Books read in October 2006 (17)
That modern science, capitalism and the freedoms of pluralist representative democracy arose under Western Christianity is beyond dispute. What is debated is why this should be and what did other cultures contribute along the way. How much is based on the inheritances from Judaism, Islam and classical Greek and Roman cultures. Stark makes a good case that it was a rationalism open to new discoveries in a world made by a sovereign God that led to reasoned progress. If a God who reveals himself as reasonable has created a reasonable world, man made in his image can work to discover how the world works.
When it comes to capitalism the author rejects Weber's famous link with Calvinism. This is where I suspect the Roman Catholic bias but I am not qualified as an historian to be certain of my criticism. Not to deal with Calvin on usury seems a serious ommision. Stark gives no reason for the dissapearance of the prohibition other than Catholics ignoring it. Stark cites medieval Italian cities as the birthplace of modern representative democracy but for a whole country he should have told us more about this side of the English Channel. He does though credit it us with better progress in commerce because of the absence of despotic government. Reviews on Amazon.com are sometimes critical because the writers are not in love with capitalism as is Stark. This is certainly a book to stimulate thought and debate.
2. The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk
I read this book while visiting Kabul. It taught me a lot of history I never learned at school. I never realised that Russia was a continual threat to British India and that the former USSR borders included many recent additions to Russian territory gained in the century before communism. I never knew that the Islamic republics, formerly Soviet ones, had been states which has ruthlessly enslaved Christian Russians.
This is a well written, gripping read. Only a person with a strong anti-im-imperialist bias could failed to be thrilled by the exploits of some young British men who spied for India, or of the Indians who travelled in disguise to map out unknown territories. No Christian could fail to be thrilled reading the story of Connolly who facing death or conversion to Islam, refused to renounce his faith and was beheaded in Bokhara.
Afghanistan is a major theme of the book. The British might conquer Kabul but they could not keep the country. To read of the one survivor out of a 16.000 strong force retreating from the first Afghan war is to read of one of Britain's worst defeats. But there ate stirring deeds winning VCs too.
This is history at its best. It shows people often do not learn from it.
3. The Chamber - John Grisham
Back in the deep South, Grisham is at his best. In fact this may be my favorite legal thriller. I believe he is a good writer when he can get a person who favours capital punishment (me) to sympathise with a man who is justly on death row. I am sure Grisham is against the death penalty as cruel and unusual. Though I believe it is the years on death row, not the execution that is cruel and unusual, Grisham makes his case very well and right to the end you are not quite sure what will happen.
Moral complexities are explored when the defense team uses very questionable methods to save their client. Grisham's Christian faith comes through in the very upright prison chaplain who leads the murderer in his repentance and to a hope in eternal life. It is a great portayal of a repentant racist killer and a lawyer who has real cause to fight for his client. This book also shows how evil really messes up different generations of a family.
4. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
This is the first Grisham where the setting moves from the South to high affairs in Washington DC. I prefer the Southern settings but this is a good chase thriller though at times it seems a bit far fetched in the heroine's ability to escape assassins.. Why would she not run to the FBI earlier? But as usual with Grisham it is a good read though this time I do not see him making any serious points except perhaps it is hard to trust people at the top. I only gave four stars because he has written better books.
5. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
Grisham often writes about the mendacity of lawyers who will do all they can to earn as much as possible, usually over-billing their clients. But here we have lawyers who have a conscience. The life of one greedy lawyer is changed for ever by contact with a deranged homeless man. He becomes a lawyer for the poor losing his wealth, his wife and almost his career. My one criticism would be that his ending is so nice as to be rather incredible. Nevertheless, you have to love the abilities of a great storyteller.
6, Dubai (Lonely Planet) by Lara Dunston
Good but as with all travel guides you need the latest edition and this one is a bit dated. Dubai is changing so fast you must keep up to date.I also prefer smaller size guides that will fit the pocket. Lonely Planet is a bit too large to carry especially when the temperature is ove 100 F. But if you plan to go you must do the Big Bus Tour. It is the best introduction to the city.
7. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Anyone who has asked, "Is Christmas worth it?" or been horrified by its materialism and excessive spending will love this book. Anyone who thinks it would be easy to get away from it all will here be warned. Skipping Christmas is not easy. The Kranks attempt is an hilarious disaster with a wonderful twist and a delightful ending. Just the book to give before the festivities. I have now read the complete works of grisham in two months. It has been a real pleasure to find a Christian writer of such talent.
8. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications
by D.A. Carson
Don Carson has written an excellent critique of post-modernism and its appearance as the Emerging Church. He writes as a theologian giving a critique which may be hard going for the average Christian but one which well repays the effort in reading. I believe this is a generous, fair yet devastating critique. He shows the strengths and weaknesses of the Emerging Church in reading contemporary culture and its commendable desire to reach post-modern people. I believe Carson gives us an excellent critique of post-modernism and shows why the Emerging Church has gone more down a route of syncretism with post-modernism The books of McClaren and Chalke are well critiqued in their departure from biblical orthodoxy. The conclusion is the Emerging Church should be handled with great caution. It is a departure from evangelical Christianity. If you are drawn to Emerging Church you must read Carson's critique. It is also a book which gives an excellent critique of post-modernism in general. Carson believes it is a spent force academically but it seems to me to be an increasing one in popular culture.
9. The Indypedia part 1 - Edited by Richrd Askwith
I picked up this freebie which someone had purchased with their Indepenent newspaper and then discarded. It does indeed give facts and figures of modern life but some, like homosexuals are 6% of the UK population, one has reason to question. Christianity has no mention save under C of E which is a smaller section than Islam. Too much on celebreties and the EU but nevertheless fun to browse. Can anyone lend me a copy of part 2?
10.- 17 Childrens books read to my granddaughters
The Trouble with Jack - Shirley Hughes
An Evening at Alfies - Shirley Hughes
Mog the forgetful cat - Judith Kerr
Bible Friends: Who Says That?
Tell the Time with Postman Pat - Alison Green
Once they get you reading they do not want to stop!