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Books of 2011: First Half

I’m posting my books read list every six months these days.

Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Stunning indictment of the national security state from Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international studies at Boston University and former Army colonel. As America’s appetite for foreign goods and foreign oil increases, it tries to maintain an increasingly expensive global empire that makes us less free and no more secure. After diagnosing failures in American culture, the political class, and the military, Bacevich calls for a foreign policy of “enlightened Realism” based on national self-interest, containment and police action against the Islamist threat rather than global war, ending the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and a return to Just War theory, and an inclination to non-interventionism due to the unpredictability of war. Based heavily on the works of 20th-century Christian thinker Reinhold Neibuhr.

Ferris, Joshua. The Unnamed. Tim is a high-powered New York City lawyer with a puzzling disease (the “unnamed” of the title) that compels him to walk off from whatever he’s doing to the point of exhaustion. Tim’s convinced it’s a physical ailment, while others think he’s gone crazy. But the novel isn’t so much a medical mystery so much as it is a novel about a marriage, the fight between body and mind, coping with illness, and being truly alive and fully aware of your surroundings. A somewhat inconsistent book—not all the plot lines are resolved (what did happen to the mysterious stranger who might exonerate his client? was he a figure of imagination?). The first act is a pretty straightforward medical/legal drama, the middle act gets trippy with events that appear to only happen in Tim’s head and some timeline jumping, while the last act gets overly philosophical on the nature of death, the mind/body divide, and human connections.

Giertz, Bo. Hammer of God. Three novellas in the same book. Three generations of Lutheran pastors in a sleepy Swedish town (roughly 1810s, 1870s, and 1930s) deal with rationalized, intellectualized faiths, evangelical revivalist nuttiness, and the dying of an old berg on the eve of World War II in their own times. All the while trying to maintain confessional Lutheranism, usually with help from an older, wiser mentor. They’re actually enjoyably books without getting too didactic.

Just a Manute

Fred Clark remembers Manute Bol, who died this weekend at age 47. At 7 foot 7 inches, Manute was a giant among men in more than one way.

Awesome Guy

September 19th marked the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Rich Mullins, contemporary Christian music writer and modern day monk. Though best known for his worship choruses “Awesome God” and “Step by Step,” Mullins was a versatile and talented musician. His lyrics were usually metaphorically challenging (“Awesome God” an obvious exception) and his instrumentation was eclectic. He introduced the Christian world to the unique sound of the hammered dulcimer, and to Appalachian and Irish folk music.

Also, in stark contrast with the Christian celebrities of his time (and ours), Mullins aggressively avoided the limelight, even to the point of donating much of the profits from his album sales to charity. As the story goes, Mullins trusted others with the financials, while paying himself a “worker’s salary” in the mid-$20 thousands and giving the rest away. In addition to his St. Francis-inspired asceticism, Mullins spent his time teaching music to children on Indian Reservations in the Southwest when not touring.

For those who only know of Rich Mullins because of “Awesome God,” Jason Boyett fills us in.