Posts By Adam Shields

Reviewed Books on Sale

Links are to the reviews, which have links to the sales at the bottom. (Roughly in order from newest sale to oldest)

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan JacobsSummary: How to think is as much art as science, but it needs to become habit to make a difference

Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite essayists. He was a professor at Wheaton when I was there (although I never had him). He is now a professor at Baylor. I have read a number of his books, from a biography on CS Lewis, to several collections of essays, to a history of the Book of Common Prayer, my favorite book on reading , a cultural history of the concept of Original Sin, and now How to Think.

I wasn’t completely sure what I was getting into when I picked this up yesterday morning (it released yesterday). Jacobs is one of the authors I pre-order. But especially if he was writing something about how to think, I wanted to read it.

This is sort of like A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (or Letters to a Young Calvinist or one of the many other similar short books). How to Think is a book of advice written with the clear intention of helping the reader. Jacobs has taught Literature and Composition for more than 30 years. Helping people to think and write and communicate has been the job of English Professors more than professors in most other subject areas.

Jacobs starts by taking us down a peg or two. We are not as original as we think. We are not as good at evaluating ideas as we think we are. We, like everyone else, have confirmation bias and mental short cuts and sloppy habits. We also probably don’t really listen all that well.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson WhiteheadSummary: Historical fiction imagining the Underground Railroad, as an actual Railroad.

The underlying idea of the Underground Railroad is fascinating. It feels at times like fantasy more than historical fiction. However, The Underground Railroad is as much history as fantasy. Virtual every plot point in the book is based on a real historical event. Having read this after The Half Has Never Been Told and Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution and listening to the Yale Historian David Blight’s lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction, several of the historical events that I would not have recognized, were part of my recent memory.

I assume that the rest of the plot points that didn’t always make sense were also historical. Fiction can sometimes be more helpful in presenting history than straight history is. What is helpful about Underground Railroad is making that history real through seeing what the impacts of slavery were like on real people.

New Kindle Oasis Announced

Amazon has announced the 2nd Generation Kindle Oasis. There has a couple of very nice new features.

Larger Screen: Since the original Kindle in 2007, Kindle screens have been six inches (except for one large format device). The new Kindle Oasis has a 7 inch screen, which is supposed to have 30% more text than a 6 inch screen.

Waterproof: I have been waiting for a waterproof kindle for a while. In 2009 I picked up a waterproof case and loved it. It was floating and I took my kindle in the ocean to read. It was my dream vacation activity. Eventually the case broke and I upgraded to a new kindle. In 2015, I picked up a WaterFi Kindle, which was an after market Paperwhite that added $100 to the price of the Paperwhite and nearly 50% additional weight. This Oasis is now waterproof, a boon to bathtub and beach readers everywhere. (IPX2, which is 2 meters of water for 60 minutes.)

More Storage for Audiobooks: The Oasis has either 8GB or 32GB of storage for books. A 32GB Paperwhite has been available in Japan for a while because of their focus on Magna comics. So this isn’t a surprise. What I was surprised about was that the storage is also for Audiobooks from Audible. There is not a speaker on the Oasis, but there is a bluetooth connection for either a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. This I would use.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Summary: Two essays from 1963.

Since I saw the documentary I am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin, I have been wanting to read more of him. This is my second book this year and I am planning on reading at least one of his novels before the end of the year.

I knew that many people compare Ta-Nehasi Coates to James Baldwin. But it was not until I read We Were Eight Years in Power that I realized that Coates’ Between the World and Me was a conscious effort to write a modern version of The Fire Next Time. Coates wanted something that was short, powerful and personal. And that is what The Fire Next Time is.

There are two essays here. Between the World and Me is more consciously emulated after the first, a short letter to Baldwin’s nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration. (Coates writes Between the World and Me as a letter to his son.)

The much longer (roughly 80% of The Fire Next Time) section is Down at the Cross. This is an essay about Baldwin’s understanding of the implications of historic racism for him personally. Much of it is about his grappling with faith. Christianity, which is where Baldwin started as a boy preacher, gets a lot of credit for saving Baldwin so that he could become a writer. But Baldwin eventually moves on because the Christianity of his world is not Christian enough to actually address the problems of race either by focusing on the radical repentance or the radical forgiveness that would be necessary to deal with the sin and result of racism.

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir by Stanley HauerwasSummary: Hauerwas theological and personal memoir.

I have been on a memoir kick this year. I tend to read through a genre or subject areas quite a bit and then set it aside for a while. This year my memoir reading has been consciously seeking out wisdom from elder Christians.

I picked up Hannah’s Child looking for something like Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor or Thomas Oden’s memoir A Change of Heart. I have not previously read much by Hauerwas. The only full book that I think I have read is Resident Aliens, which I read in my first year of college, over 25 years ago. I have some relationship to him because a friend of mine studied with him and I absorbed some of Hauerwas’ positions through him.

Hauerwas is unique. He grew up as a working class boy from Texas. He was clearly brilliant. But also seems to have fallen into his life in a number of ways that he was not consciously choosing. The title, Hannah’s Child, is a reference to his own mother’s desire for a child after infertility and her prayer modeled on the biblical Hannah and her dedication of Samuel to the Lord’s work. Hauerwas clearly sees his mother’s prayer and God guiding him into his life as a theologian.

Hauerwas started his teaching at Augusta College (in Rock Island, IL where I lived from 6th grade to high school graduation.) From there he spent 10 years at Notre Dame and then the rest of his career at Duke. That progression and the different characters of the schools and the people around him really did shape him and that comes out clearly in the book. (After the book came out he retired from Duke in 2013 and was appointed to a Chair of Theological Ethics at the University of Aberdeen.)

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi CoatesSummary: A reflection on eight years of Atlantic Essays during the time of Obama.

When I first heard about We Were Eight Years in Power, I was excited for a book from Ta-Nehisi Coates about the Obama years. Coates both is a serious critic of Obama and someone that has strongly defended him. I am going to continue to look for a book like that in the future.

We Were Eight Years in Power is not really that. Instead it is a repackaging of a number of essays by Coates from the Atlantic. Coates first essay for the Atlantic was about Bill Cosby and his conservative lectures to the black community to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That initial essay eventually led to Coates becoming a staff writer for the Atlantic and a number of cover stories that many will have already read.

The three most famous are his Reparations article, his article on Mass Incarceration and his essay earlier this year on Trump as the first consciously White (post Obama) president.

Previously to reading We Were Eight Years in Power, I had read most of the essays. It was still worth re-reading the essays. But what I found most interesting was Coates introductions to each essay. These were sometimes biographical or historical, telling the reader about his life or the country when he originally published the essay. Almost all of them included an evaluation of the content, usually pointing out weaknesses in his approach or places where he wishes he had expanded the analysis or where he got part of the essay wrong.

That analysis was helpful both to give context to why he wrote the individual essay, but also to give context to his larger project and how, for good and ill, racial issues were important during the Obama years.

Coates talks quite candidly about his discomfort with being the main or only writer on race issues that many Whites have read. He has a clear perspective. One that is famously not particularly hopeful. But it is realistic to the current age and to the data as he sees it.

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer by Ed Cyzewski

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer by Ed CyzewskiSummary: An Evangelical discovers contemplative prayer.

Ed Cyewski is a freelance author. He is roughly my age, a stay at home Dad, a seminary grad and from what I have read, I think we would get along. I have read four of his books (links below) and picked this one up right after it came out. Although it took me months to get around to reading it.

Cyzewski grew up nominally Catholic, but came to a real faith as a teen through Evangelical outreach. He left the Catholic church and rejected it, partially out of Evangelical bias against Catholicism, but also because of some of his own history.

This book is focused on making contemplative prayer accessible to Evangelicals. For Cyzewski, that has meant coming to terms with some of the Catholic practices that he rejected earlier. My own movement toward contemplative prayer is less about coming to terms with than discovering as new.

A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden

I am reposting this 2014 review of A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99
A Short Life of Jonathan EdwardsSummary: A short, readable, popular biography of Jonathan Edwards.

A couple months ago George Marsden’s A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards was the free audiobook at  I picked it up, but was a bit skeptical because I read 3/4 of Marsden’s large academic biography of Edwards, Jonathan Edwards: A Life.  I put down the large biography as I moved to Georgia nearly 8 years ago, and for some reason never picked it back up to finish and then ended up giving it away.

But as Marsden says in the introduction, this is not an abridgement of the larger biography, but a completely new book that was written intentionally as a popular level short biography.  This book is only about a quarter of the length of the longer one, but is surprisingly comprehensive given its short length.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #13)

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #13)Summary: Gamache, now head of the Sûreté du Québec gambles.

The Chief Inspector Gamache series has been consistently the best mystery series I have read. It is rare series, 13 books in, that still keeps me engaged. And I think the last two books, while a bit unbelievable as mysteries, are probably the best two books of the series.

Armond Gamache has been a career homicide detective. The past several books he has been in an out of the Sûreté. Two books ago he took down the corrupt head of the Sûreté. The last book he was the head of the training academy where he again rooted out corruption. Now he is the head of the whole Sûreté and he turns his attention to the drug trade.

What I have loved about the series is the characters. I am not particularly interesting in the actual mysteries except as a means to see the characters. Penny falls into the common mystery series trap of thinking that she needs to make each successive crime bigger to keep the attention of the reader. (I think this is a false trap. Crimes do not need to be bigger, but the growth of the characters needs to be bigger.)

While I am not particularly interested massive governmental corruption or international terrorism plots or organized crime, I am interested in how those challenges impact Gamache. One of his faults is keeping the responsibility and information too close to his vest. This is a book where he is forced to plan with others a little bit. But because of previous corruption he keeps that circle very small.