Book Reviews

The Modern Intellectual Tradition from Descartes to Derrida by Lawrence Cahoone

Summary: A firehose of philosophy.

The idea of the Great Courses series is great. Record good professors lecturing on their best subjects and absorb what you missed (or didn’t take) in college. Most of the Great Courses series have notes and reading lists, but I think I am probably like most and ignore the attachments.

I have a lousy philosophy background. And while, audio only is probably not the best format for learning philosophy, I keep picking up Great Courses.

The Modern Intellectual Tradition from Descarte to Derrida was challenging. There is a ton of content and change in philosophy over the past couple hundred years. While the presentation was good, I missed more than I understood I think.

There were 36 half hour lectures. I understood a lot of basic ideas, but not a lot of the names associated with the ideas. It is fascinating to know where where different ideas originate from. It is going to take another run at the content to place the names and dates and history associated with the philosophy.

The presentation was mostly historical, which biases an understanding of the progress of philosophy. But that historical presentation helped put some of the development in historical context, even if there was not a lot of history context given in the lectures.

For the price (I picked up a number of Great Courses during a buy one get one free sale, which made them just under $5 a course), it is hard to beat.

The Modern Intellectual Tradition from Descartes to Derrida by Lawrence Cahoone Purchase Links: Audiobook

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora by Kim Stanley RobinsonSummary: A multi-generational starship is attempting to build a human colony on another world.

One of the reasons that science fiction has been historically popular is that it in general a hopeful genre. Science fiction dreams of new worlds being discovered, the expansion of humanity across the galaxy, technological progress. Or at least that has been a strong part of the world of science fiction.

More recently science fiction has been more concerned with dystopian worlds. There is often still a thread of hopefulness, at least some people will survive the destruction of most of humanity. Space exploration is no longer a significant theme of science fiction. There are occasional books about exploring or creating world. But even the few that are out there are likely to be like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series that views humanity as a bit players in galactic politics.

Aurora is the story of an enormous starship. It can travel 10% of light speed, but that means it will take approximately 150 years to reach the planet Aurora (around Tau Ceti). The ship is an ark. It contains about 2000 people and as many different climate sections and animals and plants as can be squeezed onto the ship.

The books opens as they are in the last generation before the come into their new home. The ship is continually in need of maintenance and interventions. The interventions almost always have unintended consequence. But they are making it.

And that is about as happy as the book gets. The writing is well done, but this is ‘anti-science fiction’ (as one very spoiler filled review on Amazon put it.) The main theme of the book is why space colonies will never work. And tragedy and bad luck are continually present.

Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber

Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert WebberSummary: An update to the 1985 book from Robert Webber.

I knew of Robert Webber more than I knew anything about Robert Webber as a college and seminary student. He had been a professor at Wheaton (where I was a college student). And a professor at Northern Baptist Seminary (where my father did his DMin and my brother got his MDiv). I was aware of his work in the area of ‘Ancient Future Faith’.

But other than hearing about Webber, I am not sure that I actually reading anything by him until two years ago. I read his first book (the 1978 Common Roots) and was struck by how much it felt like many books I read that have been written in the 5 to 10 years.

A few weeks ago I picked up an updated version of his second book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail when it was briefly on sale. It is a very brief book. I read it in two short sittings. The first half of the book is Webber’s own story about coming to faith and then moving toward the Episcopal Church as an adult. The last half of the book are new stories about other Evangelicals also moving toward the Episcopal/Anglican church.

The new stories pay attention to the changes in the Episcopal church in the United States since the 1980s. Part of what Webber was interested in was finding a church that had a relationship to the ancient church (but he was theologically not Roman Catholic) and a church that was consciously ‘catholic’ (lower c). However, the worldwide Anglican communion has had difficulty maintaining that catholic stance, especially over the past 10-15 years.

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle (O’Keefe Family #1)

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L'Engle (O'Keefe Family #1)Summary: L’Engle’s writing style and ideas, but re-imagined as a young adult spy thriller.

My wife and children were gone for the weekend so I spent most of the weekend either doing data entry with an audiobook in the background or walking/driving around playing Pokémon Go (with an audiobook in the background). I finished four books this weekend and listened to part of a fifth.

After listening to a book on modern philosophy and then a somewhat depressing spy thriller by John le Carré and a quarter of a depressing Walker Percy book, I decided to pick up The Arm of the Starfish.

I have read several Madeleine L’Engle books this year, but mostly her lesser known fiction or non-fiction that has been out of print and is now only available in ebook formats. I still have a couple of her young adult books that I have never read, including most of the O’Keefe family series.

The Arm of the Starfish is the first of the O’Keefe family series (Calvin and Meg from the Wrinkle in Time series are married and the focus is primarily on Polly their daughter.) I had some insight into the family because the main focus on this book is Adam Eddington, who is also a character (set a summer later) in the Austin Family series book A Ring of Endless Light.

Because I have read A Ring of Endless Light, I knew some of the results of the Arm of the Starfish but not the main story. The Arm of the Starfish is set as a young adult spy thriller. Adam is a young college biology major (he graduated from high school early and is only 17.) He has been encouraged to apply for a job with Dr O’Keefe that is on an island off the coast of Spain working with starfish and regeneration.

The Patriarch by Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police #8)

The Patriarch by Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police #8)Summary: Bruno is invited to the birthday party of a national hero, but when there is an accidental death, Bruno isn’t so sure.

Somehow I missed the Patriarch by Martin Walker when it came out. I was looking around for something to read, and check to see when the next Bruno Chief of Police novel comes out. I discovered that it came out in June and not only did I miss the release, but I also missed one of the previous books in the series.

It is odd that you can read a series and not notice when you miss a book. And once I finished reading The Patriarch, I am can see why I did not realize that I missed anything. This novel did not really move the story along.

In one of the previous books Bruno saved ‘The Red Countess’, an elderly woman from a historic family that was being drugged to steal her land. The Red Countess invites him to a party for the Patriarch, a national hero of the cold war, a pilot and one of the Countess’s previous relationships.

At the party, which is local and adds in yet another wealthy member of the community, Bruno observes a quiet scuffle between a granddaughter of the Patriarch and her Godfather, the best friend of one of the sons of the Patriarch. Later that day, Bruno is called in to quietly certify the death of the Godfather, who it turns out was a former spy.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Audiobook is on sale today for $3.95.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthySummary: Beautifully written tragic story of desire for what cannot be.

Cormac McCarthy is a spare writer. Lots of detail and almost poetic language. But this is an introvert’s book.  The characters talk, but there is no extra meandering dialogue. Dialogue has purpose.

McCarthy seems ideally suited to write about the idealized lone western male. His characters are self-sufficient, hard, tragic, honest to a fault, do not expect anyone to help them, but want to help others if they can.

In All the Pretty Horses (I have not seen the movie, so I do not know how it compares), John Grady Cole leaves home at 16 with his best friend. After his parent’s divorce, his mother wants nothing to do with ranch life and his father is left without a ranch (or anything else). He can give John nothing that he wants or needs. John and Rawlins (17) head to Mexico to see if they can find the rancher’s life that they seek.

Along the way, Jimmy Blevins, a 13 or 14 year old run away and troublemaker, joins up with them. Cole as the leader of the group allows Blevins to join them because it is clear that Blevins can not care for himself. Cole knows he will regret the decision and the theme is set with the Cole’s wise word:

“Every dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always the choice I made before it.”

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken WytsmaSummary: Racism and injustice have to be important to Christians if our faith is relevant to relationships on this side of heaven.

Race, Injustice, Privilege and related ideas are common discussions in the political world. And that is part of the problem with discussing them inside the Christian church. Quite often our understanding of issues that have any relationship to politics are based more on our political bias and background than our Christianity. It is not that our Christianity is unimportant to our politics, but our politics matters to what we think is important within Christianity.

Ken Wytsma has a very clear purpose in writing. He is a White pastor writing primarily to White Christians about race and inequality. He is doing that because he thinks that at least some readers will listen to him in ways that they have not been listening to minority Christians talk about race and inequality.

Section one is mostly a summary of history and illustrations of why inequality exists. It is a very good summary of a numbers of issues, from government involvement in housing segregation and inequality to the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating inequality to migration patters since the civil war. Inequality is a vast and complex matter.

Wytsma is summarizing the work of others here. In a short section he can’t give the depth that books like Warmth of Other Suns or Slavery by Another Name or New Jim Crow or the host of other in books that have the space to look deeply at different aspects of history, race, inequality and injustice. As a summary, this section is one of the better looks at the variety of ways that inequality has come to be in place in just a few pages.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle (Crosswicks Journals #1)

I am reposting this review from earlier this year because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.
A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle (Crosswicks Journals #1)Summary: The wisdom comes with reflection by those that age. A month or so ago I was asking for a good biography or memoir from a pastor or theologian. I was thinking of something like Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor or one of Lyle Dorsett’s biographies. What I was looking for was wisdom.

Wisdom is something that is earned by time. It is not guaranteed with age, but it is only comes to those that are aged. Part of what is required to earn wisdom is reflection. And that is what Madeleine L’Engle has done here. She is writing her thoughts and musings about life and her writing and meaning based on the journals that she has kept for her own purposes.

L’Engle was in her mid 50s when A Circle of Quiet was written. (And the fourth Crosswick Journal book was published 23 year later.) So she is not so old that she has forgotten what it is like to be young, nor was she that far distant from the failures of her life as a writer. (A Circle of Quiet was published just 11 years after A Wrinkle in Time was published.)

A Circle of Quiet is a bit meandering. Much of it is reflections on what it means to be a writer or story teller or how she has taught writing and story telling to others. But mixed in are thoughts on parenting and child development, living in a small town (Crosswick is the name of their home in rural Connecticut, where they lived for 7 years full time early in her marriage and that they kept as a summer home when they moved back to New York City), living in a large city, love, church, and many other random thoughts.

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

The Relic Master by Christopher BuckleySummary: A relic hunter is forced into a quest for the ‘true shroud’.

Christopher Buckley has a history of writing smart comic novels, usually about political subjects. But his last couple novels have fallen a bit flat. However, I still picked up The Relic Master when I saw it on sale at a BOGO sale at Audible, especially since it was out of Buckley’s normal subject area.

The Relic Master is set 500 years ago as Martin Luther was writing his 95 Thesis and the reformation was beginning to dawn. This is historical fiction that is pretty historically accurate for the known characters. There were relic fairs and prominent people did buy and sell relics, which created markets for forgers.

The main character, Dismas has attempted to be an honest relic hunter, although he is real enough to know that many of the relics being sold are fakes and real enough to know that many of the miraculous proofs are frauds and cynical enough to want out of the business. After being robbed of his savings, he decides to attempt a grand fraud to give him enough to retire to the country and become a happy, stable farmer and family man.

The fraud is caught because of the pride of the artist (Durer). Dismas and Durer’s are then forced into a quest to steal the Shroud of Chambery.

Little Better Than a Beast by Tom King (Vision #2)

Little Better Than a Beast by Tom King (Vision #2)Summary: Vision continues to struggle to live a normal family life.

About a year ago I picked up then first volume of this series. Vision, has attempted to create a family. After himself being created by the evil Ultron, but eventually joining the Avengers, he creates a standard suburban family (his wife and two teen kids.)

The first volume is more about what it means to be human and a family and how hard they work to maintain that illusion of normality.

The second volume, Little Better Than a Beast, builds on the first. There is more back story here for people like me that don’t know Vision’s back story. The book opens with Vision’s relationship to the Scarlet Witch summarized. It is that failed relationship that spawned the idea for Vision to create his own family. One that hopefully would be acceptable both to the world and would work internally.