"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, October 1, 2023

PATHOGENESIS: A HISTORY of the WORLD in EIGHT PLAGUES (audiobook) by Jonathan Kennedy


Published by Random House Audio in April of 2023.
Read by the author, Jonathan Kennedy.
Duration: 9 hours, 23 minutes.

Kennedy presents a compelling argument that disease has had a profound impact on world history by just telling a history of Europe from the days of cavemen up until now.

The first 45 minutes or so of this audiobook seemed to be wandering around and not going anywhere, but Kennedy was laying a strong foundation for the rest of the book.

The book makes it painfully obvious that humanity has bounced from one biological disaster to another. Humanity has adapted (either by behavior - like building sanitation systems to deal with body waste to control cholera) or biologically by simply having a large body count until those with immunity can rebuild (the Black Plague is a prime example.)

Kennedy persuasively argues that infection and disease helped the rise of Christianity, the rise of Islam, the end of feudalism, the rise of capitalism, and the European conquest of the Americas. Infection and disease helped create the system of African slavery in the New World and also prevented the European colonization of African until the late 1800s.

This is a very good book. I rate it 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: PATHOGENESIS: A HISTORY of the WORLD in EIGHT PLAGUES by Jonathan Kennedy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023



Published by Bloomsbury Publishing LLC.
Read by Tosca Hoskins.
Duration: 11 hours, 26 minutes.

The book is a detailed look at the Christian Nationalist movement in America. The strength of the book is its meticulous research. It ties together famous names and organizations with less famous names pulling the strings through not-for-profits and political action committees across the country.

The author, Katherine Stewart
I come to this book as a lifelong, politically aware Christian. I vote, I read about politics and religion, I post about politics and religion and I listen to podcasts that discuss politics and religion. That being said, I am all for keeping politics and religion separate because politics taints and corrupts religion every time and twists it into something it is not meant to be.

The book does have its weaknesses, though. One is that the author, Katherine Stewart, does have some degree of anti-religious bias. She is really bothered by religious groups renting spaces in public schools and would clearly like to outlaw that practice. I am a public school teacher and I can tell you that schools rent out parts of the buildings and grounds all of the time. I have seen churches rent parts of a school building out, but also jazzercise teachers, political candidates (just this week at my current school), colleges, girl scout troops, sports leagues, Fortune 500 corporations for shareholder presentations (in the auditorium) and more. They all get to do this because they are all part of the community that built the building with shared tax dollars. 

The reader also mispronounced some words, especially some of a religious nature which just reinforced the feeling of bias.

All of that being said, Stewart presents such an alarming and convincing case that even if you take what she says with a grain of salt, you will still find it alarming.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: THE POWER WORSHIPPERS: INSIDE the DANGEROUS RISE of RELIGIOUS NATIONALISM by Katherine Stewart.

Sunday, September 24, 2023



Published in 2018 by Hourly History.

Hourly History is a publisher that specializes in short histories and biographies in e-book form that are designed to be read in about an hour.

Sometimes, an hour is not long enough to explain a topic, but in this case an hour is just about right.

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis is a pretty well known historical event, just let me say that this short e-book delivers a concise, well-paced history. It also manages to present a balanced history that spreads the blame for the crisis and somehow keep up a sense of tension even though the reader knows for a fact that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not actually cause a worldwide global thermonuclear war in 1962.

I rate this e-book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS: A HISTORY from BEGINNING to END (kindle) by Hourly History.

Saturday, September 23, 2023



Published in 2023 by Penguin Audio in July of 2023.
Read by the author, Russell Moore.
Duration: 6 hours, 46 minutes.

Russell Moore is currently a theologian for the magazine Christianity Today, but he is more famous for being one of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for the last 20 years - both as a professor and at the national level. He's also a prolific author and very media friendly. In many ways, Moore was the perfect media face for the Southern Baptist Convention - smart, likable, pleasant and often funny.

But, he butted heads on a variety of topics with the rest of the leadership. He was against gay conversion therapy and he wanted the SBC to listen to women who accused men in church leadership of sexual abuse. He especially wanted Southern Baptists to talk about racism and its complicity in upholding Jim Crow laws and distance themselves from Confederate symbols like the flag. 

The biggest thing they disagreed about and the thing that really pushed him out started in the summer of 2015 - Donald Trump. He could not bring himself to support a man who was so clearly not in sync with the values of Evangelical Christians. Evangelicals could live with all of the other points of disagreement over religious doctrine, but they could not live with disagreement over a political figure.

People who are familiar the 80s/90s band REM know the song "Losing My Religion." The title comes from a Southern phrase that means someone got so exasperated that they forgot their religious training and did the wrong thing. He uses that as a launching point to discussing the difference between religion and faith. This is a discussion that I appreciate as I have come to a new understanding of the relationship between my formal religion and my Christian faith in my own way in the last few years. 

The title works in two ways. Moore is discussing how he has dropped his formal ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, but he is also talking to how so many of its Evangelicals (and cultural Evangelicals who very rarely go to church but who are fighting the culture wars in its name every day) have moved away from the principles of their faith as part of a trade for political power.

I thought this was a thoughtful and serious discussion, but there was a bit in the middle that just lost my interest. It got a little too far into the Evangelical weeds for me. It came back and closed in a very strong way, but it means that I am rating it 4 stars out of 5. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: LOSING OUR RELIGION: AN ALTAR CALL for EVANGELICAL AMERICA by Russell Moore.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

ROY ORBISON: A LIFE from BEGINNING to END (kindle) by Hourly History


Published in July of 2023 by Hourly History.

Roy Orbison (1936-1988) was an early rock singer. As this book notes, the heart of his career is right after Elvis joined the Army and just before the Beatles broke it big. His hits include Pretty Woman and Only the Lonely. Also, he is one of my favorite singers so I was pretty excited to read this short biography.

I have no problems with the facts as laid out in this biography, although I was very disappointed by the disjointed and sometimes just plain old weird writing style. I have to wonder if this was written by an AI program. Because of the writing style I am going rate this e-book 3 stars out of 5.

This e-book can be found on Amazon.com here: ROY ORBISON: A LIFE from BEGINNING to END by Hourly History.

Saturday, September 9, 2023



Published by Christianaudio.com in 2021.
Read by Sarah Zimmerman.
Duration: 7 hours, 26 minutes.

Beth Allison Barr is a professor of medieval and church history at Baylor University. She has written a lot about women in the medieval world. She is also an evangelical Christian and a youth pastor's wife. This puts her in a rather unique position to comment on the role of women in the evangelical church and topics like complementarianism in the more conservative churches.

Complementarianism is a church teaching that men and women have very distinct roles in family life, marriage, and the church. These roles are distinct, but of equal value, but men are given leadership roles. In more conservative churches, women are never put into any sort of leadership roles over men. They will not be pastors. They will not lead a board. They won't even teach older boys or men in Sunday school. In some interpretations, they will not teach men or older boys any topic at all.

The more Barr studied, the more she knew that this view was not the norm in the beginning years of the church (going back to Peter, Paul, and even Jesus), it was not the norm in Medieval times and it was not the norm in evangelical churches as late as the Great Depression/World War II era. 

Barr places the blame on at least three things. One is a lack of knowledge of church history. Some denominations offer lots of training in church history or their pastors/leadership. Some churches offer practically none - and it shows. Barr demonstrates a lack of knowledge of doctrines that go back nearly 1,700 years, such as the Athanasian Creed.

She also notes that over and over again women were allowed to teach, preach, and/or lead in the Western church. To be clear, the Western Church would be the Roman Catholic Church and, after the Reformation, the Protestant breakaways. It would not include the Orthodox Church or the Coptic Church. She notes these women throughout the book and tells their stories. To be fair, they were not half or anything close to half of the teachers, preachers, and/or leaders - but they were still there - she names the names, she quotes their writings. Denying their existence is simply willful ignorance.

The other thing she blames is translation. I am going to add to her thesis a bit. I am a Spanish teacher. There is always wiggle room when you translate. Translators can emphasize certain things and de-emphasize others. This is the "art" of translation. This happens all of the time when translating from English to Spanish and Spanish to English because the two languages don't always match up perfectly even though they are exist in the same time and oftentimes in the same place and have bumped into each other on a regular basis for centuries.

Barr argues that where translation allows for including women or is unclear, the translators have consistently chosen to choose the translations that exclude women in Paul's New Testament letters.  Sometimes, they make a comment in the notes. Sometimes, they don't. In at least one case some translators appear to have changed the gender of a person who was in a leadership role. In another case, the leadership role a woman played in a local church was changed to a lesser role so the translators can support the complementarian theological position. They just changed the word to make it fit their theology and that is a bad habit to get into if you want people to read the Bible and take it seriously.

And that last point - the point about changing history, the translations, and the Bible itself to fit a pre-determined theology that does not match with the Bible or past practice - that is the part that hurts the church in the short run and the long run. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE MAKING of BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD: HOW the SUBJUGATION of WOMEN BECAME GOSPEL TRUTH by Beth Allison Barr.