22 December 2011

Review Grab Bag # 3

The Man Called CASH: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend by Steve Turner

After seeing the movie “Walk the Line” with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, I wanted to learn more about the life of Johnny Cash. What I learned is that the movie is so loosely based on Cash’s life as to be useless for learning about the real man. Also, Cash’s real life was much more interesting and exciting than the movie .

This is an excellent biography and shows not only the broad outline of Cash’s life, but his spiritual struggles, his intellectual interests and pursuits. It also explores his legacy as one of the greatest singers/songwriters of the twentieth century.

4/5 stars

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson (Arthur G. Brodeur, trans.)

Unlike The Poetic (or Elder) Edda which is a collection of actual Norse poems, The Prose (or Younger) Edda is a treatise on how to write skaldic poetry. Along the way, there are many stories from Norse Mythology. Did you ever want to know where the ability to write poetry comes from? Apparently Odin, in the form of a bird, drank the mead of poetry that the dwarves guarded and flew back to Asgard, where he spit it out into containers. Great poets are those upon whom the gods bestow mead from these containers. Of course during his flight, some mead leaked out of Odin’s butt as well. This is what bad poets drink to get their inspiration.

Anyway, if you love Norse mythology and poetry and want to go back to some of our earliest sources, this is a great book to read.

5/5 stars

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
“The progress of humanity is like climbing an endless ladder; it is impossible to climb higher without first taking the lower steps. Thus, the Aryan had to take the road to which reality directed him and not the one that would appeal to the imagination of a modern pacifist…Hence it is no accident that the first cultures arose in places where the Aryan, in his encounters with lower peoples, subjugated them and bent them to his will. They then became the first technical instrument in the service of a developing culture.” -Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 295

Intriguing and reprehensible. These are the two words which best describe Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s personal manifesto written while in prison after the Beer Hall Putsch. In this book, Hitler outlines his childhood, his political philosophy and how he became the leader of the Nazi party.

As a child he did not want to be a politician; he wanted to be an artist. His mean old father misunderstood him and poor Adolf had a hard childhood. Then after his primary education, he was rejected by the mean old art schools. After a time of turmoil in his life, he came to some definite ideas about the world: parliament is worthless, democracy is Jewish trash, and an aristocracy of the powerful is necessary. Nature and evolution have decreed that some races are superior, and Hitler is terribly concerned about keeping races separate. In fact, he lauds America for doing just that.

Hitler’s overriding dream is for German ascendancy (except that he was Austrian. Oops.) He outlines three solutions to the burgeoning population of Germany. First, he mentions overseas colonization. This, he says, is too expensive and unstable. Second, he discusses better cultivation of the land to produce more food. This, however, still sets a finite barrier to population growth. Finally he hits upon a third idea: “Let’s just take over all the countries around us! Yeah that’s it!” (I’m paraphrasing a bit here.) The thing to note is that Hitler is saying all of this IN A PUBLISHED BOOK FIFTEEN YEARS BEFORE WORLD WAR II! And yet people acted really surprised by Hitler’s actions when he came to power.

One final thing about this one. Many people today try to connect Hitler to Christianity in some way. This is simply not possible. Throughout the book his materialistic and Darwinian views are at the forefront. He does say that he would like to co-opt Christianity in order to advance nationalistic ideals, but he also hates any priests or pastors who won’t go along with this idea. Hitler viewed religion as a tool to be used, but was certainly not a religious man himself in any way.

In conclusion, Mein Kampf is a fascinating study of self-aggrandizement. According to Hitler, Hitler is brilliant. Everyone else is stupid and weak. Hitler is always the man for the job. No one else is. This sort of megalomania and narcissism is not enjoyable to read. It is important, however, in order to understand one of the darkest events in our modern world.

2/5 stars

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. It is certainly a chilling and frightening vision of a dystopian world. Many of the words and phrases used in this book have passed into the cultural vernacular: big brother, newspeak, etc. It also contains good broad warnings about the erosion of freedom in society.

However, it’s not the most convincing dystopian future I’ve seen, and the plot has holes a mile wide. None of the characters are remotely believable; they are just pawns in Orwell’s tract against totalitarianism. The book is also full of exposition. Lots and lots of exposition.

Is this a great book? Not at all. The plot, characters, and setting are simply there to thinly disguise Orwell’s lectures. Should you read it? Yes, you probably should for cultural literacy and for warnings against allowing government to become too powerful. I would like to say that the book is too far-fetched in this post-Cold War era to be necessary as a warning. But then I look at Sweden…

3/5 stars

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

This book was a bit off the beaten path for me, but I read it at my wife’s insistence. She thought that I should read some practical books so that I could develop hobbies and interests like a normal human other than Ancient Near Eastern history, Medieval literature, Norse literature, Greek and Roman history, etc. She also thought that I should probably read a book or two about sports so that I could have the ability to converse in the universal language of my fellow American males. I have yet to follow through on that suggestion.

Anyway, back to square-foot gardens. We had done a small garden for several years and had never had much success. This year, following the square foot method, we decreased the size of our garden by about 75% and probably tripled the amount of vegetables we got out of it. So, needless to say, I’m a convert.

One word of warning, however. In the edition I read, Bartholomew suggests making paths through your garden with planks of wood in order to avoid having to weed the walkways. We found out first hand that planks of wood lying in the dirt are like flashing neon “Welcome” signs for black widow spiders! I’ve heard that newer editions of the book don’t make the same suggestion.

3/5 stars

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

This was my third time reading The Communist Manifesto. One thing that strikes me whenever I read this is that Karl Marx saw some real problems and then proposed the worst possible solutions for them. This stems from his view that the history of society is deterministic. And that view in turn stems from the fact that Marx has only the most simplistic view of history with no nuances whatsoever. Therefore, when he sees a bleeding finger, he determines that the best way to deal with it is to cut the whole arm off. Someone who proposes a band-aid or stitches is simply a silly conservative and the inevitable march of history is against him.

It’s also interesting to see how many of his proposals have become part of our modern society and are even defended by so-called conservative thinkers.

2/5 stars

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

My children hate Almanzo. Don’t get me wrong, they loved hearing the book read out loud. They liked the characters and the story. But, oh Almanzo. Almanzo has become my fatherly go-to example for any and all situations.

“Do you think Almanzo got to drink soda all the time? He didn’t even have soda!”
“Did Almanzo complain that it was too hot outside? No, and he was working in the fields.”
“Would Almanzo cry over a little bump like that?”

You get the idea.

Overall, I liked this book. However, it wasn’t as good as Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie. I think this is because Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote those other books from her own personal experiences, and she wrote this book about her husband’s childhood. There is definitely a second-hand feel to it, a lack of immediacy, that makes it different from the other books. Also, since Pa Ingalls was my favorite character in the other books, I did miss him here.

3/5 stars

On the Character of a True Theologian by Herman Witsius

This is a very short, but invaluable book about the nature of a theologian. The lessons here, however, can just as easily be applied to Christian teachers as well. My favorite quote from the book is, “...No one teaches well unless he has first learned well; no one learns well unless he learns in order to teach. And both learning and teaching are vain and unprofitable unless accompanied by practice.”

5/5 stars

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