This is part of the DR Book Collection.
I’m once again behind on my book reviews, so here’s a list of the books I’ve read recently, their descriptions, and accompanying videos.
Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism (Princeton University Press, 2016): “The love of God is perhaps the most essential element in Judaism—but also one of the most confounding. In biblical and rabbinic literature, the obligation to love God appears as a formal commandment. Yet most people today think of love as a feeling. How can an emotion be commanded? How could one ever fulfill such a requirement? The Love of God places these scholarly and existential questions in a new light. Jon Levenson traces the origins of the concept to the ancient institution of covenant, showing how covenantal love is a matter neither of sentiment nor of dry legalism. The love of God is instead a deeply personal two-way relationship that finds expression in God’s mysterious love for the people of Israel, who in turn observe God’s laws out of profound gratitude for his acts of deliverance. Levenson explores how this bond has survived episodes in which God’s love appears to be painfully absent—as in the brutal persecutions of Talmudic times—and describes the intensely erotic portrayals of the relationship by biblical prophets and rabbinic interpreters of the Song of Songs. He examines the love of God as a spiritual discipline in the Middle Ages as well as efforts by two influential modern Jewish thinkers—Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig—to recover this vital but endangered aspect of their tradition. A breathtaking work of scholarship and spirituality alike that is certain to provoke debate, The Love of God develops fascinating insights into the foundations of religious life in the classical Jewish tradition” (Amazon).
Richard V. Reeves, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It (Brookings Institution, 2017): “It is now conventional wisdom to focus on the wealth of the top 1 percent—especially the top 0.01 percent—and how the ultra-rich are concentrating income and prosperity while incomes for most other Americans are stagnant. But the most important, consequential, and widening gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else. Reeves defines the upper middle class as those whose incomes are in the top 20 percent of American society. Income is not the only way to measure a society, but in a market economy it is crucial because access to money generally determines who gets the best quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services. As Reeves shows, the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle. Those at the top of the income ladder are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children, reducing overall social mobility. The result is not just an economic divide but a fracturing of American society along class lines. Upper-middle-class children become upper-middle-class adults. These trends matter because the separation and perpetuation of the upper middle class corrode prospects for more progressive approaches to policy. Various forms of “opportunity hoarding” among the upper middle class make it harder for others to rise up to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships. Upper-middle-class opportunity hoarding, Reeves argues, results in a less competitive economy as well as a less open society. Inequality is inevitable and can even be good, within limits. But Reeves argues that society can take effective action to reduce opportunity hoarding and thus promote broader opportunity. This fascinating book shows how American society has become the very class-defined society that earlier Americans rebelled against—and what can be done to restore a more equitable society” (Amazon).
Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011): “We can’t avoid the persistent questions about the meaning of life-and the nature of reality. Philosopher Alex Rosenberg maintains that science is the only thing that can really answer them―all of them. His bracing and ultimately upbeat book takes physics seriously as the complete description of reality and accepts all its consequences. He shows how physics makes Darwinian natural selection the only way life can emerge, and how that deprives nature of purpose, and human action of meaning, while it exposes conscious illusions such as free will and the self. The science that makes us nonbelievers provides the insight into the real difference between right and wrong, the nature of the mind, even the direction of human history. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality draws powerful implications for the ethical and political issues that roil contemporary life. The result is nice nihilism, a surprisingly sanguine perspective atheists can happily embrace” (Amazon).
William V. Smith, Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Greg Kofford Books, 2018): “Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843, revelation on plural marriage was the last of his formal written revelations and a transformational moment in Mormonism. While acting today as the basis for the doctrine of eternal nuclear families, the revelation came forth during a period of theological expansion as Smith was in the midst of introducing new temple rituals, radical doctrines on God and humanity, a restructured priesthood and ecclesiastical hierarchy, and, of course, the practice of plural marriage. In this volume, author William V. Smith examines the text of this complicated and rough revelation to explore the motivation for its existence, how it reflects this dynamic theology of the Nauvoo period, and how the revelation was utilized and reinterpreted as Mormonism fully embraced and later abandoned polygamy” (Amazon).1
Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016): “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way. In DEEP WORK, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill. A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories-from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air-and no-nonsense advice, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored. DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide to anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world” (Amazon).
Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life (Zondervan, 1992): “If you’ve ever wondered: Can I set limits and still be a loving person? How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money? Why do I feel guilty when I consider setting boundaries? Unpacking the 10 laws of boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend give you biblically based answers to these and other tough questions, and show you how to set healthy boundaries with your spouse, children, friends, coworkers, and even with yourself. In Boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend show you how to bring new health to your relationships. You’ll discover firsthand how to reclaim your freedom to walk as the loving, giving, fulfilled individual God created you to be” (Amazon).
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018): “Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing. Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation. With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress” (Amazon).
Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005): “In this accessible study, Peter Enns offers an evangelical affirmation of biblical authority that considers questions raised by the nature of the Old Testament text. Enns looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture. First, he considers ancient Near Eastern literature that is similar to the Bible. Second, he looks at the theological diversity of the Old Testament. Finally, he considers how New Testament writers used the Old Testament. Based on his reflections on these contemporary issues, Enns proposes an incarnational model of biblical authority that takes seriously both the divine and human aspects of Scripture. The book includes a useful glossary, which defines technical terms and an annotated bibliography for further reading” (Amazon).
Bryan Caplan, The Case Against Education: Why the Educational System Is a Waste of Time and Money (Princeton University Press, 2018): “Despite being immensely popular–and immensely lucrative—education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity—in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy. Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers. Romantic notions about education being “good for the soul” must yield to careful research and common sense—The Case against Education points the way” (Amazon).
Jonathan A. Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford University Press, 2018): “The Power of Godliness is a key work to understand Mormon conceptions of priesthood, authority, and gender. With in-depth research and never previously used documents, Jonathan A. Stapley explores the rituals of ordination, temple “sealings,” baby blessings, healing, and cunning-folk traditions. In doing so, he demonstrates that Mormon liturgy includes a much larger and more complex set of ritualized acts of worship than the specific rites of initiation, instruction, and sealing that take place within the temple walls. By exploring Mormonism’s liturgy more broadly, The Power of Godliness shows both the nuances of Mormon belief and practice, and how the Mormon ordering of heaven and earth is not a mere philosophical or theological exercise. Stapley examines Mormonism’s liturgical history to reveal a complete religious world, incorporating women, men, and children all participating in the construction of the Mormon universe. This book opens new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and present, and investigates what work these rituals and ritualized acts actually performed in the communities that carried them out. By tracing the development of the rituals and the work they accomplish, The Power of Godliness sheds important new light on the Mormon universe, its complex priesthoods, authorities, and powers” (Amazon).
Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016): “One of the world’s leading economists of inequality, Branko Milanovic presents a bold new account of the dynamics that drive inequality on a global scale. Drawing on vast data sets and cutting-edge research, he explains the benign and malign forces that make inequality rise and fall within and among nations. He also reveals who has been helped the most by globalization, who has been held back, and what policies might tilt the balance toward economic justice. Global Inequality takes us back hundreds of years, and as far around the world as data allow, to show that inequality moves in cycles, fueled by war and disease, technological disruption, access to education, and redistribution. The recent surge of inequality in the West has been driven by the revolution in technology, just as the Industrial Revolution drove inequality 150 years ago. But even as inequality has soared within nations, it has fallen dramatically among nations, as middle-class incomes in China and India have drawn closer to the stagnating incomes of the middle classes in the developed world. A more open migration policy would reduce global inequality even further. Both American and Chinese inequality seems well entrenched and self-reproducing, though it is difficult to predict if current trends will be derailed by emerging plutocracy, populism, or war. For those who want to understand how we got where we are, where we may be heading, and what policies might help reverse that course, Milanovic’s compelling explanation is the ideal place to start” (Amazon).