this book from a friend’s shelf. It looked like an interesting book, another volume in the “God’s Plan” genre. Professor Scot McKnight guides us through our life and its various aspects: love, justice, peace, sex, vocation, etc. But most importantly, he helps us define how following Jesus should impact our life. I was really impressed how McKnight walked me through the Christian faith in an innovative way. It was almost like I was listening to the good news for the first time. Follow Jesus is not about following rules but embracing a life of love.

This is a great book for a college student looking to find his or her own faith.

2014: 15

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Why College Matters to God by Rick Ostrander

“The difference between a Christian university and other institutions of higher education is this: A Christian college weaves a Christian worldview into the entire fabric of the institution, including academic life.”

Why does Christian higher education exist? What’s does an education centered on Christ offer? This is the question Why College Matters to God answers.

Written specifically for students (and their parents), Ostrander breaks down the mission and history of Christian higher education while detailing the doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption. A Christian education is not about attaching a Christian worldview to every academic field, it is about putting students on path towards discovering a dynamic Christ-centered perspective.

This short work is simple and to the point. This would make a good gift for someone interested in pursuing a Christian education.

“Higher education develops our ability to glorify God by enjoying his creation in all of its variety and depth.”

2014: 14

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Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

This book is written exclusively for men and women who constantly battle with negative voices. Everyone has had an experience in their life where doubt screams louder than our confidence. In fact, that is probably common for most.

There is nothing specific about this book that I loved, and there is nothing I really hated. I just didn’t connect with the material, however I am definitely not the target audience for the book. I would not consider myself an optimist, but I am rarely overwhelmed by negative thoughts.

I will definitely pass this book to some of my family or friends that I know struggle more with the ideas that appear in the book.

The book 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

2014: 13

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No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohannan

I am not going to lie, this is a difficult book to read.

It’s difficult to read because the content is devastating. I constantly had to remind myself that this wasn’t a dystopian work of fiction. This is real life. People suffer like this every day.

No Longer a Slumdog is a brief overview of the challenges found in South Asia. The culture, religion, and the laws of the area have branded people as inhuman, below any worth. It is unfathomable to believe.

This book is definitely an eye opener.

2014: 12

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Justice by Michael J. Sandel

Growing up I was always told to do the right thing. From an early age, I was taught the golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you. This was and mostly still is the foundation of all ethical decisions in my life. Having such a simple guiding principle, one would think conversations about justice would be just as simple. Unfortunately, nothing is simple.

Justice by Michael Sandel is an exceptionally interesting book. The concept of justice is so intense and complex with numerous layers about fairness, equality, freedom, rights, virtues, morality, and so on. Sandel effortlessly and eloquently deconstructs the concept of justice. He shows us each arguments strengths and weaknesses without sounding pedantic or showing any bias.

This book is a great introduction into the concepts of philosophy. Though he does spend some time discussing the timeline of philosophy with Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls, the majority of the book addresses modern day issues. It is easy to see, after reading this book, how two intelligent, logical human beings can come to two very different conclusions concerning the same moral dilemma.

This is a great book and I highly recommend it.

2014: 11

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Identity and Leadership by Alicia Fedelina Chavez and Ronni Sanlo

Every year I get a new group of student leaders and one of my favorite times of the year is when the students tell their life stories to the group. I love hearing about their joys and triumphs but I also appreciate their times of distress and tribulations. It during these incredibly difficult times where I see these young leaders define themselves.

Growing up I did not face a lot of trials. I am very blessed to have a solid foundation of family, friends, and means. When I got to college I had some big dreams because I was always encouraged to dream big. This is definitely a luxury most young men and women don’t have.

Half way through college though, I had a significant breakdown. The world did not work the way I thought it should. My entire worldview was demolished. I had to start all over. What I once considered a curse, I look back at this time as a blessing. If it was not for this difficult time in my life, I would not be the leader I am today.

Identity and Leadership is a compilation of stories written by a myriad of higher education administrators. Each entry discusses the author’s experience, how these early experiences made them the person they are today and how the person they are has made them the leader they are today.

I love hearing stories of leadership. After reading this book I felt nearly powerless, as most of the difficult times shared in the book are significantly more difficult than my own story. However, I think the idea of the book is solid: through the fire of difficult times, great leadership will emerge.

2014: 10

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Reconsidering College by Rick Ostrander

“For the Christian, work is not simply a way to make a living; it’s a way to glorify our Creator by performing with excellence what we were created to do.”

I went to college right out of high school. At the time I thought this is what most high school graduates did. I didn’t even think of another option. Looking back I now see how blind I was and how fortunate I was to get my college degree at such a young age.

The number of students over the age of 25 going to college has increased dramatically over the past decade, and this trend is expected to increase in the coming years.

Reconsidering College by Rick Ostrander is written specifically to this increasing student population.  Going back to college after being the work force for several years is a big decision. Usually these students have families to support and going to college will take a huge toll on the family’s resources. Thus choosing the perfect college is imperative.

Ostrander analyzes the goal of education and advocates for Christian education. “A Christian university seeks to provide a coherent, overarching framework that gives a sense of purpose and unity to everything that it does.”

If you know somebody considering a return to higher education, this could be a great book for them to read.

2014: 9

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God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Do you align with the Allied Atheist Alliance? Or the United Atheist Alliance? Perhaps are you a member of the Judean People’s Front? Or the People’s Front of Judea?

God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens is a very interesting examination on religion and its impact on history. The subtitle How Religion Poisons Everything tells the reader rather bluntly how Mr. Hitchens thought about religion. As a religious person myself, I was prepared for the mental battle and to defend myself.

History’s most horrendous and evil acts have been done in the name of religion. That is no secret. I also know some of the most inspiring, most life-giving acts have been done in the name of religion. I was prepared for Mr. Hitchens to jump all over the horrendous acts while conveniently ignoring the good acts. What I wasn’t prepared for was a well-reasoned, fairly rational work.

In the book, Hitchens spends most of his time combing through Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. He goes through apparent inaccuracies, religious sponsored atrocities, and the outright foolishness of faith over science. Most of his points are valid statements though I do have some comments. First, I do think he is rather present minded when discussing the religious texts; he uses a 21st century, western lens on history which I think skews some religious concepts. Second, he treats science like this all-knowing, infallible entity. Now I consider myself a very logical, scientific person. I think Christians should see all truth as God’s truth and we should never write unexplainable things as just “God” things. We should always look to science to help us discover more about our universe. We should not be afraid of science replacing God if we truly believe in God. However, I feel like Hitchens takes it to this argument: if god was real he would have given us scientific answers before we could attain them. However, I could possibly be oversimplifying Hitchens’s view.

I picked up this book because I thought it would be very interesting to understand not only an atheistic view but an anti-theistic view. I know it may sound weird, but I thought it was a good book. If you want to strongly defend your faith, this book will really put you through the ringer.

2014: 8

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Smart Faith by J.P. Moreland & Mark Matlock

“To mature in our faith we need to develop our minds."

Preparing young, Christian high school seniors or recent graduates for the foreboding realm of higher education is a rather popular genre. Smart Faith is another volume in this genre.

I have read a several books like this one, and I am never really satisfied with their content. I don’t think it is really the fault of the authors, but the fault of my own unrealistic expectations. The question “What is the one thing a young Christian needs to know before going to college?” is rather ambitious and probably unresolvable.

Having said all that, Smart Faith is a decent book. It is short and to the point with not a lot of fluff or filler which is prevalent in the Christian-college-student-preparedness genre. The book is divided into two parts. Part One simply argues that we need to use our minds; faith is central to a Christian but that doesn’t mean stupidity is. Part two felt unnecessary to me. Part Two spends its time detailing the fine points to debate, how not to fall victim to common anti-Christian arguments, how to keep your Bible study, etc. There is not much in Part Two that I wholly disagree with, however I felt like the content wasn't helpful to me and wouldn’t be helpful to a young student.

2014: 7

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One Last Strike by Tony La Russa

“There’s no metric that can adequately measure the size of a guy’s heart.”

Once upon a time, the manager was king. He made the decisions. He was the general. The team was his soldiers. His coaches were his trusted lieutenants.

The days of the authoritarian baseball manager are gone. Blame it on sabremetrics. Blame it on free agency and the big business of baseball. No longer do billionaires give complete control of their millionaires to a single manager. More than ever, baseball has become a team sport, from the general manager down to the bat boy.

Tony La Russa was a game changer that brought baseball into a new age. He was the last of the influential captains but also the first of the highly intelligent diamond strategists. He was the link between the old school and the new school.

One Last Strike tells two amazing stories simultaneously. On the surface, La Russa recalls the improbable season (and post season) of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. On a deeper level, LaRussa reflects back on his amazing journey through baseball from a mediocre player to a naïve skipper to a humble veteran manager.

This is an amazing book written by a true baseball man. Managing a team is not science, it is an art. Keeping 25 prized athletes focused for 162 games is no easy task, but Tony La Russa did it with such ease and determination. If you are interested in the inner workings of a Hall of Fame manager’s brain, then this is the perfect book for you.

2014: 6

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Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale

You have probably heard of the movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. I remember seeing the movie. I thought it was a fun flick, nothing more or less. The thing that intrigued me the most was that this movie was based on a true story. It seemed impossible. How could a young man con so many intelligent people for so many years? It seemed too unreal, like something made up by Hollywood.

My curiosity got the best of me and I bought the autobiographical book by Frank Abagnale, Jr.

The book Catch Me If You Can goes into much more detail on Mr. Abagnale’s adventures than the movie. It is amazing how far a nice smile and a bit of confidence can take someone. He explains how we first conned his own Father – a man he admires deeply – which started his scamming lifestyle. He posed as pilot, professor, doctor, lawyer and what not. Though Abagnale admits he never loved school and disliked the idea of honest job, he spends countless hours preparing for his next scam. It is amazing how somebody with so much innate talent will only use it in such a dishonest way.

If you loved the movie you will like this book. After a while, you get a little tired of him explaining each con in detail as they are all similar. At the beginning of the book I saw Abagnale as a messed up kid just trying to make his way, but by the end I found him a tad repulsive. He continually tries to justify his illegal actions by establishing disclaimers like never cheating individuals just the companies.

2014: 5

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The Innovative University by Clayton M. Christensen & Henry J. Eyring

“I am not aware that any one single thing is well taught to the undergraduates of Harvard College” – A Massachusetts senator from 1839

Criticizing American higher education is as old as American higher education. Harvard University, America’s first and most prestigious university, is not immune to such criticism.

The Innovative University is a different critique on higher education. Most critics of higher education focus their condemnation on administrative bloating, faculty tenure, grade inflation, alcohol, etc., however the authors here focus on the system’s ability to adapt to rapid changes in technology.

As the internet becomes more available to the masses, how do universities properly implement the technology? Are traditional college campuses following in the footsteps of newspapers and the postal service?

The authors tell the tale of two schools: Harvard and BYU-Idaho. Harvard is considered the standard in higher education that all schools strive for, however it has definitely struggled throughout the years finding its core educational values. BYU-Idaho is a new and innovate university. A few years ago it was just a small two-year junior college, but through a combination of focused growth and intensive use of technology, the authors see BYU-Idaho as the future standard of higher education.

The book provides a very interesting view on the future of higher education. Going through the history of Harvard was a little boring to read; it seems like it is impossible to talk about the future of higher education without discussing Harvard. I liked their presentation of BYU-Idaho, but I don’t think it is a model of the future. The integration of traditional classes with technology is nothing novel at this time. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on the value of education, instead I felt like they were looking in a way to boost profits so they can lower tuition – which isn’t a bad idea.

I think this is a good book and a great addition to the conversation of higher education opportunities.

2014: 4

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David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

When does a disadvantage become an advantage? This is main question of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath.

No one in their right mind would want their loved one to suffer. You would never wish dyslexia on your child or consider it advantageous for a child to lose a parent. But why do many successful men and women flourish from such horrible, disadvantageous circumstances? Gladwell investigates the ins and outs of advantages. He discovers how shortcomings can set up for success and certain benefits can lead to failure.

I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to Malcolm Gladwell but this another book that I could not put down. Once again Gladwell weaves together incredibly interesting stories with strong research. I simply cannot wait for his next book.

2014: 3

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Still Foolin' 'Em by Billy Crystal

Comedy is all about timing. Every comedian knows this. The same joke told with different beats will warrant two different responses. Additionally, comedic styles ebb and flow with time like all fashion trends. Rarely can a comedian stay popular and relevant throughout his or her entire career. Billy Crystal is one of those rare comedians.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em is a hilarious yet genuine autobiography by the seemingly timeless comedian. His stories will entertain from page one: growing up in New York, struggling as a young parent trying to break it big in entertainment, meeting his heroes Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali, becoming a grandparent, dealing with failure, and finding enormous success on Broadway.

Billy Crystal is a priceless. He is a Hollywood legend and an icon of American culture. Reading his biography you get a see a very personal side that you don’t see very often from comedians. If you are a fan of Crystal’s work you will love this book.

2014: 2

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The 5 Levels of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

“The goal in life is not to live forever. The goal in life is to create something that does.”

When I started reading books about leadership I was very skeptical. If you would have asked me if leaders were born or created, I would have answered, “Created” and I think most people would answer the same way.“No one is born a leader, he or she must be disciplined and mold the necessary skills.”

However, my actions would have said much different. Every time I heard about a new leadership book or another guide to successful administration, I would just roll my eyes and I think young people would have that same reaction: “What can a book tell you about leadership? You have to experience and work at it.”

In my opinion, most people would say leaders are made, yet act like leaders are born.

John C. Maxwell is well known in the world of leadership study – more specifically the world of Christian leadership study. In this popular work, Maxwell breaks down leadership into 5 levels: Position, Permission, Production, People Development, and Pinnacle. He shares the upside and downside to each level, how to reach the next level, and the laws of the level.

The book is very simple and easy to read. It is probably the easiest book to skim read. Maxwell always gets straight to the point with absolutely no fluff. I think this book is a great study on leadership and a perfect book for a leadership team to work through together.

2014: 1

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.”

There is no complete explanation of suffering that would satisfy me.

It is impossible to devise a theological explanation that would reassure me.

I like this book a lot because it makes that very clear from the beginning.

Keller is a great communicator. He lays out arguments properly, making sure he covers almost every angle. He almost does it to a fault. Many times I thought he was using 8 words when only 4 would do, thus to say his books get a little drawn out.

If you are looking for detailed discussion on suffering from differing Christian viewpoints, I think you will like this book. I greatly appreciated Keller’s inclusion of perspectives outside the American-individualistic button.

Not all his arguments are solid (i.e. secularism must be wrong because its answer isn’t desirable or we are like newborns asking an adult for answer) but in the end I think Keller does a great job addressing the issue of suffering. You could spend our dissecting Scriptures to create a robust, theological, academic response but that answer would never satisfy the innate, emotional, anger that we have all tasted at some point in our lives.

“It is one thing to believe in God but it is quite another thing to trust God.”

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