No Matter What You Think About The Bible In American Politics – You’re Wrong. This is one of the better books I’ve ever come across in showing just how the Bible has been debated throughout American history, from its earliest days through Trump, January 6, and even into how Biden is currently using it. And it does a phenomenal job of showing just what I said in the title here – no matter what you think you know about the Bible in American politics, no matter what you personally think about how it has been applied and should currently be applied… you’re wrong. While having perhaps a slight tinge of anti-whiteness here (in that the most heavy criticism tends to land squarely on the actions of white people), Schiess really does do quite a remarkable – and remarkably even – job of showing that no one is truly “evil” or even “uneducated” about the Bible (well, specific people in specific circumstances may be), they simply have different methods of understanding and interpreting it which lead to divergent conclusions based on both the text *and those extra-text methods*. And the sides have flipped and flopped throughout even somewhat recent American history such that neither can go more than a few decades without having to explain some prior interpretation from “their” side away.
The documentation here comes in at a slightly low yet still respectable 21%, and while Bible verses are cited throughout the text, there is no actual “prooftexting” here – verses are cited not to prove a point, but to cite which elements of which passages different groups were interpreting different ways at different points in American history.
Indeed, perhaps the only real valid complaint here is that I’m fairly certain this book could be a few times is barely 200 pages… and *still* not cover the topic in true depth. And yet, the depth it does manage to pull off in these pages is still quite remarkable indeed. Very much recommended.
This review of The Ballot And The Bible by Kaitlyn Schiess was originally written on April 21, 2023.
Interesting Yet Oblivious To Own Criticisms. This is an interesting collection of essays written between 2012 and 2014, with an epilogue in 2017 after the election of Donald Trump to the White House. It presents a stark view of Middle America, but one that many, even on the coasts, will identify with. Kendzior even accurately identifies that the problems she notes had existed for quite some time and were proving little if any better after several years of “Hope and Change”… but then decries the efforts of Trump to even pay lip service (which is all he ever did) to these issues and people. Still, as a time capsule of what at least one writer was thinking of various developments of the era, this is an interesting book and a worthy read. But if you’re listening to the Audible, speed it up to around 1.5x to make it less of a lullaby. Recommended.
This review of The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior was originally written on December 6, 2022.
Strong Case Studies Marred By Author’s Biases. Overall, this is a strong case study following three people the author somewhat randomly stumbled into when tasked with reporting on the closure of a particular factory and its implications on the 2016 and 2020 elections. The author openly admits in the very first chapter that she is a fairly typical New England Liberal Elite, and that flavors much of her commentary and several of her observations – but also provides for at least a few hints of potential growth along the way. But once her own biases are accounted for, this truly is a strong look at a deep dive into the three people she chronicles and their histories and thoughts as they navigate both their personal situations over these few years and the national situations as they see and understand them. At times funny but far more often tragic, this is a very real look at what at least some go through when their factory job closes around them, to be moved elsewhere. (Full disclosure, my own father living through this *twice* in my teens in as Goodyear shut down their plants in Cartersville, GA has defined my own story almost as much as a few other situations not relevant to this book. So I have my own thoughts on the matter as someone whose family underwent similar situations a couple of decades before the events of this book, but who saw them as the child of the adult worker rather than as the adult workers chronicled here.)
Ultimately, your mileage on this will vary based on whether you can at minimum accept the author’s biases for what they are or even if you outright fully agree with them. But I *do* appreciate the flashes of growth she shows, particularly in later sections, as she learns just how fully human these people are, even as her prejudices early in the book somewhat openly show that she didn’t fully appreciate just how fully human people like this could be before actually spending considerable time with them. Indeed, the one outright flaw here is that there is at least a hint of impropriety when the author begins engaging perhaps a bit too much with the lives of her subjects – but again, that ultimately comes down to just how sensitive your own ethical meter is.
Overall a mostly strong book, and very much recommended.
This review of American Made by Farah Stockman was originally written on August 31, 2021.