This is a list of the books I read in 2016. All the reviews were written in 2016 and are archived on this site in (roughly) the order I read them in.

Book Reviews 2016
January 14, 20202016Mathews County is located in Virginia, and in order to find it, you have to want to go there. Farmers still leave trucks full of produce out on the side of the road where you can pay for fresh vegetables and fruits on the honor system. There is just a two lane road that runs through the central part of the city, where the courthouse and other administrative buildings lay. It hasn’t changed much since the 1940’s, where the majority of men from Mathew’s County men were mariners who worked on ships run by the Merchant Marines. And in these few details lies a story that is inextricably linked to the greatest conflict the world has ever known and how a family from this backwoods place worked to fight against the evil Nazi regime. One of the most overlooked details of World War II was the Atlantic war where ships carrying supplies to Europe from America were systematically gunned down in the Atlantic Ocean. America was neutral until 1942 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but under Roosevelt, they supported the Allies in the East by shipping weapons, supplies, and ammunition to England and France. Obviously, Hitler couldn’t stand for this and while angering the Americans might lead to them declaring war on Germany, Hitler thought this inevitable; therefore, he waged a fierce war for the German U-boats (the precursor to the submarine) to take down ships of the Merchant Marine’s on their trek to Europe. At the beginning of this engagement, German U-boats were tasked with destroying ships around Europe. But soon, their focus spread to the American mainland. As early as 1942 when Hitler declared war on America, U-boats were routinely seen off the coast of North and South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The Merchant Marine ships were not equipped with any sort of defensive capabilities and were pretty much sitting ducks. Hundreds of ships were lost in 1942 to U-boat attacks. This book follows seven brothers (as the title suggests) from Mathew’s County as they risked their lives to continue the supply chain to Europe. What emerges is a story of heroism and courage in the face of imminent danger. Most of the young men joined the Merchant Marines when they came of age. And although they were dodging bullets from downrange, their sacrifice is not to be overlooked. The dangerous waters of the Atlantic produced a ship graveyard that is still being studied today. In 1943, the Navy began assigning groups of ships to protect the assets crossing the sea. While I don’t have the exact statistic, ship casualties went from around 800 in 1942 to around 300 in 1943 as the government began to deal with the growing crisis. After the European war ended, ships were diverted to the Pacific to carry supplies for the war against the Japanese, and while the dangers of U-boats passed, the Merchant Marines never stopped. A quote I recently read is from Alexander the Great, where he is purported to have said, “My logisticians are a humorless lot… they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.” Alexander understood the importance of logistics in the war effort. So too we have to recognize that the Merchant Marines played an integral part of the American military machine in World War II, no matter how un-sexy it is. It’s much more interesting to read about Easy Company in the European theater or the Marines on the island hopping campaign. But without the critical supplies from people like the Mathew’s men, there would be little success on the battlefield. So tip your hats and kiss a logistician the next time you see them and thank them for making things work. [...]
January 14, 20202016I have always found the person of Napoleon fascinating. When I was in Paris last year, I went to a place called Les Invalides. There is a chapel there that houses some of France’s most memorable leaders. Enshrined in that place lies the grave of Napoleon that attracts millions of visitors every year. But Napoleon has been described in history as the first dictator; a tyrant; a radical; and an emperor. But what makes Napoleon so special, and why is he still considered one of France’s heros? Well I think Felix Markham presents Napoleon is a balanced way in this book, “Napoleon.” I have often wanted to read a book on Napoleon, but in order to understand Napoleon, you have to understand the French Revolution. Earlier this year, I reviewed a book for a class I had to take on the French Revolution and Napoleon. I reviewed William Doyle’s book “The Oxford History of the French Revolution” which was a great introduction to the time Napoleon found himself in. Napoleon grew up in Corsica, which was an island in the Mediterranean south of France. It was always a contested island, and the French invaded it around the time Napoleon was born. Napoleon’s father and mother were freedom fighters for the small island nation, but succumbed to French rule. Napoleon never forgave his father for this treachery. As he grew up, he went to school on mainland France and eventually found himself enrolled in a military school where he was to become an artillery officer. When he became an artillery officer, he never really had a chance to ascend through the ranks because in the old regime (see my review of the French Revolution to understand this), the nobility were the only people who could advance far into the military. When the French Revolution happened, this did away with the old regime and Napoleon won a decisive battle against the English. He was promoted to Brigadier General and eventually put in charge of the French Army that was to conquer parts of Italy. In the Italian campaign, Napoleon won victory after victory with his brilliant military tactics. The government was very poor and his troops had not been paid for some time; Napoleon won the confidence of his men by allowing them to gather the booty of Italian treasures and they charged through the land. Paintings, statues, gold, coins, ancient antiquities were all liquidated to France during these campaigns. After the Italian campaigns, Napoleon devised a plan to halt the British dominance in the Western world. It would be near suicide to invade the British mainland, so Napoleon would strike at the British colony of Egypt. In the Egyptian campaign, Napoleon again found his mark as he conquered the land. Unfortunately, his entire fleet was shipwrecked by the British, stranding Napoleon and his men in Egypt. Napoleon, seeing events in France progress to the point where a power vacuum was coming, made his way back to Paris to take advantage of the situation. Eventually Napoleon orchestrated events to where he would become the defacto dictator of the country. This stabilization was actually ultimately good for France; what was not good was the wars that ensued. Napoleon wanted complete power, and he instituted himself as Caesar of the French Empire. Following this, he took to Prussia and Russia where he won victories at places such as Austerlitz that demonstrated he was in total control. Napoleon’s fatal mistake came in his assault into Russia. He was stymied that Spring into the summer, and the cold came upon the Le Grande Armee before they reached Moscow. When they did eventually get to Moscow, there was no one there to strike up a peace deal; rather, the Russians had set fire to the city. Defeated, Napoleon set off for France as his army continued to dwindle. The cold, lack of food, and attacks from the cossacks continued to drain his numbers. Just over a million set out to conquer Russia and only around 10,000 returned. Napoleon built up another army but it wasn’t enough; he had to capitulate and was sentenced to exile in Elba. He wasn’t there for long however; he broke free of his imprisonment and set out to Paris. He regained control and fought one last decisive battle at Waterloo with a coalition of forces against him commanded by the British. He lost this last battle and was sentenced to exile on St. Helena where he died sometime later. You can see that the legacy of Napoleon is mixed; on the one hand, he somewhat strengthened and saved France from the democratic disaster of the previous decade. The French Revolution took a toll on the people and Napoleon brought stability and order to chaos. And Napoleon was in all regards a genius. He was a tactician whose skills would only be dwarfed by men like Rommel in Italy and Africa. But on the flip side, he was brutal and took massive risks that endangered the French warriors of the time. He did a lot of harm to France mixed in with the good. Napoleon’s legacy is difficult. But one thing is for sure; he is a very interesting character to study. I think Markham’s brief study on Napoleon is palatable enough for both the novice and the ardent historian. [...]
January 14, 20202016I suppose this seems to be the year of philosophy and history for me. After reviewing Douglas Groothuis’, “Seven Sentences” and others, I’ve been bitten by the philosophy bug. I could resist when I saw this little book that I thought might provide a different perspective. Last year, I read R.C. Sproul’s “The Consequences of Ideas” which is essentially what this book is about: a history of philosophy. In addition, Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live” largely examines similiar themes. But both of these histories of philosophy come from the Christian tradition, worldview, and bias. What I appreciate about Nigel Warburton’s work is that it does come from a different perspective. And although I disagree with a good amount of his conclusions, I can appreciate the evenness of this particular work for its objectivity. The history of philosophy is not an easy task. Particularly for a book of this size. Warburton examines a philosopher at every chapter, and there are 40 chapters in the book. Therefore, there is not a whole lot of room to get wordy. The typical chapter goes like this: a introductory question or statement; a brief biographical sketch of the philosopher; some of his main ideas, his contributions to philosophy; a conclusion demonstrating on how his philosophy was built on by the next philosopher. What follows then is a cohesive narrative of philosophy through the ages. I feel as if this book is particularly aimed at those who want to cut their teeth on philosophy but are somewhat confused as to where to start or who to read. A few notes about philosophy: Warburton makes clear that philosophy, directly translated, is the love of wisdom. But it’s much more than this. From Ancient Greece we have the views of Socrates (the “Gadfly of Athens”), Plato, and Aristotle who thought deeply about life, cosmology, and reality. The views of these men would be built upon by almost every philosopher post their time. In fact, most of the philosophers between Socrates and the 19th century were eminently concerned about theology in relationship to philosophy. It was almost universal that a philosopher believed in a transcendent being; an “uncaused first cause” that set the universe in motion comes from Plato and Aristotle. Augustine of Hippo, the famous theologian, philosopher, and historian whom I wrote about here, absorbed some of the platonic sophism in his own philosophical musings. Other prominent philosophers of the medieval time include Boethius who wrote “the Consolation of Philosophy” (the book in which Ignatius Riley is obsessed with in “The Confederacy of Dunces”) in which he posited that the world is like a wheel of fortune which spins and gives good luck to the fortunate. The trio of thinkers that heavily impacted our own Republic were that of Rene Descarte (I think, therefore I am; more thoughts here), John Locke (blank slate theory), and Blaise Pascal (Pascal’s wager was if Christianity is not true, you just waste time at church during your life; if it is true, then the consequences outweigh the time wasted in church). It isn’t until Darwin, not a true philosopher, that the shift of philosophy takes place. Darwin’s ideas gave sufficient credence to thinkers to usurp the position of God. If the existence of man could be proved to have taken place outside of a divine creator, then there is no reason to suggest that God exists at all. We see this transition in Frederick Nietzsche (who was purported to have said that “God is dead”), the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud and others. The rational school of thought predated modernism in this time (see Kierkegaard) well. The next major shift in philosophy occurred at the end of World War II, where post-modernism, the idea that truth is relative to the beholder and the community, came to full force. The last chapters of the book deal with philosophy in the last 20 years. Warburton asks the question, “Are computers living beings?” All of this is very interesting and this is a particularly useful book to get an overview of philosophical thought in a condensed form. Not every issue is taken up with these philosophers but this book would be massive if it was. A great volume on an important topic. [...]
January 14, 20202016Edward Dolnick succeeds in his attempt to illustrate the history of the greatest minds of the 16th century: namely, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Lebnitz. What ensues is an incredible look into the assumptions of some of the greatest minds ever. Speaking of assumptions, there are just a lot of those in terms of what intellectual level people in general held prior to the Enlightenment. We call this time period in Europe the “Dark Ages” because, as bad historians tell it, men were consumed with sorcery and not scientific principles. Therefore, nothing ever good came out of the Dark Ages right? This book does much to correct those assumptions. Another interesting tidbit I’ve seen float around the internet is that these men did not have Christian convictions. As we shall see, this too is ludicrous. The Royal Society was a gathering of scientists who met to show off their inventions. Much like painters and artists from this time period, scientists were sponsored by a patron who would pay them wages to basically entertain them with experiments and the like. Newton and others formed a society where great men of science could come together and share information about what they had discovered and to show off too. Dolnick looks not only at the scientific achievements of these men, but also at the society at large. Many things have changed about our culture since then so to put this into perspective, Dolnick takes several chapters setting the stage, as it were. For example, all men at this time believed God was real. This is not an assumption but rather a fact. The atheist was not prevalent in the 16th century. Newton himself, as Dolnick puts it, would have rather read his Bible than work on science. That challenges the second great assumption that people hold about Newton. I’ve seen first hand the accusations that Newton was not bound by Christian convictions, but this really isn’t true. Newton understood that God had created the world and that his mission in science was to understand how the world worked. The title of the book, “Clockwork Universe,” is an idea that the universe works like a mechanical clock, bound together through some kind of force. Newton believed this force was God. Dolnick also discusses the relationship between these men. For example, a lot of what is credited to Newton actually came from Liebnitz. In those days, discoveries were carefully protected, sometimes by a secret language. What is evident in this book however, is that it builds to Newton’s law of gravity. Each discovery is a conjecture that is partially right until at the end of the book (spoiler alert. Just kidding), Newton comes up with his famous theory of gravity. This is an interesting book and it’s not too out of the range for even the novice scientist. [...]
January 14, 20202016Greg Harris is a name that I’ve continually come back to for his incredible books. Earlier this year, I read the phenomenal book, “The Cup and the Glory” by Harris. The “Darkness and the Glory” I read last year and I thought it was brilliant. I wanted to revisit this book to glean some of the things I had missed the first time around. The subtitle of the book explains the premise of this book: the journey of Jesus from the garden of Gethsemane to his ascension into heaven. So the book starts with Jesus in the garden and the weight of the task he was about to take on. Harris details not only the dread of Jesus in going to the cross, but the spiritual battle that was occurring in the unseen realm prior to his crucifixion. He moves to the cross and the “darkness.” One of the most interesting narratives of the book is what happened to Jesus when He died. This has mystified theologians since the early church. The early church believed that Jesus went to hell to pay for the sins of man. But this is a contested belief, even today. Harris unpacks this subject at the heart of his book. Jesus’ message to the thief on the cross, that he will be with him in paradise, gives some clue to where Jesus was during the three days. This has been argued more fervently in recent years. However, there is a problem with this: Jesus was in paradise but not with God, as John 20:17 makes clear. He has not ascended to the father yet. So this paradise must be something else. Harris explains some other clues that the Bible gives us, most practically in 1st and 2nd Peter. 1 Peter 3 19-20 says, “ went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah…” To understand this, Harris goes back to the garden. The prophecy in Genesis 3 is the first look at what will happen to Jesus: “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” This foretells of Satan’s demise and is made clear that it will occur through human offspring. Satan, wanting to prevent God’s word from happening, decides to infect the bloodline of humans with another agent: angels. Cue Genesis 6:2 – “…the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” To pollute the bloodline would ultimately mean that this prophecy could never come true. God saw this evil plan and the flood on the earth was in part a response to it. God preserved the “promised seed” through Noah. Now these spirits must have been bound up and put into prison. And Jesus visits them during the three days after his death. Why though? Peter wrote this letter as an encouragement to the Church. Does this seem strange? It doesn’t when seen through this context. Jesus “ministered” to these spirits not to save them, but to proclaim that He had triumphed over evil. The early Christian church went through persecution that was at times unbearable. What Peter communicates then, is that in the end, Jesus wins. He will someday triumph over all evil. Every knee will someday bow and every tongue will someday confess that He is Lord. Just a little longer we have to wait on this earth to see this grand day. This is a really awesome book. I loved re-reading it and gleaning nuances of details that I had missed. I highly recommend it. [...]

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

I Dare You Not to Bore Me With the Bible

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God Of Scripture And The Christian Faith

Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Toole (2016)

The Cross of Christ (2016)

How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (2016)

The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ

PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative

Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Liar’s Poker

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee – A Look Inside North Korea

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (2016)

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Final Seconds

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris


The Cup and the Glory: Lessons on Suffering and the Glory of God

Western Civilization II

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba, and the Mafia, 1933 to 1966


Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity

The Romanovs: 1613-1918

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic

Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History

In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire

The Oxford History of the French Revolution

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford


The Whig Interpretation of History

Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War

The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats

Augustine of Hippo: A Life

Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction

Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past

This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War

1920: The Year that Made the Decade Roar

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill

A Little History of Philosophy

Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

The Darkness and the Glory: His Cup and the Glory from Gethsemane to the Ascension (2016)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2016)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2016)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2016)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2016)

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

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