Category Archives: Book Reviews

These are books I have read that I review for the benefit of others who don’t enjoy reading as much as I do. Perhaps this section will assist you in selecting your next book. I hope so. I read EVERY word on EVERY page of the books I review. If I don’t particularly care for a book, I don’t review the book publicly, unless I make a unique exception. I read around a hundred book a year. Most of my reviews are here and on Amazon.

Bill reviews pre-publication manuscripts, and early release books for a variety of publishers and authors in the U.S. and abroad, literary PR firms and at the request of certain authors. He performs this service gratis, without any compensation whatsoever (he knows….he’s really stupid). Notable authors whose work Bill has reviewed include William P. (Paul) Young, Donald Miller, George Barna, Samantha Power, Parker Palmer, George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, John Wasik, Roger Lowenstein, Taylor Branch, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Jim Palmer, David Kinnaman, Irshad Manji, Eboo Patel, Mark Scandrette, and Erwin McManus. Bill has a policy of not publishing reviews of books he reads that he doesn’t particularly care for and is uncomfortable recommending to others ( “Literature is like ice cream….there’s a whole bunch of flavors and I have my own tastes that differ from others…some people adore chocolate while others prefer pecan nut”).

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian McLaren – A Book Review

McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY


 

A Review by Bill Dahl

In the Foreword to the book entitled, Mis-Measuring Our Lives,[i] France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy[ii] wrote:

The time to change our trajectory is now. Amidst all these difficulties we cannot rest content with reacting on a day to day basis; we will not recover from the crisis with just ad hoc solutions…the only thing that will save us is unchaining our minds so as to gather the strength to make the necessary changes. The only thing that will save us is unchaining our minds so as to free ourselves from conformism, conservatism and short sighted interests….such a revolution is inconceivable without deeply challenging the way we represent the challenges of what we undertake, the results of what we do.”[iii]

Although writing in two, somewhat different contexts to a global audience, one underlying theme of McLaren’s new book, The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian is the uncanny parallel with Sarkozy’s tremarks above:

  1. The time to change the trajectory of the worldwide Christian faith is now.
  2. Christians must unchain their minds.
  3. A revolution in Christianity must include deeply challenging the way Christians represent the challenges they undertake, how they behave, and the results of what they do.

McLaren writes:

The Christian faith needs to be radically converted to a new fuel. We need to be energized by something other than beliefs; because beliefs are not the point.” Not the point? That’s not to say beliefs are insignificant. They are powerfully significant, for better or worse.”[iv]

The author then launches into some superb examples of how specific Christian beliefs have led to unfortunate historical and current day outcomes. McLaren envisions the migration like this:

“Must we stay where we are, forever defining ourselves as a system of beliefs, or may we migrate to a new understanding of Christian faith as a way of life, (emphasis is mine), a practice of ongoing personal growth and cultural evolution ?[v]

McLaren then turns to the life of Jesus as the example of what he refers to as the way of love; a life embodying love, mercy, compassion, reconciliation, community, solidarity, friendship, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness, love for neighbor, the other, the earth  and humanity.

McLaren’s thesis is a call to what I refer to as “re-belief.” He makes the distinction between beliefs and faith as follows:

“Beliefs are commonly defined as opinions or judgments about which a person is fully persuaded. Although beliefs generally cannot be proven they are treated among believers as certainties, perhaps not as absolute certainties, but as certain enough that they aren’t up for questioning (statements that a group requires members to and not question or contradict. In contrast, faith is conviction, the deep and motivating sense that a course of action is right and worth doing…a conviction (faith) lived out in the context of uncertainty, involving risk, proceeding not through certainty but through confidence (hope) and expressed through love.”[vi]

McLaren goes on to share very personal examples of his own journey “seeking to conform to the way of Christ by willing to rethink”[vii] the beliefs he was saddled with at certain points in his life. These examples are poignant and powerful, demonstrating walking the talk. This concludes the first section of the book entitled “spiritual migration.”

The second part of the book delves into the essential “theological migration’ where McLaren addresses the issue of the conception of God as a violent God of domination versus a nonviolent God of liberation. He dives into the history of “justifiable homicide,” (my term), violence, prejudice domination, subjugation and “un-love” perpetrated in the name of the faith. He lays out a rational, logical narrative as to how these outcomes are related to our conception of God, our reading of the Bible (literal vs. literary) and other causal factors. He suggests an approach consistent with the way of love.

McLaren titles the third section of the book The Missional Migration. – the transition from organized religion to organizing religion. His focus is on moving away from the extractive, consumptive and unsustainable way of life that is destroying both civilization and planet. In this sense, the migration McLaren is calling for is moving from a “religion organized for self-preservation and privilege to a religion organizing for the common good of all.”[viii] This section contains innumerable practical examples of exactly what some of those beliefs and behaviors for might look like for modern day Christians, modeled by the life of Jesus.

The book contains superb lists of questions at the end of each chapter and three appendices to guide individual readers and groups into further discussion, contemplation and a guide to the behavioral migration to the way of love.

Admittedly, I have read every book Brian McLaren has penned. I have met him on several occasions and enjoyed his presence. His life, mind and passions are inspirational to me on a personal level. As one who is self-described as widely read on the topic(s) of faith and culture, this particular book stands out to me, for several reasons:

  1. As we age, the proximity and reality of the light at the end of this earthly life becomes tangibly more apparent. In this book, it is clear to me that Brian McLaren is no exception to this truth. The passion, compassion, and love for the Christian faith, Jesus, his followers and institutions erected in His name are all distinctly expressed here (as they have been, in my opinion), throughout the author’s lifetime.
  2. There is a rather unique sense of urgency expressed by McLaren in this book. Perhaps, this too, emanates from A. above.
  3. The vision McLaren lays out in this particular writing, is accompanied by a roadmap to guide both individuals and institutions (as he has done in several previous books). However, this particular roadmap is informed by specific global and cultural imperatives where spectating just won’t cut it anymore. The urgency of global challenges (and the state of the Christian faith) demands concurrent, immediate changes in individual and group behavior to positively inform, and re-direct the trajectory of those current challenges.

For me, this book is an urgent call for the faith and the faithful to immediately engage in the process of what has been referred to as de-illusionment. I believe it is also a deeply personal  sharing of McLaren’s actual life journey whereby de-illusionment has been an incredibly important aspect of his development as a person, his relationship with Jesus, and voice for his cherished faith. In this sense, the term de-illusionment is defined in the following:

As he attempts to reappraise his life, a man discovers how much it has been based on illusions, and he is faced with the task of de-illusionment. By this expression I mean a reduction of illusions, a recognition that long held assumptions and beliefs about self and world are not true. This process merits special attention because illusions play so vital a role in our lives throughout the life cycle.”[ix]

There is much here for those involved in organized communities of faith. Clearly, McLaren has not abandoned his deep respect and love for the church, in its myriad of forms, wherever it may be found. In this work, McLaren maintains his ongoing “within-stitutional” (my term) voice, echoing through the corridors of organized religion. The value of the book is also for those with no current church attendance and/or denominational commitment. Yet, if I had one recurring longing during my consumption of this work, it was the resurging hope that Brian McLaren pens a fiction work in the near future; one that may embody what carrying out the vision shared in this book, just might look like…

Read Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. May you end up where I did, embracing McLaren’s call for V’yisa’u! – To get going, go forward, go farther, NOW!

May “finger by finger, the fist of your little heart be pulled open, where a new depth of naked, essential faith in God mysteriously become possible.”[x]

Buy this book. Share a copy with a friend. Engage in the dialog it compels. Introduce it to your faith community. Unchain your mind. Accept the permission and invitation to re-belief. Begin the essential process of de-illusionment.

V’yisa’u!


 

 

NOTES:

[i] Stiglitz, Joseph E., Se, Amartya ans Fitoussi, Jean-Paul Mismeasuring Our Lives – Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up – The Report By The Commission on The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Copyright (c) 2010 , The New Press New York, NY Excerpts that make up this quote are compiled from pages vii, xv.

[ii] Nicolas Sarkozy was the President of France from 2007-2012.

iii McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 31.

iv McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 42.

[vi] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 45

[vii] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 40.

[viii] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 153.

[ix] Levinson, Daniel J., The Seasons Of A Man’s Life, New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 1978, p.192. This sociological classic was one of the first longitudinal studies of how people’s beliefs and perceptions change throughout the life cycle.

[x] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 203.

 

 

Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel P. Bolger

Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars – By Daniel P. Bolger

 

The 21st Century U.S. Military Post-Mortem

 


 

 

 

Daniel Bolger is a 35 year veteran in the U.S. Army. He retired in 2013 as a Lt. General. During his career he was awarded five Bronze Stars.

 

As a U.S. citizen, this book should be required reading for the lay person with no military experience. Why?

 

Bolger provides unparalleled access into the lives of U.S. military men and women who were engaged in these wars – and provides uniquely, frank and descriptive accounts of the conditions and challenges they encountered. Bolger’s insightful accounts provide the reader with an appreciation of their service, sacrifice, courage and bravery that one simply cannot garner from the mainstream media coverage of the same. You walk away from this book with a deep and renewed sense of appreciation for the bravery and courageous contributions of our men and women who were/are involved in these conflicts.

 

This book is written in a brutally honest fashion. It is definitely not a muckraking attack on the U.S. military – nor is it a one-sided justification treatise for all things military written by a insider zealot. It is a fair and balanced treatment of every dimension of these conflicts from a participant’s perspective…Bolger’s voice is refreshingly fair, providing uncanny, forthright commentary surrounding the genesis of these wars, the conduct of the wars, and U.S. attempts to extract ourselves from the aftermath of this mayhem.

 

Finally, Bolger’s insights into “now what” regarding the lessons learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq provide fertile ground for the essential dialog that must take place regarding the role of the U.S. military in the 21st century.

 

Who is the enemy? This is a central theme throughout the book, and remains the question today embedded in the threats to geo-political stability that continue to inhabit our globe. There are some quotes Why We Lost that should serve to provide the basis for a dialog far too many in the U.S. choose to avoid. Here are a few:

 

“The war cost the U.S. a lot of money, almost a trillion dollars since September of 2001, about two-thirds for Iraq, the rest for Afghanistan. Just how much permanent damage this did to our country’s economy is hard to determine. War funding certainly elevated the Federal government’s already burgeoning annual deficits and added a few more unwelcome strata to the accreting mountain of long-term debt. Both political parties pointed accusing fingers even as the spending continued. By any measure, fighting a protracted war on the opposite side of the world with a volunteer military and a lot of expensive contractors is no cheap” (p.419).

 

“We did not understand our enemies. Indeed, drawn into nasty local feuds, we took on too many diverse foes, sometimes confusing opponents with supporters and vice versa. Then we compounded that ignorance by using our conventionally trained military to comb through hostile villages looking for insurgents” (pp.429-430).

 

“The record to date shows that no senior officers argued for withdrawal. Instead, like Lee at Gettysburg, overly impressed by U.S. military capabilities and our superb volunteers, commander after commander, generals up and down the chain, kept right on going. We trusted our invincible men and women to figure it out and rebuild two shattered Muslim countries and do so under fire from enraged locals” (p. 430).

 

“Stay the course. Add forces. Pull out. Over time, in both countries, all three approaches were tried. Only the third one, pulling out, worked, and that in the finite sense that it ended U.S. involvement. But it left both friends and foes behind, sowing the seeds for future troubles” (p. 431).

 

As Dwight Eisenhower warned decades ago, the military-industrial complex is – well – a business. Like any organization, it knows what it knows and does what it does – learning along the way.

 

However, after reading Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, I came away with an appreciation for another reality of organizational behavior; inertia.

 

Inertia is an energy that propels an organism/object/organization ahead, knowing what it knows, doing what it knows how to do. The problem with the energy of inertia is that it possesses an intrinsic characteristic; motion. Once you combine energy and motion and a huge organization begins lumbering downhill into vast and remote terrain – it is terribly difficult to pause, take account of oneself, change direction and rethink what we thought we knew. It is difficult for organisms and organizations to unlearn, reconstitute themselves and become more fit for the challenges that will undoubtedly unfold in the future.

 

In my mind, the dialog about the role of the U.S. military in the 21st Century is the unequivocal contribution of Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

 

This is a superb contribution for anyone desiring to become more informed about the role and future of the U.S. military…a discussion that we should not avoid or postpone.

 

BUY THIS BOOK!!! I deeply appreciated General Bolger’s masterpiece. I’m confident you will too.

WHY-WE-LOST

 


 

 

 

 

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

This is my second novel by Stephen L. Carter. (My first was Carter’s BACK CHANNEL) — It won’t be my last.


 

 

 

Carter is the master of historical fiction. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is my second meal of his literary fare. Carter’s character development, dialog, plot and careful caricatures — provide the reader with a yearning to keep turning pages (ALL 655 of them in this case).

Carter’s historical fiction works are also educational…his twisting of historical events is insightful and provides insights into historical contexts that are absent from non-fiction treatments of the same.

Introduce a reader to Stephen L. Carter!!! They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and be back for MORE!!

About Stephen L. Carter (Excerpt from https://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/authors/carter/bio.html)

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale, where he has taught since 1982. A prolific writer who has published seven critically acclaimed non-fiction books during the past nine years, he has helped shape the national debate on issues ranging from the role of religion in our politics and culture to the role of integrity and civility in our daily lives.

Professor Carter, 46, was born in Washington, D.C., the second of five children, and attended the public schools of Washington, New York City, and Ithaca, New York. He received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his law degree from Yale University. Before joining the Yale faculty, he served as a law clerk for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also briefly practiced law at a firm in Washington.


 

 

I was immersed in this marvelous book. You will be deeply satisfied you selected it as well. BUY IT! Read Stephen L. Carter!!!

 

ENJOY!!!

The Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans

 

The Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans
A Phenomenal Work of Literary Artistry

 


 

I’ve read a number of books artfully crafted by Nick JansThe Grizzly Maze and A Wolf Called Romeo – to name two of my favorites.

 

I recently had the opportunity to read Nick’s first book, The Last Light Breaking. I savored this journey into the lives of the Inupiat people of Ambler, Alaska – a people who, according to Jans, “move within the eddying currents of time, space and light – where the laws of physics seem to float freely, compressing and expanding, refusing logic.”
Last Light Breaking
Last Light Breaking
This book is an anthropological treasure. Yet – it’s much, much more than that. For the naturalist, the outdoors person, wildlife biologist – and those who simply enjoy a damn fine artist (Jans) and the tales of his time in a place that most will never journey remotely close too – It’s a fantastic read!
Nick Jans
Nick Jans

 

The characters, creatures, culture and challenges of living in a remote village like Ambler provide a wide and diverse audience with every element essential to invigorating the readers interest – and a yearning to return to the volume to continue enjoying Jans literary artistry.

 

Buy it. Savor it. Learn. Listen. Prepare to perceive the world around you in a unique and precious way.


 

 

 

ENJOY!!!

 

A Place Beyond by Nick Jans

 

 

Meaning Beyond Words


 

According to author Nick Jans, “Words, like map and compass, tell one story yet fail at another.”

 

Nick Jans
Nick Jans

 

If there is meaning beyond words – well – Nick Jans is a literary guide I urge you to read – as he details the stories of his life among the Inupiat people of Ambler, Alaska.

 

Jans has a way of writing that affords the reader the privilege to envision, imagine, see, smell, hear, taste, feel — to journey intimately to those places where – for far too many authors – their ability fails to open these mysterious dimensions for our souls to wander, to live, to explore. Jans writing creates a yearning in the reader to return to his work – to immerse oneself into the marvelous milieu that Jans is uniquely gifted to create.
A Place Beyond
A Place Beyond
A Jans writes, “It’s not the death of the elders I mourn. It’s what’s dying with them and what’s taking their place.” There is an intimacy to Jans writing that allows you to feel what he is writing about – how he actually feels about the subtleties of  his many years of  living in Ambler reveal. He possesses an uncanny ability to observe and relay for the reader the human dimension of feeling that many writers simply are unable to accomplish.

 

This book is a song. It’s music for the soul. Listen to Jans sing:

 

“And beneath it all is music – a delicate, liquid shattering, a song of returning, of breathing again after long silence. I should join the others in their celebration, but just now, I want to sit alone, to watch and listen as the winter breaks apart.”

 

Nick Jans is an artist whose literary gifts allow the reader to enjoy dimensions of meaning and sensory stimulation amidst a literary topography that has been characterized as — “meaning beyond words,” a place beyond.

 

Enjoy A Place Beyond – Finding Home in Arctic Alaska by Nick Jans. Trust me – you’ll fall in love with this book. I did.

 


 

ENJOY!!!

BLOWBACK by Valerie Plame

 


 

BLOWBACK by Valerie Plame
Plame
Plame
When you sit down to enjoy a meal in a restaurant, sometimes the appetizer is better than the entree. On other occasions, dessert is the most memorable course.

 

I happened to read Valerie Plame’s BLOWBACK between Bloodmoney by David Ignatius and Back Channel by Stephen L. Carter. Needless to say, Plame’s BLOWBACK was memorable for all the wrong reasons – it simply was bland when compared to the memorable dishes I devoured before and after her entree.

 

BLOWBACK…it was okay.