#BookReview: Turning Points In American Church History by Elesha J. Coffman

Well Documented Examination Of Oft-Ignored Periods Of History As They Relate To The American Church. Coffman makes it clear in the introduction of this book that she is setting out to examine 12 events/ periods of history that had what she believes is the greatest impact on the American Church over the course of its history – from the earliest days of Christianity in the land now called the “United States of America” through today. While some are rather obvious and typical, others – including her in-depth analysis of the Pentacostal style of worship – are less so. The writing style is nearly conversational academic – still clearly academic in nature, but not such that you have to be an academic (and particularly an academic in her given field) to understand, and Coffman covers pretty well the entire history and most all angles of the given moment for the chapter at hand. Other interesting writing choices are including a period worship song and a period prayer to highlight her overall points about the period in question. Overall an interesting look at a lot of history that even this amateur historian wasn’t completely aware of, the book still invites the reader to decide for themselves if Coffman really got the 12 most pivotal events, or why the reader believes other events should have been discussed instead, making it fairly rare in its overall tone and “aftertaste”. Truly an interesting book for anyone remotely interested in its subject or combination of subjects. Very much recommended.

This review of Turning Points In American Church History by Elesha J. Coffman was originally written on February 7, 2024.

#BookReview: That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon

One Sided Polemic Benefits From Reading The Audible. This is yet again one of those books that benefits from the fact that I read the Audible version and thus have no idea about the length of its bibliography. However, no citations were noted during his own reading of the Audible version, so one suspects the bibliography to be quite scant indeed.

Which is a shame, because otherwise… well, the one star reviews of this book more accurately capture my own feelings on it, specifically that this apparently at least upper middle income white kid Michigan State alum presents only his side of the debate and uses strawmen at best for those opposing him. But there was nothing truly *technically* wrong here, and because I read the Audible I don’t even have the length of the bibliography to hang a star deduction on… meaning the book gets the full 5* rating.

But if you’re looking for a good history of the US National Parks… this is a half-assed primer at best. If you’re looking for an interesting travelogue of someone visiting several different national partks… Kenyon winds up having remarkable similar experiences in each of his visits. The one thing I can give Kenyon is that he is remarkably lyrical about describing his encounters… same-ish they may be.

Thus, if you happen to agree with Kenyon’s views… you’ll probably enjoy this book quite a bit. The more you disagree with his own views, the less you’ll like this book. Given that it has been out for a little over 4 yrs at the time I finally read the book, it will be interesting to see how many reviews come in after this one. 🙂

Recommended.

This review of That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon was originally written on February 7, 2024.

#BookReview: Strange Religion by Nijay K. Gupta

Fascinating History Marred By Prooftexting And Dearth Of Bibliography. This was an utterly fascinating look at the first few hundred years of the Christian Church as it related to its world’s dominant government – and religion. I genuinely learned quite a bit from reading this book, and Gupta kept the overall tone scholarly enough to be sufficiently serious without going into pretentiousness. Indeed, the *only* problems I had here, that are automatic star deductions when I encounter them, are the rampant prooftexting – the practice of citing Bible verses out of context in order to “prove” a particular point – and the dearth of a bibliography, clocking in at just 12% or so of the overall text when 20-30% is more normal in my experience across hundreds of nonfiction titles over the last several years. Even with being more willing to at least *slightly* lower that given more recent experiences, 12% is still simply too low.

But for anyone interested in the history of the early Church, for any reason: read this book. Christians, no matter your bent, read this book and consider its words in relation to your existing governments and their religions.

Very much recommended.

This review of Strange Religion by Nijay K. Gupta was originally written on February 6, 2024.

#BookReview: Free Time by Gary S. Cross

Intriguing History Of The Concept. Straight up, this is an academic writing this book… and the typical academic leftist anti-capitalist themes are quite prominent throughout the text. So rather than defenestrate the book (as some will very much want to do) and to save the author some 1* reviews that are nothing more than “this was just anti-capitalist trash!!!!!”… if you can’t at least accept that this is the position the author comes from… this may not be the best book for you.

As far as the overall history and presentation goes, it is actually rather intriguing. Cross’s examinations of “high culture” and “genteel” Victorian leisure ideals vs “low culture” entertainment of the masses is quite extraordinary in just how detailed he gets in showing the stark differences here. When Cross begins to get more into the 20th century and showing the mass increases in productivity and the intricate tradeoffs of using the surplus productivity for more income (what American society ultimately came to) vs for more leisure time (what other societies came to), it really is truly intriguing. As someone with an interest and at least a modicum of training in both history and economics myself, it is rather interesting to consider the ramifications if other choices had been made through these struggles and decisions as Cross lays them out here.

As with most any book of its kind, once Cross ends the historical illumination and switches over into more proscriptive social commentary on where believes society should go from our present position… meh, this is the typical section of “Your Mileage May Vary”, and that is certainly the case here.

Still, with a bibliography hitting the 20% mark, this is a reasonably well documented examination of the topic, and the way Cross presents it really is stimulating. Very much recommended.

This review of Free Time by Gary S. Cross was originally written on January 27, 2024.

#BookReview: God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne

(Mostly) Well Documented History Of the Entire History of ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ As The Term Was Known Through The Late 20th And Early 21st Centuries.

For those of us who grew up with ‘CCM’, this is actually a refreshing history that traces the roots of the music from its earliest days in 19th century songbooks through the early days of rock and roll through the heights of the late 80s- early 2000s boom and all the way to the seeming life support bed the genre currently finds itself on. Along the way, you’re going to hear tales of names both familiar and not and how they shaped or played a role in the genre and how it has been presented.

One thing to note is that the author *does* have a particular “it was always racist” bent to much of her commentary, so your mileage may vary there. But at 18% documentation, it is close enough to expected to classify as (mostly) well documented. (20-30%+ has been more of the actual norm in my experience, but I’ve noted in other reviews over the last several months that perhaps I should be revising that down to perhaps around 15% or so given more recent experience.)

This noted, I’ve never encountered a book quite so comprehensive in all my years both within the CCM community and as a book blogger, including having even worked books from Jaci Velasquez and Mark Stuart (lead singer of Audio Adrenaline) as advanced reader copies over the course of the last few years + read Jennifer Knapp’s memoir. Thus, having never come across any book quite like this one, given my own experiences, means it truly is quite likely quite rare indeed. That it is (mostly, again, see the YMMV comment above) so well written is almost a bonus given its comprehensive analysis of the history involved.

Ultimately this is one that some may want to defenestrate at times, but still absolutely a worthy read for anyone remotely interested in the subject. Very much recommended.

This review of God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne was originally written on January 26, 2024.

#BookReview: The War Below by Ernest Scheyder

Do The Needs Of The Many Outweigh The Desires Of The Few? 20 years ago as I was wrapping up my Computer Science degree requirements at Kennesaw State University just outside of Atlanta, GA, there was a massive debate raging around campus. At the time, the school – new to the “University” title, having had it for less than a decade at this point – was trying to grow from the commuter college it had been since its inception 40 yrs prior into a full fledged research level University… complete with student housing. The problem was that where the University wanted to place some of its first dorms was on the hill directly behind the Science building… where an endangered plant of some form was found, which kicked off rounds and rounds of going back and forth with various Environmental Protection Agency types. To be quite honest, I was never directly involved in any of this, but being on the school’s Student Media Advisory Board for a couple of years, I was connected enough to at least the reporting that I heard about at least the high points.

In The War Below, Scheyder looks at just these types of examples, where larger, grander ideas butt up against some much more local concern. Where the larger, grander idea is always “The only way we can see to fight climate change and stop carbon emissions while maintaining the global economy as we currently know it is to produce advanced electronic machines that require certain minerals to function, therefore we must obtain these minerals wherever they may be found.” Which admittedly means that for those that are more adamant that human-caused climate change isn’t a real thing or is some level of alarmist bullshit… well, you’ve been warned about a central tenet of this book in this review now.

However, Scheyder doesn’t really stay on the climate change debate itself, instead focusing on the more micro battles. “We found a supply of this particular mineral – but as it turns out, this particular plant that only exists in this exact spot also is dependent on this mineral, and therefore some are acting on behalf of the plant to stop us from getting to the mineral.” Or “We found a supply of a different mineral – but it happens to be under a location that some Native Americans consider sacred, and they’re trying to stop us from destroying their sacred spot.” Or “We found a supply of another mineral – but it happens to be in the middle of a town, and nearby residents don’t want to sell their land to us.” Every chapter is built around these and other variations of the same types of battles, pitting humanity’s need for these particular minerals against some more local, more intimate desire.

Scheyder does a remarkably balanced job of talking to both sides and presenting both sides in a way that they will likely consider the reporting on themselves to be pretty close to fair – as he notes within the text a few times, his job isn’t really to make a decision for humanity so much as to present the competing interests and allow humanity the chance to choose for itself.

Is our survival – as we currently see it – worth forcing ourselves on someone who is more intimately connected to that spot on Earth than most of us will ever directly be?

This book isn’t the call to arms that Siddarth Kara’s Cobalt Red, released almost exactly one year earlier and describing the outright horrors and abuses rampant throughout much of the cobalt industry specifically, was. Instead, as noted, it is more of a balanced and even nuanced look at the competing interests surrounding how and even if certain materials can be obtained in certain locations, and how these small, individual battles can impact us all at a global level.

In the case of KSU’s Student Housing vs the plant, fwiw, apparently it was resolved in favor of KSU’s Student Housing at some point in the last 20 yrs, as now the entire hill that was once a battleground is now a few different student housing complexes. In the cases Scheyder details… well, read the book. Some of them were still ongoing at the time Scheyder had to hand his book off for final editing, but he gives up to that moment details on where they are in such instances.

Very much recommended.

This review of The War Below by Ernest Scheyder was originally written on January 9, 2024.

#BookReview: DARE To Say No by Max Felker-Kantor

Well Documented History of DARE Marred By Undocumented Editorial Commentary. Coming in at over 30% documentation, this is one of the more well-documented books I’ve come across in my ARC reading over the years. However, the weakness here is that while Felker-Kantor cites nearly every word he says about the DARE program and those involved with it, he then proceeds to make quite a bit of left leaning social commentary that he then fails to document *at all*.

Which is sad, because this is a program that I too grew up in – the first uniformed cop whose name I remember is Deputy John Morgan of the Bartow County (Ga) Sheriff’s Office, the DARE officer for much of the Bartow County School System (if not the *entire* school system, at first) in the early and mid 90s. Deputy Morgan became a local legend there in Cartersville and Bartow County, to the tune that he could well have challenged either his then boss or his newer boss when he retired a few years ago for the top job – all because of his work with the DARE program. I even actively went to church with the second Deputy to begin teaching DARE in the BCSS – Deputy Richey Harrell, who was very active with the youth of Atco Baptist Church when his own kids were small and who served on the Deacon Board of the church with my dad.

But despite knowing Richey in particular so well – though as his sons were closer in age to my brothers, they knew him and his family even better than I myself did – as an adult to say my views on policing have changed would be an understatement. Which is where I approached this book from – having been a former DARE student who now sees just how problematic the entire program was, from top to bottom, and indeed who even concurs with Felker-Kantor on just how problematic the program’s insistence on using active duty police officers as front line teachers really is.

Not to mention agreeing with him on how truly ineffective it is. Not even just with a police officer teaching children he isn’t connected to outside the school. Again here, I know people directly who went through these same DARE programs in the same system and also knew Richey as well as my family did – and who later fell so deep into drugs that they lost pretty well everything except their actual life, yes, including their kids.

Had Felker-Kantor at minimum documented his editorial comments such as about the disparate impacts of the war on drugs based on race – not hard to do – or other related commentary about mass incarceration (also not hard), the rise of the militarized police force (ditto), or any similar editorial comments, this would have been a slam dunk five star book, even with the left leaning commentary. It is that strong and that complete a history of the program, including discussions of its *continued existence* in a much diminished capacity – something I myself did not know until reading this book.

So read this book for a truly comprehensive history of something so many of us experienced first hand, particularly those of us who grew up in the 80s through early 2000s. And may we finally kick this particular program to the curb in favor of something that might actually work.

Recommended.

This review of DARE To Say No by Max Felker-Kantor was originally written on December 31, 2023.

#BookReview: Lost In Ideology by Jason Blakely

‘Comparative Religions’ For US Politics Should Be Required Reading For Every Voter In An Election Year. The title of this review basically sums up the entire review. This truly is a well written “comparative religions” type text, except for US political thought rather than the various global religions traditions. Showing the history and development of each “map”, as Blakely calls them, (but without much documentation – more on that momentarily), Blakely does a remarkably balanced job of showing each school of thought in as close to a neutral fashion as may be possible – extremists within any given school may think he didn’t present “their” side good enough, or perhaps shows “their” enemies in too good of a light, but from an objective-ish position, I stand by my statement of just how neutral he really is here. And yes, I really do think this should be required reading for every US voter before really even deciding who ultimately to vote for in any given election, as this book is truly a solid primer on the various ideologies used throughout the US and their various offshoots and intersections. Truly, it will allow each individual to better understand even those they disagree vehemently with, and ultimately a voter that better understands everyone is a better informed voter, period, who ultimately would at least have the ability to make a more fully informed decision.

Indeed, the *only* problem with this book – and thus the star deduction, as it *is* something I deduct for in all instances – is the lack of documentation. Even if I were willing to slide from my 20-30% standard (and as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I am openly considering this with every new book), this book clocking in at just 12% documentation still feels a bit light for all of its claims, no matter how well balanced.

Still, again, every voter should absolutely read this book before making any electoral decisions going forward, whether that be in 2024 or for the next several years – until this book is invalidated by future changes, whenever that may be. Very much recommended.

This review of Lost In Ideology by Jason Blakely was originally written on December 22, 2023.

#BookReview: Following Caesar by John Keahey

Not A Christmas Book. Admittedly, I saw “Caesar” and the release date and for some reason thought this had… anything at all to do with Christmas. To be clear, it does not. Just in case anyone else was somehow thinking it might. 😉

What we *do* get, however, is actually a rather intriguing tale in its own right, of the author’s adventures in a post-collapse world to try to find the last remaining vestiges of ancient Roman roads in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and surrounding areas. We get a decent amount of history, but to be clear – this is far more travel book (and almost travel log even) than history book. We get tales of espresso and kind strangers and parking woes, and we get tales of finding obscure patches of ancient Roman roadway or bridgeworks or some such often deep in farmer’s fields – and which the author only stumbled upon because he happened to stumble into a local who happened to know what he was looking for. We also get several tales of various “official” sites being closed, some of which the author was able to sneak into anyway either by outright sneaking or by some official or another looking the other way.

Indeed, this was, as I mentioned above, quite an intriguing tale for what it is – just *really* don’t go in here expecting some detailed treatise on the exact engineering of ancient Roman roadways and how at least certain sections of them have managed to last all these centuries. Go in expecting a 2020s era romp through the region at hand… and you’ll probably leave a lot more satisfied here.

The one star deduction comes from having next to no bibliography, despite having so many historical details and references. Instead, the bibliography is simply a “selected reading” and clocks in at less than 4% of the overall text – compared to closer to 20-30% being my expected norm based on reading hundreds of nonfiction advance review copies of books across nearly every discipline these last few years as a book blogger.

Still, I had a great time with this book and learned a lot about a subject the author is clearly passionate about. I felt I was right there with him through many of these adventures and woes, and really… what more do you actually want in a book of this type?

Very much recommended.

This review of Following Caesar by John Keahey was originally written on November 22, 2023.

#BookReview: Ignition by M.R. O’Connor

Controversial Yet Mostly Solid – But Needs Better Documentation. I first became interested in fire management over a decade ago, when I read an article on wired.com on July 8, 2012, where it made the case that perhaps our modern American efforts to suppress wildfires… had actually led directly to fires becoming ever bigger and more destructive. Over the following 11 yrs, I would both watch the movie Only The Brave, about the Yarnell Hill fire that claimed so many firefighters’ lives less than a year after that Wired article came out (which I just realized when researching for this review) and read the book Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers (it has used both titles) by Brendan McDonough that the movie was based on. I had also already seen numerous controlled/ prescribed burns as a native of the Southern US, and distinctly remember several over the years in the woods directly behind Lee County (GA) High School – where country singer Luke Bryan, American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, and San Francisco Giants great Buster Posey had all attended.

All of that to say that here, O’Connor spends a year actively working with wildland firefighter crews roaming the western US (well, west of the Mississippi – she starts and ends in Nebraska), learning their ways, their thoughts, their struggles. And creating a compelling voice for her effort in this book. She gets the same certifications they do, goes through the same training and meetings, and does everything she is qualified to do per those trainings, and in turn we as readers get a first hand account of what it is really like on said crews. (Which McDonough’s book is also great at – just be prepared for some *very* dusty rooms near the end of that tale.)

Through this memoir portion of the book – interwoven with other interviews and research that I’ll get to momentarily – she is particularly strong and vivid. Truly, read the book for these passages if for no other reason, as it really brings home what a difficult, demanding, and yes, frustrating job this can be.

Even the research, both interviews and historical, is truly remarkably well done. It is this section in particular (along with, perhaps, some of the commentary from the fire teams she is on) that will likely prove most controversial, as it really drives home the exact point that at least parts of that 2012 Wired article were making – the “suppression only” firefighting tactics we’ve used against wildfires primarily over only the last century or so really do seem to be causing more harm than they are doing good. And, as it turns out… pretty well everyone knew this before we started doing it. From millennia before Europeans came to the Americas, Native Americans had already been using fire to shape and control their environment in numerous ways, and had already developed tactics that worked *with* nature for the good of all beings. O’Connor’s work here makes a particularly strong case that at minimum, these strategies need to be more actively considered. Indeed, much the same way that Gilbert Gaul’s 2019 book The Geography Of Risk made such a strong case for re-examining coastal development strategies in the face of hurricane damage.

The one weakness here is a quibble, perhaps, but it is consistent with my other non-fiction reviews (and I did already mention it in the title of this review, above), and that is that at just 14% bibliography, it falls a bit short in my own experience – where 20-30% documentation seems to be more standard. Extraordinary claims – and yes, challenging the prevailing “wisdom” of the last century qualifies as such – require extraordinary evidence, and while O’Connor’s case through her narrative is stellar, her documentation is sadly quite lacking.

Still, overall truly a fascinating read that deserves far more attention than it may ultimately wind up getting. Very much recommended.

This review of Ignition by M.R. O’Connor was originally written on October 11, 2023.