Saturday, October 17, 2015

Second Annual Book Review

Last year I posted my first annual list of favorite books that I had read in the previous 12 months.  Here is my second list!!  You can see that my tastes are diverse – ranging from serious history and theology all the way to quality detective stories.  One of my favorite categories is good historical fiction.  Here they are listed in no particular order.

My comments describe why I was attracted to the book:

1 Peter the Great – Robert Massie:  Russia has long been an enigma to the west  Its world view has been shaped by its long history and by having one foot in Europe, the other in Asia.   This book describes a monarch who drug Russia out of medieval thinking into the modern times…This book helped me to understand Russia today and the power of its history in seeing itself today

2. Gutenberg’s Apprentice…In this book I learned that my impressions of Gutenberg were quite incorrect.  I loved the description off the interplay between Gutenberg and his apprentice.  Here I learned a great deal about the effects of printing on the world, and the power of politics in that period.

3  The Vig – John Lescroart – The first in a long series of mystery novels with an emphasis on the workings of the American legal system.  Set in San Francisco, we get to know this man and his personal struggles.  I liked the book so much I am now on book 3 of the series.

4.  The Fourth Gospel – Tales of a Jewish Mystic – John Shelby Spong… Wowie! – what a delight… Much of the Gospel of John has often been difficult for me to understand and here, based on a lifetime of research, is a book that explains the book in its historical context - who it was written for in its time, and how we can find meaning in it today. – very readable – very thought provoking.

5.  The Grapes of Wrath –John Steinbeck… I was listening to Public Radio and their was a writer speaking who declared that this is the great American Novel… I read it first in college – but we should reread great classic books after we become mature – I can now interpret the book through a lifetime of experience – and it is a much richer experience.  This book reads like poetry – it is skillfully written, with discipline.  Wonderful experience.  I like it so much I reread a second Steinbeck Novel – Tortilla Flat

6.  The Princes of Ireland: Edward Rutherford: A historical Novel  describing the early history of Ireland leading up to the occupation by the British.  Good historical fiction is 90% good history and 10% good fiction… this does it well. The book does not leave you with a good taste for the Imperialism of the British in that period... but it helps to understand events that were to happen centuries later.

7.   The Books of Phillip Kerr:  March Violets was the first:  These books take place in the period of the Second World War – but not about the direct fighting… The novels take place in the occupied lands involved, Berlin, the Ukraine, Prague, Paris. the Balkans  and follow the lives of people affected by the war.  Skillfully research create a great sense of presence...

8.  The Hangman’s Daughter – Oliver Potzsch – Translated from German – A meticulous novel describing medieval live in a German village,  and the lives of the hangman/village herbalist and his family… as they live in the midst of the politics and power moves of that period …A real window into this period of history.  Hint:  the hangman turns out to be a complex character - not all bad...

9.  Killer Angels – Michael Staara: this book describes the leaders and men involved in the battle of Gettysburg… I have never understood Lee or Grant or the other major figures about which we learned in history class – this reads with the drama and excitement of a novel and will change your understanding of history.

10.  How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian: John Dominic Crossan…The directly conflicting ideas found in the Bible can be very confusing.  Crossan uses a variety of historical documents, modern scholarship, and clear translations to interpret confusions of the Bible.  Crossing says that we can't pick and choose what we like from the Bible - that the it is a document that can be read as a whole.  He offers a new understanding for those who do not see themselves as Biblical literalists.

11.   Crow Hollow: Michael Wallace: A historical novel about early American colonial history… He portrays the free spirit of frontier America, the closed theocratic communities of new England, the very real dangers of the Indian wars, and pressures from England and all of this in a clear easy to read novel.  A good read!

12.  Sea Change – A Message of the Oceans: Sylvia Earle… Whatever are we doing to the Oceans of our planet.  Skillful descriptions of the beautiful oceans and how humans are changing them.