Book Review of The God-Shaped Brain by Timothy R. Jennings

In The God-Shaped Brain, Dr. Jen­nings, a Chris­t­ian psy­chi­a­trist, weaves together bits of the­ol­ogy with bits of psy­chi­a­try and brain physiology.

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Title:  The God-Shaped Brain: How Chang­ing Your View of God Trans­forms Your Life
Author:   Tim­o­thy R. Jen­nings, M.D.
Pub­lisher:  IVP
Date:  April, 2013
Length:  256 pages

Book Review of The God-Shaped Brain: How Chang­ing Your View of God Trans­forms Your Life by Tim­o­thy R. Jennings

The book begins with the premise that our spir­i­tual belief has an impact upon the phys­i­ol­ogy of the brain. The prob­lem that Jen­nings addresses is that we often view God as judg­men­tal, angry, and puni­tive. Such beliefs, Jen­nings argues, cre­ate self-damaging psy­cho­log­i­cal pat­terns, atti­tudes, and behaviors.

I appre­ci­ated some of the insights, but it was over­all a dis­ap­point­ing read:

  • Some­times, I was con­fused as to what Jen­nings was try­ing to say. Because his writ­ing style takes on a lofty spir­i­tual tone, con­crete mean­ing gets lost.
  • At times, it seemed as if he is blam­ing the prob­lem of sin on con­di­tion of the mind. In his restate­ment of Romans 7, he replaces “mind” with “pre­frontal cor­tex.” While there is cer­tainly some neu­ro­sci­en­tific curios­ity to such an inter­pre­ta­tion, it tends to remove the guilt of sin from the per­son and onto a med­ical con­di­tion over which we have nei­ther con­trol nor choice.
  • Jen­nings espouses the ransom the­ory of the atone­ment, which states that in the atone­ment, God paid a ran­som to Satan for believ­ers’ release from bondage. I find this the­ory problematic.
  • The author’s goal, it seems, is to reverse many incor­rect, but con­ven­tional assump­tions about God. In so doing, how­ever, he makes many assump­tions of his own.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution by Wayne Grudem and and Barry Asmus

I’ve read sev­eral books by Gru­dem, but this one was an entirely dif­fer­ent in its con­tent — a book on economics.

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution

Title:  The Poverty of Nations: A Sus­tain­able Solu­tion
Author: Wayne Gru­dem and Barry Asmus
Pub­lisher:  Cross­way
Date:  August 2013
Length: 402 pages

Also avail­able from Christianaudio.com.

Book Review of The Poverty of Nations: A Sus­tain­able Solu­tion by Wayne Gru­dem and and Barry Asmus

I found Rick Warren’s pref­ace slightly off-putting. With broad sweeps, he sum­mar­ily dis­misses most orga­ni­za­tions’ attempt to assuage the plight of the poor.

Hav­ing trav­eled the globe for thirty years and trained lead­ers in 164 coun­tries, I’ve wit­nessed first­hand that almost every gov­ern­ment an NGO (non­profit) poverty pro­gram is actu­ally harm­ful to the poo, hurt­ing them in the long run rather than help­ing them.

Then, using the word “bib­li­cal” to back it up, he inserts an endorse­ment of American-style cap­i­tal­ism as the solu­tion for the debil­i­tat­ing poverty of every nation.

The bib­li­cal way to help peo­ple rise out of poverty is through wealth cre­ation, not wealth redis­tri­b­u­tion. For last­ing results, we must offer the poor a hand up, not merely a hand­out. You spell long-term poverty reduc­tion “j-o-b-s.” Train­ing and tools lib­er­ate peo­ple. Trade, not aid, builds the pros­per­ity of nations.” 

It’s not so much that I dis­agreed with Warren’s state­ment, as much as I cringed at the tone. Lack of sen­si­tiv­ity and over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the prob­lem do lit­tle to help it.

Despite the ini­tial air of odi­ous­ness, the book was actu­ally pretty good.

Here are some of the  pos­i­tive points that I want to highlight:

  • They admit that the issue is com­pli­cated, then show why this is so.
  • They write in a remark­ably clear way. I appre­ci­ate clear writ­ing. Though Grudem’s writ­ing lacks in color, he makes up for in clar­ity. The book is orga­nized in clear and log­i­cal chap­ters. Chap­ter con­tent is pre­viewed, dis­cussed, then sum­ma­rized. The mate­r­ial is num­bered and divided with head­ings and descrip­tions. As a writer  who aspires to clar­ity, this was a major plus.

For all my appre­ci­a­tion of the book, I was left with a few questions.

  • The book is a solution-oriented finan­cial guide with bib­li­cal under­pin­nings and sup­port. I get that. I won­der, though, why “pros­per­ity” was defined then ana­lyzed exclu­sively in mon­e­tary terms, with­out any com­ment on a holis­tic pros­per­ity — spir­i­tual well­be­ing, hap­pi­ness, health, and gen­eral well being, apart from eco­nomic improvement.
  • Because of their the­sis that free mar­ket eco­nom­ics is the solu­tion to poverty, they tend to turn a blind eye to many of the ills and prob­lems that a cap­i­tal­ists econ­omy brings with it.
  • I respect Grudem’s bib­li­cal schol­ar­ship. I prof­ited from my read­ing of his Sys­tem­atic. How­ever, he seemed to be grab­bing at gos­samer threads of evi­dence to cor­rob­o­rate his claims of the eco­nomic pol­icy he endorses. For exam­ple, he uses the exam­ple of Jesus’ twelve dis­ci­ples to bol­ster his asser­tion that a gov­ern­ment of checks and bal­ances like the United States is a good form of government.

From the audio­book — a note on nar­ra­tion:  Ray Porter is one of the best nar­ra­tors I’ve heard among the Christianaudio.com nar­ra­tors. He has no dis­tract­ing accent, enun­ci­ates clearly, and pro­vides the human ele­ment of empha­sis and occa­sional lev­ity that pro­vide for an out­stand­ing audio read­ing experience.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of Found in Him by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Yes, I read some books that are intended for women. Part of the rea­son for this is that Keren and I share read­ing mate­r­ial so we can dis­cuss and dis­cern together Fur­ther­more, I find that I can learn a lot by read­ing widely. Another rea­son is that I review books for some pub­lish­ers and orga­ni­za­tions. Dis­claimers aside, Fitz­patrick writes to men even if her pri­mary audi­ence is women. In some of her books, like this one, she addresses men directly.

Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ

Title:  Found In Him: The Joy of the Incar­na­tion and Our Union with Christ
Author:  Elyse M. Fitz­patrick
Pub­lisher:  Cross­way
Date:  Octo­ber 2013
Length:  240 pages. I reviewed the audio ver­sion, avail­able from Christianaudio.com.

Fitz­patrick has a gift for dis­till­ing rock solid the­ol­ogy with a warm and read­able style. This is a book about the incar­na­tion and its appli­ca­tion to the life of the believer. Although the author doesn’t offer some­thing new, she does present pre­cious truths that never get old. Fitz­patrick doesn’t attempt to make the gospel mes­sage cute or sim­plis­tic. She sim­ply restates the­o­log­i­cal real­i­ties in an acces­si­ble and straight­for­ward way.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of Judges For You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading, by Tim Keller

It’s shock­ing, graphic, and might even be dis­cour­ag­ing —  the book of Judges. A few years ago, I taught a Sun­day School class for eight weeks that dealt with each of the judges. My biggest take­away from that expe­ri­ence was that God uses messed up peo­ple for his pur­poses. I appre­ci­ated Keller’s Judges for You, because it reminded me of these lessons and gave me fresh insights into some sec­tions of the book.

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Title:  Judges For You: For Read­ing, For Feed­ing, For Lead­ing (God’s Word for You)
Author:  Tim­o­thy Keller
Pub­lisher:  The Good Book Com­pany
Date: August 2013
Length: 224 pages. I reviewed the audio edi­tion from Christianaudio.

The book is the sec­ond in a brand new series of devotional/pastoral com­men­taries. Tim Keller is a respected author and pas­tor. I’ve ben­e­fited from many of his writ­ings, includ­ing Every Good Endeavor, King’s Cross, The Mean­ing of Mar­riageand espe­cially Gen­er­ous Jus­ticeKeller’s strengths as an author seem to lie in his bib­li­cal syn­the­sis, cul­tural analy­sis, and deliv­ery of appli­ca­tion to real-life sit­u­a­tions. Although Judges for You didn’t seem to cap­i­tal­ize on these strengths as well as other books of his that I’ve read, I nonethe­less appre­ci­ated his suc­cinct and devo­tional thoughts.

Here are a few char­ac­ter­is­tics that stood out to me.

  • Heavy on appli­ca­tion. This is not an exeget­i­cal com­men­tary. It’s a devo­tional sum­mary of the book of Judges. If you’re look­ing for some thor­ough treat­ment of the Hebrew, or an analy­sis of ancient near east­ern cul­ture prac­tices, look else­where. The appli­ca­tion empha­sis is appre­ci­ated, but I won­dered if, at times, the selected appli­ca­tion was stretched a bit far­ther than the text warranted.
  • New Tes­ta­ment par­al­lels and con­trasts. Keller draws on the New Tes­ta­ment a lot in his dis­cus­sion of Judges. I appre­ci­ated his point­ing out that Acts serves as a New Tes­ta­ment foil to Judges.
  • Cul­tural hot top­ics. There is a help­ful sec­tion on “women’s min­istries” in the pas­sages deal­ing with Deb­o­rah and Jael. Although Keller’s con­clu­sions are arguable, his dis­cus­sion here illu­mi­nates his view­point on the issue. There are two extreme responses to Deborah’s being fea­tured in this con­text; both are neg­a­tive and unwarranted.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith

I was sur­prised when I read this book. I was expect­ing a so-so treat­ment of Chris­t­ian liv­ing, with all the reg­u­lar facts, fea­tures, and exhor­ta­tions. I had never even heard of the author, so I went in with low expec­ta­tions. I was pleas­antly sur­prised by what I read.

 

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Title:  The Good and Beau­ti­ful Com­mu­nity:  Fol­low­ing the Spirit, Extend­ing Grace, Demon­strat­ing Love
Author:  James Bryan Smith
Pub­lisher:  IVPlis­tened to the audio ver­sion, avail­able through Chris­tianau­dio.
Date:  August, 2010
Length:  240 pages

Book Review of The Good and Beau­ti­ful Com­mu­nity: Fol­low­ing the Spirit, Extend­ing Grace, Demon­strat­ing Love by James Bryan Smith

This is a book that makes you appro­pri­ately uncom­fort­able regard­ing where you are spir­i­tu­ally, but doesn’t leave you dis­cour­aged. Instead, Smith is warm, encour­ag­ing, and sup­port­ive to any Chris­t­ian, at any point in his or her jour­ney. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • The book started a lit­tle weak, but per­haps this was because I hadn’t read the two pre­quels in the series.
  • Smith’s writ­ing isn’t sparkling with lit­er­ary mas­tery. Instead, it is plain and straight­for­ward. That’s fine with me. I pre­fer read­ing plain writ­ing rather than glit­ter­ing prose that lacks clar­ity. I also appre­ci­ate how Smith pep­pered the book with inter­est­ing anec­dotes, and infused it with per­sonal warmth.
  • Smith is well-read. He cites the well-known mod­ern spir­i­tual writ­ers like Dal­las Willard, Richard Fos­ter, and Eugene Peter­son. He also draws from N.T. Wright, Stan­ley Hauer­was, A.W. Tozer, T.S. Eliot, C.S.Lewis, St. Fran­cis, and others.
  • Has one of the best sec­tions on unity that I’ve ever read. This alone is worth the price of the book.
  • Smith includes excel­lent con­tent on burnout and mar­gin. These are two themes that are sor­row­fully neglected in much Chris­t­ian teach­ing today. Instead of shout­ing “C’MON! DO MORE FOR GOD!” (par­don the all caps), Smith pro­vides kind encour­age­ment to serve God while remind­ing us that we don’t need to do every­thing, shouldn’t do every­thing, and may even be doing too much.
  • He is gra­cious and gen­tle, when many Chris­t­ian writ­ers are harsh and berating.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of In a Pit With a Lion On a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars by Mark Batterson

Mark has a great writ­ing style, and a lot of good things to say in this book. At times, though, I wished for a lit­tle more the­o­log­i­cal grounding.

Title:  In a Pit With a Lion On a Snowy Day: How to Sur­vive and Thrive When Oppor­tu­nity Roars 
Author:  Mark Bat­ter­son
Pub­lisher:  Ran­dom House
Date:  August 2008
Length:  194 pages

Avail­able via Christianaudio.com

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Book Review of In a Pit With a Lion On a Snowy Day: How to Sur­vive and Thrive When Oppor­tu­nity Roars by Mark Batterson

The point of the book can be summed up in four let­ters:  YOLO. The book’s title and the­sis is built on part of one verse in 2 Samuel 23:20: “[Benaiah] also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.” The point of the book, then, is “Be like Ben [Bena­iah].” Kill your metaphor­i­cal lions in pits on snowy days.

I like Mark. He’s a fun guy, and pas­sion­ate about lov­ing Jesus, liv­ing life, and min­is­ter­ing to peo­ple. When he and I talk, his atti­tude is con­ta­gious. This book convey’s Mark’s fun-loving, adven­tur­ous, and zany atti­tude. It was an enjoy­able read, and it really encour­aged me to reach for my dreams, and live a life of rad­i­cal faith. One should real­ize, how­ever, that the goals and aspi­ra­tions he’s encour­ag­ing may be dreams of busi­ness oppor­tu­nity or career changes, and not nec­es­sar­ily spir­i­tual pursuits.

Another great thing about the book is its read­abil­ity. Mark is a great writer. I wish I could write like him. There are hun­dreds of amaz­ing one-liners all over the book. He has a knack for putting things in an unfor­get­table way. Plus, he tells plenty of funny stories.

In spite of these obvi­ous upsides, I’m not crazy about the book. Here’s why.

While I’m all for being like Bena­iah, that’s not exactly the point of the Scrip­ture pas­sage, nor is it an advis­able way of apply­ing Scrip­ture. The fact that Mark got a whole book out of this one verse speaks to his great writ­ing capa­bil­i­ties, and I like the point of the book. Exeget­i­cally, how­ever, it’s a shaky start. 

This would be entirely okay were it not for the fact that the entire book pro­ceeds with pre­cious lit­tle in the way of bib­li­cal sup­port. Much of it is inspirational, feel-good advice that lacks a sturdy the­o­log­i­cal frame­work. Mark uses psy­cho­log­i­cal insights more than he uses Scrip­ture to advance his points. For a book on Chris­t­ian liv­ing, one would pre­fer that the lion’s share (sorry) of evi­dence be from the­o­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples or Scrip­tural references.

For exam­ple, in one sec­tion, he dis­cusses his own regret over not cliff jump­ing in Jamaica, encour­ages the reader to try out for Amer­i­can Idol, and uses a proof text from Henry David Thoreau.

On the occa­sions, when the author does use some point of evi­dence to advance his argu­ment, he does so by cit­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of a Hebrew, Greek, or Ara­maic word. Here is one example:

The word trans­lated oppor­tu­nity is the Greek word kairos. It refers to ‘a serendip­i­tous win­dow of opportunity.’

First, the book has no ref­er­ent for def­i­n­i­tion of ‘oppor­tu­nity,’ so I’m unclear of the Scrip­tural con­text for Mark’s cit­ing the def­i­n­i­tionSec­ondly, I’m skep­ti­cal of the def­i­n­i­tion itself, and have not found it rep­re­sented in any Greek ref­er­ence tools.

I was also trou­bled by the way he teases out exam­ples and inspi­ra­tion from Jesus. Here’s one example:

You’re never going to be ready. But you’re in good com­pany. Jesus wasn’t even ready! Right before his first mir­a­cle there is a hint of hes­i­ta­tion: ‘My time has not yet come.” But Jesus had a mom who loved him enough to push him out of the nest.

That’s not exactly how it went down. Jesus wasn’t hes­i­tat­ing to do a mir­a­cle; he didn’t need his mom to push him out of the nest. And he was by all means ready for His work (Gala­tians 4:4). 

There is another sec­tion at which Mark explains our lim­ited view of the redemp­tion, and it makes me slightly uncomfortable:

I don’t think we can under­stand the full impli­ca­tions of his mis­sion to ‘pro­claim that the cap­tives will be released.’ It means more than free­dom from sin. He came to get us out of the psy­cho­log­i­cal straight­jacket we’ve got­ten our­selves into. It’s about more than the elim­i­na­tion of sin. It’s about the redemp­tion of our God-given poten­tial. It’s not about not doing any­thing wrong. It’s about mak­ing a unique con­tri­bu­tion for as many spins on the planet as we get.

The rea­son why this con­cerns me is because Christ’s work to redeem us from sin is almost min­i­mized by the alleged impor­tance of his get­ting us out of our psy­cho­log­i­cal straight­jack­ets. I don’t deny that we have psy­cho­log­i­cal strait­jack­ets. I do, how­ever, wish to empha­size the impor­tance of redemp­tion from sin over against release from said straightjackets.

My goal in cri­tiquing Mark’s writ­ing is not to dis­suade you from read­ing the book. It’s a great encour­age­ment to live carpe diem, to embrace a life of faith, and to live unleashed for God. Those are great things, and Mark’s pas­sion­ate pur­suit of such God-focused liv­ing is com­mend­able. I’m thank­ful for his con­tri­bu­tion, but wish he was a bit closer to Scrip­ture as he expounds his points.

Dis­clo­sure of Mate­r­ial Con­nec­tion: I received this review copy for free as part of the chris­tianau­dio Review­ers Pro­gram of christianaudio.com. I was not required to write a pos­i­tive review. The opin­ions I have expressed are my own. I am dis­clos­ing this in accor­dance with the Fed­eral Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Con­cern­ing the Use of Endorse­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ni­als in Advertising.”

Book Review of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink

I’m fas­ci­nated with books about food. That’s prob­a­bly because I’m fas­ci­nated with food. So, in 2012 when I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pol­lan, I wanted to read Mind­less Eat­ing by Brian Wansink. Finally, I got around to read­ing it.

2014 Read­ing:  Book 4

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Book Review of  Mind­less Eat­ing: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by  Brian Wansink

Basi­cally, Wansink says this:  We eat way too much. But we don’t even real­ize we’re doing it, because there are so many envi­ron­men­tal cues that com­pel us to do so. In the inter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I con­fess that dur­ing one sec­tion of the book, I was snack­ing con­sci­en­tiously (not mind­lessly) on whole grain tor­tilla chips.

The book is full of fas­ci­nat­ing fac­toids. Like these:

  • You will fill your glass and drink more bev­er­age if you are using a short fat glass, than if you are using a tall skinny one.
  • You will eat more if you eat with one per­son, more still if you eat with two, more still with three, and you max out at a four-person meal.
  • The pace of the music in the room you are din­ing will will affect the rate at which you eat.
  • The col­ors of the room in which you eat will affect the rate at which you eat.
  • The size of your plate affects how much you eat. (Use a smaller plate; you’ll eat less.)
  • We per­ceive a “serv­ing size” only rel­a­tive to the size of the con­tainer from which it came.
  • Most of us eat until we are full, rather than eat­ing until we are no longer hungry.

A lot of it is com­mon sense stuff, but the point is how mind­lessly we’re duped by these things that should be so sim­plis­tic. Even Wansink’s very staff of food psy­chol­o­gists were duped into dish­ing out more ice cream when they had a big spoon and bowl vs those who had small scoop and bowls.

You’ll dis­cover fas­ci­nat­ing tricks that fast food chains and super­mar­kets use to get you to buy more and eat more. The author rec­om­mends that we make small mind­less changes in our diet that reverse the trend of mind­less overeat­ing. His point — “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”

Minor quib­bles they are, but I couldn’t help but call out a few things:

  • In the begin­ning of the book, he nearly dis­qual­i­fied him­self as a food advi­sor by con­fess­ing his pro­cliv­ity for fast food break­fasts and diet coke.
  • His view of weight loss/gain is overly sim­plis­tic. He takes a straight-on calories-in-means-weight-gained approach.
  • He focuses some­what myopi­cally on eat­ing less, but not enough on eat­ing bet­ter qual­ity. Tips on eat­ing less fries McDon­alds are still tips on eat­ing fries at McDonalds.

My next book on food will prob­a­bly be another Pol­lan. (Pol­lan is just such a good writer.) Over­all, Mind­less Eat­ing was a help­ful book even if a bit com­mon­sense at places I do some writ­ing on buyer psy­chol­ogy (e-commerce) and mar­ket­ing. In indus­tries far afield of McDonald’s researchers are cit­ing Wansink’s find­ings because of how reveal­ing they are of uncon­scious human behav­ior. He’s got some fas­ci­nat­ing things to tell you about.

Next up…a Chris­t­ian book — In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Dayby Mark Batterson.

Book Review of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, by Piper Kerman

Piper Ker­man broke the law. Ten years after her crimes, she was con­victed and incar­cer­ated. Today, Piper Ker­man is a free woman, but her thir­teen months of adven­ture and mis­ad­ven­ture while in prison are known by mil­lions — either by the Net­flix dark com­edy, Orange Is the New Black, or her book of the same name.

2014 Read­ing:  Book 3

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Book Review of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, by Piper Kerman

Here are some of my take­aways:  (Note: I have not watched the Net­flix series.)

  • Ker­man dis­cusses her prison expe­ri­ence with a frank­ness that is alter­nately encour­ag­ing and depress­ing. Any one who has not spent time behind bars prob­a­bly has a curios­ity about what it’s like. Ker­man takes you there, and tells you what it’s like — both good and bad with equal transparency.
  • The book is a mashup of con­fes­sion, mem­oir, auto­bi­og­ra­phy, and self-actualization story in a Walden sort of way. Ker­man her­self writes that being in prison taught her that she was good.
  • The sto­ries of affec­tion and friend­ship are raw and touch­ing, but the book as a whole is over­shad­owed by the messy unpleas­ant­ness of what prison life is like.
  • The book did to me the same thing that many other books have done:  I became aware of acute injus­tice, of intense human suf­fer­ing, and the inad­e­quacy of human solutions.
  • I leaned about peo­ple whom I may never have the chance to per­son­ally meet or inter­act with.
  • Ker­man brings up nearly every arena of con­flict within cul­ture and soci­ety — sex­ual harass­ment, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, drugs, reli­gion, gov­ern­ment, jus­tice, mar­riage, rela­tion­ships, racism, abuse, work, fam­ily, etc. Name your con­cern, and it’s prob­a­bly brought up within the pages of this book. There’s even a sec­tion on the rivalry between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees.

Book Review of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath

When I was in col­lege I thought of myself as very deci­sive. Ret­ro­spect has a way of expos­ing one’s past igno­rance and arro­gance. Now, with the “real life” and “grown up” deci­sions that I have to make, I find the process more chal­leng­ing. After all, my deci­sions dra­mat­i­cally impact my future and my fam­ily. I’ve made my share of unwise and wise, hasty and delib­er­ate, delayed and pre­ma­ture deci­sions. The book Deci­sive is a book that speaks to the expe­ri­ence of every­one — because we all make decisions.

2014 Read­ing:  Book 2

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

I enjoyed Deci­sive, because it was thor­oughly prac­ti­cal, solidly researched, and emi­nently read­able. Chip and Dan Heath pro­vided some great tips — and some really inter­est­ing sto­ries — to improve anyone’s decision-making abil­i­ties. Here’s their frame­work for mak­ing bet­ter deci­sions — the WRAP method.

  1. Widen your options.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions.
  3. Add dis­tance before deciding.
  4. Prepare to be wrong.

Book Review of Deci­sive: How to Make Bet­ter Choices in Life and Work

Here are some of the points that stood out to me:

  • Choice paral­y­sis occurs some­where between six and 20 choices.  I’m been fas­ci­nated by the the­ory of choice paral­y­sis, also known as analy­sis paral­y­sis. It was pop­u­lar­ized by Barry Schwartz in his book The Para­dox of Choice. The famous study behind choice paral­y­sis is the jam test, con­ducted by Lep­per and Iye­nar of Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity. In the study, peo­ple were more likely to buy jam when only six fla­vors were avail­able to sam­ple, than if there were 24–30 fla­vors. In the TED Talk below, Schwartz explains the paradox:

  • If you’re try­ing to make a “whether or not” deci­sion, you’re prob­a­bly trapped into a nar­row decision-making frame­work. Why do you have just two choices? Might there be a third or fourth option? Often, the best deci­sion is not the either/or, but the both/and.
  • I’ve tried the pros/cons method of deci­sion mak­ing, and it’s not so great. This is the one where you take a piece of paper, draw a line down the mid­dle, write the pros on one side, write the cons on the other, and jig­ger with some pseudo math to see which deci­sion comes out more favor­ably. Heath and Heath hand­ily decon­structed the effi­cacy of this method. Sorry, Ben Franklin.
  • The 10–10-10 tip was handy. You ask your­self “How would I feel about this deci­sion 10 sec­onds later…10 months later…10 years later?” It’s not exactly a sci­en­tific method of com­ing to a deci­sion, but it can be a help­ful gut-feeling reac­tion guide.
  • For those like me who make decision-making within the broader con­text of a Chris­t­ian world­view and belief in a sov­er­eign God, the book is still help­ful. Cus­tom­ar­ily, God does not facil­i­tate decision-making via warm-and-fuzzy inter­nal sen­sa­tions, heav­enly light­ning bolts, or cos­mic appari­tions. Prayer, an accu­rate under­stand­ing of the Bible, and obe­di­ence to God are crit­i­cal to a true Chris­t­ian lifestyle, but this doesn’t solve all of our decision-making quan­daries. The authors have a brief dis­cus­sion about those who make deci­sions within a spir­i­tual frame­work. I think that their remarks are gen­er­ally helpful.
  • Assum­ing a pos­i­tive intent is a help­ful for us to under­stand the behav­ior of others. 
  • You can place dis­tance between your­self and your deci­sion by ask­ing how you would advise your good friend if he or she were in your sit­u­a­tion. Some­times, the deci­sion comes almost instantly and with appar­ent obviousness.
  • Two hypo­thet­i­cal ques­tions help to place a deci­sion into per­spec­tive:  1)  What if you received an inher­i­tance of $20 mil­lion? 2) And what if you only have five years to live?

 

Book Review of Twelve Years a Slave

I just fin­ished read­ing Twelve Years a Slave. Although I have read exten­sively on the sub­ject of racism and slav­ery, I wish I had read this book specif­i­cally ear­lier in my life so I could bet­ter under­stand the malev­o­lent force that slav­ery had in shap­ing indi­vid­ual lives and our nation as a whole. The book is an authen­tic and raw account of one man’s per­sonal expe­ri­ence with slavery.

18478222

Here are some of my thoughts on the book, Twelve Years a Slave. (I have not yet seen the movie.)

  • Slav­ery is abhor­rent. There are some dis­turb­ing scenes in the book. The most poignant moment for me was when a mother and her two chil­dren were sold to dif­fer­ent slave own­ers. The mother was crushed with grief, and she died of a bro­ken heart not long after. Slav­ery of itself is bad enough, but it spawns mil­lions of other vio­la­tions of human jus­tice like the tear­ing apart of families. 
  • Man’s cru­elty is lim­it­less. How can one man bring him­self to beat another human being until the victim’s blood is pour­ing from his or her body — and to actu­ally enjoy per­pe­trat­ing such a heinous act?! Evi­dently, it hap­pened, and appar­ently such cruel whip­pings hap­pened all day long among some slave own­ers. Northup explains sev­eral of these encoun­ters, and writes that the sound of whip­ping could be heard non­stop dur­ing the day. Vio­lence is dis­gust­ing, but unfor­tu­nately, we see it every­where in our world. I’m afraid that we as a cul­ture are so enam­ored of vio­lence that we have begun to see it as a good, not the evil that it is. I believe that I am jus­ti­fied in con­demn­ing violence.
  • Injus­tice endures. If you have any doubt that there is injus­tice in the world — sys­temic, enforced, and inescapable injus­tice — read this book. Northup explains this injus­tice from a first-hand per­spec­tive. There are those in this world who expe­ri­ence injus­tice because of their race, coun­try of ori­gin, or other sociopo­lit­i­cal or demo­graphic fea­tures. This is a tragedy, and it is one that we sim­ply can’t over­look when we con­sider our nation, our neigh­bors, and our world as a whole.

As of my writ­ing this on 1/2/2014, this book is only $0.99 on Ama­zon. You can view it here. 

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