Book Review – The Band That Played On

Any discussion of the sinking of the Titanic will usually include a mention of the heroic band of men who, even though facing certain death, played their instruments to the last, providing some measure of comfort and serenity to their fellow passengers.  As a band, their last act lives on in fame, but as individuals very little is known about them.  Steve Turner, in his book The Band That Played On, attempts to delve into the little that is known about each of the eight musicians, chronicling the history of each man, including family backgrounds and how each came to be a part of the Titanic’s fateful voyage.  Turner also weighs in on the “last song” debate, answering the question of which song the band is purported to have played in their last moments.  Was it really “Nearer My God to Thee” or some other song?  Read the book to find out!

Although the amount of details available about each man varies, Turner weaves them together to present a stirring narrative.  He does not go into the details of the sinking of the Titanic, choosing instead to focus on the musicians themselves.  He gleans snippets of information about the band from accounts written by other passengers, both during and after the voyage/sinking.  The end result is a book that brings the musicians out of the murky waters of obscurity and gives them back their humanity.  (4/5 stars)

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a review copy of this book.)

Book Review – Billy Graham, His Life and Influence

Growing up in a fundamental, Baptist family, I heard comparatively little about Billy Graham and the little I did hear wasn’t positive.  When Thomas Nelson offered David Aikman’s biography of the man for review, I was curious to see who exactly this man was and whether or not he really was the false prophet of the antichrist.

In Billy Graham: His Life and Influence, Aikman offers an interesting and well-written account of Graham’s life.  Recognizing that other, more comprehensive accounts of Graham’s life have already been written, Aikman focuses instead on the worldwide impact Graham had through such avenues as his friendships with various presidents and his worldwide “Crusades.”   In three rather lengthy chapters, Aikman tells of Graham’s friendships with every American President from Eisenhower to George W. Bush.   Especially interesting is the friendship Graham had with Richard Nixon and how Graham had completely misread – or perhaps had been completely mislead by – Nixon’s character or lack thereof.

While Aikman chronicles Graham’s crusades around the world, much of Aikman’s emphasis seems to be on the political affects of these Crusades.  Although the longer lasting effects of the Crusades in general are mentioned, it is comparatively little with little emphasis being placed on the specific regions.  Given my background, I was very interested to read of Graham’s “falling out of fellowship” with more conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones, among many.  Graham was ready and willing to welcome non-evangelical religious groups to join him in his Crusades, stating that even those who denied fundamental doctrines of the faith (such as the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Trinity or even the resurrection of Christ) were counted as fellow Christians.  The only complaint I would have with this particular topic is that Aikman doesn’t really go into detail as to how Graham could marry holding to these beliefs (which Graham himself never explicitly denied) while at the same time claiming Christian fellowship with those who flatly denied them.

Throughout the book, there are two main character traits that Aikman returns to, one positive and one negative.  For the latter one, Aikman shows that Graham wanted almost above anything else to be liked and not to offend anyone.  This is perhaps what may have lead to his willingness to accept religious affiliations of all shapes and sizes and might explain his friendship with Richard Nixon.  More than this, however, Aikman focuses on Graham’s humility.  Time and again, Graham has been able to diffuse difficult situations or attacks on his character by his pronounced humility.  I especially appreciated this focus since it shed light on a side of Graham I was totally unfamiliar with.

Overall, Aikman writes a very readable biography of Graham’s life.  If you are looking for an in-depth biography of Graham, this perhaps isn’t the best book to read.  But if you want an overall glimpse of the various influences Graham has had, especially in the political arena, Aikman’s book is a good start.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze book review program for providing a review copy of this book.

Book Review – The Word of Promise

It seems that lately there are more and more audio Bibles available.  When I was growing up, perhaps the best or at least the best-known version was the one read by Alexander Scourby.  His deep voice and precise pronunciation in reading the King James Version still resonates in my head.

In The Word of Promise: New Testament (NKJV) , Thomas Nelson’s addition to the audio Bible offerings is unique and well done.  Instead of relying on a sole narrator, the Bible is read by a cast of members, giving the listener a sense of hearing actual conversations.  But it isn’t simply a straight reading, but more a dramatization of the New Testament.  In many of the characters, you can hear at least some of the emotion experienced.  You can hear the fear in the voices of the disciples as their boat was rocked in a late night storm or the sorrow of the father whose child is dying but begs Jesus to heal her.  Additionally, whether it’s the sounds of a marketplace, the winds of a storm, or the scratching of a pen (quill?) against paper, the background noises contribute a great deal to making the Bible come alive.

There are a few things worth mentioning specifically that stuck out to me while listening.  The part of Jesus was read by Jim Caviezel, the same actor who also portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. However, it felt like his dramatization lacked the proper emotion in many passages.  In some passages, he sounded flat, monotone and quite bored while in other passages, he sounded like he was trying too hard to convey “meek and gentle.”  This is disappointing considering the centrality of Jesus to all of Scripture.

The most disappointing readings were the Book of Acts and Hebrews performed by Michael York.  I was surprised when the Book of Acts started that it was not read by Chris McDonald, who also did the voice of Luke.  But then, in some parts of the book, he did read, only to have the narration switch back to York.  It was confusing since the entire book was written by Luke, but McDonald only read those parts that can be explicitly linked to Luke.  Although this change in narration for Acts can be excusable, York’s reading of Hebrews, however, was simply horrible.  York sounds very much like a parent reading a bedtime story to children and does not convey the seriousness and wonder that is the book of Hebrews.

The highlight of the recording was most definitely the reading done by Stacy Keach as the voice of Paul the Apostle.  From the first word of Romans to the last of Philemon, Keach has an incredible command of the tone of Paul’s letter.  He is compassionate, rebuking, authoritative and kind – in a word, pastoral.  While there are other great readers (Lou Gossett Jr. reads the Apostle John quite well), it is Keach’s performance as Paul that carries much of the work.

For anyone looking to purchase an audio version of the New Testament (NKJV), you simply can’t do better than The Word of Promise.  I would highly recommend it.

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze program for providing a review copy of this product.)

Book Review & Giveaway – Where is God?

A family member of mine recently went through a tragic loss and I found myself wondering where the goodness of God was in all this.  I remember saying to myself, “That’s just not fair!”  It was shortly after this that I had the opportunity to review two books, both on the subject of pain, suffering and the providence of God.  It’s amazing to me how some books that we happen upon are needed at just that particular moment in life.  These books  – one was John Piper’s newest book, A Sweet & Bitter Providence – were a great help and reminder to me of God’s sovereignty and goodness.

The other book was John Townsend’s Where is God? In it, Townsend seeks to gently walk the reader through some of the answers to the book’s title question, “Where is God?”  In asking this question, Townsend notes that there are three different questions that could be at the heart of the matter.  In the question of power, we want to know and be assured that God is powerful enough to be in control of life’s circumstances.  In the question of presence, we simply want to know and believe in the comforting presence of God, to experience a close relational intimacy with Him.  The third question is a protest, a cry of anguish, “a statement of how badly they hate what is going on.”  He further discusses why bad things happen and boils it down to one thing: sin.  Sin committed by us, sin committed against us or sin from a broken world system.

The book is organized around three principles: 1. God is for you, 2. Your experience matters and 3. The Bible is our source for understanding God’s ways in hard times.  Building on these principles, Townsend takes the reader through various reasons why and how we look for God in trying times.  The chapters that had the most impact on me were the following ones that addressed various aspects of God’s work.  While each one was relatively short, they were packed with helpful insights.

  • The God who suffers with me – in our suffering, God comes along beside us, empathizing and identifying with our struggles, having compassion on us.
  • The God who works behind the scenes – God acts for us and for our good in ways that we may not see or understand.
  • The God who transforms you – God uses our trials to strengthen us and draw us closer to Himself.
  • The God who connects you with others – sometimes our difficult times result in new relationships and stronger bonds with others and reducing our own perceived self-sufficiency.
  • The God of faith when there are no answers – in Townsend’s words, “As someone who lives in faith, make it OK for yourself to say, ‘I don’t know why….’  God sometimes does reveal over time the redemptive meaning behind our struggles as we are better able to look back over the seasons of our lives with more perspective.  But sometimes He does not.  Sometimes we must trust.” (pp.138-139)

This book doesn’t necessarily argue for God’s existence.  It isn’t a philosophical or even a theological book.  It assumes God’s existence.  It draws more from counseling and psychology while applying Biblical truths.  Some chapters of the book seemed a little wordy and perhaps could have been more concise.  Additionally, parts of Townsend’s theology felt a little lacking (such as saying “God gives up all the control He could use and puts Himself in an extremely humble and vulnerable position.”) However, there are plenty of points made throughout the book that are both good and helpful.  What Townsend offers in this book is an explanation of what God is doing through hard times and how to find hope in Him.  Recommended: Yes

Next Friday, February 5 2010, I’ll be giving away a copy of Townsend’s book, Where is God?.  The deadline for entering the drawing is Thursday night by midnight, February 4, 2010.  To be entered in the drawing to win Where is God?, you can do one or more of the following.  For each method you use, you’ll receive one entry into the drawing (3 entries possible).

  1. Post a comment below.
  2. Link to this post from your blog.
  3. On Twitter, RT “@Eskypades: Book Giveaway! Enter to win at http://wp.me/pzfPF-a4”

I’ll randomly select the winner sometime Friday afternoon, February 5, 2010.  (Giveaway is open to US residents only.)

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a review copy of this book.)

And the winner is….

Congratulations to Gabriel R!  You’ve won a free copy of N.D. Wilson’s book, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Stay tuned for more book giveaways hopefully next month.

Books, books & more books!

I am rather pleased with myself.  At the beginning of 2009, I made a goal to read at least 12 books during the year.  I just finished #30!  This achievement was partly fueled by the availability of audiobooks at our local library.  Since I have about a 25 minute commute to work each day (one way), I decided to make the most of my time by listening to books.  Of the 30 books this year, 14 of them have been audiobooks.  Another contributing factor is the prospect of free books.  This year, I joined several different book review blogger programs with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Bethany House, & Crossway.  If you like to read and write book reviews, I’d highly recommend checking out each of these publishers’ programs.

The topics for my books have mostly fallen into either theology or history, especially around the period of the founding of America.  A few of the books have been about the Civil War period or events/people surrounding the Civil War.  The best book by far that I read this year was David McCullough’s Truman.  This is an excellent biography of our 33rd president.  In addition to Truman, I was able to read books on Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Reagan.

In addition to matching this year’s book count, I want to specifically read more on our presidents.  So, 5 down 39 to go!  My reading list for next year is already starting to take shape.  Here’s what’s on it so far:

  1. Finding Darwin’s God, by Kenneth Miller
  2. On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetary, by Robert M. Poole
  3. Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith, by Robert W. Kelleman and Susan M. Ellis.
  4. Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement, by Fergus M. Bordewich
  5. Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis, edited by Benjamin Powell and Randall Holcombe
  6. Abigail Adams: A Life, by Woody Holton
  7. Where is God? Finding His Presence, Purpose  and Power in Difficult Times, by Dr. John Townsend
  8. The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith (I’ve been working on recording this one for almost 3 years now and hopefully this will be the year it will be finished!)

That’s all I have for certain right now.  Are there any books on U.S. Presidents (or any for that matter) you would recommend?

Book Giveaway – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

In Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, N.D. Wilson has written a book unlike any other book I’ve read.  Analogies, metaphors and colorful descriptions fill the book in Wilson’s feeble attempt to describe both the wonder of creation and the glory of the Creator.  I say “feeble” because that is exactly how Wilson would describe it.  Throughout the book, he is awestruck by the glory of God and wants to pull everyone aside in his unorthodox, sometimes irreverent manner to join him in his reverie. But it is this constant “wide-eyed wonder” that will leave you breathless, laughing, and dumbfounded at the sheer amazement of the world and the God whose glory is only dimly reflected in it.

I’ll be giving away a copy of Wilson’s book next week.  The deadline for entering the drawing is Thursday night by midnight, December 10, 2009.  To be entered in the drawing to win Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, you can do one or more of the following.  For each method you use, you’ll receive one entry into the drawing (3 entries possible).

  1. Post a comment below.
  2. Link to this post from your blog.
  3. On Twitter, RT “@Eskypades: Book Giveaway! Enter to win at http://wp.me/pzfPF-8X”

I’ll randomly select the winner sometime Friday afternoon, Dec.11, 2009.  (Giveaway is open to US residents only.)