mccormick


bookshelf 

"The impact on your life will be largely from the people you meet and books you read" -Rick Warren from Thinking. Loving. Doing.

I consider myself a humble man, there is not a lot I like to boast about, however I do take pride in the books I have read. Reading can be such a transformational act. Though it may only take a week to read a particular book, its words will stay with me forever. My mind can wrestle with certain ideas and concepts for eternity.

Though I remain loyal to a certain style of books, I do appreciate different genres, authors, and ideas that challenge my thinking.

Please click on the links below for my humble reviews.
Arranged by 
reviewed year, title, author, or category

Previous Years: 2017  //  2016  //  2015  //  2014  //  2013

currently reading:

2018 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)


2018:10

review date:
4/18/2018
Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats

“…an evangelical Christian community of disciples and scholars who seek to advance the work of God…”

“...a University that fosters wisdom, faith and service through excellent academic programs within a Christ-centered community.”

“...liberal arts community serving God's kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars...”

These are just a few snippets from some school mission statements I have worked for in my career. They are heavy and quite wordy, but they all say the same thing: the Christian faith is the foundation of our school. Writing a verbose mission statement is one thing, executing your mission statement is an entirely different thing. Why is it so difficult? Simply put, Christian institutions have a hard time defining what “Christian faith” means.

Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats is a unifying work on disunity. Christian universities were mainly built on a foundation of disagreements, be it a disagreement with a specific doctrine, a disagreement with modern education, or a disagreement on the direction of American culture. The heart of Christian higher education is built upon a sense of rebellion. As whole, the history of Christian higher education has been better defined by it antagonistic ideals than it Christian ideals

Laats layouts the rocky history of fundamentalist schools such a Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, Biola University and the like. Each school faced a near continuous line of criticisms from students, alumni, donors, church leaders, faculty and even other administrators. With every criticism, schools had to double down on their holy image.

Administrators condemned alcohol, sex, dancing, playing cards, going to the movies, and (at many times) thinking independently. As society shifted and culture changed, Christian schools were slow to change. Their rebellious nature taught them to only to be reactive and never proactive.

I have lived and breathed Christian higher education for over a decade and half now. I am in the trenches of these fights. I think someone from the outside would be amazed that Christian higher education has been so successful for so long when the foundation seems so shaky. Thus I think this book could have benefitted from a little more positive conversation. A lot has gone wrong, but what has gone right?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great history lesson and I think it is vital to understand this history.

2018: 9

review date:
4/12/2018
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Over the years, I have had a passing interest on women’s issues in America. This obviously hit me harder when I saw my wife being mistreated at work because of her gender. How do I know she was treated unfairly? Because later that day I approached the same situation she did and I did not receive any pushback, even though I was lower on the organizational chart and had less experience than her. Now I have two daughters. They are both young and have not experienced any overt sexism, but I know those days are just around the corner. I hate the idea that they will be treated differently just because they are female.

I picked this book up at my school’s library as they were giving away free copies as part of a reading program. I was interested in hearing about Hope Jahren in the laboratory world; a world that is infamously known to be lacking in diversity.

What did I gain from this book? Not much. Some of the stories were interesting, many were not. Relationships seemed to be the only running theme in the book. She grew up in an emotionally detached home and then for years the only other person you hear about is her lab partner Bill. Her relationship with Bill is frustrating. She adores Bill and treats him like a brother, but she treats Bill like her middle school brother in loving but degrading way. Additionally, undergraduate students are heard from rarely and they are usually problems awaiting to happen. She and Bill have this fixed mindset about students. She only values students who come prepacakaged with no egos.

I think this is a classic case where I decided to put unfair expectations on a book. That was unfair. But I can’t escape the notion that I did not find the book to be great. It is interesting at points with long stretches of blah.

2018: 8

review date:
4/11/2018
Becoming Nehemiah by David McKenna

Oh biblical leadership. Anyone who has been in the church long enough has heard a sermon (or sermon series) on biblical leadership. You learn about the management skills of Moses, the folly of Saul, the righteousness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the tasks of each prophet, and of course, Jesus and his board of advisors.

But in reality, we would never allow any of these biblical leaders near any of our churches. Moses stutters. Saul is conceited. David is an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon is a ladies man. The prophets are crazy. And this Jesus fellow is to radical, even his trusted disciples rejected him.

David L. McKenna is one of my favorite authors. He is a well-respected, Christian leader that does not give you spiritual clichés. The book Becoming Nehemiah is the leadership story of Nehemiah, but McKenna does not gloss over the ugly parts. Nehemiah had a very usual journey into his role. Nehemiah’s journey was long and tedious with very few moments of success. Nehemiah failed at times.

Being perfect is not an attribute of a great leader; getting results while being faithful is the sole trait of a great leader.

This is a good book. It is not my favorite McKenna book but it is still good. He keeps things short and sweet. His brevity makes is very appreciated.

2018: 7

review date:
3/13/2018
Mindset by Carol Dweck

“The top is where the fixed-mindset people hunger to be, but it’s where many growth-minded people arrive as a by-product of their enthusiasm for what they do.”

If you work in education, whether you are working with toddlers or doctoral students, chances are you are a proponent of growth mindset. It seems logical: if you work in a field that is all about developing people and their minds, you ought to believe in the ability to change, develop, mature, and so on. But what we say and what we do can be very, very different.

I fall into this trap of hypocrisy. I believe that education is valuable to all and everyone has opportunity to benefit but many times my actions or thoughts do not support this thinking. I judge people based on their experiences and not their potential. I have caught myself determining a student’s success based on weak assumptions. I even do this to myself. Countless times I have decided that I am not gifted at certain activities such as music, art, and math with minimal effort.

I think most educators would claim growth-mindset yet practice fixed mindset towards themselves and their students. 

In Dweck’s book, Mindset, she not only breaks down the science of mindsets but how this mentality can affect the aspects of our lives: work, relationships, parenting, and school. This book helped me shed an unbecoming light on my faulty thinking and how I can change them. Changing my mindset is a journey and not a one moment, one-day step.

There are many things in my life I am passionate about and I definitely have a growth-mindset in those areas. Bouncing off these activities can help me develop my outlook on every aspect of my life.

This is a great read. Another great installment in the library of positive psychology and peak performance.

Growth-mindset reminds me of this great quote from the venerable Conan O’Brien:

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.”

2018: 6

review date:
3/9/2018
Quiet Leadership by David Rock

I’ll be honest, I do not like to write bad reviews. I feel like a fraud writing a negative review thinking “Who am I to judge?” But this my turn to have an opinion, so I guess I’ll give it a go
This book was simply not good. The main theme of the book is this: leaders need to teach others how to think. That’s a great theme and truly a great foundation to great leadership, however his “six steps” are convoluted and overbearing. In the book there is an image that attempts to demonstrate the “six steps.” In the image the leader is standing on a five-step platform (confused already?), three words emit from the leader, then in front of leader is a slightly ascending arrow with three stacking discs. There is even more on the image than I have described. It does not make a lot of sense, nor does the book. 

Actually, I do not understand why the book is titled Quiet Leadership. I don’t feel like that was explained at all. Sure, to be a thinker you need to internalize a bit but that does not simply equate to quietness. 

David Rock appears to have a lot of experience. I do not want to take that away from him, but this book was just not worth the read. This is a hard pass for me. 

2018: 5

review date:
3/5/2018
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

When I graduated high school, I felt smart. When I graduated college, I felt dumb. Today, I feel utterly useless. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know.

This book is a general introduction to generally everything. It is a fascinating read.

If you read A Short History of Nearly Everything you will be completely perplexed. On one hand, you will be amazed at all the discoveries mankind has made in just a few centuries; within just a few decades we went from harnessing reliable energy to putting a man on moon. On the other hand, you will be bewildered by what we do not know; we know what DNA is and what it does, but why? Clueless.

Bryson kept me focused throughout the entire book. There are no fly over chapters or a boring middle section. I was engaged the entire time. He covers the evolution of the universe from the big bang to the rise of life to the presence of humans. I did not expect to like this book as much as I do.

It’s a great read, long but very, very good.

2018: 4
review date:
2/14/2018
God of Tomorrow by Caleb Kaltenbach

“Since tomorrow belongs to God, we can graciously offer hope to people today”

Growing up, the place where I found the most despair was church. Everyone there thought the world was going to hell, a march led by movies, music, and drugs. The only hoped offered was heaven. Somehow thinking about tomorrow was the only way to get through today.

It was depressing. It made being a Christian depressing. The “good news” was hard to sell.

God of Tomorrow is about reclaiming that God is the God of Hope. He is not a God of political issues, religious debates, and divided arguments. It our goal as Christians to beacons of hope to our neighbors. This is the way to show the love of God, not just knocking on random doors asking people to come to church. We should live in a way that has people knocking our doors asking for stuff.

Caleb Kaltenbach writes clearly and bluntly. This is a great follow up to his last book.

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Combativeness without compassion is always going to be counterproductive”

2018: 3

review date:
2/7/2018
Smart Baseball by Keith Law

I remember years ago hearing about “Moneyball,” that somehow computers could put together a more perfect team. It seemed like hogwash and I dismissed it immediately. How can numbers predict who would hit the game winning homer? How can a spreadsheet determine the intangibles of a team leader?

Fast forward a few years and now I am a believer. Now I ask more advanced questions. Who still believes in the concept of a clutch hitter? Who cares how many wins a pitcher has? Why did the Yankees spend so much on Derek Jeter?

Smart Baseball is the best introduction I have ever read for baseball and data. First, Keith Law simply reveals the inconsistencies and outright flaws in popular stats: batting average, earned run average, clutch hitting, etc. Then, he introduces new stats that show a better (yet incomplete) picture of the game.

Anyone who doubts the authenticity of sabermetrics should read this book. If they are still not convinced, then there is clearly something wrong in the logical reasoning abilities.

Now, saying all that, there are definitely limitations to everything. There are human variables that will throw off everything. Numbers cannot do everything, but we can obviously do better with smart baseball.

This is a must read.

2018: 2

review date:
1/20/2017
Letterman by Jason Zinoman

Johnny Carson was a force that knew no bounds. He was a celebrity among celebrities. Carson’s Tonight Show was the pinnacle of entertainment. Unfortunately for me, I grew up in the post-Carson era. During my younger days, I admired Jay Leno. His rumor was topical and straightforward. I even remember watching the infamous Hugh Grant interview which today is considered the turning point in the late night wars.

I remember being a kid and not really understanding the appeal of David Letterman. His show was silly but the silliness was so rampant it was borderline obnoxious. It took a few years to finally understand the joke. The Late Show felt like a show within a show. It was like a giant inside joke.

As time wore on, it was interesting to see David Letterman become the de facto ambassador for funny. I was glued to his show after 9/11, after his heart surgery, and after the birth of his son. Letterman has the incredible ability to be serious and silly at the same time. He never makes light of a serious situation but he never takes himself too seriously.

In this book, you get to see the evolution of David Letterman as an entertainer. You don’t really get to see the personal side of Letterman (I am not even sure there is a personal side of Letterman). You will read about his college days, his weatherman days, his morning talk show and of course the two late night shows that made him a household name.

This book was very interesting and a definite recommend. Many of the stories and anecdotes came straight from source. This book is real and authentic.

At the conclusion I came to a realization: between the two, Leno is probably the better friend, but Letterman is the better entertainer.

2018: 1

review date:
1/15/2017
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I think we all have those moments; when you are focused and everything is coming together seamlessly. When you are working, it is referred to as “in the zone”; when you are playing, often people say, “time flies when you are having fun.”

Now I know that this is “flow.”

In a world filled with distractions, it can be difficult to find flow. There are a lot of items fighting for your attention, always trying to interrupt you. Blaming these outside forces is the easy thing to do, however we not only allow these interruptions, we actually crave them. Why? Probably because we are not enjoying the task in front of us. The task could be a spreadsheet, a dreadful email, or even just boredom itself.

This book came to me after I saw it cited multiple times in other books I was reading. Csikszentmihalyi is the leading expert in optimal experience and his expertise shows.

I found this book very interesting yet not riveting. By the second half, I was looking forward to finishing it and moving on. His writing is not as compelling as others but still his knowledge is phenomenal. Finding that spark inside you can make the difference. No challenge will be too tough. No setback will be too big.

Reading this review, this probably sounds like a lame self-help book, but it is not. It is an expert talking about the real evidence that shows what makes us flow.

Here are some of my favorite nuggets from the book:

“People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

“Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”