Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Books of 2012

At the start of each year I like to pause and reflect on the books I've read and the movies I've seen during the preceding twelve-month. So here's an annotated list of the books I was able to read in 2012. I don't recommend all of them, but most of them are worthwhile and some of them are very much worth the time spent with them.
  1. Destruction of the Indies - Bartolome de las Casas. An account by an eyewitness of how the Spanish systematically tortured and sought to extirpate the Central American native population in the 16th century. It is, inter alia, a numbing reminder of man's capacity for cruelty, horror, and evil and all, sadly, in the name of religion.
  2. Where the Conflict Really Lies - Alvin Plantinga. An argument that there's deep concord and only superficial conflict between science and theistic belief, but that the reverse is true for science and naturalism. The concord between metaphysical naturalism and science is superficial and the conflict between them is profound. This flies in the face of conventional opinion, which provides us with another reminder that conventional opinion is quite often wrong.
  3. Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard - Charles Moore, ed. Moore collects Kierkegaard's thoughts on religious matters. There are a lot of them.
  4. The Father's Tale - Michael O'Brien. A novel about a man's world-wide search for his estranged son. In places it's wonderful. In others it's a bit too preachy and tedious.
  5. What We're Hearing You Say - Mike Mitchell. An incisive critique of Mormon belief written by a friend of mine who got to experience Mormonism at close range in Utah. Perhaps one reason why Mitt Romney did so poorly among blacks in the election is that traditional Mormon beliefs about blacks circulated through their communities.
  6. The Mysterious Epigenome - Woodward and Gills. A fascinating introduction to developments in molecular genetics. It turns out that DNA isn't the only thing involved in making us who and what we are. There are levels of information and coding in our cells that boggle the mind.
  7. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins. A description of a world without God and thus without any reason to value human life. It's probably no coincidence that nowhere in Collins' novel is God mentioned and neither is there any consideration by the characters in the story of the morality of the world in which they live.
  8. The Triumph of Christianity - Rodney Stark. A very readable history of the emergence of Christianity in the ancient world and how and why it triumphed over its competitors.
  9. God's Battalions - Rodney Stark. A very readable history of the crusades which every one who teaches concerned about current relations between Muslims and the West should read. It dispels a lot of myths, including the myth that the crusades were attempts by imperialistic Europeans to plunder and conquer poor, helpless Muslims. In fact, the crusades were mostly attempts at self-defense in the face of relentless Muslim aggression and atrocities.
  10. Messy Quest for Meaning - Stephen Martin. A delightful series of vignettes about life and its foibles written by a friend of mine. Not even the fact that he mentions me detracts from the wit, wisdom, and humility which grace Messy Quest's pages.
  11. A Brief History of Thought - Luc Ferry. French philosopher Ferry traces the story of man's attempt to find an answer for death. Quick summary: The best answer, Ferry acknowledges, is the Christian answer, but he can't bring himself to believe it.
  12. Escape from Camp 14 - Blaine Harden. The amazing story of a North Korean named Shin Dong-hyuk who was born in a North Korean prison camp, a place of awful cruelty and deprivation, and how he managed to become, at age 23, the only person known to have been both born in the camp and to have escaped from it. This 60 Minutes interview of Shin by Anderson Cooper gives a very good overview of Shin's story:
  13. Unbroken - Lauren Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand recounts the story of Louie Zamperini a long distance runner in the 1930s who becomes a bomber pilot in WWII, was captured by the Japanese after a 40 + day ordeal at sea in a life raft, and was repeatedly beaten and starved for several years by his captors. The author also takes us through Zamperini's life after the war. It's a fascinating tale of human endurance, courage, and Zamperini's struggles with alcoholism when he finally returned home. Here's a 2010 piece by Fox News on Zamperini:
  14. Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide - Ed Feser. A good introduction to the thought of one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived.
  15. A Shot of Faith - Mitch Stokes. Stokes' book is essentially an explication of the thinking of Alvin Plantinga, with special attention paid to Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies.
  16. Science and Human Origins - Gauger, Axe, Luskin. A brief summary of some of the very serious problems scientists have recently encountered in their quest to explain human evolution.
  17. Mind and Cosmos - Thomas Nagel. Atheist Nagel explains why Darwinian materialism is almost certainly wrong. The alternative, a supernatural intelligence, is not to Nagel's liking, however, so he's left positing some nebulous telic principle pervading the cosmos to explain how life arose. As the kids would say, whatever.
  18. Philosophy of Mind - Ed Feser. A fine introduction to the philosophical study of mind and the mind/matter problem.
  19. The World According to Monsanto - Marie Monique-Robin. An indictment of the Monsanto chemical company. If only a fourth of the allegations in this book are true the leadership of that corporation, at least during the last half of the twentieth century, should all be in jail. The book is better employed as a reference than as casual reading.
  20. In the Beginning...We Misunderstood - Miller and Soden. An interesting explanation of the structure of the first two chapters of Genesis, where that structure came from, and what those chapters are really telling us about the creation.
  21. Occupy the Economy - Richard Wolff. A critique of capitalism and an advocacy of Marxist socialism. It offers some important facts, but the argument it makes is pretty thin. Moreover, Wolff's enthusiasm for the Occupy Movement is so 2011.