29 August 2014

Review of Ping Fu, Bend, Not Break

Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two WorldsBend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds by Ping Fu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ping Fu shares her harrowing journey from childhood through her beginning her own business and family. She experienced terrible things, and good things and she tells how these experiences shaped her worldview and her ability to bend without breaking.

There were parts of the book that were slow reading and lost my interest, but overall, the work was enjoyable and well worth the time it took to finish it.

Ping Fu is a courageous and strong woman who was able to aim for what she wanted (and it one case what she didn't think she wanted, but did) and to reach her goals.

If you're interested in entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurs, cultural differences between China and America, Chinese-Americans, or developing resilience in life (i.e. learning to "bend, not break"), you should enjoy this book. But, you won't know unless you read it for yourself....

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20 August 2014

Review of The Obstacle is the Way

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to AdvantageThe Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, even though it isn't super deep. It is not your typical self-help book. I like how Holiday pulled from so many different great thinkers and people who have done things even in the face of tremendous adversity.

Some books are great because they introduce you to other books. This is such a book. I was introduced to Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, which I am thoroughly enjoying; The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, which I will soon be thoroughly enjoying; among others. Also, I got a good taste of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and the writings of Epictetus. Yeah, I know, I shoulda already read them a looong time ago, but I haven't, so leave me alone or I'm telling Mom!

If you are interested in Stoicism, or if you just seem to have an inordinate amount of hardship, this is a good introduction to the kind of thinking that can help you develop the toughness of mind to, like, conquer the world (if that is your desire); or, it can help you just to get through your normal daily pile of smelly stuff without getting too much on you.

My way of looking at the rocks and hard places that I regularly encounter has changed. When I was younger, I was more resilient; now that I'm older, I needed a little reminder that I can handle things if I have the right attitude.

If you're already perfect and resiliency is your superpower, then you can probably skip this book. If, however, you need a little refresher course on how to handle the small stuff that makes you sweat whether you want to or not, then you could do worse than giving Holiday's book a quick read.

Get yourself a copy, here:
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
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11 August 2014

Review of The Bible Unearthed


The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality.  It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive. 
(Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 318)
If you’re looking for a book to bolster your beliefs in the absolutely 100% historical accuracy of the Bible, this is not that book.  That being said, the authors do respect the biblical narrative and the texts and realize their import in the lives of millions of people worldwide, calling it a “great national epic of liberation.”
… it is only when we recognize when and why the ideas, images, and events described in the Bible came to be so skillfully woven together that we can at last begin to appreciate the true genius and continuing power of this single most influential literary and spiritual creation in the history of humanity. (Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 318)
This book gently, but firmly breaks down several major parts of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament for you Christians out there); Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman present archaeological and historical evidence that much of the Bible was written to help coalesce the nation after several years of exile.  The Christian New Testament is not covered in this book, and partly, I believe that after chopping at the foundations, the building built on those foundations will also suffer; but, mostly, I believe it’s because the authors are Jewish and not Christian: hence, the New Testament is not their Bible.

So, I guess you could say that The Bible Unearthed actually uncovers the facts and many of the events that in fact took place, many directly opposed to what we find written in the pages of the Bible.  So, I guess you could say The Bible Unearthed unearths what happened outside of the Bible as we know it, and gives us something closer to what actually took place.  It gives detailed information, including bibliography and index and a few maps and illustrations.

Where does Biblical Inerrancy fit in here?  Some believe the Bible is 100% accurate history, science, etc.  They attempt to strengthen their arguments and their belief by going to the Bible itself.  Others have tried to manipulate archaeological and historical finds to fit what the Bible says.  At the end of the day, you just have to believe that if we were created, then God would not have given us minds that could figure things out if he didn’t want us to figure them out.  Also, if the Bible is inspired by God, and God is all-knowing (yes, I know the fancy word is omniscient), then he woulda known a looooong time ago that some smartass would come along and show how all the things written in there are not 100% accurate.  Some of those who attempt to defend the Bible forget that if there God is as powerful as they say they believe he is, he is more than capable of taking care of it himself.
  
Does that mean they are false?  NO!  It means the Bible is made up of stories which are meant to lead people to live a better life.  It was written to show people how to love and how to behave in the world.  It’s not always pretty; much of the Hebrew Bible is blood, murder, and other awfulness that one wouldn’t expect to see in a book about a God who is love.
 
I’m not trying to attack anyone’s faith, and I don’t believe that is Finkelstein and Silberman’s desire, either.  In fact, my faith was strengthened because I realized that Christianity wouldn’t be here if the Jews hadn’t pulled together and written their Tanakh (I know some fancy words, I know!  Actually, that’s an acronym for the three sections of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim: or The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings), and much of what I take for granted may never have happened.  I also realize that a lot of bloodshed wouldn’t have happened: i.e. the Crusades; the bloody Protestant/Catholic conflicts; the whole awful war going on in Israel and Palestine and that which is going on in the Middle East.

All the good and bad can be traced right back to that time when a group of Jewish exiles decided to put together a book for their nation, and then, use stories of their ancestors who obeyed and were blessed; and others who disobeyed and were cursed.  The blessings and the cursings all go back to those stories.  And, that is what they are: stories.

You cannot build a science on Genesis.  You cannot build a history on any of the “historical” books.  Yes, some of them have accurate depictions, but the timing is off.  The Exodus is a big one; as is the stories of the kings of both Judah and Israel. 

While this book does not cover the New Testament, I think Paul’s epistle to Timothy has probably come to mind and so, I will quote from verses 15 – 17 of the third chapter:
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

You see?  It says there that all scripture is given by inspiration of God.  That’s the King James Version.  The English Standard Version says, in verse 16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God …”  New International Version says: “God-breathed.”  But, notice what these verses do not say.  They do not say that everything in the scripture is to be considered 100% accurate.  Does it have to say that?  Apparently some believe it does.  I for one have read the Bible many times and have never read in its pages anything remotely saying that it’s to be taken literally.  Rather, the more I read it, the more I believe it should be read literarily.
 
Basically, this guy's up here writing this review and saying that the Bible shouldn't be believed.  I am not saying that!  I’m saying that believe it the way it’s meant to be believed.  Use it for doctrine (a fancy word for the teachings of your particular belief system), for reproof (an antiquated word which means discipline), for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.  How can one do that with literature?  People do it all the time; in fact, it’s what we have all been doing for centuries. 

Realizing that something is not the way you have believed it can be difficult.  It can stun you, I know.  But, it can be liberating, too.  It can open completely new ways of thinking and understanding.  And, once your mind has been stretched to see something, it cannot un-see it, barring permanent amnesia. 
According to the entry on Biblical Inerrancy at the Religious Tolerance website:
Belief of biblical inerrancy in the U.S.:
On 2007-MAY-25, Gallup reported the results of a national poll on Biblical inerrancy. Those polled were asked which of three statements comes closest to describing their personal views about the Bible. The average of polls taken during MAY of 2005, 2006 and 2007 were:
  • 31% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word." This would imply acceptance of biblical inerrancy.
  • 47% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
  • 19% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
  • 3% were uncertain or didn't answer.
  • Margin of error was ±3 percentage points.
An identical poll taken during 2011-MAY showed little change:
  • 30% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word."
  • 49% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
  • 17% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
  • 4% were uncertain or didn't answer.

Only 30% of those asked believe that each and every word of the Bible is to be taken literally.  I’m in between the 17% and the 49%: I believe that the Bible is inspired, but that it is recorded by humans.  Harold Bloom argues, in his The Book of J, that possibly parts of the Hebrew Bible (those written by one scholars call the Jahwist) were possibly written by a woman.  I like to think that that could be true: I like to hope that it is.  For more on these ideas of the “documentary hypothesis,” read this

There is a humorous take on the idea of taking the Bible literally on the Religious Tolerance site.

I love this book.  I really have to buy myself a copy, so I can spend more time going through it and its sources.  If you’re interested in the history of the Levant, the nation of Israel, the Bible, or in archaeology, or in old texts, I think you will enjoy this book.  If you don’t, please don’t throw it at me,  it is a pretty hefty tome and might do some serious damage to my spectacles. 



04 August 2014

Review of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy

Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab TragedyScars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben-Ami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thorough and well-written work on this tragic conflict, that even as I started reading this was in the media headlines, again.

Ben-Ami is Israeli, but his book is as objectively written as I have read. He doesn't give easy, pat answers to the problem; and, he doesn't try to pigeonhole the problem into this or that category. It's not all about religion; and it is also not all about politics.

He makes an effort to show how both sides have dropped the ball in the peace process, and makes no excuses for either: making it quite clear that both sides have done atrocious things to the other.

If you want to get up to date on what is happening in this critical geographical location and what has gone on before, this is an excellent place to begin.

I took a while for my first read through because I wanted the depth as well as the breadth of what was and is happening in this conflict.

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26 July 2014

Review of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on HappinessStumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable book, at times laugh-aloud funny, but always serious. The topics he covers have been covered before, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading about them so much.

Gilbert states that we often don't really know what makes us happy; that we often do things believing they will make us happy, but we misjudge because we base our future on the memories of our past. Often, those memories are unreliable. These thoughts aren't new, but the way Gilbert presents them is and it is worth the laughs you'll get to read them.

It did slow down a little toward the end, the density of the information building, but Gilbert does a good job of keeping it accessible and fun.

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