Archive for the ‘ Book Reviews ’ Category

Going Rogue, Part I: The Palin Character

When Sarah Palin’s book first came out, I was too occupied to read it right away. I did promise, though, to review it later. I’ve now finished it and have concluded that one posting will not suffice. There are different aspects to the book that I want to concentrate on, so I’ve decided to spend three days on it.

Let me say right off that Going Rogue was better than I expected, and my expectations were fairly high. I never accepted the mainstream media’s portrayal of Palin as some kind of frontier hick with only half a brain. As I’ve said before, she is being attacked so vociferously because she is deemed a major threat to the liberal establishment (and to a lot of the Republican party as well).

This is a deeply personal account. She chose to make this autobiography as true to her personality as possible. I detect no whiff of pseudo-sophistication. So I am pleased by the genuineness of the writing style. She acknowledges receiving professional help getting it into its final form, but she says she did most of the writing. I believe her simply because the style reflects the person she seems to be in public. It would be improbable for a ghost writer to copy her way of speaking and thinking so completely.

How do I perceive Sarah Palin’s character in the book? She is the following:

  1. A woman who has a relationship with the Lord and who seeks to do His will in every avenue of life;
  2. Someone who has a determination to be productive with her life and make a difference in the world, one way or the other;
  3. An excellent administrator with a penchant for detail, as shown by her dissection of budgets both at the local and state levels;
  4. Someone who is willing to face down those who are abusing the public trust;
  5. A fearless politician [not always a dirty word] who had no qualms taking on the corruption that was overtaking politics in Alaska;
  6. A determined public official who fights for limited government principles [more on that a few days from now];
  7. A “real” person who genuinely loves those whom she serves;
  8. A dedicated wife and mother who puts her family first.

I may have missed some traits that will come to me later, but that’s a pretty good list for a start.

Her ability to inspire enthusiasm was evident once again on her book tour. The talking heads in the media were astonished by the outpouring of affection. All they could assume is that those thousands who turned out [and the one million plus who bought her book] had to be as backwoods and unsophisticated as she.

Sarah Palin worries them considerably. Which is why, as I noted before, they have tried to destroy her reputation so assiduously. In fact, she deals with that in the book, which is what I want to examine in my next posting.

Christian Coalition: A Tale Well Told

I rarely have two book reviews the same week, but I wanted to alert you to this new book by Joel Vaughan that traces the history of the organization called the Christian Coalition. The title is accurate: it rose and it fell.

I was drawn to the book not only because I am acquainted with Joel, but also because I used to be a Christian Coalition county director back in the early 1990s, when I taught at Indiana Wesleyan University. Then, when I moved to Regent University, I was just down the street, more or less, from the Coalition’s headquarters, and a number of my students in the master’s program in government worked there. I attended the annual Road to Victory conferences in Washington, DC. So I remember the glory years, but also the not-so-glorious ones.

There are so many tell-all books in the market that I wondered how Joel was going to handle this one. He was with the Coalition almost from the start, and was one of the last to leave before it rapidly disintegrated. How could he tell the tale well, being honest about its demise without being censorious?

Well, I believe he has accomplished that nearly impossible task. It is evident from the first pages that he shared the vision of Christians influencing public policy and making their voice heard in politics. He speaks of the sincere, genuine believers who wanted to make a difference, and he points to the many ways Christian Coalition achieved its goals during the 1990s. It’s obvious he loved being a part of it.

When he turns to the downfall, he does go into the problems in a straightforward manner, clearly showing why it fell. Yet even as he spells out the issues and talks about the people who made bad decisions, he does so in a thoroughly Christian way. This is not a bitter memoir; instead, it carries a tone of sadness—an appropriate tone because what happened was a tragedy. A Christian voice in politics became a mere shadow of what it once had been.

I appreciate the Christian spirit in the book. In effect, Joel Vaughan has provided a case study of the highs and lows of Christian political involvement. We can read this book and learn significant lessons about how we should go about our involvement, as well as how to avoid the common errors: overextending ourselves financially or losing the humble servant heart.

Next year, I plan to use this book in a new course I’ll be teaching called Biblical Worldview and Public Policy. It will be a valuable guide for this new generation of Christian leaders. I’m hoping this account of a high-profile Christian political organization will help them carry the work forward and do so in the right spirit.

Book Recommendation: The Shack

On my main website, I have annotated lists of recommended books (check those out if you haven’t yet). Every so often, I like to use this blog to let you know what’s worth reading.

William P. Young’s The Shack has been out now for over a year. I had heard of it previously, knew it was a bestseller, but also that some people considered it controversial. Busy as I am, and needing to read other books for courses, etc., I didn’t rush to buy it. This past week, I finally made that decision. It was a good decision.

The writing is top-rate. The opening chapters, which tell of a terrible family tragedy, grip you from the start. Then a note comes from God (hang with me here) inviting Mack Philips, who has lost his youngest daughter to a murderer, to return to the scene of the murder.

Once he does, the whole tenor of the book changes. Young leads us from the details of everyday life into a world where spiritual realities overwhelm the senses. Along the way, Mack argues with God (portrayed quite creatively by the author), has to learn what forgiveness and relationship are all about, and emerges a transformed person. This is not formulaic. It is designed to make you think. You may disagree with some of his doctrinal points or his portrayals, but any disagreements I had are merely quibbles in comparison with the truths that come alive in his pages. Any book that stirs within the reader the desire to see God face-to-face has a lot to commend it.

Character, plot, style—they all come together here realistically (even in the fantasy-like portions) and persuasively. If a book points people to the essence of the Christian faith, and does so in a manner that makes one think anew about the nature of the God-man relationship, it is worth your time to read.

The Forgotten Man: A Recommendation

Every so often I like to recommend a book. I’m about halfway through The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Although I haven’t yet completed it, based on what I have read up to now, and on the numerous positive reviews of the book, I am confident I can recommend it without concerns that I will have to retract that recommendation by the time I have finished it.

Some of you, I know, may be reluctant to tackle a book dealing with the Depression. All that economics, all that . . . well . . . depressing stuff! Shlaes, though, manages to cover all the “stuff” in a most interesting way by focusing on people.

She carries forward the stories of a number of individuals—both those who worked for the New Deal and those who suffered from it—so that you don’t feel as if you are bogged down in an economic treatise. In effect, she personalizes what some authors have turned into impersonal events. She tells a good story. History should be a story about people who are affected by the times they live in.

Her storyline is that the New Deal did not accomplish what its defenders claim it did—it most assuredly did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. The old liberal mantra that FDR ended the Depression has been under siege for quite some time, and deservedly so. Recently, President Obama commented [and I’m paraphrasing here because I cannot find his exact words] that there is no debate on the effectiveness of the New Deal, indicating that he believes it was a success. If he truly believes there is no debate, he is woefully uninformed.

The Forgotten Man makes it clear that the debate is real, and that the weight of the evidence is against the liberal interpretation. Some of you, before buying the book, may want to read a few reviews. Here is one that is quite good. I encourage you to peruse it and check out others. I trust you will be convinced that this is a worthwhile read.

Lincoln Book Recommendation

Whenever I read a good book, I’d like to pass on a positive review. Last week, I commented on Lincoln, as his 200th birthday was upon us. I am presently reading Harold Holzer’s new Lincoln book (Holzer is a LIncoln scholar and a fine writer), Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861. It is fascinating.

What did Lincoln go through, what did he have to deal with, as he awaited his succession to the presidency? From November 1860 until his inauguration in March 1861, he was virtually powerless to make policy or to stop the secessions of Southern states. Holzer’s book takes you into Lincoln’s mind and details his activities during this crucial period in American history. What’s more, the writing makes you feel as if you are reading a novel. Even though I know the outcome, I find myself eager to know what is going to happen next.

So, even if you are not a Lincoln admirer (which is really a sad situation), I heartily recommend that you read this book. It will be difficult to find a tyrant in the newly elected president as he prepares to shoulder the burden of a nation coming apart at the seams.