Archives For book reviews

     It is easy to see howMaggie Stiefvater’s popular YA series, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, resonates with today’s YA audience.  In the midst of familial dysfunction and teenage angst, true love lurks just out of sight – until it shows up on your back deck. Literally.  Mrs. Stiefvater uses some great imagery to craft a morally murky morality tale about life, family, identity and love.  In the end, she offers hope that, for at least some of us, our history is not our destiny.
     This series offers a thought provoking (and sometimes disturbing) story that can at least start a conversation about mercy, grace, forgiveness and redemption. I say “at least start” because, from a Christian perspective, there are some important truths missing from the story that shouldn’t be, and a number of situations that aren’t missing from the story that should.
      For those of you interested in how entertainment both reflects and forms us, here is an excerpt of my review: 
As far as literary devices go, the metaphor of the wolf is a great way to explore a dark side of human nature that we are inclined to desire or indulge. 
         As Grace gets closer to changing, she sees that “there was something invisible and dangerous lurking inside me, and I was done being good.”  Wolves have no sense of boundaries, which is why they are in trouble.  They keep leaving Boundary Woods and ravaging the neighborhood pets – and sometimes people. This is a problem in itself.  But the book introduces a philosophical rabbit hole that may go much deeper than just physical transformation. 
     “In the end, we’re wolves. I can read him (Sam) German poetry and Paul can teach him about participles and you can play Mozart for him, but in the end, it’s a long, cold night and those woods for all of us.” So says one werewolf in a speech that sounds a lot like Dawkin’s view of the universe, or Cormac McCarthys’ view of life in Sunset Unlimited.  Are we all just animals in the end? If this is true, no wonder “Hope hurt more than cold,” as Sam says in Shiver.
    However, that’s not the final word in the story.  Sam believes that “It doesn’t make you a monster.  It just takes away your inhibitions…if you are naturally angry or violent, it gets worse.”  In other words, the wolf reveals us for who we really are – it supersizes us.  In this series, the wolf is not automatically evil; it is a way in which to see what the primal “you” is really like when stabilizing societal influences disappear.

Appraising Doubt

Anthony Weber —  June 12, 2012 — 11 Comments

In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, is an ambitious work aiming to alleviate some of the hostility between differing world views. As odd as the title may sound, it provides some ways of understanding how doubt is not always a bad thing.  But while offering some helpful ideas, it fails to lay a foundation that transcends the very problems it critiques (more on that at the end).

The book begins by noting the role of reason and science in eroding faith over the past 250 years.  Voltaire’s writings and the French Revolution ( which actually enthroned the goddess of Reason in a church in Paris) serve as iconic markers for the beginning of the Enlightenment.  Auguste Comte soon paved the way for a very influential empiricist science, as seen in the later philosophies of Mark, Durkheim, and Weber. The modern path to secularization seemed inevitable. When Neitzsche finally declared God was dead, many believed this would be the final nail in the religious coffin. Continue Reading…

To help us better understand the stories, worldviews, and messages shaping today’s youth, here is a review of a trending book series effecting a primarily YA audience.  The fact that they are trending does not necessarily make them good, but it does make them important.

Plot Summary

The highly acclaimed stories  of Kristin Cashore (Fire, Graceling, and Bitterblue) unfold in a world where certain people are born with Graces, gifts that give them a supernatural power. Every Grace is a mixed blessing; the recipients ‘unique strength becomes their undoing. The kings claim those with the greatest Graces and forces them into servitude. Those whose Graces are too ordinary to be of use are sent back home to live on the margins of society.  Graceling, the first book in the series, chronicles the life of Katsa, who is gifted with a fighting Grace.  Fire, the second book, is a sort-of prequel that fills in the history behind Graceling. In the third book, Bitterblue tries to fix a kingdom previous ruled by  her father, a cruel and evil man with the Grace of deception.


Among other awards, Fire won the ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2010, Publishers Weekly Best Continue Reading…


Luc Ferry’s a Brief History of Thought recently caught my eye as I wandered through a local bookstore.  Not only did it promise an entire history of the human ability to think, it promised to do it briefly.  How is that not a win/win?  It’s a bold endeavor, claiming to give perspective on the effectiveness and impact of 5 key philosophical eras in human history, beginning with the Greeks.  The strength of the book is Mr. Ferry’s ability to summarize complicated worldviews in a way that is accessible and interesting.  The weakness is perhaps inseparable, as a philosophical overview for a mass audience is a tough venue to accurately capture philosophies that have transformed the world.

I will do my best to summarize both his claims and my reasons why I think that, while insightful, Mr. Ferry’s conclusions fall short of being convincing, particularly when it comes to his view of Christianity. Continue Reading…

If you have ever wondered how history, art, science, religion, philosophy, music architecture, and literature have both reflected and shaped our world,  Nancy Pearcey can answer your questions.  Saving Leonardo  reads much like Francis Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live?, which is no surprise considering Schaeffer’s influence on Pearcey’s life.  Saving Leonardo offers a wide-ranging, intellectually compelling, visually striking journey through Western history.

While Pearcey critiques a number of worldviews, her main target is secular humanism: “Any worldview that posits a non-personal starting point does not have the intellectual resources to account for personal agents…the consequence of secular humanism is ultimately dehumanizing…A worldview that does not start with God must start with something less than God – something within creation – which then becomes the category to explain all of reality.” Continue Reading…