Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

A Very Stable Genius


(WP Outlook) – Joe Klein:

A Very Stable Genius” by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig is superbly reported and written with clarity, but it is not an easy read. It is relentless, depressing and ultimately numbing; sort of like being an American citizen these past four years. It is the story of how Trump got rid of all the advisers — the so-called grown-ups in the room — who patronized him and tried to prevent him from doing what they considered to be stupid things. The authors have dislodged new sources who enable them to describe the thoughts and feelings of players like Tillerson, McMaster, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and others. …

washingtonpost losers-dopes-and-scumPhilip Rucker and Carol Leonnig: A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir


(Atlantic Books) – Ismail Muhammad:

Drawn into the tech world, a 20-something wonders why she—and the rest of us—didn’t wise up to the grandiose myopia sooner. …

theatlantic uncanny-valleyAnna Wiener: Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

Rereading Literature and History


(Vridar) – Tim Widowfield:

I stumbled onto Thomas Thompson’s The Mythic Past completely by accident while wandering around a bookstore somewhere in Atlanta.

Thompson asked questions I had never considered. … One simple question — “How do we know?” — began to gnaw at me, the way a steady drip wears away stone. For me, Thompson more than anyone else gave me permission (so to speak) to ask even more dangerous questions. However, it took me longer to get up to speed with Philip R. Davies. (See Neil’s tribute to the late, great scholar here.)

For example, I had started In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ but never finished it until this past summer.

Davies understood and made it abundantly clear that scholars in biblical studies continually and often quite deliberately blur the lines between literary, social, and historical constructs. He correctly identified “ancient Israel” as a literary construct masquerading as a historical model. …

vridar thoughts-on-philip-r-daviesBooks by Thomas L. Thompson and Philip R. Davies

Goodbye Jesus


(Rational Doubt) – David Madison:

True Christians themselves can be at fault in ‘causing another to stumble’—actually in prompting someone in their ranks to finally see through it all and walk away. It would be difficult to imagine a truer Christian than Southern Baptist preacher, Tim Sledge, who describes his painful path away from belief in his 2018 book, Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith. He explains how True Christians sabotaged his career, ministry, and faith. …

In the final chapters of the book, Sledge offers a few helpful tutorials on the problems presented by the gospels, Jesus, and the apostle Paul. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to figure these out; a commitment to reading the texts carefully, meticulously, critically is all that is required. Edging away from the faith—“Haven’t we been conned?”—is not an uncommon response. …

rationaldoubt true-christians-beat-upTim Sledge: Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith

Usual Cruelty


(The Intercept) – Alice Speri:

Alec Karakatsanis’s “Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System” should be assigned reading for every first-year law student. Published last month by The New Press, the book is an unusually blunt takedown of a system the author never once refers to as a criminal “justice” system. Litigated with the intellectual vigor of someone who has won a number of landmark fights in federal court, “Usual Cruelty” clearly lays out a case for why our criminal legal system is not broken, but doing exactly what it was designed to do. …

theintercept 2019/11/09 justiceAlec Karakatsanis: Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System

How to Read the Bible


(Harper’s Magazine) – Christopher Beha:

In his new history of “the world’s most influential book,” the Anglican theologian John Barton argues that neither Christianity nor Judaism is an essentially “scriptural” religion, a notion that might surprise some contemporary readers. Barton contrasts both traditions with Islam, which he calls “perhaps . . . the ideal type of book religion.”

The long, complex, and overlapping processes by which the various biblical works came into existence, gained the status of scripture, and got fixed into a canon occupies about half of Barton’s book. …

The second half of Barton’s book is dedicated to the various ways the Bible has been read by different communities of believers who sought to find meaning within it, from the rabbinical tradition that would eventually produce the Mishnah and Talmud to the early church fathers, especially Augustine and Origen, who attempted to reconcile scripture with speculative philosophy and empirical knowledge, to modern readers who treat the Bible not just as the final authority on all matters of ethics and belief but as a literal account of the natural history of the world. If there is a bête noire in this admirably evenhanded work, it is the fundamentalism that “idolizes the Bible yet largely misunderstands it.”

Like Barton, Karen Armstrong treats scripture as open-ended, a status conferred on certain texts rather than a fixed list of canonical works. “Our moral universe,” she writes, is “shaped by King LearMiddlemarch and War and Peace as well as by the Bible.” To cut ourselves off from scripture because of the way that some literalists abuse it would entail at least as great a cultural—and spiritual—loss as cutting ourselves off from these other works. …

harpers 2019/11 barton armstrong

Books by John Barton and Karen Armstrong


Agent Running in the Field


(Guardian Books) – Steven Poole:

The master of the spy genre takes aim at Brexit and Trump in a classy entertainment about political ideals and deception. …

theguardian agent-running-in-the-field

John le Carré: Agent Running in the Field

Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Conclusion


(Vridar) – Neil Godfrey:

As I read each chapter or section of Raphael Lataster’s book, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus, I wrote about it here, but now that I have read the concluding pages I discover that Lataster anticipated some of the points I made along the way. …

Lataster places his hopes in “future generations” of scholars, especially as more retiring scholars speak openly as they open the doors to that new generation.

After all, as Lataster points out,

every crucial aspect of the best cases against historicity, and for agnosticism and mythicism, is already accepted in mainstream scholarship. That is not to say that all – or even a majority – of scholars accept all of them, but that each of these components is held to by a significant number of mainstream scholars, and even Christians. In other words, these sceptical theories may not be so ‘fringe’ or ‘unthinkable’ after all.


  • Pre-Christian Jews believed in a divine and celestial Messiah/Christ.*
  • The Epistles – especially Paul’s – describe a Celestial Jesus communicating from Heaven.*
  • Mark allegorises Paul’s writings.*

The three asterisked points “demonstrate that the Celestial Jesus theory is reasonable, and alludes to an organic development from already-existing Jewish beliefs” (Lataster, pp. 460 f) …

vridar part-10 lataster

Raphael Lataster: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus – Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse

Elton John: Me


(Guardian Books) – Hadley Freeman:

A memoir that is racy, pacy and crammed with scurrilous anecdotes – what more could you ask from the rocket man? …

theguardian me-elton-john

Elton John: Me

Philip Pullman’s Problem With God


(Atlantic Culture) – James Parker:

In a bone-picking mood, I will sometimes imagine that I have a problem with the English writer Philip Pullman, best known for the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. I don’t like the flavor of his frequently expressed atheism, for example; I find it peremptory, literalistic. …

But then: Who am I to tell Pullman how to existentially orient himself? …

theatlantic 598351

BBC one and HBO: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials