Book Reviews

Short Reviews – A Review of My Recent Reading List (2019 – 3rd Quarter)

On the right side of this blog, I provide my current reading list. While I often read other books simultaneously, my goal each quarter is to read one book from each of the “steps” that help me fulfill my strategy which is comprised of the acrostic LEARN.* I thought it might be helpful to share a few insights from my reading. Please note, this is not a formal review, but I will state if I recommend the read. My goal here is to simply provide a few key insights from each book.

*Someday I will do an update on that series on this new site, but you can find my original series at the old blog host. – See the series Using the 4L’s in 2017.

Platform by Michael Hyatt

Frankly, when I first started to read this book, I did not now how significant it would be. I cannot say this book led to the thought process of me starting a new podcast next month, but it helped cement the process. The book talks much more about branding in the first section than I might have liked, but it became evident why in the later sections. Overall, Hyatt provides some very practical advice and some excellent tips that are still relevant despite the book being published in 2012.

Key Takeaway: The branding portion was very helpful in retrospect. Effectively, building a platform requires consistency in all spaces in which a company or person will be seen. That became more evident as the book moved towards the end of the book (such as on social media)..

Recommendation: High, if looking to build a brand (story), or want to know how it is done.

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

I rarely read two books by the same author at the same time, but Platform was kind of a last-minute idea. I generally read a book on becoming more effective a couple of times each year, and Hyatt is considered an expert in productivity. This book shows why. It is packed with very practical elements and reminds (teaches!) us that the reason to be more effective is not so we can do more, but so we can have more time to do what we want to do (leisure, family, etc.). This book will challenge you to think about how to do things better, and more importantly, it will challenge you to consider why you do some of the things you do.

Key Takeaway: The online guides that are mentioned in the book allow you to not only read about certain exercises Hyatt recommends, they allow you to do the exercises. The Big 3, learning to live within your Desire Zone, etc. are all parts of this book and can be easily understood by downloading the forms and working through them.

Recommendation: Strong – excellent resource.

The Praying Life by Paul Miller

Wow. This was the best book of the quarter in a quarter where none of the books were duds. I learned so much about prayer. I learned a lot about myself. I learned about God. And the way Miller continually wove Psalm 23 into the book was fascinating. I have heard much about the Psalm and know a few things that Miller did not mention, but the Psalm has more layers than I had ever imagined. Miller does not write about prayer because he has studied it; he writes about it because he has lived it. This is a great book – a GREAT book. And I would highly recommend for anyone to read it.

Key Takeaway: Breathing Jesus. What an easy and great concept for prayer.

Recommendation: Strong – best book this quarter!!!

The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes an Posner

Specifically, I read the 5th edition. This book and the next one (Relaunch) were specifically chosen because of some discussions which are necessary for our church. This book contains a lot of straightforward ideas about leadership, many of which might already be known. But, even if they are known, this book will not only help to reinforce the ideas, but will foster a desire to rise to the challenge to live the principles within the book. The five principles (practices) are: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. If a leader can rise to each of these practices, the challenge will be met and any organization can improve.

Key Takeaway: Clarifying Values really stuck out to me because I realized that I did not do a good job of this when I first became pastor of the church I am serving. Other points are good as well, but this idea jumped out at me and caused me to lead the church to discover, clarify, and communicate a set of values to lead us forward.

Recommendation: Strong, I think the book is very good for any leader, and will help others to better understand what I lead should do.

Relaunch by Mark Rutland

Our church is going through what I have termed a renewal. Thus, Relaunch seemed to fit that idea. Rutland shares the ideas he used (and/or learned) at three different organizations he was asked to turn around (Calvary Church, Southeastern University, and Oral Roberts University). The principles in the book are good and overlap well with the previous book mentioned above. One particularly strong point was for the leader to ensure s/he is facing reality. Many people, including leaders, do not want to see the problems within their organization, but Rutland makes it clear that without being honest, the rest of the steps (and thus the book) will not have the impact they otherwise could have.

Key Takeaway: Being honest about the state (health) of the organization – and helping others to do the same. Rose-colored glasses are fine for looking at roses, but reality is important when analyzing any type of organization. The necessary changes may be difficult to incorporate, but if we are not honest in the evaluation, we will not know which changes are indeed necessary.

Recommendation: Medium, the book is good, but I prefer The Leadership Challenge.

Other Books:

This quarter’s listening focused exclusively on American history. I have finally moved beyond the 18th Century and have worked my way to Andrew Jackson and the 1830s. Four books this quarter helped me better understand the life and times of four unique individuals.

John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahr (listened via Audible)

I listened to this book and was glad I did. Jay was a Founding Father who is overlooked in many ways, but he played an instrumental role in early American history. He was an important governor, a Supreme Court justice, and was the principle in the treaty that kept us from war with Britain in the 1790s which would have bankrupted our young country which, likely, would have made us a colony again. The Fathers were a unique group of men, who were put in a certain place at a certain time and allowed us to be the continuing beneficiaries of the great experiment of a democratic republic. John Jay should not be overlooked because of the importance he played during the early years of our country.

The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger (listened via Audible)

This book was not as good as some others, but it did provide some information. Monroe inherited a situation that was nearly non-partisan. The Federalists were all but gone and this left his party, the Republicans, as not only the controlling party, but virtually, the only party. (The Republicans of that era were similar in some respects to today’s party, but we should be wary of making direct comparisons.) Monroe was set up for an easy presidency, but this book shows that many various issues surfaced and presented some challenges along the way. One major aspect of Monroe’s presidency was the Monroe Doctrine, which decreed that European powers needed to respect the influence of America throughout the Western Hemisphere. This doctrine has influenced policy for nearly 200 years (it was created in 1823). One of the more interesting facts about Monroe (which I had forgotten) is that he died on July 4. His year was 1931 but along with Adams and Jefferson who both died in 1826 (the 50th anniversary of the celebrated date of our independence), three of the Founding Fathers who served as President of the United States (out of five, the others being Washington and Madison), died on the symbolic day. More interestingly, no other president has died on that date since.

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel (listened via Audible)

Having earlier listened to a book on his father, I had some background on JQ Adams’ youth. This book covered his life and presented a man who was quite fascinating in some ways, but the book pales in comparison to some other biographies I have read. Overall, Adams was an interesting man. His background gave him a tremendous advantage as he grew up in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, learning the ways of diplomacy as a young man from his father. Adams was ideally suited to serve as an ambassador and later the Secretary of State of the United States. While Secretary of State, he served with the American Bible Society. This book does a good job of covering Adams’ years leading up to the White House and then moves quite fast. Interestingly, Adams returned to serve in Congress (the House of Representatives) for 18 years after he lost his re-election bid to Andrew Jackson. As such, JQ Adams is one of only two former presidents to return to Congress (Andrew Johnson was later elected to the Senate).

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by John Meachem (listened via Audible)

One of the challenges in my pursuit of reading the biographies of the presidents and other major figures in American history is that, at this time, I am only listening to books, and only one per person. Thus, if a book is not available on Audible, of if two books better capture the essence, then I will miss out. This book about President Jackson was a good read (listen), but seemed to move too quickly in some parts. It covered in detail his work to prevent South Carolina from leaving the union over tariffs as well as his efforts to dissolve the charter of the Bank of the United States. The book was recommended as one of the better books on Jackson, and it was good, but I do not feel like I “know” Andrew Jackson as well as I know several of the figures who came before him. One thing I will say about Jackson is that you either loved him or hated him. As I listened, I continually compared him to Trump. I think some of what Jackson did was good and yet he was very much against Blacks and Native Americans – although some may excuse his attitude as a product of his day. Either way, it is easy to see why he earned himself the moniker of lion.

Books for Teaching

Finally, during this quarter, I worked through a few books for an upcoming class I am teaching. The class focused on teaching students who are in higher education. I will not review them here, in part, because I am still in the midst of a couple of them, and also because I am selectively focusing on specific chapters. The books are all helpful and are recommended for those who may teach at the undergraduate or graduate levels especially. The list of books is as follows (listed alphabetically by first author):

  • How Learning Works, Ambrose, et al
  • Engaging Ideas, 2nd Ed., Bean
  • Teaching Unprepared Students, Gabriel
  • Teaching at its Best, Nielson
  • The Online Teaching Survival Guide, Boettcher and Conrad
  • Introduction to Rubrics, 2nd Ed.; Stevens and Levi

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