Book Review

Bike Snob

Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, by Bike Snob NYC (aka Eben Weiss) ★★★
Eben apparently writes a regular column for Bicycling magazine. I’ve never seen his column, though I also don’t subscribe to Bicycling magazine anymore. Eben offers many humorous anecdotes, mostly from his own life, that covers the world of somebody who rides a bicycle simply for the joy of it. He is able to insult just about anybody who rides a bicycle, including himself. At the same time, tidbits of advice are offered, such as to lock your bicycle well, and to not fall into the fad of riding a bicycle without brakes. This was a short and enjoyable read that most bicycle riders would enjoy.

A Biblical History of Israel

A Biblical History of Israel, by Provan, Long, and Longman ★★★★

This book ended up being considerably different than I expected from the cover, yet was a delightful and very informative read. I had expected a simple biblical narrative rehash of what I already knew from reading the OT 15-20+ times through. This book did not take that approach. The first five chapters were a defense of doing history, especially biblical history. Current modern liberal theologians tend to identify the Old Testament as entirely unreliable in accounting for a true history of events in Palestine, for reasons that include 1) history in the Old Testament mixes theology and history and thus is unreliable 2) events of the Old Testament don’t precisely match archeological findings, and thus the OT text is in error, and 3) redaction criticism suggests a late writing of biblical history, which must thus be inaccurate. The authors shrewdly work through each of these objections, showing that the OT can be truly used as a legitimate source for ancient historical studies. The second part of the book then works through the narrative structure of the history of Israel, in particular identifying when liberal scholars note a discrepancy and show how variant reads of the OT text or extreme extrapolations possible lead to errors on the part of the liberal scholars rather than the text of the OT. A simple example suffices. A recent archeological work failing to show proper period pottery in random digs around Jerusalem was interpreted to suggest that Jerusalem was not occupied during the suggested reign of King David. This is as ludicrous as me digging in my backyard, failing to find Indian artifacts, and thus concluding that Indians did not occupy the Pacific Northwest-arguments of negation rarely ever prove anything. My disappointment with the book (and this is a serious one) is that none of the authors suggest that the OT might be divinely inspired, in spite of the occasional but insignificant corruptions of the original text. The authors may have been writing for a theologically liberal audience that they wished to not confuse, but it still would have been better to admit your bias, unless the authors truly do not hold to the notion that the Bible is the Word of God. Is it really academic to demand a “scientific” approach to the OT when attesting to its veracity? I don’t think so. The author’s occasional comment on the mistake of reading the history from the OT in a “literal” fashion as a mistake, yet fails to distinguish how their lack of literalism differs from the liberal school theologians. For example, they go so far as to suggest that [some of the prophecies and wisdom books may be products of a later period (i.e., inter-testamental period), but this is a matter of speculation]. In the end, in their attempt to find acceptance among liberal theologians, the authors are willing to sacrifice a high view of Scripture, which is precisely the first event that led to liberal theology in the first place. Oddly, it makes no sense to placate these higher theologians, since theirs is a willing decision to reject the claims of Scripture even when shown to be substantially more likely than not to be true. Unfortunately, these liberal theologians sit on the faculty of many seminaries and departments of theology, hiding their absence of faith in the God of Scripture through a smokescreen of “academic rigueur”.

The Rage Against God

The Rage Against God, by Peter Hitchens ★★★★★
This book was loaned to me by Jonny (son) as a “must-read”. Jonny was correct, in that the book is excellent. Hitchens dialogues his adventures from growing up in a nominally Christian home and school system and deciding to become an atheist at the young age of 13. Over time, he pursued his personal ideology, spending time in the former Soviet Union as a reporter. Slowly, Peter was able to see the inevitable consequences of a militant atheistic ideology, compelling him to move back into the realms of being a Christian. Much of this book engages the reader in exploring the consequences of atheism, particularly as Peter saw it in the communist countries that he visited. He also discusses encounters with his brother Christopher, who is an outspoken atheist and well known in the liberal press. Peter Hitchens offers valuable insights into the consequences of atheistic thinking. He discusses at length the fall of the west from Christianity to atheism and shows that it has served us no good. The middle segment of the book addresses particular questions that are raised against Christianity, such as the issue that religion tends to create wars and not peace, that religion tends to be very harmful to children, especially in regard to sexuality and the lust of pedophile priests, and that faith in God tends to breed gullibility. Each of these charges and others is capably answered by showing that atheism has a far greater challenge of answering these same charges. The book is a wonderful read, I appreciated much of what he had to say about politics and religion, and appreciate Jonny for introducing me to the book.

Digital Landscape Photography

Digital Landscape Photography, by Michael Frye ★★★★★
The subtitle offers a good summary of this text “In the footsteps of Ansel Adams and the great masters”. Frye apparently studied under Ansel Adams, and has brought Adams Zone system into the digital arena. This book is a delight to read for a number of reasons. 1. His photography is stupendous. 2. He has a superb balance between art and technique. Frye has top mastery of not only the art of visualizing light and composing a photograph but also in taking it to Photoshop/Lightroom to make it a presentation print. 3. I appreciate examples where he shows his “not so good” photographs next to his final photo, to see what he was good for in order to make a prize-winning print. My only minor complaint is that I wish he would have included camera settings on the photographs that he took. This book is a “must-read” for any aspiring nature photographer. I hope that Frye will write further books on this same topic.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, by Robert Spencer ★★★
This book is supposed to offer the perspective on the religion of Islam that one would not encounter within the standard news media for the supposed sake of not offending anybody or of being tolerant. Yet, the religion of Islam is itself entirely intolerant of Christianity, and though not overtly offensive to Christians in that they do make sport of the Christian “icons”, yet they still reserve notions of the Christian faith as the equivalent of the secular. Most of the discussion in this book is quite factual, and they do make clear that the religion of Islam is not a religion of peace. Nowhere does the author imply that most Muslims are violent, and indeed, most are not. The author often puts up quotes of Mohammed next to quotes of Jesus. This is not a deeply informative book, and I’m sure most Muslims would take offense at the Christian interpretation of their Koran. The book is a good read to gain balance with what is constantly heard on American media.

The Mystery of the Gentiles

The Mystery of the Gentiles, by Ted Weiland ★
This book was read at the behest of brother Dennis, who felt that it would clarify various terms for me, such as defining exactly who a Jew, Israelite, and Gentile was. The object of the book was to persuade the reader that 1. Who we call Jews today are actually Khazars and Edomites, 2. What we call Gentiles in the Bible are actually Israelites who have taken over Europe. 3. The promises of salvation in Scripture remain limited to Israelites. The first chapter introduces the topic by suggesting that this is a mystery in Scripture that few people have noticed. It also suggests that most of us have misread Scripture by not taking care of terminology. Chapter 2 engages in defining the Jew according to Ted. Annoyingly, Ted repeatedly reminds us that the Jews do not necessarily refer to the Israelites of the Northern or Combined kingdom. Chapter 3 introduces the idea that the current Jews living in the state of Israel are actually Khazars or Edomites. Chapter 4 suggests that the biblical Israelites have become a subset of the “Gentiles”, gentile being also referred to in Scripture as the Nations. Chapter 5 further labors over trying to define the gentile, accusing translators with inconsistency in the translation of goyim and ethnos, yet always admitting that those words are used to refer to different things at different times. Chapter 6 attempts to offer a biblical argument that when the Scripture discusses promises to Israel, it could not possibly refer to a “spiritual” Israel, i.e., to non-Israelites who have faith in Christ. He even ventures that no non-Israelite would ever be predestined to the called (bottom of p. 51), thus negating the possibility of any non-Israelite being saved, and contradicting his arguments in the 2nd appendix. Chapters 7 & 8 offer Wieland’s interpretation of Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. Chapter 9 argues that the whole of Europe was actually occupied by migrations of the 10 “lost” tribes of Israel, thus affirming that the covenant to Israel related to Europe and not to other “nations” that were “non-Israelite”. Chapter 10 again resurrects the argument that the current Israelis are actually Edomites. It is hard to know where to start with a critical review of this book. The scholarship is so bad, so poorly argued, so inconsistent that it defies imagination. I was careful to look up a number of his quotes, such as to the Jewish Encyclopedia, which one may access online, to realize that the text is definitely NOT confirming the arguments of Weiland, but only presenting a number of theories of who the Jews are. Weiland presents nothing novel, in that British Israelism or Anglo-Israelism, has been around at least two hundred years, and has failed in all aspects, historically, scripturally, logically, philologically, and experientially as a reasonable explanation of the definition of the Jew and the Gentile. Weiland demonstrates the danger of a little knowledge, and his amateurish use of Hebrew and Greek betrays a pitiful ignorance of language and translation demands. Weiland speaks in a very demeaning style, which is necessary for him in order to attempt to persuade somebody else of his preposterous claims. In his Scripture quotes, he routinely inserts his own definition of pronouns [the house of Judah], [the house of Israel], etc., which defies plain reads of the quoted Scripture. Weiland is an example of forming a theory and then forcing history and Scripture to fit that. This has been done too many times, and the results are disastrous. In Wieland’s case, he is forced to conclude that “non-Israelites”, i.e, Africans, Asians, etc. do not share in the same covenant promises of the Israelites. Yet, to Wieland’s embarrassment, the Koreans, and African nations are exploding with Christians. Perhaps, Wieland would argue that they are lesser Christians found in Europe and America. In summary, this book was so bad that it was a struggle to read. I pity the poor souls that actually believe this rubbish.

Defending Constantine

Defending Constantine; The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, by Peter J. Leithart ★★★★★
Constantine has received serious criticism from the time of his rise to power up to the present. Many claim that Constantine represents the downfall of the church, and the compromise of Christianity with the world. Numerous authors have argued over the course of many texts how Constantine was responsible more than any other person for the rise of a Christianity foreign to the sermon on the Mount. Constantine has earned the disapproval of both secular liberals, such as Gibbon, as well as Christians, such as John Howard Yoder, in his Politics of Jesus. Many recent writings, such as “Truth Triumphant-The Church in the Wilderness” base an entire theology on the corruptions of Constantine, and many have been misled by failing to truly understand what Constantine did in favor of the Christian church. This book provides not only a historical review of Constantine, but also acts as a critique of Yoder and others, pointing out how Yoder is oftentimes seriously inaccurate as to the history of Constantine as well as the early church, and when the history is ambiguous or unknown, Yoder forces an interpretation of history most fitting with his thesis. In the end, the anti-Constantinians seem to entirely miss the significance of what Constantine accomplished not only for the church but also for society in general. Leithart reminds us the church under persecution prayed for an end to persecution, and for the rise of a Christianized government. They got exactly what they prayed for. Yoder finds it intolerable that a Christian could ever be involved in government, and so dismisses the conversion of Constantine as a fraud. Yet, Leithart argues that even in the words of Christ, there is a strong political statement being made. After Constantine, world leaders were held by a different standard, a Christian standard, that simply did not occur before Constantine. Thus, though Constantine had some serious faults, many of his actions, like the killing of his wife and son, remain inexplicable since we simply don’t have the records to suggest why Constantine did what he did. Constantine is criticized by Yoder for maintaining a military, as he should have been a pacifist. Yet, Yoder is entirely hypocritical, in claiming that government serves a function under God and that certain enforcement of laws and defense is necessary. This is a thick book, not so much in terms of the number of pages, but in terms of the dense quantity of information and argument provided by Leithart. It would be a challenge to offer an inclusive summary of all the gems this book has to offer, and suggest anybody interested pick up a copy and read it.

What’s So Great About Christianity

What’s So Great About Christianity, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★
Dinesh was recently reviewed by me with his book about Obama. This led me to read another book by him, and this text caught my eye. It is essentially an “apologetics lite” text. D’Souza does a whirlwind presentation of many of the major themes of apologetics without ever going into great depth into any one of them. The book seems to be primarily a polemic against some of the leading atheists of the day, including Gould, Hutchins, Harris, Sagan, and others. In order of presentation, he discusses the rise of atheism in our culture and the rejection of Christianity, the invasion of science and the rejection of Christianity by offering an alternative, the response of intelligent design, the philosophical attack on Christianity, the problem of free will and determinism, the problem of evil, and finally a discussion of the uniqueness of Christianity with an appeal to the reader to consider the claims of Christ. The science chapters were the weakest, especially when D’Souza feels compelled to give credence to evolution. This doesn’t make sense, because a worn-out hypothesis for the origins of man that leaves more questions than answers to the problem of man’s origin does not contribute to a Christian defense. In all, where D’Souza fails with a depth of discussion, he succeeds with a consistent flow in his thought. This book will not persuade a hardened intellectual, but for those who are seeking a consistent appeal to the claims of Christ, the book will offer a start and the correct direction for coming to terms with the God of the universe.


Landscapes—The Digital SLR Expert, by Mackie, Neill, Noton, Wiggett, Worobiec ★★★★
This book is a compilation of advice from five accomplished photographers addressing the issue of nature photography. It is a practical book, and, except for the chapter on black and white photography, was focused on advice for obtaining the shot. Thus, advice about composition, lighting, timing, camera settings, lens usage, and special situations were at the forefront. Multiple examples of photographic images were given, and it was helpful to know what settings and lenses were being used to obtain the photos. The B&W chapter offered much easy-to-follow photoshop advice on converting your photos into B&W or duotone specimens. This book was a fun and inspirational read.

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One, by Deke McClelland ★★★★
I’ve been a bit remiss on writing on my blog site. Every once in a while I feel like I need to offer a personal reflection on what’s going on, but that may be a while from now. There are some trips being planned soon, which I’ll detail when I get back.
It is a bit unusual perhaps seeing a book on InDesign from me. Oddly, typography has a particular attraction for me. I remember the days when I was a typographical apprentice, mostly using hot type. It was at that time, in the early 1970s when cold type first arrived. I remember the clunky and always problematic Alphatype machine, which seemed to be broken more often than not. But, it was the forerunner of our current typesetting technology. I suspected back in 1973 that computers would eventually take over the typesetting business, and I was correct. The only use I had for my Journeyman’s card was to work my way through medical school. My former union (International Typographical Union) doesn’t even exist anymore. It was in the early 1980s that the first real typesetting program came out, called Aldus PageMaker. I purchased it and started playing with it. It was unreal how closely PageMaker simulated how a typographer would approach type. Aldus was since bought out by Adobe, who later morphed PageMaker into InDesign, constantly adding new functionality. This book takes one on a whirlwind tour of InDesign CS4. It is quite amazing all the power that one now has in the program, compared to the first version of PageMaker. McClelland adeptly demonstrates many of the subtle functions of InDesign CS4. His instructions are quite easy to follow, compared to many how-to-do computer books. Each chapter is accompanied by a short video that highlights a particular segment of the upcoming chapter. My only complaint about the book is the preoccupation with certain distractions, such as how to draw figures, that are nice to be able to do in InDesign but best performed in Illustrator. I would be quite amazed if somebody owned InDesign and did NOT own both Illustrator and Photoshop. Many typesetting topics were glossed over. He could have spent more time on the use of styles, which is one of the strongest utilities in InDesign. His examples included portions of past books that he wrote, or a silly frog article called Professor Shenbop. I would have appreciated a fuller spectrum of types of publications. Deke did have a keen eye for typographical details, and I wished he would have mentioned his thinking more often regarding adjustments of type spacing, etc. In the 1970s, everything had to be -10% between-letter spacing, so that letters ran on top of each other—thankfully, that is bygone. In summary, Deke does a most capable job of giving one a great summary of what InDesign CS4, and what it can do. For somebody familiar with InDesign, it was still helpful to read, and I felt like I picked up many new tips to make InDesign more useful to me.