My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Review: Containing History: How Cold War History Explains US-Russia Relations

Containing History: How Cold War History Explains US-Russia Relations Containing History: How Cold War History Explains US-Russia Relations by Stephen P. Friot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ***

An closer look at the History of the Cold War

An interesting review of the history of American and Russian relationships that can go a long way toward understanding where we find ourselves today. It is most helpful in the “behind the scenes” examination of intent, motivation and pressures that informed each political encounter that gives each side a real and relatable positions, goals and understanding. With the current deteriorating relationship between these two super powers, there is plenty of blame to go around as each side tried to manipulate the other over the years for their own benefit, without truly understanding the mindset of their opponents. Frankly it is truly amazing that we didn’t destroy ourselves many times over given the stupid games we all were playing. Of course, while the book does a good job of helping us understand how we got here … it is very short on advice on how to dig us out (not that I really expected such). Perhaps most important is a clear understanding of our limitations in this political dance and perhaps a reset toward more reasonable goals is in order.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Preface (7:35)
Prologue (15:08)
Chapter 1. It Took Centuries to Get to Yalta (1:01:56)
Chapter 2. The Geopolitics of the Peace 1945-1952 (1:18:08)
Chapter 3. Truman and Kennan (36:40)
Chapter 4. Geopolitical Realignment Becomes a Reality (49:23)
Chapter 5. Two Years That Set the Stage for the Next Four Decades (1:09:49)
Chapter 6. A Reflection on US Leadership in the 1940s and Early 1950s (16:08)
Chapter 7. The Russian Bomb (19:44)
Chapter 8. NSC-68: The Militarization of Containment (18:47)
Chapter 9. Politics and Policy in the First Decade of the Cold War (1:59:58)
Chapter 10. From Korea to Krushcheve and the Thaw (1:03:49)
Chapter 11. Communism and the United States Supreme Court (49:06)
Chapter 12. Avoiding Armageddon (1:40:55)
Chapter 13. From Camelot to Saigon (1:28:39)
Chapter 14. Stalemate and the Birth and Death of Detente (43:51)
Chapter 15. From the Wilderness to the Promised Land (1:42:41)
Conclusion (1:41:16)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ContainingHistory #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Review: How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence

How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence by Christopher Hearn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book as an interesting premise; however, it is by no means an academic or scholarly work. The entire focus is on proving the Resurrection of Jesus, and while it marshals an impressive amount of circumstantial evidence, there is little to no direct evidence (as might be expected), so it is unlikely to convince skeptics; although it might comfort believers. No where does it cover anything about the origins of Christianity outside of the resurrection narrative, so if that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you. The book is divided into three (3) parts, with each part organized differently. Part One proposes that the resurrection has been denied with the claim that all witnesses were experiencing some form of mass hallucination … and makes the unsupported point that this is the principle means by which the resurrection story is denied. I count myself as fairly knowledgeable in christian apologetics, and I have never found this to be true, not have I encountered this anecdotally; however, there is still some good information here (such as a convenient table of all the biblical post resurrection sightings of Jesus) as well as provides a few basic reasons for the early resistance to the message of christianity … and then it undermines its own credibility with poor scholarship such as the insistence of inserting a creedal statement into 1 Corinthians that was adopted no more than 9 years after the crucifixion with no supporting citations. That is not to say anything in this part is complete wrong, just that what is there is not really a strong supporting argument if you are trying to convince a non-believer, so the best use here would be as a supplement to private or personal reflections by believers.

Part Two focuses on the Empty Tomb … with the basic claim that resurrection deniers attempt to explain how the early believers could have found the tomb of Jesus empty. There are 10 more specific claims here, each with a response. And while I don’t have the credentials needed to verify how accurate this information is, it seems reasonable in many cases and does have some supporting citations (from people that I have not previously encountered in my own studies). For example, there is an interesting connection on why Joseph of Arimathea was the one who had to claim the body of Jesus that was connected to his belonging to the Sanhedrin that was pretty investing and not something that I had heard before (will still need to do some follow-on research to verify though). Additional there was an interesting discussion about why the tomb had to be new in order not to run afoul of custom and law; however, the discussion of why we are so certain of the tomb’s location doesn’t appear to follow any consensus and fails to mention any of the competing claims, giving the a impression of certainty here. Additionally he talks about the James ossuary as if it has been determined to be authentic, while that is actually still contested. This might be inferred by the fact that Oded Golan was eventually acquitted of personally forging the ossuary, but the courts made no ruling on the items actual authenticity.

Part Three attempts to defend the New Testament as a whole; doing so with a combination of strawman arguments and historical inferences (the later being a list of extra biblical documents that mention Jesus by name). An immediate problem here is the inclusion of Thallus, who, while a favorite of Christian apologists because of its early date (52AD), really only confirms that solar eclipse around the time of the crucifixion and it was Africanus writing nearly 200 years after the fact that made the connection to Jesus. So the best external reference we have is actually Josephus as part of his histories, who mentions Jesus primarily in passing as the founder of a Jewish sect that was [believed to have been] executed on a cross by the sect members. In short, all of these arguments have potential, but they are all circumstantial and fairly weak on their own.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part One - Hallucination Theory (1 claim w/ 8 responses)
Part Two - Empty Tomb (1 main claim w/ 10 subclaims and responses)
Part Three - The New Testament (1 main claim and response with 4 counter arguments and responses)

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Jesus made thirteen recorded appearances, at different times and locations, over the span of forty days.

When we look at what happened to people who gathered followers in Israel both before and after Jesus' life, we find that all of the movements failed and were finished off. Done. Yet only Christianity survived the death of its leader and did so in a spectacular way.

This brings us to the second hurdle. Jewish custom at the time stated that if a Jewish person was crucified, being a criminal, his or her body could only be retrieved by a member of the Sanhedrin. Family members or friends were not allowed. This explains why Mary, Jesus’ mother, or any of His siblings or even His disciples did not ask for Jesus’ body for burial.

According to the rules and customs of that time, Jesus' body should have been buried in a tomb for criminals. But Joseph asks for Jesus' body and places it in his own, brand-new tomb which had never been used. This works because as a new tomb, it is neither a place of honor or dishonor.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#HowDidChristianityBegin #LibraryThing

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Thursday, July 11, 2024

Review: The Thirteenth Koyote

The Thirteenth Koyote The Thirteenth Koyote by Kristopher Triana
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Book: *
Performance: ***

NSFW-DNF-TW Graphic Torture, Sex and Violence

I don’t know what I was thinking; I was obviously not familiar enough with the splatter sub-genres. First, I should say that if you are even remotely triggered about anything, this book is definitely not for you. Second, the graphic descriptions also make this audible not-safe-for-work (or any place public really). This was an 11 of 10 score for gratuitous, and mostly gross, depictions of torture, sex and violence that I really … Really … REALLY did NOT care for. I am sure there was a stock plot in there somewhere, something to do with outlaw werewolves, but it was hard for me to find amid all the blood and gore. I get it … they are some really bad dudes … I don’t need to be hit over the head with that in virtually every paragraph. I made it about 50% before I quit … and that is saying something for an audiobook (I can count on one hand the number I was not able to gut it out to the end). Now … if you will excuse me … I need a shower.

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheThirteenthKoyote #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Review: Untangling Critical Race Theory: What Christians Need to Know and Why It Matters

Untangling Critical Race Theory: What Christians Need to Know and Why It Matters Untangling Critical Race Theory: What Christians Need to Know and Why It Matters by Ed Uszynski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To start with … I am reasonable sure that I am not the target audience for this book as I am neither an Evangelical nor a fundamental christian conservative; however, I would consider myself somewhat adjacent to the social issues addressed by both CRT and the author's understanding of scripture … although it appears that he considers the foundations of catholic social teaching (which is my own tradition) to be largely heretical. While I am more or less aligned with his conclusions, I find that I frequently diverge with the interpretations used to get there and with the inconsistent expansion and/or restriction of foundational terminology (which speaks more to my desire for language precision than any deficiencies with the arguments) … but not so much as to undermine the ultimate conclusion supporting a christian conversation about race.

As professed by the author, you can’t truly claim scriptural authority without recognizing that some form of caritas to those most neglected and vulnerable within our society is required (and this includes the struggle of minorities against systemic oppression). And while the language was clear and concise, I am unsure as to its ability to convince others … it certainly didn’t change my mind about CRT, which remains divisive and problematic for me, not because of what it is or how it works, but because of they way it has been weaponized on both sides to the point of foreclosing any debate about race (which is desperately needed in America today). If am I wrong (and I would love to be so), all I can say is welcome to the conversation.

The chapters and sections in this work are …

Introduction: Why We Need Another Book on Race

1. A White Guy’s Journey into Racial Controversy
2. What Do We Need to Understand About Marxism?
3. Thinking Critically about Critical Theory
4. Can a Christian Gain Anything from Critical Theory?
5. What Is Critical Race Theory Really?
6. What Are Some Tenets of Critical Race Theory?
7. Why CRT Means Different Things to Different People
8. How Christians Get Race Wrong: What CRT Isn’t the Problem
9. Five Stumbling Blocks to Thinking Christianly About Race
10. Can CRT Be of Use?
11. Responding to Concerns About CRT Part 1
12. Responding to Concerns About CRT Part 2
13. Redeeming “Social Justice” from Injustice
14. Healing from the Persistence of White Supremacy
15. How Should We Then Live?

Epilogue: Seeing the World a Little Differently

Some of the other points that really got my attention (regardless of whether or not I agreed with them) are:

Instead, they exposed how the legal system had embedded enough racially significant policies and patterns that disproportionate outcomes were almost guaranteed without ever appearing racist on the surface. Their work showed how racism could be present without racists, and it shook legal scholarship at its core.

First, for my Christian friends concerned we’re losing the culture war, if progressive ideology “wins,” it won’t be because Christians failed at resisting it. Rather, it will be because God is using the spread of pagan ideology to discipline his church.

Traditional sociological theories focused on understanding or explaining what could be plainly observed, organized, and interpreted about society. But a Critical theory is suspicious. It assumes there’s something more going on than what we plainly see.

The invisible influence of power. Power is a dirty word and can’t be trusted unless you have it. On a micro level, CT is a study in individual, relational power dynamics. Power means advantage, the ability to coerce, to control, to bring change. The relative power scale gets tipped by gender, age, height, health, social class, perceived wealth, education, wisdom, family order, title, and race, but some form of power is always at work, whether consciously or not.

For those already anchored in another tradition, Critical Theories functioned like lenses in a frame you could wear at will. For others, Critical Theories shaped the ceiling of their universe, becoming stars whose light helped them understand their place in the world. The difference mattered.

Theory doesn’t prescribe solutions. Theory analyzes. People motivated by political ideology recommend solutions. Politics tries to fix what theory exposes, and different philosophies will fix what gets revealed in different ways. I learned that most people’s problem isn’t really with theories themselves but with the ways people try to solve the problems they reveal.

This is why we find Christians who say they can use CRT as an analytical tool and others who find that impossible. One is looking at CRT tenets as corrective declarations about the way race and power work together at various points in American history, while the other is looking at CRT tenets as extensions of a Marxist political agenda striving to destroy Western culture by blowing everything up.

In talking about justice, racism, and social responsibility, often using language and assumptions of CRT alongside Bible passages to reinforce their points, these speakers produced a swelling fear that “ideologies currently stylish in the left-leaning secular academy” were now taking over the church, presenting “a more ominous threat to evangelical unity and gospel clarity” than anything else in recent history.

Paranoia surrounding CRT becomes the latest excuse for ignoring biblical themes that don’t align with Republican or white evangelical politics or theology, another way for white Christians to avoid talking points that matter to POC.

I’m struck by the irony that the people claiming to be most concerned about the effect of CRT on the church might be the ones who most need the type of corrective that real CRT provides.

If your current reading of the Bible allows you to see how sin can become systematized and woven into social structures in an unrighteous and unjust way, then you don’t need CRT.

Most white folks I know never get past this point. They reject the idea that racism is a normal, endemic, regular part of social life. They assume it means they are racist and, of course, immediately reject that possibility.

But as a Christian, I am responsible for carrying that pain with him (Galatians 6:2). I am responsible for pursuing the clarity to see what he sees and feel what he feels (Romans 12:15). I am responsible for an ongoing recognition of how the sins of the past continue to have consequences in the present (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). And I am responsible for traces of racial prejudice still alive in me (1 John 1:8-10). As much as it depends on me, I am responsible for living in a racially redemptive way within my sphere of influence (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Human systems and structures driven by power and profit resist equal opportunity. They will always cater to one group at the expense of another. But human free will means people get to make choices, and choices matter in outcomes. Thus, inequality results from both unjust systems and unwise or immoral choices, and both need to be examined carefully.

So mishpat means giving people their due, whether that is punishment for a transgressor or giving those transgressed against what they are owed.

Beyond personal moral righteousness, tsedaqah refers to “day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.”8

Throughout the Bible, social justice isn’t portrayed as a secondary luxury or as outlier acts of benevolence. It’s fundamentally necessary as part of one’s worship before God.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#UntanglingCriticalRaceTheory #NetGalley.

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Thursday, July 4, 2024

Review: DBT Workbook for Depression: The Complete Guide for Treating Depression & Anxiety with Dialectical Behavior Therapy | DBT Skills for Men & Women for Mindfulness, ... Emotional Health

DBT Workbook for Depression: The Complete Guide for Treating Depression & Anxiety with Dialectical Behavior Therapy | DBT Skills for Men & Women for Mindfulness, ... Emotional Health DBT Workbook for Depression: The Complete Guide for Treating Depression & Anxiety with Dialectical Behavior Therapy | DBT Skills for Men & Women for Mindfulness, ... Emotional Health by Barrett Huang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ***

Clear Help with Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This book was a good introduction to the concept of DBT, which is one approach to Cognitive Behavior therapy. As I had not really heard much about DBT, I was interested both in what it was and how it works … with the later amply demonstrated through personal anecdote of examples on how this helped the author. This overview highlights the four (4) main ideas behind DBT as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness to specifically address some of the author’s mental health struggles. To some extent, this book may come across a little as a personal catharsis for the author, but that would sell short the ability of this story to actually show how these concepts improved the author’s quality of life that comes into play once the author dives into the actual workbook sections of the book (and the accompanying 107 page pdf). Over all, this looks to be an excellent resource with clear, well organized exercises that could support an individuals effort to deal with a variety of mental health issues along WITH a qualified mental health professional.

Introduction (16:31)
Depression 101 (36:55)
Living with Depression (12:34)
What is Dialectic Behavior Therapy? (16:52)
DBT Core Skills (0:31)
Mindfulness (27:38)
Distress Tolerance (37:36)
Emotion Regulation (29:02)
Interpersonal Effectiveness (20:26)
Continuing the Road to Happiness (12:36)
Conclusion (02:57)
Appendix A - PHQ9 Depression Self-Assessment
Appendix B - Journaling for Depression Relief (03:29)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#DBTWorkbookForDepression #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.