Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Multiple Book Reviews

My wife has brought it to my attention that I have been neglectful of my book reviews. It has been sometime since I did one, so this one will have to encompass many books, and it will sadly not encompass all of the books I meant to review.

Let us just start with history. I just finished two books from the American Presidents Series. The first, John Quincy Adams by Robert Remini was an exceptional book. As with all of Mr. Remini’s work it is educational and easy to read. Despite the fact that Remini is a Jackson, Clay and Webster scholar, his work on Adams is fair and even handed. Unlike some of the other books in this series it is more like a true biography rather than just an examination of the Presidency of John Q. Adams. It is still short to fit the format for the series and would easily mastered by a high school student if one so chose to use it. The book deals with why John Q. Adams did not go into the Federalist Party as well as the Corrupt Bargain and the return to Congress of the former President. While I think that Mr. Remini takes a few unnecessary shots at the strict parenting of both Abagail Adams of John Q, and John Q of his children, all in all the book is very good.

The second book in that series I read was Marting Van Buren by Ted Widmer. This book was a fascinating glimpse into the founder of the two party system. It too follows Van Buren though his whole political career rather than just his Presidency, and it even takes time to examine the causes of things that affected Van Buren such as the sudden rise in the slavery debate during the 1830’s and the Panic of 1837. The style of Mr. Widmer is much more flamboyant than Mr. Remini. He seems to enjoy a good lofty metaphor, fancy introductions, and the odd ball quotes that drive his point home. Oddly enough it means that Davy Crockett gets quite a few quotes in a book about Van Buren. The book does give a good picture of the forgotten 8th President, and includes many trivia facts as well such as the origin of the word OK. OK was the abbreviation used for Old Kinderhook (even President Van Buren used it about himself). It was then equated with ‘oll korrect’, a slang way of saying ‘all right.’ Thus, if one was for President Van Buren he was OK in that he was for Old Kinderhook and all right. That is the origin of the now common word. Something to file away in your memory banks.

I of course read more than just historical biographies. A few books that had been recommended in past issues of World Magazine finally found their way to my bookshelf courtesy of birthday gifts. Why Johnny Cannot Tell Right From Wrong: Moral Illiteracy and The Case for Character Education, by William Kilpatrick, analyzes the ways in which Public Education destroys the moral reasoning of children. The format and name of this book derive from an earlier book explaining Why Johnny Can’t Read. That book explores the affects of removing phonics from school and replacing it with the See and Say Method. This book examines the consequences of removing Character Education and replacing it with Moral Reasoning or Decision Making. The numbers seem to back his analysis up. Suicides have risen 300% among teenagers in the past 30 years, 21% of all public school kids avoid the bathrooms at school (I was one of that group) out of fear. More disturbing is that despite the frequent use of contraceptives 1.1 million teenagers became pregnant in 1991. The number is not declining. Approximately 40% 14 year-old girls will become pregnant by the time they are 19. The number one concern of teachers in America is behavior problems. Back when the schools followed the Character Education method in 1950 the number one concern of teachers was reading. He has some disturbing illustrations, and if you think this is not going on in your school, I suggest you read this book. Still, the author is convinced that Public Schooling is acceptable if we just do it right. That is a conclusion that I am not sure is justified. It is not written from a Christian Worldview so the idea of whether or not Christian values should be inculcated and what happens when the values taught are not the values of the parents do not make the cut in this book. A sad deficiency. Still the book is worth a read, and it contains a list of good books to read to your kids in the back.

The Party of Death by Ramesh Pnnuru of National Review is even more interesting. It is not for the faint of heart. If you are against abortion or euthanasia this book will probably make you sick and then overwhelmingly angry. The tone of the book is just right. It is exposing like a good journalist expose, but not insulting like Ann Coulter. It destroys the arguments of the Party of Death, which is defined not as Democrats but as anyone who supports abortion, and goes into the Stem Cell debate as well. It is a very up to date book that stops just short of the Democratic Mid Term victory. The book is a must read. I do quibble with some of his suggestion for how to proceed in the fight against the Party of Death, but that is a very minor criticism. My main problem with his suggestions is that it is political, and not directed at the masses. A good quote from Martin Van Buren should be inserted here to sum up my feelings about the situation.

Those who have wrought great changes in the world never succeeded by gaining over chiefs; but always by exciting the multitude. The first is the resource of intrigue and produces only secondary results, the second is the resort of genius and transforms the universe.

I also have finished most of Jay Adams’s Shepherding God’s Flock. This book really should have been required reading in a Pastoral Theology Classes at seminary, but it was not. It has great information and is very detailed as Jay Adams is want to do. It contains information on how to do Home Visits and what to look for when candidating at a church. Very useful, very practical. It does contain the theories of Jay Adams as well, but that is not the focus of the book. For example, Jay Adams is convinced that Home Visitation is not the same as Pastoral Visitation and Shepherding. Adams has always been big on the Counseling from the Pulpit, and much of that emphasis can be seen in this book. So, if someone has a problem with some of Adams Pastoral theories, this book will need to be read in that light. I think that it would still be helpful just for all of the wonderful details like where to sit during a visit and not to get caught in new conversations after you are planning on leaving. The advice is often things that new pastors do not think out before being thrown into having to do it. For that reason alone, I found this book helpful.

One final note for those of you who enjoy my baseball thoughts. I have started a new blog Blogging Baseball. Mainly I started it to experiment with Wordpress.

I just received another round of books that will keep me busy for a while. I will try to be more diligent about posting reviews.