Weekend Reading: June 16, 2018

Welcome to the Weekend Reading! It’s been a busy several weeks of travel, so I haven’t been writing much.  But I have been reading a lot!  In fact, I’ve helped write a summer reading challenge for my church, and if you’d like to check out what books I’ve recommended, click here.

Let’s get started with books…

Books

I’ve been reading some great books these past few weeks.  I’ve learned a great deal from Russell Kirk’s classic The Conservative Mind and would recommend it to any serious scholar trying to understand the evolution of conservative (and even liberal) thought over the last two hundred years. Much of what Kirk says will fly over the head of non-scholars, but there are nuggets worth their weight and the time it has taken me to work through the 500+ page tome. Let me give you one such nugget from Kirk as he gives some props to Arthur Balfour’s argument against the materialist liberalism of the industrial revolution in which men used “science” as a shield from true thought:

Knowledge, love, and beauty cannot endure in a world that acknowledges only Nature; they have both their roots and their consummation in God, and people who deny God must lose both the definition and the appreciation of knowledge, love, and beauty…men who endeavor to reduce religion to matter-of-fact morality, or elevate science to the estate of a dogmatic creed, have shut their eyes to the sources of wisdom that distinguish civilized men from primitive beings.

Last week I finished The Brothers Karamazov, and it was fascinating. It’s one of those 1000 page classics whose story line isn’t ground-breaking, but is merely a vehicle for the author (Dostoevsky) to convey deep insights into the human character. Certainly this is the case with The Brothers K.  There is a great deal of nuance and insight on a micro-level that few authors are capable of teasing out. There are also some cutting critiques of the Christian church in Dostoevsky’s day, and of its hypocrisy and worldliness, which bare keeping in mind today as well.  Let me give you two examples of Dostoevsky’s insight into the human condition and mind. First, a woman struggling with her faith and pride is told by a priest of a similar instance he once ran into in a man:

I love mankind…but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons.

Then, one of the brothers (Ivan) who does not believe in God, is brutally honest when he states, “There is a certain confession I have to make to you…I have never been able to understand how it is possible to love one’s neighbor. In my opinion the people it is impossible to love are precisely those near to one, while one can really love only those who are far away.”   And in a moment of heartbreaking conversation with the faithful Christian brother Alyosha, we read this:

Ivan:  Let me rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unassuaged indignation, even though I am not right. And in any case, harmony has been overestimated in value, we really don’t have the money to pay so much to get in. And so I hasten to return my entry ticket. And if I am at all an honest man, I am obliged to return it as soon as possible. That is what I am doing. It isn’t God I don’t accept, Alyosha, its just his ticket that I most respectfully return to him.

Alyosha:  That is mutiny

Ivan:  Mutiny? I don’t like to hear you say such a word!  One can’t live in a state of mutiny, but I want to live.

During vacation I read Paul Tripp’s book on parenting, which is simply called Parenting – hey, no one ever accused Tripp of being too creative!  But what he lacks in creativity he’s made up in helpfulness. I was humbled, and challenged by this book, and as soon as I finished it I thought “I need to read this every 6 months!”  Unlike previous books I’ve read from Tripp (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands stands out as exhibit A), this book is not overly wordy or longer than necessary. Yes there are some repetitious parts, and yes there are several examples of real life situations – but unlike Instruments in the Redeemers Hand someone has helped Tripp actually edit these to make them flow quickly and to the point. I’d highly recommend this book to parents – and not just to new parents. This is year 12 for us, and it was very helpful.

Kate and I listened to Michael Tougias’ Their Finest Hours – its a story that was recently made into a movie starring Chris Pine. So I thought it would be interesting – and it was definitely interesting!  But Mr. Tougias could have written that short book in about 1/2 the length. It was a very odd combination of thrilling story and extremely boring and incidental historical asides. I’m thinking the movie might actually be better in this case, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Also, during some travel I finished up Shelby Foote’s The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign.  This is just a short (300 page) excerpt from his massive three-volume series on the Civil War. It was definitely interesting reading, and good writing. I wasn’t entirely satisfied that Foote was writing with the layman in mind, as I often found myself a little lost geographically as the story progressed, but I did enjoy the many anecdotes and character assessments of the men as well as the strategies they employed.  If you read Chernow’s Grant then you may feel like Foote didn’t give a very holistic idea of Grant’s thinking and who he was in this volume, but while he doesn’t break much ground there, he does stay true to what is nominally understood about Grant and the pressures he faced politically and militarily as well as how he succumb to them at times and overcame them in the end…if that makes sense?  It’s hard to explain Grant, I think. So I don’t blame Foote for not elucidating a notoriously opaque character.

During our family trip down to Florida last week, we listened to the first Harry Potter novel as a family. It was very engaging, and enjoyable. The writing was easy for the kids to understand, and while I didn’t feel there were many overt lessons in character or parallels to a greater story, I did think that Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore at the end of the book was very insightful and probably worth the price of admission. The book certainly made the drive fun and kept things lighthearted.  I wouldn’t mind listing to number two. H/T to Rod K. for how strongly he recommended the Jim Dale’s reading – he did not disappoint!

Stories…

When it comes to political stories, there haven’t been many bigger than the meeting between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim.  It’s way too early to know whether anything good will come of this, which I think Al Mohler summed up well in this edition of the briefing.

Here is the first of three WSJ articles I think warrant some attention…The Disgrace of Comey’s FBI: The damning IG report shows the urgent need to restore public trust.  Key excerpt:

The issue of political bias is almost beside the point. The IG scores Mr. Comey for “ad hoc decisionmaking based on his personal views.” Like Hoover, Mr. Comey believed that he alone could protect the public trust. And like Hoover, this hubris led him to make egregious mistakes of judgment that the IG says “negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

An interesting study from a few months back that I was just recently able to check out: How to Succeed in Business? Do Less.  Here’s a quote:

The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity.

And in a totally different subject (but also from the Journal), my brother sent me this interesting story, The Gym, for Millennia of Bodies and Souls: Today’s gyms, which depend on our vanity and body envy, are a far cry from what the Greeks envisioned.  Check out how the author ends it:

More than 57 million Americans belong to a health club today, but until local libraries start adding spinning classes and CrossFit, the gym will remain a shadow of the original Greek ideal. We prize our sound bodies, but we aren’t nearly as devoted to developing sound mind and character.

So…I  deleted my Facebook App last week: Your Phone Is Listening and it’s Not Paranoia. And the hits just keep coming: Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence.

This was just hilarious: Woman stopped for driving bumper car on the highway.

This is not an old article from 2007 or anything: Getting Rich on Government-Backed Mortgages.

Tim Challies gives some history on a modern classic: How R.C. Sproul Blessed the Church by Preaching the Curse

I knew it!  Study: Average Father Spends 97% Of Time Running Around House Turning Lights Off

I don’t recall posting this before, but its excellent: The Rise of Corporate Social Responsibility

That’s it for now – enjoy Father’s Day weekend!

PJW

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