Wednesday, March 26, 2008

First Quarter Reading, 2008. Part 2: Nonfiction

I enjoyed both these two history books greatly. Some people say Armstrong, who describes herself as a ‘freelance monotheist,’ is too soft on Islam. That’s just what I was looking for as it happens; she had just the right content and attitude to use as a foundation for my teaching on the history of Islam for an Encountering the World of Islam class. We want people to come away from the class with a balanced view of the topic. Since so many Christians start out with a negative view of Islam we find it more important to swing the balance the other direction, knowing the students will self-correct.

One key to understanding current world events is to see how great the world-of-Islam was for the centuries of its hey-day, and what a difficult and confusing thing it was to see all that fall apart when Western powers became (suddenly) dominant and moved in as if they were taking over a vacant lot.

Stewart’s book – about the Asian civilizations of 500-1500 - was a good follow-up on the same issues. It taught me a lot about the networks of trade, influence, religion, and respect during that period.

I loved this book; don’t even know where to start. I listened to it on tape and then bought myself a paperback so I could mark it up. Guess you’d classify the genre as sociology. Part of the appeal may be how it relates to my work, which has much to do with communication and “advocacy” for certain ideas, values, and commitments. I want to change the world, and anyone who describes how that can be done is someone I want to pay attention to.

Both these books, which I picked up over the holidays, gave me a sense of connection with the land - especially the land where I grew up (though Kingsolver's is set elsewhere). Both are written in beautiful prose, with a good mix of context, story, and analysis of their topics. Egan’s is a collection of essays about the land and people of the Pacific Northwest. Published when I was in college, it describes the Northwest I remember and read about, not quite the way things are now. I wrote more about Kingsolver’s book and its themes here.

Up Next:

I have “holds” on with our library system for Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, after reading what Andrew Jones said about it, and Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, after hearing about in on NPR.

Books I’ve purchased that are waiting on my bookshelf (a less effective path to being read than being due back at the library is) include The Bondage Breaker, by Neil Anderson, and Red Moon Rising, by Peter Grieg.

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