Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year's Reading

The end of the December is often a time to take a look back at the year just ending. In my case, I like to look back at the books I've read and the films I've watched. Below is a list of the books. Perhaps you've read some of these also. If so, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on them.

My reading this year was heavily invested in C.S. Lewis and Friedrich Nietzsche, an odd juxtaposition, perhaps. I also reread a number of books with which I wanted to renew my acquaintance. Some of this year's books are truly great and some are quite forgettable, but in any case here they are with a word or two of description of each:
  • Perelandra: C.S. Lewis (2nd reading) - Lewis imagines how things might have turned out in Eden. The book is an allegory of the Fall but with a much happier outcome.
  • Going Rogue: Sarah Palin - Palin's account of her selection as McCain's running mate and the subsequent campaign. She's far from the demoniac the left has made her out to be.
  • The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown - A typical Brown page-turner until he gets to the last chapter where he feels obliged to give his own thoughts on institutional religion. He was badly served by his editor here.
  • The Screwtape Letters: C.S. Lewis (2nd reading) - A classic tale of human foibles, weakness, and strength told from the standpoint of the demons who seek to subvert those who have committed their lives to God.
  • The Chosen: Chaim Potok - A wonderful story about friendship and growing up in America as an orthodox Jew.
  • The Promise: Chaim Potok - Ditto
  • The Four Loves: C.S. Lewis - Lewis has some very helpful things to say in this book about friendship and eros.
  • A New Kind of Christianity: Brian McLaren - McLaren is one of the leading contemporary advocates for a more post-modern Christianity, one that's heavy on human caring and light on doctrinal distinctions.
  • Son of Hamas: Mosab Yousef - A fascinating story written by the son of one of the founders of Hamas. Yousef early on became disenchanted with both Hamas and Islam and wound up rejecting both. He lives today in the U.S.
  • Till We Have Faces: C.S. Lewis - Another of Lewis' wonderful allegories.
  • Quantum Enigma: Rosenblum and Kuttner (2nd reading) - A great book for the reader who wants to at least understand why quantum mechanics is not understandable. The authors do a good job of illustrating the bizarre world of the quantum.
  • Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide: Edw. Feeser - An excellent introductory guide to Aquinas' philosophy.
  • Tea With Hezbollah: Ted Dekker - Dekker went around the Middle East interviewing people on both sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict to try to get a feel for the prospects of peace in the region. The book seems very superficial in some ways, especially compared to the somewhat similar Terror in the Name of God (below).
  • To Change the World: James D. Hunter - An excellent analysis of the idea and nature of worldview thinking. Will probably become a classic on the topic.
  • No Laughing in the Kremlin: Valery Kostyleff - Kostyleff is a Russian immigrant who formerly worked for the Soviet news agency TASS. He's written a satire on the fall of the Soviet Union and its transition to capitalism.
  • The Gay Science: Friedrich Nietzsche - Nietszche calls his readers to, among other things, exult in the death of God and all that that entails.
  • Nickel and Dimed: Barbara Ehrenreich - Ehrenreich set out to see how hard it is to live on minimum wage jobs for a year and writes about her experiences. It's easy to become engrossed in her story.
  • Good News About Injustice: Gary Haughens - A call for people, especially Christians, to work for justice on behalf of the world's oppressed.
  • The Copper Scroll: Joel Rosenberg - A Middle East thriller, but not, in my opinion, one of Rosenberg's best.
  • A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Alberto Angela - Angela takes the reader on an imaginary tour of ancient Rome c. 115 A.D. An excellent glimpse of what daily life was like for the average Roman of the time.
  • At the Origin of Modern Atheism: Michael Buckley - A very scholarly, and in some ways pedantic, excursis through the history of the development of materialism among the French philosophes and British Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th century. Those who might want a more readable treatment of the same themes should try The Roads to Modernity (see below).
  • Genealogy of Morals: Friedrich Nietzsche - See Gay Science above
  • Ecce Homo: Friedrich Nietzsche - See Gay Science above
  • Flight of the Intellectuals: Paul Berman - Berman is a liberal who is very critical of his fellow liberals for their moral blind spot regarding Islamic extremism. In this book the specific blind spot has to do with the left's misplaced fondness for Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Not God's Type: Holly Ordway - A journal of one college professor's journey from secularism to faith.
  • Liberty and Tyranny: Mark Levin - A conservative manifesto in which Levin contrasts the philosophy of conservatism with the philosophy of progressive statism. Very helpful for those who want to learn why labels matter.
  • The Roads to Modernity: Gertrude Himmelfarb - Historian Himmelfarb compares and contrasts what she sees as three different enlightenments - British, American, and French - and compares the fruits of each.
  • Where Men Win Glory: Jon Krakauer - The story of the death of former pro football player turned army ranger Pat Tillman. Tillman was a victim of friendly fire in Afghanistan.
  • The Brothers Karamazov: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (2nd reading) - One of the greatest novels in all of literature and one of my personal top three favorites. The chapters titled The Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor are stand alone classics.
  • Terror in the Name of God: Jessica Stern - Stern interviews a number of Jewish, Christian and Muslim terrorists and focuses on their motives and other psychological aspects of their worldviews.
  • The Faithful: Jonathan Weyer - A novel about the paranormal and the supernatural.
  • Beyond Good and Evil: Friedrich Nietzsche (2nd reading) - See Gay Science above.
My New Year's resolution for 2011 is to finally get through three books that I've started on several occasions, including last summer, and never finished. The three are, Augustine's City of God, Tolstoy's War and Peace, and Montaigne's Apology for Raymond Sebond. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has found these works tough going, but I'm determined to see them through. I'll report back next December to let you know how it went.


Smarter Than They Think

On Fox News Sunday the other day Juan Williams, a liberal contributor to Fox News, was assessing the possible GOP presidential candidates, and made the rather dubious claim that, “There’s nobody out there, except for Sarah Palin, who can absolutely dominate the stage, and she can’t stand on the intellectual stage with Obama."

Now I'm not one of those who's convinced that Mr. Obama is the intellectual colossus his supporters assure us he is. I don't think that an extraordinary intellect is immediately apparent when the President speaks, nor do I know what evidence there is upon which such an encomium is based. On the other hand, neither am I convinced that Ms Palin is the intellectual lightweight she's often portrayed to be and, admittedly, has sometimes come across as being. Nevertheless, two or three unfortunate locutions notwithstanding, she at least appears to understand that there are 50 states in the union, suggesting a knowledge of certain basic facts which surpasses that of candidate Obama.

At any rate, an editorial in the New York Sun should give pause to fair-minded observers who might be inclined to scoff at Ms Palin's political perspicacity. Consider this passage from the column:
One of the questions raised by the news that the Obama administration is going to use regulation rather than legislation to bring in the so-called “death panels” as part of Obamacare is how it happened that this was first foreseen not by the newspapers or the members of Congress but by Governor Palin. Confirmation of Mrs. Palin’s scoop was brought in by the New York Times in a dispatch issued Christmas day, more than a year after Mrs. Palin issued her warning about Obamacare leading to government involvement in end-of-life issues.

At the time, Mrs. Palin’s prophecy touched off an enormous hue and a cry among the liberal intelligentsia, so much so that the scheme was dropped in Congress. Yet even though it was dropped by Congress the New York Times is reporting that “the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation” and will start doing so January 1. The Times says that the government “will now pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.”

It seems to be the administration's conception of democracy that after the Congress so pointedly left this out of the Obamacare legislation the scheme can be advanced by regulation. The point is underscored in Robert Pear’s dispatch in the Times, which quotes one of the congressmen originally advocating for the so-called death panels, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, as saying of the regulatory approach, “we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet” and warning that the regulation could yet be “modified or reversed.”

The question that we find ourselves thinking about is how was Mrs. Palin able to see this issue when others weren’t. Is she just smarter than the editors and the Congress? Or does she just have more life experience? Is it that her religion gives her a framework for learning all this stuff? Or is it that her sensitivity was heightened by making of her own decision to bring Trig into the world? Or is it something about the Alaskan spirit?
The editors go on to enumerate other examples of how Palin has been out in front of the media on a number of different issues. It's interesting.

A friend asked me recently if I supported Palin for the GOP nomination for president. My answer was that just because someone is an outstanding linebacker doesn't mean he'd be a good quarterback. I think Palin's a great linebacker, but I don't know if she'd be a good quarterback. We'll have to see how the primary campaign unfolds. I reject, though, the assertion that she lacks the qualifications to be president, or, I should say that I reject it when it comes from the lips of anyone who thought that Mr. Obama did possess those qualifications. It's hard to see what preparation he had that she doesn't.