Book Reviews

Short Reviews – A Review of My Recent Reading List (2020 – 3rd Qtr)

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.* Therefore, I choose the books I read carefully because I want them to help me improve as a teacher, a pastor, a leader, and most importantly as a person. Thus, I rarely read books that are disappointing to me. However, some are more helpful than others, so I thought it might be helpful to share a few insights from my reading, in case others might choose to read some of the books I have read. 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.

*See the recent series on this blog about developing a personal SYSTEM for details. The series started June 26th, 2020 and ends this Friday, October 2nd.

Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo

With apologies to Descartes, I teach therefore I communicate. Essentially, teaching is communicating something I know to someone else. As someone who communicates, I need to continually seek to improve my communication skills. This book was an attempt to learn techniques that some of the world’s best communicators use. Gallo shares insights from some of the best-known Ted Talks of all time. Gallo, who is a communication consultant, shares nine secrets that help take speeches from effective to memorable. As someone who preaches, the ideas may need to be adapted, and some are far more challenging than others, but all do have merit. One such challenge is the idea of “deliver jaw-dropping moments.” The idea is good, but Ted Talks are once-in-a-lifetime speeches, whereas a pastor has to develop a new “speech” every week. Again, the idea has merit, but developing a weekly sermon (among other lessons being taught) makes this idea much more challenging.

Key Takeaway: The 18-minute rule (the maximum length of a Ted Talk) is particularly challenging for me, but in light of COVID, and the attention span of people online, that is a good goal for many of the videos. I have pared down my sermons from 45 to about 27-28 since the start of COVID. Now, I need to determine if a further reduction is possible, and necessary.

Recommendation: Strong, for anyone seeking to improve the ability to craft and deliver a message.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

WOW. What a great book. This book was BY FAR my favorite book this quarter. Furthermore, it is now up for consideration for one of my top-five lists (it is definitely in my top ten). The book is essentially about the practice of spiritual disciplines, but Comer takes a great deal of space in this book to set up the need for the practices. The information in this book is very helpful, but the greatest appeal is the conversational tone of the book. I have read many different types of writers, but most of the books I read have a somewhat determined formula. Comer does not. He simply writes. My academic background is critical of most writers who “write as we speak” (when grading, I do not allow this), but I loved Comer’s approach. But it isn’t just the approach of his writing, it is what he communicates in his content – all of which is to show the dangers of living our lives at our current speed, and our need to not just slow down occasionally, but to be relentless in eliminating hurry from our lives.

Key Takeaway: Two quickies – 1) Until the last 150 years, life was lived at a speed of 3 mph (the average speed of walking). Once we broke that barrier (the automobile) we have escalated the overall pace of our life greatly. 2) Within the last 150 years, most people got about 11 hours of sleep each night. (The light bulb, created in 1879, was the impetus for the change.)

Recommendation: Very Strong. Again, this book is now one of my favorite books I have read.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

This book is a classic. I have meant to read it for a while, and the time finally came. It is a dense book. I do not mean that in a negative way. It just has a lot of information, the pages have smaller print than most books, and the pages do not have a lot of margin (compared to Comer’s book, the difference is night and day). The case for the book is that traditional intelligence (i.e. facts and concepts as measured by IQ) are not enough, we also need to understand that how we learn within (and about) social parameters and our ability to relate and adapt emotionally are critical components for if, or how, we function in life. Being “smart” is not just about reading and learning facts, it is about reading situations and learning about ourselves (and others) to be able to relate effectively.

Key Takeaway: This quote from page 36 essentially sums up the premise of the book: “Academic intelligence offers virtually no preparation for the turmoil – or opportunity – life’s vicissitudes bring.”

Recommendation:    Very Strong. Highly recommended, but know that it is dense (as above).

LeaderShift by John Maxwell

Another quarter, another Maxwell book. No, I don’t read one every quarter, but you probably know by now that I am a fan. This book is one of his recent books, and although I had planned to read it for about a year, now was the time. But in light of COVID, the need for leaders to shift has never been more evident. The types of shifts Maxwell covers are principles that go far beyond the shifts (or pivots) that have been necessary over the past six months. These shifts are lessons Maxwell has learned over fifty years of leading others. As I try to grow as a leader, I see the need to evolve far more in areas like Soloist to Conductor, Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building, Team Uniformity to Team Diversity, and Trained Leaders to Transformational Leaders. Each area in the book had great insights though, and this book will provide continuing challenges throughout the rest of my life.

Key Takeaway: Advancing as a leader requires a shift in leadership. But that shift is not only for my benefit, it is for the benefit of the organization.

Recommendation: Very Strong.

When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas

I teach a class on conflict management, so I often look for books to help me to grow in this area, and in turn allow me to teach others to grow as well. I learned of this book in the Spring and decided to add it to my library. I really enjoyed this book. We often think of Jesus as someone who helped everyone. Well, He was willing, but people are not always willing to help themselves. Thomas covers the idea of toxicity in people from a general perspective, and then provides specific application in many areas of life such as marriage, family, work, etc. Yes, we are to love others, but that does not mean that they get to control us. Sometimes, it is necessary to walk away, as Thomas shows by principle and example.

Key Takeaway: The Bible records Jesus walking away 39 times. Granted, some of these items are repeated in various gospels, but the inclusion was important to each author (and to God), or it would not have been repeated. The Appendix includes a list of the passages showing this truth.

Recommendation: Very Strong. I will add concepts from this book to my class the next time I teach it. I must add the book includes some very sad stories (such as the story of Bobby on pages 155-157). This book and Stabile’s book will find continuous use.

Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenberg (listened via Audible)

Over the past four years, I have read nearly 20 books on the American Revolution, the Founders, etc. (even as I move on in American history by reading biographies of each president). And I have read many biographies of the Founders, and you might know that Alexander Hamilton is my favorite founder (and Chernow’s book is one of my all-time favorites). But after Disney released Hamilton, I decided that I should “see the other side” of the story. It was enlightening. Burr was likely a hero when General Montgomery was killed in battle, and he was only in two duels (one with Hamilton, obviously, and the other with John Barker Church, Hamilton’s brother-in-law (neither were injured). Hamilton, on the other hand, was challenged/or challenged someone else 11 times, although the one with Burr was the only one, which went to the point of shots being fired.

Key Takeaway: Much of Burr’s papers were lost at sea and thus it has been more difficult to create an accurate and compelling biography for Burr than for most any other Founder.

Recommendation: Medium. If you like history, then I recommend the book as it presents a more balanced understanding of the man who was almost the 3rd President of the US. (I keep trying to fathom how that would have changed history!)

Due to COVID, I had more time to read than usual. Thus, I will quickly share a few thoughts about other books I read this quarter. Other Books I Completed This Quarter:

Fulfill Your Student* Ministry (Sam Bierig)

The book has good insights for youth ministry and youth ministers. I read this in preparation for my interview with Mr. Bierig for the Christian Educator Weekly podcast. (Listen to Episodes 47-48, which will air Oct 5 and 12, 2020.) Recommendation: Strong, if you are involved in youth ministry in any way.

Ethics and Moral Reasoning (C. Ben Mitchell)

In addition to my own podcast (see the review above), I have been asked to host a new podcast about aging. The podcast is hosted by The Baptist Home and is called Biblical Perspectives in Aging. Dr. Mitchell is a premier ethicist in the Baptist world, and was one of the first interviews for the podcast (his episode is the first episode for the podcast). I read this book in preparation. It is truly a primer on moral reasoning and provides a biblical look at the idea as well as a history of some of the thought leaders (Christian and otherwise) who have led in this field over time. Recommendation: Strong. This book is very accessible for most any reader.

No Fail Communication (Michael Hyatt)

As a leader of an organization, I need to constantly lead through communication. Hyatt’s most recent book helps all organizations understand some of the pitfalls that prevent leaders and teams from being effective. Hyatt identifies four primary “zones” of communication: No Communication, Garbled Communication, Implied Communication, and Clear Communication. Hyatt shows the effects of each one and encourages people to overcome the issues that cause the negative forms of communication. Recommendation: Strong, for those who want to be effective in their communication.

Quiet (Susan Cain on Audible)

As an introvert, I have had this book on my list for a while. Many people discount the value of some introverts because they DON’T speak up. Cain shows that those who are quiet bring a great deal to the table – and as an introvert, she should know. Recommendation: Very Strong. Introverts may feel empowered. Extraverts may better understand the rest of us.

Peak (Robert Pool & Anders Ericsson on Audible)

This book talks about what makes people excel. From memorizing non-repeating numbers to an unbelievable number of digits, to playing competitive chess without looking at the board, to being a masterful musician, etc. this book covers many different aspects of what is means to perform at a peak level. It also dispels the myth that 10,000 hours of practice is the magic number for such peak performance. Recommendation: Strong. I enjoyed this book. I would rate it very strong for those who are interested in this type of subject, but recommend it strongly for most any reader.

Forensic Faith (J Warner Wallace)

Wallace is a forensic detective in Los Angeles who, as an atheist, put his investigative skills to use to test the claims of Christianity. Not only was he convinced that Christianity is real, but he has written a couple of books to help others know how to use the principles to share with others as well. Recommendation: Strong. Christians can have their own faith confirmed and know how to talk to others as well.

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears (Theda Perdue & Michael Green on Audible)

Fairly detailed account of the challenges faced by the various tribes of the Cherokees. The race-related challenges our culture faces today are nothing new, but many have been focused on the black-white issue. This book is a reminder that some who are white have repressed others of any color throughout history. One major issue is the revocation of the promises made to the Cherokees (and others) which will frustrate most any sensible reader. Recommendation: Medium. History buffs will likely enjoy this.

David Crockett: Lion of the West (Michael Wallis on Audible)

The legend really is better than the life. I am still trying to determine why Crockett decided he needed to write an autobiography. Although, if he had not, the legend and the man would be indistinguishable. Recommendation: Low. The book was ok, but if you are not on a journey to understand American history, this story can be skipped. Just read The Blood of Heroes by Donavan and get the story of the Alamo.

The History of the Ancient World (Susan Bauer on Audible)

As I continue my fairly in-depth journey through American industry, I decided to start from the very beginning on world history. This book covered up to the time of Constantine in the 4th Century AD. It was a fascinating book. It covered civilizations I never knew existed and provided context for a few stories such as Moses’ birth that has a similar story in Sargon of Akkad who lived some 800 years prior to Moses. Recommendation: Strong, if you like history. I look forward to the next book in the sequence which discusses up through the Renaissance.

My 4th Quarter reading list will be available on Thursday, October 1. Click on Reading List on the banner at the top of the blog’s home page and you can track with me what I am currently reading.

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