The following are mini-reviews of books I read in 1999.
Also see the full index of books I've read.
George Eliot: The Emergent Self
by Ruby V. Redinger
About 30 pages into this book, I almost put it down. Written over a
15-year period and published in 1975, the book starts out by deconstructing
John Cross's hagiographic biography of George Eliot; the writing in this
section is liberally seasoned with "psychobabble" (as I think of it).
Fortunately, I kept on reading. The book settles down into true biographic
mode and I was rewarded with a detailed and fascinating account of George
Eliot's life, particularly her earlier years.
At first, I was a little put off by the way in which every event, large or
small, in Eliot's life was portrayed as having a lasting psychological
impact on her. I initially attributed this to Professor Redinger's
perspective, but, as I read on, the frequent excerpts from George Eliot's
correspondence make it seem more likely that Redinger was simply reporting
Eliot's own feelings.
(At the time the book was published, Ruby Redinger was a Professor of
Literature at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.)
Luther: Man Between God and the Devil
by Heiko A. Oberman. Translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart.
I was hoping for a straight biography of Martin Luther, but this book
struck me as about ... well, "Man Between God and the Devil". It's still
a good book, it just was not quite what I had expected.
The first chapter of the book provides an interesting history of religion
and politics in Europe and the Catholic Church in the years immediately
preceding the Reformation. The book goes on to describe Luther's early
years. When it gets to the point at which Luther is becoming active in
theology, the book seems to start jumping around a lot in time.
Consequently, I didn't come away from the book with a good grasp on
Luther's life history.
The book is profusely illustrated with contemporary woodcuts, which are an
education in themselves - people back then were not much different than they
are now! The book covers the theological issues pretty well. A couple of
my favorite quotes:
The infant in its nonage at the baptismal font and the dying man receiving
his last communion are not marginal figures in the Church of Christ. They
stand for man at his weakest - whether at the beginning, the height of his
powers, or the end of his strength. The idea that God is genuinely "there",
outside the person, and can be found beyond the individual powers of thought
and strength of faith is what the controversy of that time bestowed on
It is not only modern man who can make little sense of infant baptism and
the real presence of Christ. But they are meaningful to man in conflict,
to man between God and the Devil, who does not ignore Luther's words: We
are beggars, that is true.
by Agatha Christie
(Light reading while I had the flu ...) I love British mysteries,
but I overdosed on Agatha Christie about 20 years ago and I hadn't read
any of her books since. This was the first time I had read this particular
book of her's and I enjoyed it - I'll have to dip my toes in the Christie
The Wreck of the Mary Deare
by Hammond Innes
(Light reading while I had the flu ...) A long-time favorite of
mine that ably captures the essence of man against the sea for a landlubber
like me. A sailor boss of mine in college dismissed it as being in the
same vein as The Poseidon Adventure, but, then again, she
hadn't actually read the book. Then again, I just discovered
that The Wreck of the Mary Deare had been made into a
Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy
edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski © 1978
(Light reading while I had the flu ...)
Saying What You Mean: A Commonsense Guide to American Usage
by Robert Claiborne © 1986
(Light reading for odd moments ...)
A Short History of Christian Thought
by Linwood Urban
I'm trying to read this
again, this time without
trying so hard to understand what I am reading. The book provides an
excellent illustration of man's insatiable desire to develop a system for
anything and everything, whether it be scientific theories to describe the
facts of nature, or religious beliefs to fit "facts" gleaned from the
Scriptures. In this case, developing a coherent set of beliefs that are
consistent with the disparate accounts, styles, and targets of the New
Testament may be impossible or, if such a set of beliefs were developed,
meaningless. The only person who knows the truth is Jesus and, in some of
the Gospels, even He isn't sure (at least prior to the Crucifixion).
(Also see Henry P. Van Dusen's
Trinity In Experience and Theology" in Theology Today.)
The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes
edited by Hugh Greene © 1976
65 Great Murder Mysteries
edited by Mary Danby © 1983
The first book contains an uneven selection of mysteries by various
authors, featuring, among others, Jacques Futrelle's The Thinking Machine
in "The Scarlet Thread". Ironically, that's the one story I didn't read,
since I have read it so often in the past!
65 Great Murder Mysteries is an all-star collection of
stories by an all-star collection of authors: Allingham, Ambler, Bloch,
Chesterton, Christie, Dahl, Dickens, Doyle, Forester, Graves, James,
Kipling, London, Maugham, de Maupassant, Orczy, Poe, Sayers, Sharp,
Steinbeck, Stevenson, Stoker, Walpole, Wells, and others. My long-time
favorite story is Fredric Brown's short (2 pages!), but sweet, "Nightmare
edited by Mike Ashley, foreword by Ellis Peters
by David Herbert Donald
Self-Inflicted Wounds: From LBJ's Guns and Butter to Reagan's Voodoo
by Hobart Rowen
A fascinating book by the late Hobart Rowen that makes your blood boil
at times ...
In an interview with Rowen in 1976, Ronald Reagan said:
The pity is that the magic of the marketplace is so little understood.
Not quoted in the book, but apt given the above, is Dirty Harry (Clint
A man has got to know his limitations.
The Wisdom of the Body
by Sherwin B. Nuland, MD
This book is the flip side of the coin to Nuland's
How We Die and,
in fact, was renamed How We Live in subsequent printings.
A more apt title than the original would have been The Wonder of
the Body, since that is the underlying theme of the book: the
wonder of how all the systems and mechanisms in the body, from the
molecular level on up, are constantly fine-tuning themselves and working
with other systems and mechanisms to maintain homeostasis, or the
internal equilibrium of the body. Dr. Nuland describes the various
systems separately; intercourse, conception, and early development are
covered in a more orderly fashion.
What Dr. Nuland describes is wonderful - and you'll have to depend
on his descriptions because there are very few illustrations - but he
doesn't let the descriptions speak for themselves. Too frequently, he
lapses into flowery prose in a conspicuous effort to ensure that the reader
is properly impressed at the wonder of it all. An example:
In the gradual process of concocting the ingredients that are biology
into the cassoulet that is man, the sauces of instinct have simmered
into the motivations and yearnings that give flavor to human life.
Read the book anyway. As I said, the body is wonderful,
Dr. Nuland conveys that idea well, and you wouldn't want to miss
pearls such as the following (emphasis in the original):
Elsewhere, I have written that the proper state of mind of a skeptic
is uncertainty - to believe, as I do, that even while questioning
everything around us, we must also be prepared to accept the premise
that anything is possible. Lack of evidence is not convincing
proof against a proposition - it is simply lack of evidence and not
the presence of powerfully opposing evidence, which is quite
a different thing. We have no evidence that there is no God, nor is
it imaginable that we will ever discover any.
Mapping the Next Millennium: How Computer-Driven Cartography is
Revolutionizing the Face of Science
by Stephen S. Hall
Time Detectives: How Archeologists Use Technology to Recapture the
by Brian Fagan
The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories
edited by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert © 1996
Medicine and Society in America: 1660-1860
by Richard H. Shryock © 1960
The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images
by John Dominic Crossan
Another example of a well-known writer having an essay-length thought and
the writer and/or publisher deciding to publish it as a book. As the
subtitle of the book indicates, the book is a compilation of Jesus'
"actual" sayings and pre-Constantine Christian images.
Chapter 1, the first twenty pages of the book, briefly places Jesus in
the historical, political, and religious contexts of his time. It then
discusses early Christian imagery, both verbal imagery from the Scriptures
themselves and third-century Christian art - earlier art is too ambiguous
to positively classify it as specifically Christian. Crossan divides the
extant Christian art into various types of scenes and notes a significant
preponderance of eating and healing scenes that,
significantly, corresponds with an emphasis in the Scriptures on "a
reciprocal program of healing one another and eating together".
Chapter 2, the next 120 pages in the book, contains the "original" sayings
of Jesus (considered so by Crossan and the Jesus Seminar) in concise
translations by Crossan himself. (At the end of Chapter 1, Crossan
discusses his own rationales for determining which sayings are original -
which he does at two levels: aphorism or attitude - and for how he
translates them.) Sayings are printed one per page, frequently resulting
in only one or two lines of text per page. Interspersed with the sayings
are unrelated, poor-quality, black and white reproductions of early
Christian art (e.g., scenes from frescoes and sarcophagi).
Chapter 3, the final 50 pages of the book, has notes on each of the sayings
in Chapter 2. This is the meatiest and perhaps most interesting part of
the book. Aesthetic reasons probably dictated the layout of Chapter 2, but
the book would have been so much more readable and convenient to read, not
to mention shorter, if the notes had simply been placed below the sayings
to which they applied.
As I said earlier, an essay would have sufficed for what I found to be a
very interesting subject. However, the book was in the bargain bin, so
the book-length presentation cost me little more than the time taken to
read the book and the endless flipping back and forth between notes and