Monday, December 28, 2009

My Book-Reading Progress

Since I started this blog last summer, my "What's on my bookshelf" list (to the right) has remained unchanged. If you’re the observant type, you might wonder, “Is this guy actually reading any of those books, or is he just trying to make himself look good?”


It’s been a busy couple of months, but I have finished a few of the titles on my list. And this is what I thought of them.

Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future by Joel Rosenberg

This book is Bush-era successor to Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The basic premise of both books is that the Bible can be used to predict current events, particularly in the Middle East. Lindsey published his book in 1970. Not one of the events he predicted came to pass. (It’s still an entertaining read, though.) Rosenberg has done slightly better. He managed to predict Saddam Hussein’s downfall and the death of Yasser Arafat based on his extrapolations of Ezekiel 38-39. But I’m gonna knock on wood: Contra Rosenberg, Russia is not going to invade Israel (at least not in our lifetimes) and forty years from now, Epicenter will be just as dated as Lindsey’s book, and the Bible will remain just as true as before.

I have some massive theological disagreements with both Lindsey and Rosenberg. However, I like Rosenberg’s book much, much better, for one reason: unlike Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee and the rest, Rosenberg is an American Jew who has lived in the Middle East, he genuinely cares for the people of the Middle East, and it shows in his book. Where Lindsey and Crew seem to delight in mapping out the catastrophes in store for Israel, Russia and the Arabs, Rosenberg delights in telling stories about Jews and Muslims coming to faith in Jesus. The stories that Rosenberg relates in his final chapters about obscure Iranian villagers and former Muslim terrorists finding salvation and peace are wonderfully encouraging, and for that reason alone, I’m glad I read Epicenter.

Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is one of my three favorite fiction writers (along with Dean Koontz and C. S. Lewis.) His classic war-in-space novel Ender’s Game will always hold a special place in my heart. Lost Boys is the first non-sci-fi book of his I’ve read. I expected it to be a suburban horror/fantasy, and it was (and an excellent one at that). What I did not expect was that it would be such a detailed, human portrait of suburban family life, or that it would revolve so heavily around the Mormon faith.

On the first point – this is not a short book. Card goes on and on about the father character’s office politics, and the mother character’s neighborhood and church politics, leaving the serial killer mystery almost untouched for chapters at a time. We meet and come to know everyone the family encounters over the course of the book. At the ending, most of this material is not directly related to the central plot of the “lost boys.” And yet I don’t get bored with it. And I’m not sorry I read all that tangential information about this fictional family’s life. It was gripping. I cheered on the dad at work. I hissed with the mom at the mean church ladies. To read this book really is to enter another world - another set of lives.

On the second point – if you want to understand Mormonism, read this book. Card is a devout Mormon, and this book is the Mormon equivalent of Christian thriller novels like Frank Peretti’s and Ted Dekker’s. I learned so much about Mormon culture from Lost Boys – how their churches work, what their taboos are, what bugs them, how they feel their faith has been misrepresented in the outside world. (In particular, they don’t expect to become gods after they die. This book cleared that up for me).

Good, good stuff.

“A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power

I just finished this book today. If you are interested in international politics, human rights, or 20th century history, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Power takes us through each of the major genocides of the 20th century (the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide, Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds, the Rwandan genocide, and the Bosnia and Kosovo genocides) and the U.S. response to those atrocities. It is packed with information, but very relevant and readable. I did not really understand the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia or the Balkans war before I read this book. I do now.

On top of that, Power takes us inside the workings of the U.S. government to explain why the U.S. reacted the way it did. If you’re a political nerd like me, getting to read about the debates that raged inside the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House during these crises is exhilarating, and inspiring, in the sense that you see the way U.S. policy could have gone, and might go in the future, if we can convince our leaders to act. Five stars.

One more thing: this book was published in early 2002, before the genocide in Darfur began, and before anybody knew what the war on terrorism would look like. 9/11 is mentioned twice, by my count. In one sense, that makes the book dated, but in another sense, it is extremely refreshing to read a viewpoint from outside this crazy decade.

Up next: Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War by Anthony Shadid.

No comments:

Post a Comment