2015 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)

 2015: 33

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You and Me Forever by Francis Chan and Lisa Chan

I have a few books on marriage in my library and I have only read one partially. My wife and I read went through part of a book when we were doing pre-marriage counseling together with our pastor. We liked the conversations the book started, but we also thought the book was a little silly and a bit self-righteous.

Given the respect I have for Francis Chan, when I saw he and his wife had written a book on marriage, I knew I had to pick it up.

I thought this was a good book. The book’s description states it bluntly, “Marriage is great, but it’s not forever.” The heart of the book is reminding the reader that we are created for eternity and marriage is only here for this life. The theme of the book: remember to look at Christ independently and together and your marriage will be better.

I do not think any book could give practical advice to married couples, only theoretical or theological answers. Practical answers in marriage, I think, are very situational.

If you are thinking about giving this book to a pair of newlyweds, I think it would be great for them.

2015: 32

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The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight

I have read my fair share of baseball books. I have even read my fair share to baseball that claim to show you the real stuff, the behind the scenes, in the clubhouse, or beyond the dugout stuff. And many of these books do give you authentic glimpses into the real world of professional baseball.

Having said all that, The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight, is simply the best baseball book I have ever read. She has seemingly impossible access to information from the owners to the players to the grounds crew. Her stories are incredible and almost unbelievable.

Having followed the Dodgers for my entire life, it was such a fun read to really see behind the curtain, especially after the last few tumultuous years as the Dodgers transitioned from the much maligned McCourt Era to the promising Guggenheim Empire. You get amazing stories about the new owners, Colletti, Kershaw, Grienke, Puig and everyone else.

There is really nothing more I can say. This is easily one of the best books I have read this year.

2015: 31

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Possible by Stephan Bauman

“The most amazing thing about hope is that it belongs to anyone willing to believe and to risk putting action to belief. No one is left out; no one is too poor or too weak to hope.”

How do we change the world?

Common sense would tell you that a world getting smaller, would be easier to fix. However, the opposite is true. As our world has shrunk, problems grow and become easier to see. Our neighbor no longer lives just down the street, our neighbor now lives in another country.

With so much out there, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is easy to think that change is impossible.

Possible is about getting you going. God has made you in a specific way for specific time. Don’t let it go to waste.

2015: 30

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We Don't Need Roads by Caseen Gaines

The Back to the Future Trilogy is timeless. The stories are simple yet the storytelling is incredibly innovative. I grew up watching BTTF over and over again on VHS until those tapes wore out. When the internet came around, I downloaded the scripts and looked up all the fun facts.

Any fan of BTTF, probably already knows quite a lot about the trilogy. They know the hurdles the Bob Z and Bob G had to overcome, they know about Eric Stoltz, they know about the long nights put in by Michael J. Fox during filming. In this book, you get a real, in depth look into these factoids and stories you have heard about over years.

There is very little new information for the average fan, but you get a well-researched account in writing. I most enjoyed the interviews with minor characters like the “Save the clock tower” lady and Marvin Berry and the Star-lighters.

The majority of the book covers the first movie’s development and filming, and then it kind of breezes through Part II and Part III. It would have been fun to hear more about how these ideas developed.

All in all, a really fun read.

 2015: 29

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Change Leadership in Higher Education by Jeffrey L. Buller

Change is any organization is quite difficult. There are board members, executives, shareholders, customers, suppliers, neighbors, and other stakeholders that all have to be convinced before change can occur. This change is even more complex in the world of higher education.

Though college and university administrators are typically visualized as a team of bespectacled erudites with patches on their elbows that govern from dark wood rooms filled with thick books, higher education leadership is surprisingly flat and accessible. There is a shared trust between the board, the president, and the faculty. However, this shared trust actually makes higher education the seemingly immovable object so resistant to change. The larger the object, the harder it is to move.

Change Leadership in Higher Education is full of leadership theories and models. The book breaks them down to an almost annoying manner. Every page includes bullet points, lists, or a table. Having said that, this made the book easier to skim.

If you are interested in change leadership models, this book breaks it down pretty well. The conclusion at the end of each chapter is all you really need to read to understand everything.

Also, this book is only really interested in academic leadership. There is very little discussed from an administrative or student affairs side of higher education.

2015: 28

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Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber

Awhile back I read Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber. Many of my friends and colleagues love Garber and his understanding on life and meaning. I, as much as I tried, simply did not connect with Garber’s work. There was little I disagreed with, though I found some of his perspectives about modern culture to be a little outdated, but I would not call that a faulty characteristic.

I picked up Visions of Vocation, hoping to finally see the error of my ways and witness the light my friends and colleagues have seen. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed again.

Again, I am not opposed to Garber’s thoughts or understandings. I simply did not connect with the work. Like his previous work, I felt like the book was outdated I read this book the year it was published. I feel like Garber has a Generation X mentality towards students. He makes several references (again) to the Smashing Pumpkins, a U2 album from 1993 (Zooropa), and studies from the early 1990’s. All of these items still have value to a conversation, but Garber seems to push the notion that most young adults still have this ambiguous, pluralistic, apathy mindset. I have a more optimistic view, though I would admit passionate emerging adults can be somewhat entitled and idle.

I am probably going to receive a lot of flak for this review, but I just could not get myself into the groove of the book. It felt like a really bumpy ride the entire time.

These are the three statements which I think summarize the book that I did like:

Know the world and still love the world.

Know rightly against do rightly.

Living with what is and longing for what will be.


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A Faith for the Generations edited by Timothy W. Herrman, et al

This book is the result of symposium hosted by Taylor University about the big faith issues experienced by college students. Whether a school admits it or not, a college or university has a huge impact on a student’s spiritual formation. Obviously, Christian or church-affiliated schools have a better opportunity to address spiritual growth as the school’s mission is spiritually founded. But the question remains, do Christian colleges and universities actually provide a constructive spiritual experience?

When you read A Faith for the Generations certain authors pop up multiple times: Arnett, the Astins, Fowler, Kinnaman, Parker, and Smith. You really begin to see a theme: With all these amazing studies down on spiritual development, how do we respond? How do we make it work?

The chapters/presentations/research found in the book are about making changes and taking ownership of faith development on our campuses.

This book is an easy read. You are not going to find anything groundbreaking, but you are going to find a launching pad into some profound works.

 2015: 26

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In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria

“There is today a loss of coherence and purpose surrounding the idea of a liberal education.”

Nearly every week I see an article online about which college degrees lead to the best paying careers and which ones do not. I read these articles and I am saddened. These articles promote education only as a means to earn money. And schools are partly to blame. For decades, colleges and universities have been avidly advertising the (very true) fact that people with a college degree earn significantly more money over their career than their non-degree holding counterparts.

While it is not evil to consider job prospects and salary when choosing a school or major, it is completely gut-wrenching to see a student choose a business degree rather than music solely based on future job possibilities. It is so difficult to see students choose a path of comfort over a path of courage and passion.

When I was in college I chose a major I was passionate about. I had no clue what job I would get with it, but I knew my passion would be contagious in whatever vocation I choose. Things worked out for me, I know for every success story there is a discouraging story.

In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria is about turning back to the foundation of liberal education. “The solution to the problems of a liberal education is more – and better – liberal education.” This is a wonderful and concise book that describes that challenges and benefits of a liberal education in a modern Western society.

I highly recommend this book as a ringing endorsement for a liberal education.

2015: 25

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Catcher by Peter Morris

This book was not what I expected, which is my fault for not doing my research for getting the book. Given the title, I assumed the book was going to be about evolution of the position from the dawn of baseball to modern day. The book focuses only on the late 1800’s and how the backstop position evolved with the game.

Obviously, I think the topic is interesting but I found the writing to be bland and boring. Whenever the author shifted his focus off the game towards other legends, I felt my mind wandering off frequently.

For someone interested in the earliest of earliest days of baseball, they would find this book appealing. Someone looking for a broad retrospective on the catcher will probably be disappointed.

 2015: 24

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Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark A. Yarhouse

If you are interested in reading this book then I can assume that gender dysphoria has impacted you in some way either personally or professionally. However, if you are interested in this book I know that gender dysphoria has impacted you spiritually.

Historically, Christians do not work well in uncertainty. We like to be the ones with all the answers, and when we cannot find a straightforward passage in the Bible to answer our difficult questions, our self-righteousness tends to dictate our response.

Understanding Gender Dysphoria is a simple introduction to transgender issues for a Christian perspective. Typically, when I find a book written for a Christian perspective, it means the book is a guide on how to fight or defend against something. This is not that book.

Dr. Yarhouse first gives a professional summary of gender dysphoria and related issues such as cross-dressing, transsexuality, genderfluidity, genderqueer and so on. He does not try to throw in any damning judgement or religious opinions. He simply gives the reader a basic psychological understanding.

The real of heart of the book is how Christians should respond to gender dysphoria. “Christians can do more than just avoid being culturally reactive. We can be proactive. We can listen to the person who experiences gender dysphoria. We can come alongside them and remain in a sustained relationship even when things are unclear for us or when we do not know what to say.”

This book is a huge step in the right direction. We cannot stand on the side and keep spouting our verses to support our preconceived notions. Whether you are completely steadfast in your ideals or totally open, Yarhouse implores us to be humble and continue building relationships.

 2015: 23

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer

A few years ago I got to visit the town of Missoula and visit some family. It is a quaint town nestled in the hills of Montana. I was there during the beautiful summer, so I did not experience the nasty winter or the hustle and bustle of the college town while the University of Montana was in session. It is just inconceivable that such a picturesque town could be the archetype of injustice in this country.

Over the past decade, sexual misconduct on college campuses has been an explosive topic and the University of Montana in Missoula was the breakpoint for many constituents: the Department of Education, Department of Justice, the media, college administrators, police departments, parents, and students.

If you read this book, prepare to have your heart ripped out. A couple of times I literally had to close the book and calm myself as I could feel my blood pressure rising. The book follows several different rape cases in Missoula. Some cases went unreported, some to the media only, some went to college administrators, some to the policy, and only a couple ever went to trial.

It is heartbreaking to read about these experiences. Young women violated and were basically thrown to the side regarded as disgruntled exes, exaggerators, or simply liars. In a town that treats UM Grizzly football like a religion, any young lady that accused a player or players of rape or assault were treated like a leper.

Krakauer’s writing is detailed and emotional. You can tell he was a chip on his shoulder. This is definitely not an unbiased portrayal. Krakauer admittedly paints a portrait of protagonists and antagonists. In no way does Krakauer attempt to show his work as an impartial, balanced work. Krakauer clearly sees an injustice plaguing these young women and he writes to illuminate the reader.

There are definitely critics of this book who state that the items depicted are prejudiced with Krakauer assuming guilt in each case and working backwards from there. Even Kirsten Pabst, one of the main antagonists in the book, even attempted to delay the book’s publishing through a court order.

From a college administrator’s perspective, I am impressed by the University of Montana in the book. There are some circumstances where the school missed the marked. However the real villains in this book are the detectives and county attorneys who simply neglect to help these young women.

I found this book very interesting and extremely disturbing. I think does a great job capturing the systemic errors present in our judicial system. I hope this book will one day be seen as the turning point in higher education and our system of justice.

 2015: 22

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The Humor Code by Peter McGraw & Joel Warner

Humor is a funny thing, but what makes things funny? Why does humor exist? What purpose does it serve?

I find the concept of humor extremely interesting because it is so bewildering. It just does not make any sense. There does not seem to be any intrinsic value to humor. As far as we know, animals do not seem to laugh. Some say humor is a coping mechanism. Others say it’s a bonding technique. These make some sense, but to me they are not satisfying answers.

So I picked up the book The Humor Code hoping to learn more about what makes things funny. Professor Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner travel the globe looking for answers. There adventures take them to Denver, Montreal, Denmark, Palestine and other locations around the world in order to understand the nuances of humor.

I found the book to be pleasant, but it definitely did not meet my expectations. I was looking for a more in depth look into the constructs of humor, not an Amazing Race type trek throughout the continents.

McGraw and Warner do quickly settle on a theory of humor called the “Benign Violation” theory. It is an interesting theory and I wish they spent more time testing the theory and finding challengers.

Perhaps, trying to understand humor is a lot like explaining a joke; it kind of ruins it.

 2015: 21

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Christian College Phenomenon by Samuel Joeckel & Thomas Chesnes

“If humility were the dominant virtue in Christian higher education, then CCCU institutions would indeed be set apart in an arena where pride and arrogance are rampant.”

I am not a fan of compilation books, where each chapter is authored by a different professional. Instead of getting a central message, all you really get is a bunch of individual, non-related essays. When I came across The Christian College Phenomenon, I was apprehensive to buy it because of its structure, but I could not resist. The subject is near and dear to my heart, and seemed like a valuable piece to read.

Simply put, the essays in this book are a response to the findings the editors gathered after an extensive questionnaire given to CCCU students and faculty members. I did not find most of the answers surprising, nor did I find the responses from the authors unexpected. Perhaps being an alumni and current employee of a CCCU school will do that to you.

There was very little buy in from student affairs professionals in the surveys. A survey of student affairs professionals would have really enlightened the conversation. There were a few authors that mentioned this missing piece in their chapters.

All in all this is a good book. There is nothing fantastic or original, but great comments by some amazing people committed to the world of Christian higher education.

 2015: 20

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Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

“When it matters, leaders choose to eat last.”

When you look at humanity through the eyes of evolution, things are really interesting. Humans are incredibly different from others animals. The thing that really separates us is our ability to cooperate and work together. It is simply unmatched. Human teamwork has created huge civilizations and amazing scientific discoveries. We spend a good part of our life working for the good of others while other work for our good. It is quite amazing.

In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explores this unique ability to work together and how leaders make that happen. Sinek examines the chemicals that course through our veins; the ones that tell us we are happy, sad, angry or stressed. These emotions are the ones leaders must move with and against to create change.

This is a great book. I assumed that the book would focus more on the concept of leaders humbling themselves and putting others first. Though that is a theme, it was not highlighted very brightly. A more accurate title would be the The Chemicals of Leadership.

Sinek is a great author. He is interesting and easy to read. I would recommend this book.

Here are a few great quotes:

“Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers.”

“All we need are leaders to give us a good reason to commit ourselves to each other.”

“Let us all be the leaders we wish we had.”

 2015: 19

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The Athena Doctrine by John Gerzema & Michael D'Antonio

Over the past couple of years, I have become increasingly interested in the topic of women and leadership thanks in large part to my amazing wife. My wife is definitely a leader. People seem to warm up to her almost immediately, but things are far from perfect for her. Unfortunately, I have personally witnessed my wife being treated differently simply because she is a woman. It is incredibly frustrating to see a colleague treat my differently than they would treat me. I physically feel the frustration in my gut.

Now being a father to a beautiful baby girl, I am even more committed to understanding the cultural frustrations of women today.

I saw The Athena Doctrine at a conference and it looked quite interesting but to put it simply, The Athena Doctrine was not what I expected.

I don’t think the book was poorly written, I just did not understand why the authors decided to do a study attributing certain characteristics to a specific gender. On top of that, I did not find much value in that initial study.

I think our educated society knows the right answers, but putting them into play is the difficult part. We can ask the question: Are men and women equal in their abilities? Most Americans would say yes, however reality says something different. Thus, the study says feminine leadership qualities will be the future, but will reality say the same thing?

Again, I don’t dislike with this book. I found the chapters interesting. I even did research on Iceland’s Constitution after reading about it in this book. However, the “crowdsourced” constitution described in the book actually failed and has never been adopted, which led me to question the rest of the stories included.

2015: 18

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The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny

Let me start off by saying that I am a true blue Los Angeles Dodgers fan. The St. Louis Cardinals have been a thorn in the Dodger’s side for years. Both organizations are successful and respected. In my life time the Dodgers have faced the Cardinals in the postseason five times, the Dodgers have lost four of the five match ups. Therefore, I know the risk I was running being a Dodger fan, reading a book by the current Cardinal manager, Mike Matheny.

All joking aside, I have a lot of respect for the Cardinals. I have a lot of respect for Tony LaRussa, having read two books about his baseball managing career. Matheny had some big shoes to fill in 2012, after LaRussa led the Cardinals back from their final strike (twice) to win the World Series, but he has succeeded taking the Cardinals to the playoffs each season as manager.

When Matheny was chosen as manager of the reigning World Series team, many were puzzled. Matheny had no managerial experience. He was only six years removed from his playing career, which was shut down abruptly by health issues relating to recurring concussion symptoms.

But Matheny is strong leader with strong values. Ultimately, The Matheny Manifesto is an account of Matheny’s values that he integrates into his life. The manifesto originated when he was asked to manage youth baseball. Not wanting to be like every other little league coach, Matheny wrote out demands for himself, his staff, his players, and most importantly, the parents. He wanted to create a team of character. He wanted to create a team known for integrity and hard work. He did not care about winning. Winning happens when you do everything right.

This is a great book. It should be required reading for anyone thinking about coach youth sports.

2015: 17

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The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner

“Nothing is more important, for if we find our true self we find God, and if we find God, we find our most authentic self.”

Don’t let the cover fool you. I will be honest, when I first heard the title, The Gift of Being Yourself, I thought it sounded like a pathetic, self-motivational, feel-good book. Then I saw the cover of the book and I though it looked like a pathetic, self-motivational, feel-good book you would find in your church lady’s library.

But the book is actually a decent, concise look at spiritual development. Benner has some actual credentials and understanding concerning how we approach God. If we do not have a strong understanding of who I am, then I am incapable of understanding who God is.

This is not some new age spirituality. This is not a book about finding God in everything. This is about finding yourself in the midst of who God is. When you look at yourself you can find God and looking at God you can find yourself.

 2015: 16

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The Leader's Legacy by David L. McKenna

“A leader builds upon the past, gives momentum to the present, and leaves promise of greater things to come.”

David L. McKenna is an excellent source of profound leadership. He served 33 years as a president at three different Christian colleges, thus his wisdom is pretty much unparalleled. In the The Leader’s Legacy, McKenna addresses the difficulties of leadership transitions.

Changes in leadership are nearly always trigger problems. These problems can come from anywhere, but they are naturally very turbulent. The new leader may bring a new style, a novel vision, or an updated mission. On the other hand, the outgoing leader may leave unprepared employees, budgetary missteps, and a narrative of distrust.

McKenna gives us simple thoughts about a leader’s exit. He employs the story of John the Baptist as a leader in transition. John the Baptist had every opportunity to amplify his message, boost his followers, and spread his fame, but he knew his purpose and the great importance of exiting.

It is amazing to see how a leader’s departure can have such a major effect on his or her legacy. In some ways, it can be said that an entire legacy can be tarnished simply by how a leader steps down.

This is a great book. I will probably be more applicable to me when I finally reach that age where I must step down as a leader.

 2015: 15

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I Must Say by Martin Short

This is a great book.

I have read my fair share of memoirs by comedians and other entertainers. Almost all of them have been very well written. Comedic entertainers have a very unique perspective on everything. They seem to view life from a totally different lens. I would argue that they have a more realistic, more concrete view because they are not afraid to challenge the status quo or question the taboos of society. This is what makes their biographies so interesting.

Having said that, Martin Short’s affectionately entitled book, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. It has everything you want. It is funny yet incredibly sincere. It is reflective yet present.

Martin Short simply just presents his life in his unique voice starting with his modest upbringing in Canada to his start in show business to his sincere friendships with some of Hollywood’s elite like Steve Martin and Tom Hanks.

The story that really enraptured me was the relationship of Martin Short and his wife. The love for his wife jumps off the page. That is a something you do not hear about enough, especially in the entertainment world.

Anyone who loves Martin Short or comedic history will love this book.


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Excellent Sheep by WIlliam Deresiewicz

“Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what do next.”

I come from standard middle class upbringing. My dad started his own business and my mom was a stay at home mom. No one in my family had a college degree, but it always expected of me and my two brothers to go to college. Education was definitely a priority in the household.

When it came to applying for colleges, I simply consider any elite colleges, Ivy League schools, or big research universities. At one time I thought about Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a pretty well-known school, but I never seriously considered it.

I only looked at smaller private Christian colleges in the Southern California area. I loved my private high school experience; the teachers cared about me and I was a better student because of it. I love Southern California for multiple reasons.

Did I sacrifice anything by not attending an elite university?

No. One, I never would have been accepted. I was a good student, not a great student in high school. I was driven but not overly obsessed or motivated. Two, I always knew the experience at college and the things I learned would always be more important than the name on my college diploma.

When it comes to higher education, Americans are very inconsistent. As a society, we are very anti-intellectual and very anti-elitist however we push and push our children to work hard so they can be accepted at an elite school where they will be forever branded as smart and successful. I think we know deep down that Ivy League University is not producing students significantly smarter or better than Random State University or Small Private College but when we elect presidents and hire company executives, we over and over again choose the ivy leaguers.

Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz walks us through this love-hate relationship we have with elite schools. A few decades ago, students said that finding “meaning/philosophy of life” was their significant reason for attending college. Today, students say being “very well-off financially” is most important. Obviously, our values have changed.

The first half of Excellent Sheep is about the problems of higher education. Nothing here that I have not heard before: students who cannot accept failure or C’s, helicopter parents, administrators treating students like consumers, etc. But what makes this book great is the second half, where the Deresiewicz focuses on the heart of higher education.

“Education isn’t something you consume; it’s an experience that you have to give yourself over to.” Often we hear about the return on investment. Is college worth the ever rising tuition cost? The numbers have always pointed to yes and they will for decades. However, Deresiewicz changes the question: “What’s the return on investment of having children, spending time with friends, listening to music, reading a book? The things that are most worth doing are worth doing for their own sake.”

I doubt you will ever see that quote on a college brochure given the political landscape, but it would be awesome to see.

So if you know someone going off to college, don’t ask them what job or career they want. Finding a calling or vocation is much different. “It isn’t something that you choose, in other words; it chooses you. It is the thing you can’t not do.”


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Start With Why by Simon Sinek

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Every once in a while I will pick up a book, look at the title, and know everything I need from the front cover. When I picked up Start With Why by Simon Sinek, I was certain I figured out the entire book: knowing why you do something is the most important thing. Was I wrong? Not really, but surprisingly I could not put the book down.

Success in the business world is nearly magic. You can gobs of money and loads of talent and still be bankrupt in a year. History is riddled with huge companies failing while small startups become huge successes.

Through his book, Sinek shows us success: Apple, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Wal-mart and others. He explains that these successes were built around great people who inspired others: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Herb Kelleher, Sam Walton, etc. These people may not have been great at business, in fact some did not know how to put together a business plan, but they understood what was most important to them. Once some of these men left their position, their business immediately began to flounder, mostly cause the company and its leader forgot their central purpose.

For a simple concept book, Start With Why was rather fascinating. It prompted me to look at my own work again; to remember why my career and how things will be better if I remember the “why.”

I think this book is a great book for any one in or seeking a leadership role.

“Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”


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What If? by Randall Munroe

I am a regular visitor to I do not remember when or how I found the site, but I became a fan almost immediately. In the past I have tried to describe the website. It is extremely nerdy but very approachable. It is amusing with an edge. It is smart yet simple. It is definitely more than just jokes but a sharp satire on the information age. Well sort of. There just is not a simple definition.

What If? by Randall Munroe continues the smart, indescribable humor of his website. Munroe answers interesting hypothetical questions proposed by his readers. Some questions are crazily absurd (see: if someone’s DNA suddenly vanished), while some are fascinating to think about (see: What would happen if the Earth and terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning…).

Randall Munroe is smart dude. He has a degree in physics and he has worked for NASA. I am sure there is some scientist out there that would reject some of the physics in this book. This book is not a guide to physics. It is an entertaining book that gets me energized about learning science, and any book that does that is remarkable.

2015: 11

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Bigger Than the Game by Dirk Hayhurst

I don’t watch reality shows. I find them brainless and totally uninteresting. Why should I care about the daily life of a random person? However, I do spend several hours a week thinking about and studying baseball. In my opinion, baseball is fascinating and utterly philosophical.

What is the difference between baseball and reality television? Truthfully, absolutely nothing. Sure you can argue some differences, but in the end you are watching the meaningless interactions of egotistical people partaking in fabricated drama.

There is nothing that can replace the excitement of a walk off home run or the beauty of a no-hitter, but in the grand scheme of life, baseball is meaningless.

This is why I like Dirk Hayhurst. He understands that constant internal struggle all baseball lovers feel. You love the game so much yet you also loathe its insignificance.  

Bigger Than the Game is the third book I have read from Hayhurst. His first book let us see the unglamorous life of the minor leagues. His second book showed us the complicated transition from the minors to the majors. Hayhurst then came out with an e-book that was a continuation of his second book which I have not read.

In Bigger Than the Game, Hayhurst uncovers the life you definitely have not heard: the life and times of the disabled list. In the civilian world, all the reports the fans receive pertain to a ball player’s estimated recovering time. Here Hayhurst shows us the physical and emotional struggle recovering athletes go through day in and day out.

Like I have said in other reviews, Hayhurst is a great communicator. He is able to give us a peek behind the curtain without writing a shocking exposé and throwing someone under a bus. Hayhurst simply recounts his experiences, how he handled success, how he dealt with defeat and how he suffered with pain.

This book offers the least amount of actual baseball than his other books, but if love his earlier stuff you will love this book too.

Here is a quote near the end of the book that I think sums things up perfectly:

“At the end of the day, we are just grown men putting on costumes and playing children’s game. To take any of it more seriously than that was a mistake.”

 2015: 10

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Zealot by Reza Aslan

“The event falls outside the scope of history and into the realm of faith.”

Is it possible to write a book on Jesus and have it not be controversial? Reza Aslan would probably say “No.”

Zealot by Reza Aslan is a contentious book for several reasons, though I think most of the reasons are unwarranted.

Many have objected to Aslan’s partiality due to his Islamic background, stating that his view of Jesus is tainted with Islamic ideas. This objection is ridiculous, as almost everything Aslan presents in this book does not line up with the Islamic traditions concerning Jesus of Nazareth. There is an entertaining clip of Aslan being interviewed by a Fox News pundit about his Islamic faith that is annoyingly mindboggling.  

In Zealot, Aslan paints a vivid picture of Jerusalem in the first century under Roman rule and what it was like for a young, poor Jewish man in the time. Once he paints that picture, he then drops Jesus into that world using research. This makes Jesus a more relatable man. Jesus was not some mystical, eternal, immaterial person. He was a real person who lived in a neighborhood in a community and ate food and worked hard. Aslan definitely reminds me that Jesus was a human, which is a significant piece of my Christian faith.

However, there are parts of this book I disagreed with. Aslan obviously does not believe Jesus was the God incarnate or that most of things written in the Gospels are true. He details how the Gospels were written decades after Jesus and mentions that Paul and Peter were actual rivals and not allies in the early Christian church.

Now, I am not an historian so I cannot sit here and adequately rebuke Aslan’s claims. My one class in Christian apologetics does not give me that right. I am sure that five different historians will give you five different versions of the historical Jesus. In the end, this book is a fascinating read and I am not going to throw out everything Aslan says because his research challenges how Christianity interprets Jesus.

I will add this one critique of mine. At the very beginning, Aslan does seem to throw the validity of the Gospels out the window, which is fair because the Gospels may not meet historical standards. That’s fine. However, he then constantly refers to Gospel stories to disclaim or reject an idea about Jesus. Furthermore, Aslan would misinterpret something because it simply did not fit into the Jewish society of the time. For example, Aslan states that when Jesus said “Love your neighbor,” Jesus meant “neighbor” to me “Jew” and not Romans, etc. Then later on, discussing the parable of Good Samaritan, Aslan states that Jesus was primarily criticizing the priests of temple and not focusing on the Samaritan as modern Christianity does. However, when you find the “Love your neighbor” and the Good Samaritan parable in the Gospel, it is one story where Jesus is visibly redefining the Jewish idea of neighbor.

For Aslan, Jesus was just one of many but to others Jesus was the One and that is why His name has endured through the ages.

If you have heard controversial things about this book, I urge you to read it for yourself and not just read some pastor or professor or some weird guy’s review. 

2015: 9

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Life is _____. by Judah Smith

“God created human beings out of a desire for relationship. He created Adam and Eve because he wanted to love and be loved.”

Judah Smith is a newer voice in the Church. He is so new that I have not read his earlier works Jesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human and Love Like Jesus.

Like most new authors in Christian book genre, the thoughts are not new and the ideas are not unique, however Judah’s passion and style are both refreshing and energizing.

Life is _____.: God’s Illogical Love Will Change Your Existence is a pretty simple book. Judah breaks down life into four statements: Life is to be love and to love, Life is to trust God in every moment, Life is to be at peace with God and yourself, and Life is to enjoy God.

When I first picked up this book, I was worried that I was going to read a hipster version of Christianity that is watered down fuzzy words about love. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with the use of Scripture and the author’s ability to make timeless Bible stories relatable to the modern Christian.

God loves us. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to love everything He has created.

Judah Smith is easier to read that John Piper and more intellectual than Rob Bell.

I liked this book even though I never felt like I got enthusiastic about it. It is a good book to pick up once in awhile and read casually.

“We are good at missing the good ol’ days, and we are good at longing for someday. But in the process, we often undervalue the importance of today...We live life best when we live it without regretting the past or fearing the future”

 2015: 8

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Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? By Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller

For centuries, it seems like science and religion have been battling each other for superiority. Which one is the final authority? What side do you choose?

But what about this concept: science and religion are not adversaries, but companions working together to find the truth.

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? is written by two Jesuits who do research at the Vatican Observatory (which I had no clue the Vatican had its own observatory). As the title suggests, the book looks into the silly questions they get from tourists and theological inquisitors; however the book discusses the meaningful issues of the Big Bang, Pluto’s planet status, the saga of Galileo, the star of Bethlehem, the end of the world, and extraterrestrial life.

The main theme of the book is the growing relationship between science and religion. Generally speaking, scientists see religious people as anti-intellectual nut jobs while religious folk see scientists as nihilistic, misguided atheists. But, this book strives for the middle. Science is not static, and neither is religion. The science of the Big Bang does not destroy or belittle the work of God, it actually can enhance it.

This is a good book with a share of boring parts. The whole chapter on Pluto seemed superfluous. The book’s dialogue structure was unnecessary. The content concerning the relationship between science and religion was really fascinating.

 2015: 7

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The Cost Disease by William J. Baumol

Sometimes I forget how I find the books I buy. Usually it is one of two ways: I either find the book while browsing Amazon or the book is referenced in another book I read. I remember seeing The Cost Disease in another book, but I can’t really remember which one. But I found it on Amazon, enjoyed the reviews, and saw that it was relatively inexpensive so I decided to give it a go.

The Cost Disease is a heavy, more academic work. This is not a typical light read in popular economics like Freakonomics. It is very interesting book that tackles the common misunderstandings of our economy.

I am a millennial working in higher education with baby boomer parents. It seems like every day I am being bombarded with questions about cost of higher education and health care. Both institutions are notorious for their skyrocketing costs over the years. The Cost Disease gives us a solid answer to the question. In short, health care and higher education will continue to increase, but fortunately the buying power of consumers will continue to increase as well. And of course, there is some fine print not included in my short summary.

I am sure you can ask a dozen economists the same question and you will get a dozen different answers, but The Cost Disease offers a good, researched response to this huge question.

 2015: 6

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Scary Close by Donald Miller

When it comes to Christian authors, Donald Miller definitely possesses a unique voice. He rarely quotes verses and he never references the detailed meaning of some Greek word in the New Testament. He simply speaks from the heart; the heart that God gave him to use, to learn and explore with. Unique voices always attract noisy critics, but they also appeal to an often overlooked and deprived audience looking for something different. I am definitely the latter.

Back in college, I picked up a copy of Blue Like Jazz. The book was burning through my Christian college campus like a wild fire. I did not know what to expect from a book subtitled Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, but I was not disappointed. Donald Miller spoke with a boldness and sincerity that I had never seen before. It was the most refreshing book I had read.

Donald Miller’s newest work Scary Close is another great work from the authentic author.

Like his other works, Scary Close is written with a flow-of-consciousness/train-of-thought style that makes his books so easy to read and even more relatable. Simply put, Scary Close is about relationships and how it is so ridiculously difficult to remain honest and authentic.

Throughout the book, Miller walks us through a few of his own personal relationships, mostly focusing on the relationship with his fiancée, Betsy. He explores how fear, judgment, pain, suffering and every other nasty thing between have made all his relationships so toxic. He goes to retreats and conferences to explore trust and openness. He calls up some of his closest friends to find honesty and authenticity. His fiancée helps him open the door to deep and meaningful moments which typically scare us all.

Christians really have an obsession with relationships. Christianity is basically defined by relationships. If you walk into (or log onto) any book store right now, you will find a seemingly endless supply of Christian relationship books. Most will share verse about love or exegete a passage from the Gospels, but most will make you feel incapable and incompetent because these works – though good and valuable – approach the subject of relationships so intellectually and not socially or personally.

That said, Scary Close is probably one of the best “relationship” books I have read, though I would not define it as a “relationship” book. There is no “how-to” guide or accompanying workbook. Instead the book is a deep dive into our real selves, the part of us we are afraid to show even to our most loved friends and family.

Relationships are not about being perfect. They are not about making each other perfect. Donald Miller states in perfectly, “I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”

 2015: 5

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When God Laughs with Us by David L. McKenna

If you work in Christian higher education, you need to know the name David McKenna. He is one of the most significant persons in the history of Christian higher education. He led three respected Christian institutions as well as created the Christian College Constorium. But on top of all his incredible accolades and honors, David McKenna is a great yet humble man.

When I started working in higher education, my professors and colleagues encouraged me to find a mentor. This is easier said than done. Finding a president or vice president to mentor you can be rather difficult. First, they are very busy and finding a good chunk of time for mentoring is not easy. Second, if you look for one at your own institution you are going to be labeled a brownnoser. Third, it may be hard to find the right fit.

Luckily, great leaders like David McKenna write short works about leadership that I can learn from and share with others.

This is an incredible book about the funny life of a leader, particularly a Christian college president.

 2015: 4

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Throwback by Jason Kendall

Professional baseball players make the sport look easy. When I watch a game, it is fairly obvious what each player is trying to do in that given moment. Except for your unusual trick play, it is clear what the hitter, pitcher, runner, and fielders are trying to do in a situation. The difficult part is making that stuff happen.

Jason Kendall is definitely an old school guy and his book Throwback is simply about the details of the game. Everyone knows that pitcher needs to throw strikes and the hitter needs to hit the ball. However, the casual fan is not going to think about laying down a bunt on the right side with a right-handed first basemen charging in during the bottom of the seventh inning. If you are major leaguer, you have to know these things.

Though a comprehensive book, nothing in this book surprised me. With the subtitle A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played, I was expecting more behind-the-scenes of playing in the big leagues. That does not mean I was looking for dirt on famous ballplayers, but I was expecting more stories about working with managers, how to deal with the media, or just simple stories about working with great hall of famers. Instead Throwback is just a simple survey of baseball basics. Anyone who has played high school ball or watches MLB games on a regular basis probably will not learn from this book.

Additionally, Kendall is kind of stuck in the past. Baseball is a timeless sport but that is not to say that baseball has not changed over the years. Kendall had a respectable career but he never really played for a contender. First, he does not seem like a nice guy. He rebukes players for casually interacting with the opponents. I respect his sense of competiveness, but there is nothing wrong with a casual greeting with the first baseman after a single. This is probably why he has never entertained the idea of coaching. Second, he does not give enough credit to natural talent, probably because his talent was all from his hard work. Also, he thinks any one who takes a day off or cracks their foot open with a foul ball is weak.

This may be an interesting book to a high school ball player who has never thought deeply about the game, but Kendall’s colorful language does not make the book appropriate for younger audiences.

In the end, Kendall thinks players today are too soft, too rich, and too dumb, but I am sure there are plenty of soft, dumb, rich ballplayers out there with World Series titles.

2015: 3

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Our Underacheiving Colleges by Derek Bok

“Without a compelling, unifying purpose, universities are charged with allowing their curricula to degenerate into a vast smorgasbord of elective courses.”

We have a problem in higher education. Everyone seems to agree on that. What is the problem? Well, that’s the problem. No one can really pinpoint the problem. Former Harvard president, Derek Bok does his best to answer this question in his comprehensive work Our Underachieving Colleges.

To sum up his work as simply as possible: colleges do not know their purpose, they do not know how to assess themselves, and they do not know how to implement change.

What is the purpose of college? To prepare students for jobs. To create critical thinkers. To explore the brilliant minds of the past. All of the above? Each administrator, faculty member, and their respective departments could answer this question carefully and methodically and their answers would be scattered all over the map. Once you throw in legislation and accrediting bodies, the purpose of college gets even messier. With no true direction for colleges and students, it is no surprise that higher education appears fractured.

How do colleges evaluate their own programs and students? Standardized testing. Internal assessment. External assessment. All of the above? We have seen the dangers of evaluating education across the board; soon you simply get teachers teaching for the test and developing critical thought.

How do you implement change? This is an epic question. Faculty will, rightfully so, fight for academic freedom. Administrators are fighting for efficiency and effectiveness. Who should get the final say? Who should get any say?

Bok knows his stuff and understands that fixing higher education is not simple. This is a decent book that addresses the academic imperfections of higher education. Basically, it’s everyone’s fault.

2015: 2

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If These Walls Could Talk: Los Angeles Dodgers by Houston Mitchell

Every historical sports team attempts to assert itself as “America’s team” for a variety of reasons. Allow me to submit my argument: the Dodgers started in the boroughs of New York, they worked hard and found great success but the future was out west.

If These Wall Could Talk: Los Angeles Dodgers is a thorough highlight reel of all things Dodger baseball. There is nothing shocking or revealing found in the book. Whenever you hear about stories from the locker room, I would expect grittier details about what went on behind the most famous scenes of Dodger history.

Any fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers will love this decade by decade account of America’s baseball team.

 2015: 1

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The Question that Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey

“Why are you shocked and upset? What else should we expect from an impersonal universe of random indifference?”

Suffering is a problem. Whether you are an atheist, extreme fundamentalist or somewhere in between, there is a basic need to answer the question of suffering. Why does it happen? What should we do when it happens? Every religion will give you a different response, even in Christianity there is no one accepted response to suffering. Scripture is filled with suffering and people inadequate responses.

I have read many books on pain and suffering. C.S. Lewis is probably the best thinker and author to approach the subject, but Philip Yancey is a very close second place. Yancey has written several classics on suffering including Where is God When it Hurts? and Disappointment with God. This newer title The Question that Never Goes Away continues the conversation.

Over the past decades, we have experienced some of the biggest atrocities history has ever seen. Tsunamis have destroyed civilizations. Terrorists have slaughtered thousands and terrified the world. Gunmen have made our schools combat zones. In these moments, we have looked around and simply yet forcefully asked, “Why?”

Unlike man theologians, Yancey does not try to answer the question. It is foolish to do so. Some “Christian” personalities have blamed these catastrophes on our unfaithfulness or the country’s sinfulness. This is the same method fabricated by Job’s friends during his experience. It is downright foolish to try to make sense of it all.

So what is God’s response to suffering? Fortunately we have a God that has responded. How did Jesus respond to suffering? He definitely did not dole out feel-good philosophies or convenient theology, instead he healed people and suffered alongside them with compassion. Yancey adds, “No other religion has this model of God identifying so deeply and compassionately with humanity.” Usually, the people who observe suffering reject God, but the people who experience suffering need God.

This is a short yet difficult book to read. Yancey does not candy-coat the topic, he fills the book with devastating stories of sufferings, but it is a good reminder that there is a problem but much bigger solution. Once you flip the question around, things make a little more sense, “Where is no-God when it hurts?”

I definitely recommend this book especially after you have read Yancey’s previous works mentioned.

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