2017 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)

2017: 40

review date:
Enough is Enough edited by Brian O. Hemphill & Brandi Hephner LaBanc

I usually find reading a good book to be an enjoyable time, however this was a somber exception. I have been working on college campuses in one way or another for over decade now. I was a college student when the Virginia Tech massacre occurred. I was in middle school when Columbine shocked the nation. Unfortunately, the realities of campus shootings have been a piece of my entire educational and professional career.

Reading about all these horrible campus shootings is a gruesome enough, but what is even more disturbing is what has happened since this book was published back in 2010. It was gut-wrenching to read this book and come to the understanding that campus shootings are no longer an abnormalities but expected tragedies. From my calculations, there have been over sixty deaths involving a gun on college campuses since 2010. In other words, over eight college students die a year because of guns.

I am not here to spark a debate on gun control or university policies or whatever else. I have served on emergency response committees and am very thankful none of the schools I have attended or worked at have had a campus incident involving guns. But I am definitely filled with grief and pain over this reality we have on our campuses throughout our country.

This work has been a great resource and a foundation for schools as they constantly reassess their response to tragic events. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in creating safer campuses.

2017: 39

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Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

When I became a Theology student in college, I wanted to find my niche. I knew I didn’t want to become a pastor and lead a church, so I thought I needed to specialize in a specific realm of theology. At first, I thought it would be theodicy, but that was depressing. Next, I thought it would be apologetics, but that felt soulless. In the end, I decided to let things be. I would later go on to graduate school in a different field, but my studies in theology are still important to me, but it has been my study of grace that has affected me the most.

Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. In fact, it was reading his books while in undergrad that spurred me to change my major to Theology. The way he writes is honest and relatable while being sensible and wise. Reading Vanishing Grace felt comforting, like a beautiful smell that brings you back to your innocent childhood days.

Grace is not a new topic for Yancey. In fact, most of his books cover God’s grace. However, in Vanishing Grace, Yancey focuses specifically on the grace we share. The world is thirsty grace. The world does not need another argument for Jesus or more detailed apologetics; the world needs grace.

Grace is probably the most attractive part of the Christian and probably the most appalling part of the Christian as well. Attractive because grace is not about who we are or what we do, grace is dispensed because who God is. God sheds His beautiful grace on me. This definition of grace is what makes Christianity different than other religions. Conversely, appalling because grace is not about who we are or what we do, grace is dispensed because who is. God sheds His beautiful grace on my enemies. This definition of grace is infuriating.

Everyone is allowed in because of God’s grace. Such a beautiful thing to the outsider and a frustrating thing to the insider (that’s why the parable of the Prodigal Son gets me every time).

This book is classic Yancey. It engages my brain. It opens my heart. A definite recommend.

Here are some quotes I loved :

“I doubt God keeps track of how many arguments we win; God may indeed keep track of how well we love.”

“The more we love, and the more unlikely people we love, the more we resemble God.”

“It makes all the difference in the world whether I view my neighbor as a potential convert or as someone whom God already loves.”

“Too easily we expect God to do something for us when instead God wants to do it through us.”

2017: 38

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How to Think by Alan Jacobs

Am I the same person I was five years ago? Ten years ago? Fifteen years ago? A lot has changed for me over the years. I am no longer a careless youth but a husband and father with many responsibilities. Obviously, as I have matured, my opinions has changed. For example, my perspective on education has evolved which is clearly a development from being a student (a consumer) to an administrator (a producer). But what I find most fascinating about my development, is my development to think.

In these divided times (as if there was a time when we were not divided), genuine thinking seems to be at an all-time low. We could debate how that is true or not true but that is beside the point. As silly as this may sound, thinking is a learned task. Though I have been using my mind to think since I was born, strengthening my ability to think has taken time.

In How to Think, Alan Jacobs summarizes how thinking sort of works. He takes some of the best information from some of the great, modern experts and pares it down to the essentials. He shares a few stories of some men and women who have changed their thinking over the years. These stories remind me of me. Sometimes I am ashamed of how I used to think. Many times I reflect on my ways of thinking and how I have grown.

This is a very short and interesting book. Worth the read.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.”

“To think, to dig into the foundations of our beliefs, is a risk, and perhaps a tragic risk. There are no guarantees that it will make us happy or even give us satisfaction.”

“Value learning over debating. Don’t ‘talk for victory.’”

2017: 37

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The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

For years I have believed in a simple mantra: less is more. The more I added to my life, the crazier things seemed to be. When I whittled things down, things got easier. So when I saw the title The Paradox of Choice, I was sold. It is always great to see your assumptions or anecdotal experiences supported by experts.

As a society, we love choice. Specifically, we love the freedom of choice, however in order to have choice you need more options. Therefore, we equate our freedom with the number of options we have. But when we look closer, our supposed freedom is paralyzing us. “Increased choice…may impair freedom by taking time and energy we’d be better off devoting to other matters.”

I highly recommend this work.

2017: 36

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Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes

I will be completely honest: I love Christmas. That’s not really a controversial statement in America. So here’s where I am really honest: I love Christmas but almost for every secular reason imaginable. I am a church-going, Jesus believing American and I definitely celebrate the birth of Jesus during Christmas, but I really love the lights, sounds, music, smell, music, and gifts of Christmas. Watching Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is a lot more fun than lighting an Advent candle. Now, let me be clear, I revere these moments in the Church calendar. They are humbling reminders of my humanness. Unfortunately, my humanness also really loves Christmas chocolate.

Christmas: A Candid History reminds us that Christmas is not a celebration created by Christians. In fact, celebrations around the winter solstice have been around for centuries. Over the years, different cultures and religions have added their traditions. In fact, for a period of time Christians were opposed to all winter celebrations including Christ-oriented celebrations.

I found this book enjoyable, though there was nothing in it I didn’t really know already. It is an easy and compact.

2017: 35

review date:
Dodgers Move West by Neil Sullivan

Over the years I have become rather proficient in Los Angeles Dodger history, specifically when the team moved from Brooklyn.

So, why did the Brooklyn Dodgers move? It’s complicated. O’Malley saw the writing on the wall; if the Dodgers stay at Ebbets Field they will slowly fade into baseball oblivion. The politicians in New York, specifically Robert Moses, were not going to let O’Malley dictate any terms. The politicians had a strict vision for professional baseball, and that vision did not work with O’Malley.

For decades that has been rumors that O’Malley outsmarted and tricked both New York and Los Angeles, but I think the truth is more boring. O’Malley wanted money and a winning team. O’Malley decided to make his own luck and move the team.

Dodgers Move West is a simple read. It does not bog you down with details or superfluous stories. Just the facts. It’s simple and delightful to read.

2017: 34

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Thank you For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs

If you love the science of debate, you will like this book. It is lucid, interesting, and relevant. The book is rather long and it covers everything. This is pretty much textbook disguised relevant materials. I wish this book was used in speech class when I was in school. It would have been more effective.

*I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

2017: 33

review date:
9 Innings by Daniel Okrent

I love baseball. I think it is a very poetic game. Each game was wonderful characters and multiple storylines that I can sit and watch while eating a hot dog.

Many people I know are not affectionate towards baseballs. In some cases, I know people who hate baseball. They find it slow, boring and odd. After reading 9 Innings by Daniel Okrent, I understand (a little) how they feel.

This book dragged on and on. Okrent is a great writer, but his transitions from the game and story were very wide. By the time he got back to the game, I had already forgotten everything. I forgot the batter, the score, the situation, everything.

His stories were at times good. I enjoyed early information on Bud Selig (who later became MLB Commissioner) and the infamous Earl Weaver. However, the other characters were forgettable for me. The idea of the book was the intricacies of an ordinary baseball game, but in the end I was bored.

2017: 32

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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman has been one of those names that have popped up repeatedly throughout my readings. I knew quickly that I needed to read one of his works.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is a simple but hefty book. The theme is quite simple: you think in two, very distinct ways. We think quickly and we also think very slowly. Both systems are necessary. One could not survive without the other. If we only thought quickly, we would give into every impulse and destroy ourselves. If we only thought slowly, we would be paralyzed with fear and starve ourselves.

This book is quite long, and it feels longer, however it is full of great information, thorough first hand research. Kahneman does not waste words but he does offer slow and meticulous explanations.

I was very antsy by the last third of the book. It was a good book with great material, but just long and tedious by the end. This is one of those rare books that I liked but would have skipped.

2017: 31

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Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

“Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”

I consider myself an ordinary man. In fact, most people are ordinary. The definition of ordinary requires the majority. 

It is very easy to believe that the ordinary things in life do not matter; that life happens only in the big moments. We are much more interested in watching highlights on the news rather than the game itself.

In my office I had a wall of quotes; two in particular stood out to me, especially when working with college-aged students:

"Beware of allowing yourself to think that the shallow aspects of life are not ordained by God; they are ordained by Him equally as much as the profound.” –Oswald Chambers

“Never compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” –John Ortberg

When I first heard about Liturgy of the Ordinary, I was fascinated just by the title alone. It is simple yet deep. I know I was literally judging a book by its cover, but I wasn’t ashamed. 

I really enjoyed this book. Tish Harrison Warren has a beautiful view of life and faith. Every moment has an opportunity to create love, faith, community, etc. Yet not every moment is profound. Not every moment needs to be profound. These moments can be reminders of something greater or something simply average.

Ordinary moments show us our limitations. They show us that we need others. They show us that we are not in control. The ordinary can be utterly obnoxious or exceptionally beautiful. It’s our decision. Accepting the ordinary and understanding its value can change so much in our lives. 

Here are two quotes that I loved from this must-read book. 

"Biblically, there is no divide between ‘radical’ and ‘ordinary’ believers.”

What if Christians were known as a countercultural community of well-rested-people who embrace our limits with zest and even joy?”

2017: 30

review date:
American Jesus by Stephen Prothero

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

This is the first clause of the first amendment of the United States Constitution. It is probably one of the most important lines (and most debated) in all of American freedoms. It is what makes the United States unique.

Christianity has a very unique history in the United States because there is no central authority. There is no pope to monitor the flock. Every American has the right to view Jesus in his or her own way and thus worship and share this Jesus with whomever they want. Our third president and founding father, Thomas Jefferson, was one of the first to challenge the accepted status quo of Jesus in America. His Jesus was different from his citizens. He did not force his subjects to accept his Jesus. He did not mistreat or torture his dissenters. They were free to express their opinions, as so was he.

American Jesus walks through the different views of Jesus throughout the nation’s history. Jesus is a national icon because he is up for interpretation. If you don’t like someone’s view of Jesus, you can change it to make it yours. Your view of Jesus is up to you. This book presents the different popular views of Jesus over the years and how he has developed over the decades.

The first couple of chapters were interesting, but overall, this book was too long and not super interesting. At the end of the book, I was hoping to read more about the modern Jesus during the moral majority and Reagan years. Though this book was well-researched as better than others, it still does not reach the top of my suggestion list.

2017: 29

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Drive by Daniel Pink

What motivates us are incentives. Sometimes that incentive is external like money or fame. Many times that incentive is internal, like feeling good or magnanimous. I learned this from a great book entitled Freakonomics. I have learned some amazing things about human nature from authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Duhigg, but from Daniel Pink, I wouldn’t say I learned a lot.

Drive is a good book. If you take out all the extra pages full of notes, index, and previews, the book is much, much shorter than it seems. Drive is a compilation of ideas, or summary of different studies piled into one book. There are some great books on my reading list mentioned here, and I am more interested in reading these books that Pink’s summary.

All in all, the book was good but not really worth it. I’d rather pick up and read books by Ariely, Dweck, and Seligman. I think that would a better use of my money.

Drive by Daniel Pink

What motivates us are incentives. Sometimes that incentive is external like money or fame. Many times that incentive is internal, like feeling good or magnanimous. I learned this from a great book entitled Freakonomics. I have learned some amazing things about human nature from authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Charles Duhigg, but from Danilel Pink, I wouldn’t say I learned a lot.

Drive is a good book. If you take out all the extra pages full of notes, index, and previews, the book is much, much shorter than it seems. Drive is a compilation of ideas, or summary of different studies piled into one book. There are some great books on my reading list mentioned here, and I am more interested in reading these books that Pink’s summary.

All in all, the book was good but not really worth it. I’d rather pick up and read books by Ariely, Dweck, and Seligman. I think that would a better use of my money.

2017: 28

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The Road to Character by David Brooks

“When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.”

Awhile back I read David Brooks’ The Social Animal. I found the book fairly interesting with many appealing thoughts about the human condition. I decided to pick up The Road to Character because it was highly recommended by other authors and leaders who liked it more than The Social Animal.

The Road to Character is about values - those deep traits that define who you are. More specifically, this book is about constructing those values. Our values are not created on a whim, they cannot be attained or formed through passing knowledge. Values are about a journey of choices; persistence throughout one’s life.

Each chapter follows the life of a particular person, some famous and some not. Brooks dissects each life. He finds the everyday moments, decisions, and experiences that shaped him or her. As the quote above states, most of the experiences are not flowery, instead these moments are difficult and some downright miserable. But they were all persistent. Each individual could have chosen an easier road, but thankfully – to all of us – they did not.

I loved how Brooks refused to be romantic. It is easy to look back and see the “good ol’ days” as superior. Brooks makes it very clear that the past is riddled with atrocities; though he sees modern society’s obvious flaws, he knows the past was worst.

What I disliked about this book: I didn’t find a lot of the stories interesting. I am not sure why. All of characters in the book lived interesting, world-changing lives, however I found myself wandering a lot while reading. My theory: Brooks is an amazing article writer, he can paint a great picture with few words. So in the case of Brooks (in my opinion), less is more.

2017: 27

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The Faith Instinct by Nicholas Wade

I don’t even remember when I bought this book. It was a several years ago, I know that for sure. I read the first half, and then life kind of got in the way and it got lost for a bit. After moving, I picked it up again and finished it. Finally.

Funny enough, I found the first half book rather fascinating and the last half rather boring. I’m not exactly sure why. The first half of the book is more about the evolutionary aspects of religion while the last half is about human involvement with religion.

This book is about the evolution of religion from the scientific viewpoint. The author was not overtly critical of religion, but he did have a scientific, methodical approach. Religion is portrayed as the noblest side of human nature and the manifestations of its cruelty. It is hard to negate that conclusion.

I appreciated the author’s aim towards objectivity. He agreed that the idea that the “mind has been prepared by evolution to believe in gods neither proves or disproves their existence.” Science is not in the religion, spiritual, meaning making business. It is in the business of facts.

Religion is found in every society throughout the history of the world. Why? This book tries to figure that out.

This was an enjoyable read, but I don’t know if it would be on my list of recommends.

2017: 26

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

To start off, Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome. If you have watched anything about science on TV in the past five years, then you are probably familiar with Tyson. His passion and enthusiasm for science is unrivaled, but more impressive is his ability to communicate complicated concepts in common English.

I am not a science geek. I have read only a few rudimentary, popular science books and nothing by Tyson. So I chose this book for two reasons: it was really short and it was written by Tyson.

This book is extremely interesting. It starts with the big bang and pretty much explains clearly how the universe sort of works. Yes, it is all theory. Yes, some people will complain. But it is science. Tyson totally accepts the idea that things may change, that is what science is.

I think anyone who wants an introduction to Tyson will enjoy this book. I doubt I will start reading heavier science books, but I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

2017: 25

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City of Dreams by Jerald Podair

Compared to many people I know, I am not a well-travelled person. I unfortunately have never made it out of North America. Hopefully, one day I can explore more continents. However, I have been fortunate to visit a lot of major cities in the United States: New York, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Orlando and a few others but to me, nothing compares to Los Angeles.

Cue Randy Newman.

No doubt about it, Los Angeles is different. It does not have the edge, vibe, or feel of a major city. There is a downtown area, but there really is not a city center. Los Angeles really is a collection of different neighbors, ideas, and constructs. Los Angeles is city only a mother could love; if you didn’t grow up with it, then you probably won’t love it.

Los Angeles has the best weather in the entire country, yet you would not catch an Angeleno proudly walking anywhere or boastfully taking public transportation. Los Angeles is traffic, tall fences, and home of the Dodgers.

The history of the Dodgers has been well documented, especially the tumultuous move from Brooklyn. But in the City of Dreams, you get the story of Los Angeles when the Dodgers arrive.

Looking back it is seems ludicrous that a Major League Baseball team would run into any resistance from a major city. At this time, a city was defined by their fandom, so why would any citizen fight the Dodgers? The short answer: politics.

If you are interested in the history of Los Angeles, you will love this book. I found it fascinating how events unfolded during the move. It is tough to imagine that Dodger Stadium or LA any differently, but it was very close. Arguments concerning public use and private benefit, eminent domain, referendums, and court cases; a recipe for a classic book if you love Los Angeles.

Obviously, I look back and see that wisdom prevailed. Today, we see taxpayer built stadiums as big goose eggs. Candlestick Park and Shea Stadium, built around this time, were immediately outdated and no one seemed to shed a tear when they were demolished. Dodger Stadium, however, sits beautifully into Chavez Ravine as baseball’s now third oldest stadium. It stands the test of time.

I love Dodger Stadium. I love LA.

2017: 24

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The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios

Technology has changed so much in the past century. In such a small span of history, we have moved from a mostly agrarian society to a society of futuristic devices. I am even amazed at how much technology has changed in my lifetime: televisions are unbelievably thin, phones are getting smaller yet exponentially more powerful, the computer I type sits lightly on a table able to transported anywhere at a moment’s notice.

With all these sudden progressions in technology, it is no surprise that we as consumers literally have no clue how anything works. Things change so fast that we do not have the time to stop and understand how our gizmos function. I consider myself a smart man but I don’t have the slightest clue how my watch works (yes, I have a watch).

This is where The Physics of Everyday Things comes in. This quick and easy read follows a man through an ordinary day and the technology he interacts with throughout the day. Almost like your favorite science teacher back in school, the author effortlessly describes how each item works using a rare combination of scientific knowledge and plain English.

Simply put, if you enjoy learning, you will love this book. It is a fun read. Now, this does not mean you will be smart and understand everything. I still do not comprehend how x-rays really work, but I do have a better understanding of the concept…I think.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review

2017: 23

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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Linderbergh & Sam Miller

Since I became aware of Moneyball, I have been nearly obsessed with sabermetrics. Finding value where seasoned scouts cannot or will not is fascinating to me. Perhaps I feel closer to game now than I did when I played ball in my younger days because now baseball is a game of brains instead of brawn. I have read my fair share of sabermetrically inclined works. When I saw The Only Rule Is It Has to Work and its description, I knew I had to read it.

Self-proclaimed baseball nerds, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, decide to take over the Sonoma Stompers, an independent baseball team in the Pacific Association. The idea is that they will use the best technology and best data available to make all decisions, instead of relying on old baseball wisdom or other antiquated ideas. This seems like a match made in heaven for baseball geeks.

For over 300 pages you get a slow, boring story about how difficult it is to implement new ideas in baseball. The brain trust helps select undervalued players but they are still forced to take on talent without any data. And for the first part of the season, the brain trust seems to frequently fold to their old school player-manager. About half way through the book they finally start fully implement their “crazy” ideas like shifts and five men infields, which I do not find too “crazy” for professional baseball. By the end of the season, their good players are poached by more prestigious independent leagues and all their hard work sort of goes out the window.

There is not enough in this book to say extreme sabermetrics worked or not, thus you finish the book with no new information. I did not find any of the stories to be interesting. It was cool to see them implement the latest technology in independent league fields, but the follow through was lacking.

This is a book I could have skipped.

2017: 22

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How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman

“Faith is not historical knowledge, and historical knowledge is not faith.”

Lately, I have been really interested in books that show an outside angle of faith. This includes works about the psychological or sociological aspects of faith and books that focus on Jesus as an historical figure, not a religious figure.

How Jesus Became God is about the historical figure of Jesus and how he evolved into a deity.

I have been in church-going circles my whole life. I have been in very conservative circles and extremely liberal circles with everything in between. I know that even reading a book like this would be considered ridiculous by some Christians; to read a book that questions the power or divinity of Christ is outright heresy.

I think all factual knowledge is valuable knowledge and the pursuit of such knowledge requires questions, and all questions (no matter heretical they may same sound) are necessary. The author (a former Christian who is a professor of religion) describes similar discussions with Christians. It is quite interesting that Christians seem more afraid of ex-believers than simple unbelievers. Are Christians threatened by their innermost, hidden doubts?

But I digress.

I am sure many Christian apologists could read this book and rip it apart for its apparent inconsistencies and acceptance of controversial historical findings. You can find these debates in all historical subjects. So, allow me to only comment on Ehrman’s presentation in this book.

All in all, I think this is a very good, well-written book. We can all agree there was a man called Jesus who was from Nazareth and was crucified by the Romans. What he said and did during his life is debated by many. The Gospels were written decades later by men who were not eyewitnesses, and it can questioned that the Gospels were influenced by other works.

Ehrman does a good job presenting his case. My biggest objection to his evidence is something he calls the “criterion of dissimilarity” which pretty much means that if something appears to be out of place or somewhat negative or unhelpful about the Jesus’ narrative then most likely it is valid or legit. I am a little wearying of this line of thinking. One classical example of this is the women at the empty tomb, I have heard pastors claim this as proof of the resurrection because no rational man in ancient times would start a religion based on the testimony of women. That perhaps is accurate, but I have seen plenty of movies based “true stories” that give their man characters (who are based on real people) negative character traits, these undesirable traits are not more true because they are less desirable. They do, however, make a good story.

I enjoyed this book. It was longer than it needed to be. I obviously have a lot of questions to ask. I still have faith. This book did not magically destroy my faith. I think it is important for Christians to read books like this so that have a better understanding of Jesus. You can disagree with the author and still enjoy his book.

2017: 21

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Start by Jon Acuff

I had the pleasure of hearing Jon Acuff speak at a conference. He was entertaining and insightful. After he spoke I picked up this book. Unfortunately, life got in the way and this book sat on my shelf for way too long.

In short, this book is a nice boost of motivation. There are a lot of messages in this book, but the overall theme is simple: now. There are so many things that scare and stop us. Very few things in life inspire to greatness. Among the smaller messages in the book, two stood out to me.

“Be a student of you” We are all unique and we all have something to add. The more you know about yourself, the more successful you can be.

“What gives you the most joy?” I love this message. Let’s stop thinking about what job will give us the most stability, what will give us the most money, or what job is most accessible. You need to find that one thing you cannot not do.

Though I like the book, it does not offer anything life changing, only a few encouraging and inspiring words. It was too long in my opinion, but all in all, it is a good book.

2017: 20

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Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett & David Wilezol

I have read my fair share of books critical of higher education. Disparaging colleges and universities is a national pastime, it is as American as apple pie. You can find critics of higher education in the 1700’s. Books criticizing higher education are a dime a dozen, however, the book Is College Worth It? is not even worth that dime (or 1/12 that dime if you compare it).

I typically do not write overly belittling or nitpicking reviews. I attempt to remain as unbiased as possible, review the details of the book so a future reader can make up their own mind. In this case, I cannot show such restraint.

I expected a lot from this book. I picked it primarily because it is written by a former Secretary of Education (I did not know about Bennett’s tenure, his politics, or which president he served under; to me, that information should remain irrelevant when looking at the book).

I don’t know how to adequately formulate my response, so I decided to present each issue separately and briefly. I knew this book was going to be rough when I came across this quote in the introduction, “The world’s most talented students will be successful no matter where they go to college or if they don’t go at all.” I had to read that paragraph over and over again because I just could not believe it. The idea that a kid living in government housing, eating off food stamps, attending an underfunded high school has the same opportunities as the kid who drives a new BMW to their private high school is just downright asinine.

I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe is fiction. Almost every critic of higher education likes to cite this book as if it is a documentary on modern college life. Here’s another news flash, Animal House and Old School, though probably based on real experiences, are not reality.

Though they use some data, the authors rely on a lot of anecdotal stories. In one narrative, they quote a female, “How could I consider having children if I can barely support myself?” Two problems with this. First, I find it interesting that the idea of starting a family is only mentioned during a female’s story. Is a female’s value rooted in starting a family? Second, I want to see these authors write a book entitled Are Children Worth It? From a financial standpoint, children have a horrible return on investment. Perhaps having children, like getting an education, should not be valued only in dollar amount. (The authors do touch on this slightly, but the main theme of the book is economic worth).

Like other critics, there is a frustration at the inherent caste system in higher education. Students and parents fight for spots at elite, Ivy League schools. I agree that elite colleges are overvalued, however, we can argue that the market dictates the price. The authors appear to like the idea of a free market however they also want to control pricing. It leaves me confused. What steps should we take

Yes, taxpayers are subsidizing higher education. They like to repeat that multiple times as if it’s a new concept. I will give the authors some credit, they do disparage high school education. It is nice to see someone recognize that higher education is trying to pick up the slack. How do we fix higher education when we have not fixed high schools?

Apparently, students are living like kings and queens on their student loan money. Just like people living off welfare that eat prime rib and champagne every night. Neither of these statements supported by facts. I’m sure there are people abusing the system, but I do not see evidence pointing to widespread abuse.

The authors argue “colleges should think hard about eliminating trendy majors that consistently do no demonstrate their intellectual rigor, fiduciary worth, or ability to produce employable graduates.” So who gets to decide this? Who gets to predict the future? With technology moving so quickly, it is impossible to predict where the economy will go. Do you think college presidents and provosts knew social media would change everything? Economists cannot predict the market, yet somehow colleges should know who will be employable next year and the next decade. That is ridiculous.

I know what you are thinking…yes, they do mention the infamous rock climbing wall. I think is mandatory for the rock climbing wall to be cited in every book about higher education.

I know there is a difference between street smarts and book smarts. Colleges are no averse to street smarts. In fact, most schools provide some sort of activities or programs that promote holistic development. Those who value street smarts over book smarts should consider a different form of education.

There are plenty of job opportunities in the United States that sit vacant because there are not enough trained professionals for those positions. This is classic supply and demand. Some fields grow so quickly that the supply cannot keep up with demand for a bigger workforce. However, the point they tend to gloss over is when these specific markets crash and the supply is bigger than the demand. Then what? Are these students capable of adapting? Petroleum engineering, for example, is booming. With oil profits soaring and fracking technology developing, petroleum engineers are in high demand. Fifteen years ago, newly minted graduates in petroleum engineering were in trouble. Where will they be fifteen years from now?

You cannot discuss education in purely consumeristic terms. You do not just pay someone and in return get a valid degree. You have to pay someone, work really hard, and in return get a valid degree. It’s like going to the gym. You have to pay, work out, and then you get into shape. That middle step is crucial.

Apparently, according to the authors, students do not major in STEM fields because students are too interested in their dreams. I kid you not. That is one of their arguments. Here is a quote: “The problem is that easy loans empower the student to pursue degrees that are perhaps more personally interesting and fulfilling to them but have little economic value.” Following your dreams are completely worthless unless you make a lot of money.

Okay. I am going to stop there. Those are my thoughts on the first one hundred pages. That’s right, there are another one hundred pages that I could critique for you but let’s be honest, if you disagree with me you stopped reading this long ago. If you do agree with me, then hopefully you don’t need more proof.

I am sure someone will read this and label me into a box. So let me do that for you, I am a believer in higher education. It has its flaws. It should be criticized regularly and fixed frequently.

This book is simply just not worth the time. I don’t think it has well-reasoned arguments.

2017: 19

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The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple

I’m not a history buff or political nerd, but I know enough about the two to understand it and appreciate it. When I picked up The Gatekeepers, I was a little worried that I just got a boring, esoteric work on White House politics. Instead, what I got was a fascinating story on how the United States presidency really works.

The Chief of Staff is one of the most significant positions in all of government. This is incredible when you think that the Chief of Staff is not elected nor even confirmed by Congress. Obviously, the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful person in the world, but controlling who has access to the POTUS involves a special kind of power.

The Gatekeepers recalls the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, intelligence and stupidity of all Chiefs of Staff from Nixon to Obama. The general consensus is pretty clear: it’s the worst job in the world. In short, the entire focus of the chief is to give credit to the president but take all the blame. The Chief of Staff needs to be almost invisible. The public should never focus on the chief, but on the president.

I really enjoyed this book. Under the surface, The Gatekeepers is about leadership. Effective leadership requires large doses of humility. Presidential success requires not just a selfless leader but a team of selfless leaders.

You don’t need to have some obscure knowledge of presidential politics to enjoy this book. It is a very accessible and enjoyable read.

2017: 18

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Aloof by Tony Kriz

Quiet and numb, I would try to pray, but the only words I could muster were, ‘I choose to believe you exist today. I choose to believe you exist today. I choose to believe you exist today. I choose to believe you exist today.’”

Life is full of questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God when it hurts? Why does God seem so distant when things get difficult? Why is God so aloof?

I first heard of Tony Kriz when I worked at a Christian college in Oregon. Tony spoke at a chapel on campus and I was amazed at his openness and sincerity. I picked up his first book, Neighbors and Wise Men, and it was refreshing to hear about some frank, authentic, doubt-filled faith. When I was alerted that Tony wrote another book, I knew I had to read it.

Aloof is full of stories; stories of faithfulness and doubt, stories of joy and pain, stories of clarity and confusion. Tony does not try to wrap things up in pretty, little packages. He will unleash a doubt or uncertainty and let it hang there. Sometimes working through the confusion is more important that finding a solution. Being a follower of Christ is not about having an answer to every single question or doubt.

I love Tony’s analogy concerning a childlike faith versus a mature faith. When you are a child, you see your parents nearly every day. When you are an adult, you see your parents very irregularly. However, when you are an adult you know more about your parents than you did as a child. Perhaps, God works with me the same way.

This is a good book. Anyone who has struggled with doubt will relate to this book. I can relate to this book. Many Christian authors may try to give you seven steps towards a stronger faith. Tony, on the other hand, just says, “I choose to believe you exist today.”

2017: 17

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The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

Despite my somewhat slender frame, I am not a healthy eater. I eat what tastes good. I am not sure what I am eating most of the time. When I was a kid I lived off of chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Today I live off chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and tacos. My wife pushes me to eat a salad before dinner, and I usually oblige by choking down bitter greens and tasteless ingredients. I definitely drink too much soda, but city water is nasty or bland, juices are no better with more sugar and calories, and alcohol is not an alternative. I am a picky eater but I don’t really watch what I eat.

Nonetheless, I find the history of food to be very history. I heard about The Dorito Effect when listening to one of my favorite podcasts. With such a ringing endorsements from my electronic commuter companions, I decided to buy a copy.

The first dozen or so pages were really interesting: learning about the start of Weight Watchers and the rise of the flavored chip known as the Dorito. After that though, everything went downhill. The rest of the book seems infatuated with barred rock chickens and garden gem tomatoes. With a title that includes the word, Dorito, I expected more of an expose on snack food or the flavoring of processed foods. Instead this book talks about how farmers set out to find food that can be massed producing more easily, which resulted in fat, young chickens with little taste and unripe tomatoes with no character.

The author was not very preachy. He did not try to condemn the reader for eating a Dorito, but he strongly suggests that your life is incomplete with improper foods. All said and done, I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

2017: 16

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Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

God and country. Take a drive around the highways of America and within minutes you can spot a bumper sticker or two that proclaims love for God and country. On my commute, my wife and I would play a game: who could spot the first “in not of this world” bumper sticker. She usually wins within the first three miles.

In the United States, religion and patriotism are two ends of the same stick. It is unfathomable to be one but not the other. Can you be a patriotic atheist?

All Americans have a complicated relationship with religion, not just the religious or non-religious. Though I wholeheartedly believe that the United States is not a “Christian nation,” religion definitely impacts everyday matters in America.

I picked up Our Great Big American God via a recommendation from a colleague after discussing the role of Christianity in culture. The book is great at explaining the theology of certain groups throughout American history, starting with the Puritans and ending with the Moral Majority. Each group left significant on America, however, the lasting impacts were not really discussed in the book. I guess I was looking for more of an outsider’s view of Christianity in American history.

Additionally, I felt the author tried to throw in some wit here and there and it typically fell flat. At times he would address God like an independent figure and other times treat God like a figment of the collective’s imagination. All in all, it felt disjointed.

The book is good with lots of resources, it just did not fit my taste. I'm now more interested in the resources he used rather than this book.

2017: 15

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The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

Officially, I am a millennial, but I am definitely a first batch millennial. Growing up I remember not having a computer in the house, no one had a cell phone, and our televisions were gigantic, heavy blocks. Over the years, those things changed. We got a computer in beautiful beige. My dad had a brick-sized cellphone. Eventually, my mom had a cool flip phone with a retractable antenna. By the time I graduated high school, every student had a cell phone in their pocket and most had a laptop in their bag. Things changed quickly for me, I cannot imagine what it must feel like for my parents or grandparents.

Technology changes all the time and it is here to stay. Running away from technology and becoming Amish is not the answer. The key is understanding how to use technology wisely.

The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch is about creating proper boundaries and limitations for technology. Crouch’s biggest objection to modern technology can be reduced to one simple concept: technology consumes us, distracting us from our creative instincts. New technologies are always advertised as time-saving, life-changing products. We would be absolutely foolish to ignore these inventions of untold rewards. Crouch, rightly so, does not see it this way. He sees technology as mindless distractions from our creative, human potential.

Creating is one of the big things that makes us human, but creating is difficult. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, and inevitable and uncomfortable failure. Crouch repeats this throughout this book. He advocates moving the television out of the way for musical instruments. He replaces smartphones with the paintbrush.

If this seems too idyllic, it is. Even Crouch admits to this at the end of each chapter by sharing his family experiences. There is no perfect formula on how and when to use technology, but asking yourself the question of why we use it should answer a lot of your questions.

I am not sure if this book will speak to most families. If you pick up this book then you probably have already begun to ask the right questions. This book is definitely not written by a technophobe or an old, grizzled man who yells at kids for driving too fast and wearing bagging pants. This book is an honest look at technology that can create a conversation that can last for years.

2017: 14

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Intangiball by Lonnie Wheeler

Baseball is full of characters. At least is was. Nolan Ryan would throw at your head. Pete Rose would body slam you to the ground. Albert Belle would crush your soul. Apparently, there is a right way to play baseball, and you learn to play major league baseball from the veterans on your team. There’s no doubt that veterans in baseball have a unique, intangible value. They help rookies focus and defend their honor.

Why don’t we see these veterans like this anymore? Well, that is up for debate. Veterans blame sabermetrics. They suggest that modern baseball does not value chemistry and professional, instead it values on base percentages and wins above replacement.

Intangiball by Lonnie Wheeler attempts to address these “subtle things that win baseball games,” but it simply fails.

I can comment several different ways, but in the end, I did not find this book interesting at all. If you love the Cincinnati Reds you will like this book. The author, Lonnie Wheeler, is from Ohio and constantly uses the ball club from southern Ohio as an example of winning intangibles, though they haven’t won playoff series since the early 90’s. (To be fair to Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics have not seen much success either).

If you have romantic feelings towards Derek Jeter then you will adore this book. I fully agree Derek Jeter was a leader in New York and that his presence probably added runs and wins to the team that cannot be listed in any advanced stat. Nonetheless, you can argue that this work ethic made him valuable and that showed up in his wins above replacement.

If you are looking for a complement to the rise of sabermetrics, you will not like this book. If you are looking for a researched work on indefinable qualities of ballplayers, you will not like this book. It is popular for rugged veterans to rip sabermetrics as Ivy League nerds running a team with fancy computers, but that is simply an inaccurate view. I know this book is not an argument against moneyball, but it definitely feels like it does not understand it.

If you want to find a proper balance between old school baseball and modern day statistics, read up on manager Tony La Russa. He understood that winning teams needed peer leadership in the clubhouse, however, he also knew that preparation was key. He knew shifting defenses, adjusting lineups, knowing pitchers, and so on were essential to winning. Valuing intangibles over data or vice versa is dangerous and foolish.

This book does not give you any interesting stories or provide any remarkable theories. It offers boring stories – many lifted from old baseball books – and not much else.

2017: 13

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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

When I was in high school I visited the United States Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. It was an inexpressible, intense, gut-wrenching experience. It is a real existential moment. The nation’s capital is practically one huge monument to human progress. Even when I look at war memorials, I leave with a sense of progress in a face of tragedy, where the good guys win with great sacrifices. However, when I left the Holocaust museum I felt hopeless and depressed. It is just unfathomable something so atrocious happened and it happened on such a large scale.

Viktor Frankl understood this hopelessness. He understood it better than anyone else, he survived the Holocaust. And while so many people point to the Holocaust as evidence towards depravity and despair, Frankl, without minimizing the tragic experience, saw it a catalyst of hope and meaning.

Simply put, I cannot imagine going through such suffering. I have a difficult time just reading it, but it was liberating to read Frankl’s timeless words. Seeing his version of hope was illuminating.

The first half of the book is a concise summary of his experiences in the concentration camps and the second half is about the therapy that can move one from such despair to fulfilling life. This quote summarized it well for me, “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” Being a consumer of life is effortless today, everything is built with a consumeristic mindset. What is difficult, yet exponentially more fulfilling, is becoming a producer of life. Creating something valuable is so much more rewarding. It’s harder to give up when you have so much more to do.

This book is short. It is not an easy read. It is not exciting. But it is true and it is important.

2017: 12

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Give and Take by Adam Grant

Nice guys finish last.

I believed in this cliché my entire life. I could probably think of at least a dozen examples in my life where I saw a self-centered person hired, promoted, or in some way rewarded while I (or someone I know) is ignored, passed by, or even punished. In those moments, it can be completely debilitating. That’s why the “nice guys finish last” cliché is so powerful. It feels so true.

However, there’s a difference between something feeling true and something being true.

In Adam Grant’s Give and Take, he identifies three types of people: givers, matchers, and takers. Givers are the selfless ones. Matchers are the quid pro quo group, and takers are the selfish ones. Conventional wisdom tells us takers get ahead, but in Grant’s research, givers rise to the top more frequently.

As I read this book I was kind of in disbelief the whole time, but page after page, Grant hit me with more evidence. I definitely think of myself as a giver (though I know I’m not perfect, I’m sure I have regretfully done some matching and taking in my life) and if you look at my life right now I don’t think anyone would identify me as losing. Perhaps then I am evidence that over time givers rise to the tops as takers are exposed and matchers ignored.

This book is a case for giving: who gives, how to give, and where it takes us. There is one caveat to all this: it has to be authentic. Giving to get ahead is matching, not giving. People can see right through that.

I feared this book would be a “cover spoiler” which I define as a book where the title or cover gives you all the information you really need and the entire book just repeats itself over and over again 200+ pages, but this book is full of wisdom and insights. I think this book is a great investment for leaders young and old.

Here’s a great excerpt from the end of the book that wraps it up neatly: “We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. This means that what we do at work becomes a fundamental part of who we are. If we reserve giver values for our personal lives, what will be missing in our professional lives?”

2017: 11

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Everyone Loves Sex by Bryan Sands

For as long as I can remember, I was taught that sex was bad. More specifically, I was taught sex before marriage was bad. It was a message I heard constantly. I don’t remember the first time I heard this message, but I am sure it was before I knew about sex or was interested in it. It was probably these messages about sexual abstinence that made me so curious about sex in the first place.

I grew up in a pretty typical Christian environment. Of course, when you are younger, things are a little more legalistic. When it came to sex, there was no conversation, it was simply, “Don’t do it because God says so, trust me.” Once I was in college, there finally was an opportunity to discuss sex in an open and safe forum.

Let’s face it, waiting until college to have a conversation about sex is ridiculous and this is one of the reasons why the book Everyone Loves Sex exists.

Sex is a gift from God. He invented and He wants us to enjoy it. Having a proper understanding of sex is vital to make that happen. Like I said, I have heard a lot of pastors and other speakers talk about sexual purity and abstinence and their words always felt insufficient. What I loved most about Everyone Loves Sex is how meticulously researched the book is. Each chapter contains numerous notes and citations. Sands mentions psychological studies and longitudinal research to back up his words, something that I see rarely in Christian books.

Sands brings a lot of stories to the table. Most of them are gut-wrenching. It is incredibly sad to see so many people abused and victimized by sex. There are a lot of sensitive stories, but they all point to a story of redeemed beauty.

It is difficult to think and speak objectively about something that is incredibly personal and subjective about something that seemingly hijacks your brain, but I think Sands does a great job capturing what sex should look like in a healthy and beautiful relationship.

2017: 10

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Torn by Justin Lee

“Christians are not bad people. They’re good people. Many of them have just been misinformed on this issue.”

You could have easily categorized me as a misinformed, misdirected Christian. I grew up in a relatively conservative Christian environment. I was fed a lot of deception about gay and lesbians. I have been involved in a lot of debates concerning gay lifestyles and whether being gay is a choice or not. I have heard a vast array of arguments from both sides, and just like Justin Lee, none of these arguments are satisfying. Every argument for or against seemed incomplete to me.

Justin Lee grew up in a solid Christian home with great parents, amazing friends, and strong church. However, there is one reality Justin could not shake; he was attracted to men and not women. He struggled constantly. What he believed and what he felt were polar opposites. He tried nearly everything but nothing worked. Unfortunately, most of his Christian friends did not greet him with simple compassion, they met him with Bible verses and condemnation. It is heartbreaking to read.

What I love most about Justin’s story is his heart for Christians. He would probably say he was a Christian before he knew he was gay. He saw Christians as nice people who loved each other. He didn’t see them as a faceless mob protesting gays.

Justin offers some great advice. One, we need compassion and grace. The life of Jesus is filled with grace towards others, especially the ones deemed outcasts by the social elites. Two, we need to educate Christians. Many Christians honestly believe they are doing the right thing by sharing Bibles verses of damnation because they do not want their gay friend to be separate from God’s love. However, if Christians spent more time listening and learning from others they can create a relationship with others and love people the way God loves people.

If you are looking for an argument for or against gay and lesbians, you are not going to find it here. Justin admits that he does not even know what to believe theologically, however he does acknowledge that the entire narrative of the Scripture is to love like God loves. It is difficult to damn someone you love.

“In the Bible, Truth and Love are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.”

2017: 9

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Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik

The longest winter of my life was spent in a small town just an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Being a kid who grew up in the deserts of California, I was not accustomed to several feet of snow falling over the weekend. I was far from my element, however, the one joy of living in western Pennsylvania was getting to visit the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the beautiful PNC Park. When I saw the Pirates face my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, the Bucs were still in the midst of their recording setting, two-decades long losing streak. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were heading to the playoffs.

So even though I am a true blue Dodger fan there is a small sliver in my heart for the Pirates. For me, they were the only baseball on television for an entire year.

Big Data Baseball is the story of the Pirates breaking their terrible losing streak. How did they do it? They used data.

Sabermetrics have become so wildly used in baseball that it is no longer an oddity. In fact, not using data is an oddity. Even ball clubs worth billions of dollars have sabermetric guys on the books. Since the popularization of Moneyball (a great book by the way), the focus of the game has really shifted. Instead of simply grabbing the most expensive free agent, teams are looking for the best return on investment. Teams are looking for that statistical edge. Sabermetrics is here to stay. Perhaps dropping money on sabermetric nerds instead of players will be the future.

For the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, it was defensive shifts, pitch counts, and ground ball outs. Big Data Baseball covers how manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington labored together to bring winning baseball back to Pittsburgh.

What Moneyball was to Oakland and The Extra 2% was to the Tampa Bay, Big Data Baseball is to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Funny enough, of these teams listed only Tampa Bay has ever seen the World Series and they lost, of course.

All in all, this was a great baseball book. I do not follow the Pirates enough to know how the team worked its way out of the NL Central gutter, so it was a great story to read with interesting data sprinkled throughout.

2017: 8

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Spaceman by Mike Massimino

Nothing will make you feel more inadequate as a human being than reading the story of an astronaut. To be an astronaut you have to be in impeccable physical shape while also being exceptionally smart. You spend the morning flying over the Gulf of Mexico in a jet then spend the afternoon working on robots that will work in space. However, the coolest part of the job is that you get to go into space. It still blows my mind that we are able to send people into space.

Though no astronaut is typical, Mike Massimino is just a normal astronaut. He does not hold any fantastic space records, he is just a modest man who worked hard to become an astronaut. What makes his book so great is his humility. He is not some daredevil jet pilot that has an unquenchable need to speed. He is not some crazy adrenaline junky, larger than life space jockey. He is a hard-working, intelligent engineer and family man. Once you read his story it is hard not to sit back and think, “Huh, I could have been an astronaut.”

But in reality, there is no way I could have been an astronaut, but it is always exciting to dream. I am not a space nut, I am just a normal guy who thinks space is interesting. I really liked this book, it was a very fun read. I highly recommend it.

2017: 7

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Prayer by Timothy Keller

In my opinion, prayer is undoubtedly the most bewildering concept in Christianity – or any religion I guess. If you just take a few minutes and really think about what prayer actually claims to be, it is quite outstanding. Obviously, there are countless ways to define prayer but essentially it is speaking to the all-powerful creator of the universe. That means you are getting undivided attention from the entity that has created everything, the one who has been around for eternity. Honestly, is that not a weird concept?

How do you speak to God? What can I say to God that He does not already know? How can my simple, little, finite mind find the gall to ask something from God?

Prayer is not simple. It is not just us asking wishes from a genie. God demands us to pray thus we should pray. Prayer is time with God and time with God shapes us. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication are all aspects of our prayers.

I have read a few books on prayer, and none have been satisfying. Though I love Timothy Keller and I think he is a gifted Christian thinker and writer, his book on prayer left me unfulfilled. Keller is very smart and he is one of the few Christian authors that does great research and cites multiple theologians without getting grandiose and obnoxious. However, I think I tried to approach this book from a secular or novice mindset and I quickly became exhausted. I felt thrown from procedural understanding to anecdotal prayers when I wanted to find something in the middle.

Maybe the answer I am looking for is just wrong. Prayer is presented in two seemingly opposite ways: it is an intimate conversation with God while also being a meager peasant approaching the great throne of the Father. I think deep down I do not want the answer to simply be both. It feels like a lazy cop out, but when the subtitle says “awe” and “intimacy” I should not expect different.

Luckily, I believe striving to find God even as a Christian is part of the journey, and I do believe in a God that accepts broken, uncertain, seeking people. I think this quote from Keller sums it up perfectly,

“Christians lack the spiritual capacity to realize all we have in Jesus”

2017: 6

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Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni

Let me start this review saying this: everything in this book is fairly accurate, or at the very least, I agree with most everything presented in this book. I am a big believer in higher education, but I definitely believe that Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, etc. are completely overrated. Anyone who strives to be an Ivy Leaguer is simply looking for prestige over education.

Is a degree from Ivy League U. equal to a Large State U.? Probably not, unfortunately. Elite schools do attract elite professors and crazy rich alumni which give Ivy League students more opportunities.

Should the same degree from one university be valued higher than another? It shouldn’t. The problem here, apparently, is we value the location of the degree over the work put into a degree.

Who is at fault for this? Practically everyone. Students, parents, faculty, administrators, politicians, and the like are all guilty of erroneously valuing the credibility of a college degree.

But, if you are a student or a parent going into the college admissions process, here’s one word of advice: relax. Find a college that fits, don’t try to fit the college. You will be happier and more successful that way. Do not look at college rankings (they are mostly bogus, misleading, and useless). Do not look at exclusivity (elite colleges explicitly attempt to increase the number of applicants, not to increase the quality of their applicant pool but to increase their image). Students are going to do better in an environment that support them and challenge them properly.

Frank Bruni said it best in this book when he said, “How you use college. What you demand of it. They dynamics get lost in the admissions mania…But their importance is vividly underscored by the histories of just about every successful person interviewed for this book.”

Now that I have said all that, here comes my minor criticism: there is not enough information here to fill a whole book. This book is a well-researched, thought-out, and written article that was stretched over two hundred slogging pages. I know that this may be my own fault, many of the books Bruni cites or mentions are already in my personal library, so reading this book was kind of overkill for me. There is no information here for me, but being a higher education nerd that’s not a fair criticism. If someone was wrapped up in the mania of college admissions, I don’t think this book would change their mind. Perhaps it will open their minds a little, but I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s world.

So to sum up: find your space at your college. Stop expecting college to be the “everything” for you.

2017: 5

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Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

There are success stories and then there is Pixar’s story. Over the past three decades, Pixar has become the epitome of success. Their success seems so effortless and even inevitable to us. While so many other companies, especially technology-centered companies, fail to survive a few years before they are bought, sold, or folded, Pixar has thrived over and over again. It almost seems like magic.

What is Pixar doing? What makes them so good? This is the question Ed Catmull tries to answer in the most modest way possible.

Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar. Once a division of Lucasfilm, Pixar grew to become the most outstanding animation studio in the world. It got to this position not by luck or simply with Steve Job’s money (though it sure helped), Pixar became a powerhouse because it believed in its people and it believed in its mission. Running any company is no easy task. Running a successful company is hard. Running a successful company that creatively innovates on a daily basis is just unbelievable.

There are a lot of leadership and business books out there. Most are written by powerful CEO’s that ran Fortune 500 companies, technology firms or investment banks. In those worlds, there are a lot of tried and true methods, but Pixar was blazing the trail. They were creating the rules as they came and tearing up the rule book as they left. From an outsider’s perspective, it just seems like they should have failed long ago, and that is why this book is so great. You get to learn how the leaders of Pixar did it.

I am not sure how much of this book can be applied to your work, but I don’t think it would hurt.

But I must say, that if you are looking for a history of Pixar, this is not your book. This a book on management with Pixar as the source. There are some amazing anecdotes and history lessons, but it’s not a memoir of Pixar.

Another great read.

2017: 4

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Peak by Anders Ericsson

If you have heard of the “10,000 hour” principle, then you have come across the work of Anders Ericsson. The famed “10,000 hour” principle was popularized by celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers (a great work), but Ericsson finds scores of people misinterpreting and misconstruing his findings.

First, Ericsson never postulates that 10,000 is a magical number; as if one just practices enough hours, they will become experts. Second, Ericsson is adamant about the type of practice. Practice cannot be mindless, it must be deliberate.

Peak is about deliberate practice. The popular notions of natural talent, overnight successes, or mere luck greatly devalue work. Simply put, if someone is great at something or if someone is a so-called expert, it is because they have worked extremely hard to become great. They have put in countless hours (give or take 10,000) to become great. Experts do not become experts overnight. They work hard, harder than everyone else.

Now, anyone can take this information and manipulate it or disagree with it. In one podcast, Gladwell and Ericsson even disagree on how deliberate practice works. But one thing is clear, there are no shortcuts to being great. It takes a lot of work. Most people do not want to put in the work, which is why there are actually very few experts out there.

This was a fun read. Though it’s a standard book, the book felt stretched. It could have been shorter.

2017: 3

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The Price of Silence by William D. Cohan

When I was in college I remember hearing about the Duke Lacrosse scandal but I did not follow the case whatsoever. It did not affect me in any way then and I definitely was not thinking about how a rape case in Duke can affect higher education. By the time I started working in higher education, the news cycle had completely forgotten and abandoned the case. It was no longer the hot topic of the day.

I picked up this book simply because I wanted (and needed) to know more. I knew the basics of the case and the eventual dropping of charges, but I did not know anything besides that.

First, let’s look at the facts the book presents. No one comes out of this case looking good. The Duke Lacrosse players, although completely not guilty for rape, are not prime examples of purity and innocence. The dancers (including the accuser), although victims of unfortunate circumstances, are presented as shady and unreliable. Duke administrators are only concerned about public relations. Duke faculty, the Durham community, and other social organizations ask for blood in a case of guilty until proven innocent. The Durham police are careless with a chip on their shoulder against Duke students. And finally, Mike Nifong, the attorney general in the midst of an election, is cast as the main villain. 

As a college administrator, I had a lot of questions and a lot of thoughts while reading this book. At times I could not believe the audacity and stupidity of some people, and other times I totally understood why some people rushed to certain conclusions without the facts. 

Our judicial system deals with the idea of innocent until proven guilty, but the court of public opinion does not have the same standard. Often it is very difficult to balance these to unwieldy arenas. I think any college administrator or faculty member could learn something from this real life case study.

Now to the criticisms of this book. The book uses a massive amount of quotes from individuals involved in the case. Unless stated in the sentence, there are no citations given. At the end of the book, Cohan calls citing each source superfluous. I understand it can be time-consuming and redundant with modern technology, but not citing your sources is an error I cannot over look. No one from the case except the accuser spoke directly with the author for reasons I think are obvious. Most do not want to rehash this information or they are silenced due to an out-of-court settlement. The accuser is now in jail for murder.\

I think this book deserves a little more credit that it has received. Outside the problem of citing sources, I felt like it was a well compiled work. I think six hundred pages is too much, and it could be edited heavily to make it more accessible.

2017: 2

review date:
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This book has been on my wish list for a while now. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like this book was on some must-read list, but I kept putting off buying this book for one simple reason: it seemed too simple. How could someone write a book on habits for 300 pages? Will the premise merely be formulaic? To be successful you must create good habits and destroy bad habits, do I really need a whole book for that?

Well, I finally picked up this book and I was totally, completely, and utterly wrong. This book was amazing. It was incredibly interesting and flawlessly written. I am ashamed that I did not read this book earlier. Perhaps I need to stop this habit of judging books by their cover.

Purely stated, habits control our lives. The majority of the things we do are out of habit and not decision making. Today, I will eat lunch at noon, not because I am hungry but because it is noon. I will crave coffee this afternoon because it is part of my routine. Our brains are pretty lazy, and they will do anything to work less.

The author takes us through the inner workings of habits on three different levels: individual, organizational, and social. To make a change in your life, in your organization, or in society as a whole, you need to change the habits. Some of the greatest advertisements of all time understand that changing habits are the recipe for success.

In addition to learning about habit forming, I also learned that shampoo and toothpaste do not need to foam to function. Foaming action has been included to give us the feeling cleanliness which gives you a mental reward which is imperative for habit forming. Incredible.

I highly recommend this book to anyone.

2017: 1

review date:
Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

On rare occasions, I sometimes read a book that I simply cannot understand. I believe this happens for one of two reasons, the author is incapable of effective communication or I am incapable of understanding. Typically, I can figure which one is most likely but after reading Fooled by Randomness, I am at a loss. I found myself confused often. I felt like the author jumped around a lot and I had a difficult time recognizing the key points or main arguments. However, I found some interesting pieces here and there.

From the title, you can easily gather the spirit of the book. We put too much emphasis on strategy and experience when our lives are generally ruled by randomness. The author spends most of the book discussing how traders approach the market yet time and time again, traders are proved wrong by a volatile and haphazard market.

I know this is a popular book with great reviews, but this just was not the book I expected and I did not enjoy it. Again, I may not be the right audience for the book. I may have been too foolish understand it. There is a short piece of philosophers that I found hilarious, which almost made the entire book worthy enough of a recommendation. I like books on data, statistics, and how we understand our world but this book does not hit the list of great social science books for me.

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