Book Review

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, by William Shirer ★★★
This book was read on my iPad. It is a fairly large book, taking me a while to complete it, thus, the absence of many other book reviews on my blogsite. Shirer was a journalist in Berlin, leaving Berlin approximately 1940-1941 (he doesn’t say exactly when), and then observing from the sidelines. The book is fairly well researched, and heavily referenced. After the end of the book, a 1990 afterthought is included by the author. He had noted that the book was on the best sellers list for a number of years and purchased in many countries except for Germany itself. This Shirer felt was a sign that the German people still remained clueless as to the nature of their goose-stepping militaristic nature, and he expressed fears that the reunification of Germany was going to lead to yet another rise to power and German world war. Perhaps the person the most clueless is Shirer himself. Throughout the book, Shirer writes not as an objective historian, but as an opinionated, biased journalist. Shirer seems to let his thinking and emotions get in the way of solid historical reporting. As an example, he shows his bitter disdain for the personality of Von Ribbentrop, rather than seeking to describe his personality and then letting the facts speak from there. He describes many episodes of secret meetings where he seems to be cognizant of precisely what transpired. He makes warrantless broad assumptions about the German people that don’t serve his commentary. Here is an example, quoting the book, ” One gets the impression that … many … “Good Germans” fell too easily into the trap of blaming the outside world for their own failures, as some of them had done for Germany’s misfortunes after the first lost war…”. Excuse me, but the blame does spread around to all the European nations as well as the US. Or, of speaking of Mussolini, “…as dictator, he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by … false ambitions. The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism.” Such comments leave one feeling whether they could take anything that Shirer says seriously. He truly couldn’t be serious in implying that the mass of German people was uncivilized, unsophisticated, not down to earth?  There are many more examples throughout the book.
Shirer provides a nice flow through the book and it is very readable. There is a wealth of facts that need to be selected out in writing any historical account, and the fact that huge numbers of texts have analyzed the Nazi phenomenon attests to the fact that even 60 years after the fact, we are still grappling with the problem of made Germany do what it did. Shirer provides a completely wrong explanation but feeds western, and especially US arrogance in the matter. To divorce himself from the reality of Germany, Shirer had to paint the Germans as a different creature, perhaps even a different species or genus. To this date, political situations are so often compared to that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The left and right of politics continually hurtle the accusation at the other of being just like the Nazis. Why aren’t Stalin and the Communists equally brought up as an example? Or Mao Tse Tung? Or the Japanese emperor? Or Napoleon? The list could go on at length. Germany is used as an example because sub-consciously, they are a people the most like us. They, more than any other modern country, developed the ideas of ethics that shape our world. They developed our philosophy, our music, our culture, etc. They, more than even England, gave us our work ethic, and our sense of obedience to authority. The rise of Nazi Germany seems to be a great puzzle, yet it isn’t. We see ideas in politics today reinforce that the events of the rise of the Nazi state happen on a smaller scale every year in Washington, D.C. We claim that the German people should have known and risen up, yet we don’t rise up, as our freedoms are constantly eroded, and our government increasingly behaves in a dictatorial fashion that we have no control of. We claim moral superiority to the Germans of the first half of the twentieth century, yet truthful soul-searching suggests that we aren’t much different than they.
To end it, Shirer ends with the execution at Nuremberg of the main Nazi officials. Specifically, Ribbentrop, who Shirer completely despised,  is reported as to have flippantly blurted out to the American Military pastor, “See you later” as though he was making a colossal terminal joke. Actually, the full quote is as follows… “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul”. Then he turned to Gerecke (the Lutheran pastor) and said “I’ll see YOU again”. In the book “War and Grace”, Don Stevens recounts the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran Pastor in the military from Missouri, who was assigned to be the chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. In the process of his encounters with Goering, Rosenberg, Ribbentrop, etc., he noted that not a few felt genuine remorse for their actions, and found faith in Christ, including Keitel, Fritzsche, von Schirach, Speer, Raeder, and after much struggle, Ribbentrop. Many Americans sent Gerecke hate mail, detesting the fact that he would minister to the Nazi war criminals. Yet, the additional story from Stevens only strengthens the impression that the Nazis are us. We might have done exactly what they did in the circumstances. The story of the Nazis is a sobering story that should make all of us weep, and not arrogantly state that “they” are a breed of another kind. For that end, a book like this is worth reading.

For All the Tea in China

For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose ★★★
Sarah Rose provides a most interesting story of the adventures of a Mr. Robert Fortune of the British East India Company in China during the 1840s and 1850s, stealing prized tea plants from China and exporting them to the Himalayas, under the immediate control of Great Britain, to permit them to compete with China in the tea industry. Also taken was the technology for growing and processing the tea leaves into great tea. It is a most fascinating story that is not often told. Fortune had several very unfortunate attempts, in part from bungling up the tea plants and leaves in the process of shipping them to the Himalayas, as well as incompetence and ineptitude on the part of arrogant British horticulturists, even when told by Chinese coolies what they were doing wrong with the plants.  Sarah’s writing style attempts a mix of pure historical reporting and historical fiction, leaving one certain that the tales of Fortune’s adventures were probably just approximately recounted in this book. Sarah maintains a heavy pro-British bent in her reporting, going very light on the evils of the British empire in their dealings with China (such as with the Opium Wars), as well as the Indians. This poor historical accounting even goes to British competitors in the west. When she speaks of the development of porcelain in the west to compete with fine “china” from China, she drools over Wedgewood and British porcelain manufacturers, she blindly forgets the role of the Germans (especially the town of Meissen) in re-discovering and developing the European porcelain industry). A perfect example her Western blindness can be quoted from near the end of the book…
” By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them [the Chinese], it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices. He democratized a luxury, and the world has been enjoying it ever since”
That quote sounds warm and fuzzy except for a few glaring details. Now that China is reportedly “stealing” technology from the West, I suppose that they can use the same justification since they are simply spreading Western technology at a much lower price. It is hard for me to have a sympathetic ear toward the west when they rail on China being an aggressive competitor in the markets. We are simply getting our own medicine back on us 150 years later. Most of the world has a better memory than Amerikans.

Cambridge Illustrated History of China

Cambridge Illustrated History of China, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey ★★★
I purchased this text from as a used book to read before and during my trip to China with Betsy and Dr. Liao. It arrived very heavily marked up with multiple pages folded over, not exactly what the seller suggested. This text is fairly comprehensive of all aspects of history and includes many beautiful illustrations and helpful maps, unlike many Chinese history texts. The author attempts a newer style of history taking, focusing on “the man/woman in the street”, and de-focusing on the rulers and leaders. Unfortunately, it leaves the history of China seriously poorly explored, since the actions of the emperors had an immediate effect on the man in the street. Ebrey spends much time discussing the development of Chinese art and poetry, yet even that is poorly explored. I was left with a very poor impression of having learned much from this text about Chinese history.

The Divine Revelation

The Divine Revelation, by Paul Helm ★★★★★
This short little book is guaranteed to tie up hours of one’s time reading. It is a thoughtful reflection, not on the theology of divine revelation, but of the philosophy of divine revelation, i.e., is such an activity possible or probable to have happened. Helm writes mostly against the thinking of Karl Barth, and the post-modernists, both of whom, in many ways are similar is attesting for the unique role of the recipient who must turn the mere words of the Bible into spoken revelation. This book is not for the faint-hearted, as it is not written for easy bedtime reading. Perhaps philosophy majors will find this book to be light reading. Helm will challenge you to think through each word used.  As an example, he speaks of infallible truth, and then probes whether or not that is not a redundancy, since infallible and truth (at least in his [and my] world) is synonymous. Helm realizes that certain things are not logically provable, and doesn’t take the approach  of “proving” that special revelation (that is, revelation which could never be acquired by any other means) has occurred, but demonstrates the logical possibility of special revelation, as well as its consistency with Scripture. Not to be begging the question or arguing in a circular fashion, Helm has no problem arguing for the internal consistency with special revelation as found in Scripture as being its own proof. Certainly, the Scripture has more consistency than anything else out there.
I’ve now read and reviewed a number of Helm’s books. His books on providence, time, and special revelation stand as his major works. All are worth reading. Since he lives close (Vancouver, B.C.), I’d dearly love to meet him some day, or perhaps get him down for a mens group meeting at church. He is staunchly reformed in his thinking, and, as others have stated, probably the foremost Christian philosopher alive today. I would certainly agree. I might also refer the reader to Helm’s blog page, which always provides interesting reading ( ).

Fixing Your Feet

Fixing Your Feet, by John Vonhof ★★
Having had many blisters from my years of backpacking, I was quite eager for some advice on how to prevent blisters from happening, and what to do about it when they do occur. Thus, with this book recommended, I eagerly plunged into its 260 pages, hoping for concrete advice that would prevent the painful foot sore from ever happening again. The advice was quite mixed. The author repeatedly (and correctly) noted that everybody is going to have a different fix. Then, he repeatedly repeats much of what he says again and again and again. This book is not intended to be read straight through like I did. Considering that its on its 5th edition, my presumption is that the author started to throw in chapters here or there, without ever re-reading the book to see what he was duplicating. About a third of the book is taken up with anecdotes by other athletes regarding their worst blister stories, or their solution to a bad blister—not terribly helpful. Vonhof’s focus is on the long-distance ultra-marathon runner, including those people that run extreme races like the Death Valley run (which goes from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney), or the Marathon de Sables in southern Morocco across the Sahara desert. There was very little advice for long-distance backpackers who do not have massive support teams and need to consider weight as an important variable in preventing blisters.
The book was marginally helpful, as advice acquired here was available from most backpacking books. The first several chapters offered a summary  of all that was essential in the book. Subsequent sections on prevention and treatment of foot injuries of the long-distance runner, and not terribly applicable to hiking. Climbing foot problems were never mentioned where many of my blisters occurred, when the foot was in a very stiff and waterproof boot by necessity. Neither was mentioned foot problems with cross-country skiing, a unique time when the foot must be flexible but very warm.
If there are any changes to this book in subsequent editions, I recommend several things. First, the author should actually read through his book, and delete the bountiful repetition that occurs. Second, anecdotes need to be more selective, and advice ranked and categorized better. Advice was all over the board from not doing something to only doing the same thing, to extremely crazy things. We don’t need to know about the bizarre things that might have worked on one person, but rather what generally works, and what could be tried if general advice doesn’t work. Second, the author should create sections specifically for certain activities, since every activity is going to have different solutions. Thirdly, complex problems that require specialty treatment need to be stated clearly as such without lengthy details.

Hugh Latimer

Hugh Latimer, by Richard Hannula ★★★★★
This is a very short book, and can easily be read in a single evening. It is part of a  large series of “Bitesize Biographies”, so I presume is intended to be short and sweet. Dick Hannula is an elder in our church and also the principal of the church high school. He is currently giving a Sunday school series for the adults on the general content of this book. Latimer, with Ridley and later Cranmer, was burned at the stake by Queen Mary. Through the faithfulness of many of the early English reformers against incomprehensible odds, a candle was lit which led to England soon becoming a solidly reformed country. Mr. Hannula writes almost like he speaks, and thus you get the feeling when reading this book that Dick is speaking to you. Latimer is definitely a fascinating character, being the best mouthpiece of the Reformation in England. He possessed the preaching skills to persuade many to leave the heresies and false teaching of Rome and seek their comfort and trust in the Christ of Scriptures alone. Latimer also had an overwhelming concern for the poor, unlike most of the clergy of England who used their posts in the church for their own personal advantage. This is a good read which will leave you loving the man Hugh Latimer and is a  brief episode of history that all English-speaking people should be aware of,  a nice reminder that the gift of religious freedom that we presently enjoy was won over many of faithful souls being burnt at the stake.

Cutting For Stone

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★
This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.
Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.
This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.

Secret Thoughts

Secret Thoughts, by Howard Clark, MD ★★★★
H.S. (Howard) Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I work, and he had been in the process of writing novels for a lengthy period of time now. This novel is a suspense thriller with an anesthesiologist, Paul Powers, as the detective, trying to solve a mystery of cyanide poisoning, leading to the death of a number of people, including a colleague of Powers, Valdimire Zhazinsky, who was a radiologist. As the mystery plot thickens, Paul is soon branded as the main culprit.  Paul departs on an international whirlwind effort to clear his name and to identify the real killer. I will not give the entire plot away. The text is not lengthy even though the book is thick since it is printed in rather large type, and so can be read in 1-2 evenings. Howard does an excellent job of keeping the action moving and keeping the reader in suspense.
One side story relates to the experimental use of a hypothetical drug picafentanyl, which puts people to sleep (like the real drug, fentanyl, which is commonly used in surgery). The problem with picafentanyl is that is secreted by the breath, and thus, when used, puts everybody in the room asleep. Though this novel kept me well awake, the next time Dr. Clark starts to put me to sleep in surgery, I’ll suspect that he might have been popping a bit of picafentanyl.

The Secret Providence of God

The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★
Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.

Lloyd M. Nyhus

Lloyd M. Nyhus, MD, FACS, Surgeon, Mentor, Visionary for 20th Century Surgery, by Michelle Rapaport with Donald Wood, MD, FACS ★★★★★
This was a delightful book to read because it was a part of my own personal history, as I had trained under Dr. Nyhus. Dr. Don Wood, of whom I had also gotten to know well, does a wonderful job of outlining Dr. Nyhus’s life from childhood to his death. Certainly, as one of the best known and great surgeons of the 20th century, this book was well due to Dr. Nyhus. My office still contains signed versions of the textbooks that he had published, and it was an honor to have trained under the man.
A book of this sort certainly could not contain many of the little things that made Dr. Nyhus a delight to work under. Every summer, we had a Department of Surgery picnic, for which I was in charge about 4 of the 8 years I was in Chicago. These were delightful events, for which I always made sure we ordered some Weisswurst for Dr. Nyhus. He would also have all of the surgery residents over to his house for a backyard picnic once a year, which was special. I always appreciated when he would randomly pick me to attend dinner at the University Club for a distinguished visiting professor. Nyhus had a delightful knack for making the residents feel like his boys.
This book is not a history so much as a tribute to Dr. Nyhus. It is written like an Egyptian pharaoh would write a history, in that it was not inclusive of the struggles and challenges of life at the U of Illinois. Nyhus, as the Delta/TWA professor of surgery was gone so much, that even though I was on his service a number of times, only operated with him 3-4 times in the total five years of my residency. Bombeck had several heart replacements, and in spite of that, was a chain smoker of such a serious degree that he rarely could tolerate more than 5 minutes scrubbed with me in the OR before he needed to step out for another smoke. Donahue was an attending than one never turned their back on.  Levitsky was blind as a bat, and very pompous. I shan’t be too negative. Olga Jonasson was technically the best surgeon of the group, and a delight to train under, even though she was as tough as nails. Dr. Abcarian was just an all-round wonderful surgeon to work with. Dr. Das Gupta was ultimately the best of the best of the whole bunch in my estimation, being a role model for me of excellence both in the operating room and in the laboratory. I usually end up calling myself a Das Gupta trained surgeon. Dr. Wood was in Das Gupta’s division of surgical oncology, and was one of most special attendings for me, in that he was not only a competent teacher and surgeon, but an example of the Christian faith in the world of academic medicine. There are many other surgeons under Nyhus that were not mentioned in this book that were true pillars in the residency, such as Drs. Nelson, Barrett, Sharifi, Briele, and Walter Barker, to name a few. Das Gupta, Wood, Abcarian and Jonasson deserve the highest honors in the grand scheme of things, though they would be too modest to admit that.
Regardless of any shortcomings, and they were minor, I consider it an honor to have trained under Dr. Nyhus. This book is a well written tribute to a man who could assemble a diverse bunch of surgeons to make without a doubt the best surgery residency in the world during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I feel blessed to have been a part of that experience.