It's that time again - book reviews! I have read several books recently and have some thoughts to share. I've linked to Amazon if you are interested in purchasing one of these books, but I would suggest that you check your local library first. No sense spending money on a book you're only going to read once!
These are just short little reviews to give you an idea of whether or not you should spend the time to read the book yourself. So, here goes -
- Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof
This is a history of the Black Sox and the 1919 World Series - the World Series that was lost because of the actions of eight members of the White Sox team. I love the history of baseball and got interested in this book because Mr. Math Tutor and I watched the movie based on this book (by the same name). I found this a fascinating book. The author covered the scandal from all angles - the gamblers, the players, the owners. My only complaint with the book is that all the different characters get confusing. Apparently, there were three different groups of gamblers trying to affect the outcome of the World Series and it was hard to sort out who was who. Otherwise, it was a great book. B+
- Saving Darwin by Karl W. Giberson
Karl Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College. He grew up learning that the Young-Earth Creation (YEC) position that reads the first chapter of Genesis as literal, scientific history was correct. He went to a Christian college with the idea of learning more science to help shore up the YEC camp. What he found, though, was quite different. In the science and theology departments, he met scholars who were committed to the truth of Scripture, but who believed that life on earth has developed through biological evolution. Over time, he came to believe the same thing, and has written a book to support it.
The author starts with his own history and then moves on to a review of the history of evolutionary theory, with emphasis on Darwin and his beliefs and motives. He then moves on to a short history of creationism in this country (although, I highly recommend Dr. Numbers' book about the history of creationism for a more detailed treatment of this topic). Dr. Giberson then does a short critique of "Young-Earth Creationism" and then Intelligent Design. His strongest chapter is the next to last, in which he outlines five lines of evidence supporting biological evolution. In the last chapter, he discusses evolution and Christianity, particularly his own stance that evolution is an expression of God's creativity.
This book is a welcome addition to the creation-evolution controversy. I particularly found it useful as my own thinking is turning more toward some version of evolutionary creationism (Lamoreaux's preferred term). It's not a difficult read, but, because of that, it doesn't have much scientific depth. Right now, anything that can approach this debate with honesty, candor, and gentleness is to be greatly welcomed! A+
- Homeschool: An American History by Milton Gaither
This book, as it's title says, is a history of education in the home from the time of the American colonies to the present. In the discussion of historical education, Gaither focuses on academic home education, as opposed to learning domestic skills at home. I found this a fascinating book. A number of unschooling and homeschooling advocates like to say that state-mandated education is a new phenomenon. Actually, in a number of the colonies, the law stated that families were required to teach their children literacy, numeracy, and the Bible. At that time, literacy rates were well above 90%. I also learned that fathers were the primary instructors of their children in academic things until the 1800s. Even though schools weren't common until the 19th century, and going to school wasn't compulsory until the 20th century, the state has had a surprising amount of interest in the education of children.
The most interesting, and disturbing, part of the book was the discussion of more recent history. Basically, homeschooling as a response or alternative to public or private schooling really started in the 1960s and 1970s. There were a number of incidents with the states over how to manage these "different" families, but the outcome was usually peaceable. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, "Christian" homeschoolers appeared on the scene. Their (our?) interactions with the states were not as calm. Greg Harris, one of the early pioneers of Christian homeschooling, encouraged the development of Christian homeschool societies that included a statement of faith, essentially excluding secular and Catholic homeschoolers, as well as those of other religions. I'm not sure this was a good thing.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in homeschooling and/or history. It is well-written and has minimal bias. A
- All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
I picked up this book because I had heard about this kind of gardening from Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Con" blog (which I highly recommend). I'm a total "black thumb" when it comes to gardening, but I would like to have fresh veggies and herbs. Square foot gardening is a method of gardening ideally suited for those of us with small yards or those who live in urban areas. The idea is that you make 4ftx4ft wooden frames that are marked off into 1x1 foot squares, filled with a soil mixture, and then planted. The apparent advantages to this kind of gardening are that it requires less space, is easier to maintain, and can be easily added to. We're going to give it a try this spring, so I'll let you know more about the book's usefulness then! A
- Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer
For some reason, I have developed an interested in reading about women in polygamy. How people can stay in a cult that devalues them the way many of these polygamist cults devalue women is just beyond me. This book tells the story of a young woman brought up in the FLDS who is married at age 14. She eventually left the FLDS and was instrumental in the trial in which Warren Jeffs was convicted on accessory to rape. It is a fascinating read. The one problem was that the writing itself was not good quality - it was more like a very long, poorly written magazine article. Despite that, I found it an interesting look into a lifestyle that seems unimaginable to me. B
- Sister Wife by Shirley Hrdlitschka
This is a young adult novel about a polygamist sect in Canada. It appears to be loosely based on the FLDS, which has groups in the US and Canada. The novel focuses on a 15 year old girl who is married against her will to a much older man. Along the way, we meet her younger sister who desperately wanted to marry the older man, another young woman who wasn't born into the cult but came in as an adult, and the main character's mother who almost died in childbirth. The book is interesting, but rather flat. The writing is fair and the character development weak. C
- Jane Boleyn by Jane Fox
When I saw this audiobook at the library, I just had to pick it up. Not only have we been studying Tudor England, but I have read a lot of books in the last year about various people from this time in history. Jane Boleyn was married to George Boleyn, the brother of Anne Boleyn, who was put to death for treason along with his sister Anne. It has been said that Jane Boleyn gave damning testimony about her husband and sister-in-law. Jane went on to serve Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. She was executed for her role in helping Katherine Howard meet her lovers and commit adultery against King Henry VIII. This book traces Jane's life from soon after her husband's death until her own beheading. The author is more sympathetic to Jane than have been previous authors. Overall, it is a fascinating look at Tudor England. A
- Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
True confession - I didn't really understand this book. The author has created a back story for the Wicked Witch of the West which includes her childhood as the daughter of a pious preacher, her university years, her young adult years when she finally found and then lost love but also was involved in dangerous political causes, and her life as a recluse. The book ends with the same events related in The Wizard of Oz, but from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. The story is intriguing and full of depth. The characters, particularly Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West), are unique and the plot is intricate. The author explores the concept of evil - what is evil? how do we decide what is evil? is a person inherently evil? He creates a detailed political and social landscape. I enjoyed the book, but I finished with many questions - but, I think that's what the author wanted. There are some sexual scenes within the book, so I recommend it only for adults. A
- Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
Lisa Lutz has created another fun mystery. The main character, Isabel, gets caught up in trying to figure out her inscrutable neighbor. In the meantime, her family seems to be going crazy. This book has lots of plot twists and turns. It is a lot of fun to read and I recommend it, but only for adults since the language is definitely PG-13. A
- The Appeal by John Grisham
I love Grisham books, so I was thrilled to be able to listen to this one on mp3. Unfortunately, I found it rather unsatisfying. The premise of the book is that a chemical company dumped toxic waste illegally, causing huge numbers of cancer cases and deaths in rural Mississippi. A case was filed against the chemical company, and a huge verdict was returned against the chemical company, but not until the lawyers had almost gone bankrupt from pursuing this case. The majority of the book is the story of the appeal and the myriad of strings pulled by the chemical company to ensure a favorable verdict on appeal, including pushing the plaintiff lawyers all the way to bankruptcy and working to get a sympathetic judge elected to the state supreme court. The problem with the book was that it felt rather preachy. Grisham appears to have taken an entire book to support the position that state supreme court judges should be appointed and not elected. In the process, big business is demonized and Christian voters are made to look like sheep, following the big names in "Family Values" ministries without thinking. Though the book was well-written (as usual for Grisham) and the characters and story compelling, it left a bad taste in my mouth. B-
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What books would you recommend?