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Against the Grain

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest StatesAgainst the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Christian Century recommended this book for better understanding the ancient world that is the context for earlier biblical culture. Making that connection is not the goal of the author, though he makes occasional allusions to the biblical tradition, but is the task of the reader to identify how this research into the origins of agriculture, sedentism, urbanism, writing, and the city-state plus the responses to it by the "barbarians" contributes to a better understanding of the biblical world. And it has done that. Now when reading, teaching, and preaching various texts I will have a better grasp of the latest research in very ancient history aside from that presented in biblical commentaries.

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These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United StatesThese Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought the Introduction and first chapter were brilliant. Also the sections on the Populist and Progressive Movements and the chapter set during the Second World War. But others were more uneven. Any one volume national history obviously makes choices, skimming over some things and digging deeper into others.

Lepore's focus is our national pursuit of truth. In the Declaration Jefferson wrote, "we hold these truths to be self evident" and in the Federalist papers Hamilton wrote of America being a test of truths. From this frame she explores the nation's history, with much focus on communications technologies, journalism, and how we've viewed our history (though on this latter point, I feel she did less of that when she got into the twentieth century).

The final section on our own time is very chaotic, with a structure that is difficult to follow, as it is neither chronological nor clearly thematic. It was sad to read an American history that in the 1980's begins accounting for the rise of Donald Trump and then feels necessary to detail the post-9/11 conspiracy theories that he has participated in and which helped to explain his ascent. Yes, sadly, this is now part of the national story. And, of course, the book has a depressing ending. Plus, I thought the final paragraph so overwritten as to be comically absurd.

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Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early LifeSurprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The delight of reading this book is experiencing the development of a writer and thinker's mind. What I enjoyed the most is the glimpses at various virtues, as Lewis writes about various friends and mentors he encountered in his early life. The last couple of years I have been most interested in pictures of goodness and so the subtle and various ways he describes goodness as he encounters it was a true enjoyment.

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Praying As Believing

Praying As Believing: The Lord's Prayer And The Christian Doctrine Of GodPraying As Believing: The Lord's Prayer And The Christian Doctrine Of God by Timothy Bradshaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my second time to read this insightful theological study of the Lord's Prayer. I read it first in the mid-Aughts and used it then to shape a youth Sunday school series. This autumn I re-read it while preaching a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. The book uses the phrases of the prayer to explore a wide-range of theological concepts, mostly centered on the nature of God.

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Asymmetry

AsymmetryAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Halliday has gifts as a storyteller, constructing interesting characters and narratives. I did find this book puzzling, and do no think I would call it a novel, though I'm not sure what it would be called. The first story explored a young woman having a relationship with a much older, famous man and the power imbalances involved. It was well told, but not enjoyable. The middle story I liked quite a bit, about an Iraqi-American stuck in customs questioning in Heathrow on his way from the US to Iraq. This section involved flashbacks as well. The final section is a Desert Island Discs radio interview with the famous (and rather loathable) older famous man from section one.

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The Colonial Mind

Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. 1: The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. 1: The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800 by Vernon Louis Parrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I often walked the Parrington Oval while a student at the University of Oklahoma. And I remember the photo that hung in Dale Hall of OU's former head football coach who was a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. This is the book that won Vernon Parrington the prize in 1928.

Parrington has a strong position in favor of the Jeffersonian philosophy--agrarian, egalitarian, and democratic--and opposed to the Puritans, Tories, and Federalists. So it was interesting to read his takes on various thinkers. He was a big fan of Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin and deeply critical of John Winthrop and the Mathers. He thought Jonathan Edwards had great ability which was squandered on his Calvinism. Hamilton he thought of great ability and very successful at achieving his goals of establishing the national economy, but he thought Hamilton completely wrong about what direction America should head and that we were still saddled with problems he had created. Strangely, he writes the only vigorous defense of Philip Freneau I've ever read.

Parrington has blind spots. He lauds Jefferson, though we now have a far more critical view of Jefferson, especially his hypocrisy.

But Parrington is a fun read. He is eloquent and witty with his descriptions of all these thinkers and movements. I enjoyed getting a perspective very different from my own.

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Grant

GrantGrant by Ron Chernow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite its heft, I read it quickly, for Chernow is such an engaging writer. I learned a lot about Grant, his time, and other figures he interacted with. I've gained a greater understanding of him, better appreciating his strengths and accomplishments and better recognizing his serious flaws.

One drawback of the book is that Chernow seems to feel the need to address every rumor of Grant's alcoholism, so, particularly during the chapters on the war, every few pages Chernow addresses a fresh rumor of alcohol abuse. I got to skipping over those paragraphs.

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