Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review for George Washington Carver by John Perry

George Washington Carver (Christian Encounters Series)

This is the third book in the Christian Encounters Series that I've reviewed (see also Galileo and J.R.R. Tolkien ). George Washington Carver is one of those historical figures that I've heard about most of my life (especially during Black History month) but never really sat down and read his life story. It's worth reading.

John Perry traces Carver's life from being raised by a white family after his mother escaped slavery, growing up sickly and frail, getting educated despite the limitations imposed on black people of the time and finally ending up as a professor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Carver's life is inspiring because he rallied forth and succeeded when he had so many reasons to quit. First he was so sick most of his childhood that apparently he never fully developed in puberty.  His voice never changed.  People were often surprised to hear a light, soft voice when he spoke.  He was slight of build and walked with a stoop.  He never could participate in athletics and never married-probably due to his infirmity.

In addition to physical obstacles, he was only allowed to go to a segregated school with a black teacher who barely knew more than his students. Soon Carver outpaced the teacher and was traveling miles away on foot to attend a white school and ultimately college in order to get the education his intellect demanded and deserved. He worked in laundromats not only to pay for college but also secondary school.

In time, he came to be offered many lucrative teaching positions at white universities that paid high salaries but Carver felt it was his duty to teach at Tuskegee and help develop the academic and agricultural skills that his own community needed in order to break the vicious cycle of grinding poverty that afflicted so many of them.

Perry's picture of Carver is very evenhanded. He shows a man with a zeal for the Lord (throughout his career he held Bible studies at Tuskegee that were always packed with students-he fervently believed all progress must be built on “the Rock”: faith in Jesus Christ) and a fiery passion for African Americans to enable them to become skilled and educated so that they could be independent and self sufficient members of society and not be dependent on the state or charity.   I believe Carver would be saddened if he were alive today to witness how President Johnston's welfare system has succeeded in sabotaging many of the inroads African Americans had made in this area-not only among the black community but with all races and cultures in our present day society-as the state dole has done in Europe of which we're now seeing the fruits thereof in the riots of London and the bankruptcy of Greece and Ireland)

Still, this fiery man had his blind spots and idiosyncrasies. He worked tirelessly finding hundreds of uses for the sweet potato and the peanut but refused to record his work using a conventional scientific method. This, of course, made it impossible for other scientists to study his work to any measurable degree.  Furthermore, he wanted the school to furnish him with a hugely expensive laboratory for his own personal use that did not involve any of his teaching.

Booker T. Washington was the president of Tuskegee at the time and he and Carver butted heads for most of their respective careers. By Perry's account, Washington was the more patient and diplomatic one while Carver was the eccentric, flamboyant scientist who wanted nothing to interfere with his work but insisted on the school paying for it.

One of the most beneficial things Carver did for the black community was act as a spokesman. Carver was friends with President Roosevelt and Henry Ford, both of who supported him and invited him to speak at public gatherings. Apparently Carver was a brilliant and beloved speaker who held his audiences spell bound for hours on end. Yet in most places he traveled to he was subject to segregation and racial slurs. The most impressive attribute Carver showed was his patience and Christian submission to cruelty. His goal was to show black people's equality and abilities through demonstration of that intellect and ability not by angry words.

That is personally a great inspiration to me. How many times have I wanted to give back as I received? Carver was a beacon of Christ's example on earth. Was Jesus not also rejected and despised and even condemned to death, though innocent, yet returned hate with love and cruelty with forgiveness? No doubt at the end of Carver's long life he was greeted by his Savior with  “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”

As with the other books in this series, George Washington Carver is an easy, quick, but highly informative and inspiring book that I think people of all cultures would enjoy and benefit by as I did.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Thomas Nelson pub in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Crazy for Book Blog Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

The hop question this week is:“Let’s talk crazy book titles! Highlight one or two (or as many as you like!) titles in your personal collection that have the most interesting titles! If you can’t find any, feel free to find one on the internet!”

My Answer:  This is a hard one because as alluring as many book titles are I don't buy a book according to its title.  In fact my favorite books have pretty unassuming titles.  I love "omnibus" books.  These are books that are the complete works of a particular author or at least of a particular character.  Two of my favorite omnibus books are, "The Father Brown Omnibus" by G.K. Chesterton and "The Jeeves Omnibus" by P.D. Wodehouse.

The Father Brown Omnibus; with a Preface by Auberon Waugh

Chesterton's Father Brown is a Catholic priest who is also a criminal detective.  A Catholic Sherlock Holmes if you will.  The mysteries are just as fascinating and suspenseful but the difference is-while Conan Doyle was simply writing a good brain teaser- Chesterton is always using the story as a medium to reveal a much deeper picture of the complexities of the human soul and its ultimate need for salvation.

The Jeeves Omnibus: Stiff Upper Lip / The Inimitable Jeeves / Carry On, Jeeves

Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster is just plain silly.  The formula for each story is about the same:  Bertie Wooster a rich young brainless socialite is forever getting himself in ridiculous predicaments that his butler Jeeves is getting him out of.  
    What makes these stories so fun is the rapid fire wit as Jeeves and the other characters parley with each other.  These stories are great fun.  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry made a brilliant t.v. version of these stories.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review for Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD

Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World

   It's easy to get discouraged or feel paralyzed by what you hear about the terrible state of the world. But what if the media and other prophets of doom have misled us? Could the world actually be getting better?(From the back cover)

Bradley Wright is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. In his book “Upside” he takes on the challenge to prove that the world is not getting worse but mostly getting better. Using studies and graphs, Wright shows, statistically, people's perception about the state of our world and if these perceptions match up to the concrete math of the graph.

Wright breaks down these perceptions in each chapter, covering finances, intelligence and education, health, crime, war, religion, marriage and the environment. He looks at what studies say people believe about these different topics and how our perceptions actually measure up.

On the one hand, I think Wright makes some very good points. I don't watch TV except what I order on NetFlix. So aside from old Mission Impossible and Star Trek reruns, I'm pretty ignorant about what's shown on television these days. I personally consider this a good thing.

For example, once while visiting my parents I watched an hour of the news with them. In the one hour I heard of more rape, murder, crime and incredibly inane information about movie stars than I had heard in several years put together. I remember feeling such a heaviness in my heart afterward.

Wright attributes much of our pessimism to what we are filling our minds with. Because news media is out to make a buck they have to use hyperbole to sell their product and the fact is, bad news sells. The downside to this is aberrant behavior is made to seem normal and everyday.

Another culprit of our doomsday mentality, according to Wright, are activist organizations that use alarmist and scare tactics in order to get donations.

A while ago, Greenpeace mistakenly posted on its Web site an incomplete draft of a press release. It read: 'In the twenty years since the Chernobeyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly (FILL IN ALAMRIST AND ARMAGED-DONIST FACTOID HERE).' This press release template illustrates the strategic role of alarmism in the work of environmental groups. (pg. 181)

Also, he accurately points out the progress made in medicine, clean drinking water, and laws prohibiting racial and gender discrimination that have made life better for people, at least in America.

He does show that there are areas where we have gotten worse: We are getting fatter (surprise, surprise) and out of wedlock births and unmarried cohabitation has increased.

Wright's last chapter is proactive. He lists several strategies that we individually and together can do about the information we receive-both the good and the bad.

Interspersed with this information are caveats of Christians making a difference. Side notes include Partners Worldwide a nonprofit organization of Christian business people who form partnerships with developing countries, a husband and wife team who founded Christian Literacy Associates and Love INC, a group that guides local churches in recognizing and meeting the needs in their communities.

In conclusion, I'm not sure I agree with everything Wright says (for instance he cites joblessness with African Americans do to lack of opportunity rather than fatherlessness and the enabling of the welfare state plus he contends that the majority of Americans and people in the world are, in fact, Christians-something I don't buy, not even for Americans) I still think that his book and graphs are worth reading and considering.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review for Courageous by Randy Alcorn

Courageous: A Novel

 Courageous by Randy Alcorn is a novelization of the movie coming out by the makers of the films, Facing the Giants and Fireproof. In fact this book is written as a sequence to Fireproof.

Courageous takes place in Albany, Georgia not coincidentally the town of Sherwood Baptist, the makers of the movie. Alex and Stephen Kendrick have created stories centered around a high school football team and the local fire department. This time the Kendrick brothers have developed a movie about Albany's police department. Meet the characters:

Deputy Nathan Hayes has moved to the small town of Albany, Georgia to get his family out of Atlanta. He especially wants to direct his daughter, Jade, from the sort of friends she was attracted to. He soon finds that even small towns have their gangs and drugs because they suffer from the same epidemic that is afflicting every corner of America.

Deputy Adam Mitchell loves his daughter Emily because she's “low maintenance” as he puts it. She's young and eager to love her daddy and idolize him. He isn't as close to his teenage son Dylan who's sullen and defiant. His wife insists he needs to spend less time at the station and more time with his family and especially his son. When tragedy strikes his home he finds himself woefully unprepared to cope.

Sgt. Brad Bronson, “six and a half feet tall, over three hundred pounds” believes in pounding the “perps” (perpetrators) first and asking questions later. He hates Diane Koos, the woman who's been hired as the PR, the go between for the public and the department. He believes she's been hired to make the police look bad and he can't be prissy about following all the rules.

Rookie David Thompson is still unsure of himself, still making mistakes. As he struggles against his own insecurities Adam Mitchell calls all the men on the police to rise up and take the lead as Godly men and fathers in their own homes. Does this apply to David as well?

Courageous takes us inside the lives of each of these men and how they balance their personal lives with work. It shows the danger and stress policemen have to deal with every day and how their work impacts their families.

The book also examines the problem of gangs, why young men join gangs, how they get involved in drugs and how they end up either in jail or dead on the streets.

Years ago Gloria Steinem said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. People have bought into this absurd assertion for the last forty years and fatherlessness has scourged this country producing a pandemic of children growing up with no male role modeling or the love children desperately need from a dad.

 One byproduct of this is street gangs. If a boy can't get a family at home he will turn to the streets to get one. The primary business of gangs is to buy and distribute drugs which produces gang wars over trafficking competition.

I don't think it is a coincidence that I read this book right after reading September's Autumn (to see this review go here). That book showed the biggest threat to African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. This book shows the biggest threat that affects African Americans today.

Randy Alcorn has done a good job converting this movie into book form. I recommend it as a suspenseful and enjoyable read.

As I finished this review I got into my car and turned on the radio to find the DJ's were discussing the movie, Courageous. Apparently it is just coming out. One DJ said it was a movie that made you think, “Yeah, I can do that and change my life!” I can't wait to see it.  

I received a copy of this book for free by Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my honest review.
If you buy a copy please do so through the link below.  Thanks!