Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review (#33 of 2014) Fun Loving You by Ted Cunningham

Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind is one of the best and easiest-to-read marriage books I have ever read. It was a free download for Valentine's Day, and a good decision.

Ted Cunningham is pastor at Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, MO. He and his wife host an annual marriage retreat in Branson that touched the lives of people at our former fellowship in Southwest Missouri, and they tried to reproduce it in their own way every year. They are part of a center that try to heal marriages that are at the end of their rope. This book is a good preventative work to make sure your marriage doesn't reach that point.

Cunningham passes on wisdom he has applied from Gary Smalley, Emerson Eggerichs, and others. He uses Song of Solomon in a more succinct and much more accessible fashion than Tommy Nelson. (Differs from Nelson in his interpretation of various passages. I'm skeptical of both attempts to interpret, but personally prefer Cunningham's take). He passes on applicable ideas-- lists of activities and questions to ask your spouse-- that are marriage-strengtheners.

My wife and I often fail the "fun" test. It took me years to get Ted's point about my wife not being the "source of life," that I should want to alter or try to make different. He makes some good points about having God as our source of life and not being codependent. He addresses doubts about compatibility with the following quote from someone else:
"Character trumps chemistry and compatibility. Great marriages flow from character. A good match is a good start, but it will never sustain a thriving, intimate, and loving marriage. Only character does that." 

He has a good word on anger:
"Anger has three primary sources: hurt, fear, and frustration. Anger is a secondary emotion. It's not a primary emotion. You always feel something before you get angry. Those feelings are amplified when your heart is closed."

We're called to have open hearts with our spouses. He also includes advice on cultivating the marriage ahead of raising the children:

"When we prioritize the child's journey about our own marriage's, we circumvent God's design for the heart."

"I pass on to my spouse and children what I have on my heart. I am 100 percent responsible for my heart and this journey."
The Cunninghams take a "daily delay, a weekly withdrawal, and an annual abandon" in order to keep their marriage charged. He recommends keeping the "weekly withdrawals" (ie: date night) free from deep serious discussion, save those for the daily retreats or other times. The family do devotions and scripture memory every day. The parents work to make their home an "En Gedi" of peace for themselves.

About 25% of the book is about physical intimacy and its role in the "fun" marriage. It's nothing deep, just quite a bit of insight into he and his wife's lives... as in too much information.

The closing chapters deal with the role of church in marriage, the responsibility the local church has in helping couples it marries keep their vows. The last chapter is on death, with an exhortation to finish well.

The weaknesses of the book, in my opinion:
Having lived in the Ozarks, I know his message definitely resonates with the small-town conservatism found there. It may be harder to apply if both parents are working full-time jobs with a lot of travel demands or lack the resources to create the "fun" time. Dave Ramsey is highly esteemed but there are some families who are already in financial difficulties that need more than the "rah rah" in this book. If your marriage is in deep trouble, or one spouse isn't a Christian, this book may not be what you need-- although he does give some insights into how he counsels couples who are separated that I think solid. I disagree with the advice he gives young people, to go ahead and get married and not wait until after college or "maturity." In Missouri, the average undergraduate student I had in class got married at a much younger age, often right out of high school, than my own peer set in central Kentucky. It's a cultural thing in the Ozarks. I saw this as causing more conflict and unnecessary hardship and regret than what I would consider prudent.

Great book, highly recommend. Giving it 4 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review (#32 of 2014) Anabasis by Xenophon

Aka The Persian Expedition, Xenophon's account of how Cyrus the Younger led an army partly composed of Greek mercenaries is one of the most important surviving literary works of ancient days (4th century B.C.). It gives us an overview of the civilizations that existed in Asia Minor and their conflicts as the Greeks rose to prominence. Philip of Macedon was supposedly inspired by Xenophon's work to ponder leading expeditions against the Persians-- something Alexander the Great did with great success.

I was inspired to read it after reading this book and C.S.Lewis' autobiography. It (free) has reportedly been used to teach ancient Greek for centuries because of its simple form. I was amazed how straight-forward and non-prosaic (in English) the book was; I have to trust the modern English translation (Rex Warner edition), but I found it a very straightforward war story. There are good leadership lessons from the book as Xenophon comes across as the ideal democratically-elected ruler.

One interesting aspect about the structure is that Xenophon will give the narrative, then fill in the background later. He gives a biography and eulogy of the generals after they die, explains how he got caught up in the conflict in Book 3, etc.


Xenophon was a Greek invited by a friend to come meet Cyrus the Younger and fight for him. After consulting Socrates and the Oracle at Delphi, Xenophon signs on. One of my favorite parts was Book 3. The Greeks ("the 10,000") had signed up to be paid mercenaries of Cyrus the Younger, who was marching to seize the Persian throne from his brother Artaxerxes II. Cyrus was much admired by many Greeks in Asia Minor. His army swore oaths to Cyrus and to the gods on how they would conduct themselves--not pillaging but purchasing what they needed with their wages. The Spartan king had also signed up, hoping to gain support for Sparta in its own struggle with Athens. When they reach Babylon, Cyrus is tragically, perhaps mistakenly, killed in battle and now his Greek army is essentially stranded in a foreign land surrounded by Persians who want revenge and natives who want whatever. This harkens back to Homer's The Odyssey.

The Greeks want to get out as safely as they can, and accept promises of Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap. Tissaphernes betrays them and kills several of their generals, including the Spartan king. Despondancy sets in as they are beseiged.

Xenophon can't sleep one night because he recognizes that the army is now in confusion and had better set to reorganizing itself lest it be destroyed at any moment. He calls together remaining officers and implores action. The Greek army then elects new leaders (go Greek democracy!) and Xenophon overcomes objections of others to become one of the leaders.

He rallies the troops with the argument that they, unlike their enemies, have kept their oaths to the gods, and thus can expect the gods' favor in their quest. Better to fight and die nobly, and maybe they can make it home and tell their homeland of the riches to be had in this foreign land. Then, the Hollywood moment: 

"The words were scarcely spoken when someone sneezed, and with one impulse the soldiers bowed in worship; and Xenophon proceeded: "I propose, sirs, since, even as we spoke of safety, an omen from Zeus the Saviour has appeared, we vow a vow to sacrifice to the Saviour thank-offerings for safe deliverance, wheresoever first we reach a friendly country; and let us couple with that vow another of individual assent, that we will offer to the rest of the gods 'according to our ability.' Let all those who are in favour of this proposal hold up their hands." They all held up their hands, and there and then they vowed a vow and chanted the battle hymn."

When the next attack comes, Xenophon leads a defensive action that goes badly and is later criticized by the other commanders. Xenophon shows humility and leadership by admitting his mistakes, explaining his action, and suggesting ways to better reorganize the army to better utilize its strengths against its enemies' superiority. I found this remarkable:

"If any one has any better plan, we need not adopt mine; but if not...for the rest, we can but make experiment of this arrangement, and alter it with deliberation, as from time to time any improvement suggests itself. If any one has a better plan to propose, let him do so."
The 10,000 have to march northward through Kurdistan and Armenia (helpful to remember these societies have been there since ancient days) to the Greek-inhabited colonies along the Black Sea, fighting enemies and nature the entire way.After finally reaching refuge at Trapezus (modern day Trabzon), the Greeks enjoy a rest and even hold sporting events.  Then, the army has to march West along the coast-- still encountering hostile kingdoms and tribes-- to Byzantium.

Xenophon faces down opposition along the way. Some soldiers demand he be punished for being too harsh, for having beaten them. He gives a defense of his actions, in some cases he kept soldiers moving about to avoid frostbite or freezing to death. In another case, he struck a man for trying to bury a Greek soldier alive because he did not want to carry him--something Xenophon and his army found dishonorable.

Xenophon is offered supreme command of the army, but turns it down after taking time to sacrifice and consult the gods. He shows great humility, and never undertakes a major decision without first sacrificing to Zeus. He has omens that make him want to relinquish command, and the army breaks up for a time. After meeting with some near-disastrous trials, the army votes never again to break up. During a near-riot in Byzantium, the army offers again to make Xenophon a commander and he shrewdly seems to consent in order to get the troops into their formations, after which he brings them back to their senses and shows them the consequences their actions are likely to bring.

After reaching the Bosphorous, Seuthes the Thracian offers to pay Xenophon and his army to fight for him, urging him not to leave the army for home which was his intention. When the pay doesn't materialize, Xenophon is blamed and has to defend himself to the army once again. In the end, Seuthes pays up. In the end, the army joins with the Spartans to continue the fight against Tissaphernes. Xenophon ends up mostly poor, having little to show for having lead a grand army other than their respect and admiration.


Hopefully anyone who as actually authored an account of war has read this book first. Hopefully this is required reading in our military academies. I recommend utilizing the various free online resources to understand the geography and historical context. If you are a guy who wants to read a classic book that isn't hard, pick this one up.

Having vacationed in Amasra in 2012, I have a scene in my mind now of Greek triremes moving past, and an army moving along the cliffs. 
 
One note: There are at least three mentions of pederasty common in Greek culture in this book-- the army men often quarrel for handsome young boys. I was familiar with this disturbing aspect of Greek culture from reading other books on ancient Greece, but it always strikes one as odd in reading it matter-of-factly as in this work. While some argue it's not the same as paedophilia, it's hard not to read it that way.


Five stars.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review (#31 of 2014) The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage)
Better late than never, but obviously should have read this book when published. If you want to know what a candidate is going to do, read his book. But I'm not sure how true that is for this one. You definitely know he's going to push through health care reform with a push toward universal coverage, but that's the only obvious policy in this book.

I should say that reading this book would have lowered my esteem of Candidate Obama. It was evident to me from interviews he gave through the campaign that he was very knowledgeable about health care, philosophy, and even some economics relative to other politicians. I liked his intelligence and pragmatic introspection very much. It does not show up in this book. The book shifts between Obama's sociological musings, autobiographical reflection, and some stories from his political life. These are roughly divided into categories: "Faith, Race, Our Constitution," etc. but there is a lot of spillover.


Obama begins by bemoaning the state of politics, and says he aimed his Senate campaign at people who didn't fit neatly into stereotypes:

"I imagine the white Southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn’t see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won’t give him a loan to expand his business. There’s the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager’s abortion, and the millions of waitresses and temp secretaries and nurse’s assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they’ll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.
I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point."


But he seems to put too much faith in the rationality of the voters, while at the same time admitting that people mostly vote for their "Red Team" or "Blue Team" regardless of the merits or policies. Then he himself repeats the broken record of the Democratic stereotypes, blasting certain Republican policies without examining either the merits or economic analysis behind them. He resorts to the same old "they're sticking it to labor" or "giving tax breaks to millionaires," etc. Even writing in late 2007, he brings out the canard of "Bush squandered the surplus"-- the surplus mythology has been debunked by Democratic economists. He has some straw men of the religious right that he tears down--namely that most white religious conservatives want to establish a theocracy. That is disappointing.

Where Obama differs from "stereotypical" Democrat in this book is his praising Reagan for having a point-- that government programs had overreached and needed to be scaled back or reexamined. For praising Clinton and Republican's welfare reform in the 1990s and even mentioning the "failures" of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. He advocates EITC expansion and doesn't mention minimum wage as that important.

He agrees with social conservatives about "values" and "faith" being important in helping prevent teen pregnancy and promoting marriage. For hailing all the progress that has been made in reducing racial inequality.

He states his belief in competition, free markets, and entrepreneurship. But later in the book he criticizes gains from trade. He espouses himself as a Hamiltonian, or a late 1800s Republican (a la Lincoln)-- a strong national government is needed to protect and grow industry (tariffs, subsidies where needed) and Progressive labor policies are needed to strengthen unions and raise wages and working conditions at the bottom. I would say Obama has lived up to this in office, he has often trumpeted his "pro-business" policies, which I would argue favor the large monopolies much more than a wide base-- they're not pro-market policies.

More frustrating is the naivete found in paragraphs like the one below. "We should be guided by what works" as if there is broad agreement on what "works"(!):

"America can’t compete with China and India simply by cutting costs and shrinking government—unless we’re willing to tolerate a drastic decline in American living standards, with smog-choked cities and beggars lining the streets. Nor can America compete simply by erecting trade barriers and raising the minimum wage—unless we’re willing to confiscate all the world’s computers.
But our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive, government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism. It tells us that we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. Like those who came before us, we should be asking ourselves what mix of policies will lead to a dynamic free market and widespread economic security, entrepreneurial innovation and upward mobility. And we can be guided throughout by Lincoln’s simple maxim: that we will do collectively, through our government, only those things that we cannot do as well or at all individually and privately.
In other words, we should be guided by what works."
That paragraph is about the emptiest political rhetoric I've read.

Most disappointing to me are his comments about inner city poverty and unemployment. Instead of looking at the benefits of gentrification, he advocates more government spending on vague housing renovation and laying fiber optic cable--only for the hope of it increasing the chance that the unemployed men in these areas can do those jobs as unskilled labor. 

Obama gives some very broad overviews of his political campaigns. When Obama gets to the U.S. Senate he meets with Robert Byrd, who lectures him on the importance of studying the history and rules of the Senate. Byrd claims to be "saving the Republic." This inspires Obama to get back to the Constitution and other founding documents (the man is well-read, there is no doubting this). But Obama neglects to mention all the pork that Byrd brought to West Virginia at the expense of the rest of Americans. That is out of character with the criticisms of others, particularly Republicans, he mentions in the book. 

Obama takes the time to articulate his own Christian faith experience and why he resonates with the historically Black church. Black churches tend to be more of the center of their community, and minister to the "whole man." They also tend to be more open-minded and allow for "doubts" and rational thinking. I predict the time will come when conservative Christians in America will remember Obama's faith and family values more fondly than they esteem them currently.

Barack Obama closes his book with some stories of his development as a husband and a father. When he started in public office, Michelle was both the career woman and homemaker, which stressed her out and caused friction in their marriage that it took Obama years to appreciate. He reflects on his desire to be a better father than the male figures he had in his life, and explains their shortcomings.  He remains aware of how many more resources his family has to deal with career and family issues than many families. Obama's family life has always been a positive for him in my eyes. His diverse upbringing is important to me as well.


There is no foreign policy in this book.

Overall, I give it 2 stars out of 5. I hope for many thoughtful memoirs from President Obama after the White House. I sincerely hope this book will not be considered one of his best works.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review (#30 of 2014) No Higher Honor by Condoleeza Rice

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington
I read this memoir with a bias-- I think Condoleeza Rice is awesome and fantastic. I've written about this before. I listened to this book as Sec. Rice read in her own voice-- the only way to read a memoir. You can hear she's still frustrated with Putin, still angry with Ehud Olmert, and relieved to have done her duty.

There is little biographical background in this book, nor is there a lot of reflection on the fact that Rice is the highest ranking African-American woman in American political and diplomatic history. In many ways, her accomplishments are more remarkable than having an African-American male President. She only mentions its significance when having to defend President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina and her participation in some of the strategic discussions around it.

Condi openly discusses dysfunction in the White House while she was the NSC Chair, where Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and herself all respected one another as people and were quite cordial, but didn't work effectively as a group. She is sharply critical of the hawkish V.P.'s office running its own fiefdom, of Rumsfeld's questioning her authority to do things NSC had always done, and Colin Powell's unwillingness to assert himself with the President and correct misunderstandings. She gives examples of how she had even had to tell the President not to undermine her. Strong woman.

There is the re-hashing of what we knew and didn't know about Al Qaeda prior to 9/11. The rehashing that it was a systemic failure stemming from both legal issues and bureaucracy. Resentment that Richard Clarke obtained celebrity status by arguing that the Bush Administration had taken its eye off the ball, when the record doesn't show what he says it shows.

She examines the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's WMD, and shows that international opinion and intelligence-- even from China and Russia-- were that Iraq would soon have a nuclear weapon. But she's critical of the Vice President's office for running with unfiltered reports from Europe, which we now know to be false, that Iraqi agents were meeting with agents of other states and acquiring WMD technology and material. VP's office comes across in this book as hawkish and as bullying as the stereotype. One disturbing story is that after the topple of Saddam, Cheney invited Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and the President to a private party "celebrating the liberation of Iraq." Rice and Colin Powell were not invited-- it was both a snub to them and to the State Department, who were often insulted by Defense.

But the frustrating thing about reading these books by the Bush Administration is just the constant criticisms they are meant to address. Bush was much more forthright in his memoir about calling out specific Senators or columnists, their ignorance of the facts or their unfair criticisms. Dr. Rice, like Bush, relitigates the case for taking action against Saddam -- the 12+ previous U.N. resolutions that hadn't been complied with, the corruption of the international community in the oil-for-food scandal, the number of countries who believed Saddam was re-arming, the obstruction of weapons inspectors, Saddam's attempt to assassinate former President H.W. Bush, etc.

She contends that thousands of pages of research were dedicated to post-war Iraq-- how to deal with Baathists, the army, up to 2 million refugees, etc. She rejects criticism that there was no post-war strategy, only that turning over the post-war planning to the Defense Department was a big mistake. I think Condi is conspicuously silent about the transition of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, that may be the biggest lack of introspection in the book. 

Like President Bush's memoir, the attempts at a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is detailed; Condi contends Bush doesn't get near enough credit. I agree, not much is remembered of how close they came to a real agreement as Arafat was replaced by Abbas as Palestine's legitimate leader.

I found Condi's time as Secretary of State most interesting, how and why she reorganized the State Department as she did. One strength is that she enjoys budget proceedings and getting into the nitty-gritty of operations if she needs to. She also knows how to make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities and message. During the Iraq surge, Condi grew frustrated with the lack of resources being devoted to the State Dept. at the same time the Defense Department was complaining that State wasn't doing enough. She considered requiring foreign service officers to serve in Iraq, and later held all appointments until the Iraq appointments were completely filled in order to get the best into Iraq.

Some raw emotion comes out in the book when in 2006-2007 she was trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon. She is angry at Israeli actions which undermine her negotiations at the U.N. Security Council and perhaps angrier at Dick Cheney's office for apparently communicating behind her back to Israel that they should continue their war. She also discovers that Josh Bolton, U.N. Ambassador, has been passing along intelligence and communications to the Israelis without her knowledge. She swiftly and wisely pushes President Bush into an anti-hawk position to negotiate a peace.

In 2006, she almost resigned due to stress and a near panic attack on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Only a brief vacation saved her from that decision and gave her enough resolve to carry forward. At other points toward the end of her term as Secretary of State, such as to Greek opposition to allowing Macedonia to be admitted to the U.N. under the name "Macedonia," Condi loses her temper and snaps at someone. 

Relevant to current events: Russia's losing Ukraine in 1991 "was like the U.S. losing Texas, or one of the original 13 colonies." The Orange Revolution was a further blow. The Ukranians don't reciprocate in their love of Russia. Condi recalls conversations with Putin about democracy-- his view is, of course, quite different than most Americans. Revolutions and dramatic changes are dangerous and must be controlled. Putin's world views and helpfulness seem to have devolved from earlier meetings, as he becomes increasingly frustrating to deal with. (But she later became "furious" with Saakashvili after he overreached in an angry tirade in a joint press conference.)

In one of Putin's last appearances with the Secretary before ending his term as President (and becoming Prime Minister), he threatened Ukraine, reminding them that the eastern half was ethnically Russian. Rice reminds readers that Russia never recognized independent Kosovo, opposed its creation, and would have vetoed any U.N. resolution. The U.S. had to stand firm against Russia to get as many allies as possible to recognize Kosovo and normalize relations. During the Georgian conflict over South Ossetia, when Sergei Lavrov told Condi "just between us" that Saakashvili had to go as a condition of Russian withdrawal, she got on the phone and told everyone-- angering Lavrov. She told him that there is no such a "just between us" when a country demands the ouster of a democratically-elected leader.

Thoughts on Turkey: Abdullah Gül was Foreign Minister and Condi liked him, found him easier to talk to than PM Erdoğan. My own take: It seems the U.S. would likely favor Gül becoming Prime Minister as Gül speaks fluent English and seems more moderate and less political than Erdoğan.
Condi sees Turkey and the AKP as the great experiment of moderate Islamic Democracy.

Iran: Russia became more helpful with Iran after 2007. An attack on Iran was never on President Bush's table, no matter who advocated it. It was a non-starter. Rice's focus was on trying to unite our allies again.

There are plenty of other stories about Africa (for which Bush also doesn't get enough credit), North Korea (Bush was ready to officially end the Korean war and normalize relations in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear program), Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Latin America. Latin American free trade was pretty much dead politically, as was immigration reform which Rice advocates strongly. Latin America gets short shrift in U.S. diplomacy since so much is focused on Asia and the Middle East.

By the time the financial crisis hits, the Administration is essentially lame duck. While there was much to attract her attention, she was mainly on the sidelines for those last few months. 

I greatly enjoyed this book. There are doubtless criticisms of what Rice doesn't say in her book. But she comes across as a very knowledgeable academic, a good manager, and an effective communicator. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review (#29 of 2014) Bring It! by Tony Horton

Tony Horton is one of my fitness heroes/mentors. I've done P90X a couple times, have done all the P90X3 workouts, and work both of those-- along with workouts he posts on his YouTube channel-- into my daily workout routines. I absorb his interviews, and have watched him change from a hard-core vegetarian (15 years) to a more open-minded fitness advocate. 

Bring It!: The Revolutionary Fitness Plan for All Levels That Burns Fat, Builds Muscle, and Shred Inches is pretty short and simple. It contains some basic motivational material for fitness, three different fitness programs for differing levels of fitness (very similar mindset to P90X3, including pictures and instructions), a cleanse plus diet plan, and recipes. If you are just looking for a place to start, this would be a good book to check out. If you are looking for some new fitness routines you can do at home with minimal equipment, like dumbbells, then thumb to the exercises. If you have P90X or P90X3, just about everything in this book is unnecessary.

Tony does not "have the time" to count calories, although he acknowledges the importance of regulating calories in versus calories out. Like many fitness men, he is in a routine in regards to what he eats and works out every day--including a ridiculous Sunday workout routine-- with an intensity such that he rarely has to worry about too many calories. Tony has written a section on supplements, there are several that he takes including multivitamins. Nothing super commercial, but you know that these days he really pushes Shakeology.

Where Tony Horton differs from other fitness advocates is his emphasis on flexibility-- the importance of incorporating yoga and pilates into your routines. If you've seen Tony, you know he is ridiculously flexible, and he credits yoga as well as great stretching before and after working out. He also recommends a yoga lifestyle for peace of mind.

I wouldn't pay money for this book, but I would check it out from the library. I was hoping for more biographical information on Tony, there is very little in the book. But the book is simple, the lifestyle is simple, and if you want to get fit you won't do wrong by following it. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review (#28 of 2014) Business for the Glory of God by Wayne Grudem

Business for the Glory of God: The Bible's Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business This is one of a series of books I am reading related to the theology of work. However, Grudem's work would tend to fall more into economics than it would work/labor or even business. This book is more an extended essay, but Grudem calls it a book and sells it as such, so it's a book. I teach economics to undergraduates and non-traditional college students on Christian campuses and would gladly use this book in my classes as a devotional or weekly discussion material. I'm sad to think back to the number of times I've taught about the importance of money as eliminating the double coincidence of wants without reasoning that that is a gift of God.

Grudem argues that the basic components of market economics-- private property, entrepreneurship, trade, competition, employment, profit, money, inequality, lending, even a fractional reserve banking system are not "neutral" as we often assume, but rather inherently God-instituted and God-glorifying (while also containing the potential for misuse and sin). We should therefore "be thankful" for them.

"When people ask how their lives can 'glorify God,' they aren't usually told, 'Go into business.' When students ask, 'How can I serve God with my life?' they don't often hear the answer, 'God into business...But that is exactly what this book is going to claim.'"

On private property: 
"(W)hen we care for our possessions, it gives us opportunity to imitate many other attributes of God."  It is a way in which we are given by God to exercise dominion to help "subdue" (Gen. 1:28) the earth. Ownership allows us to save resources for others (1 Tim 5:8).

The temptation for misuse: Hoarding, polluting and destroying the earth, pride.

Productivity:
Our production from the earth is also part of the process of cultivating the earth, subduing it, and multiplying what comes from it (Gen 1:28). "God did not have to create us with a need for material things or a need for the services of other people (think of the angels, who apparently do not have such needs), but in his wisdom he chose to do so. It may be that God created us with such needs because he knew that in the process of productive work we would have many opportunities to glorify him." 

We glorify God by using our talents and creativity to solve problems, invent, and create-- just as He invents, and creates. That gives us an opportunity to shine (Matt. 5:16). By creating a product that others have need of, we serve them.

"Work in itself is also something that is fundamentally good and God-given, for it was something that God commanded Adam and Eve to do before there was sin in the world." 

Temptation for misuse: Focus on material things for their own sake, pride, selfishness, greed, "to produce goods that bring monetary reward but that are harmful and destructive and evil (such as pornography and addictive drugs)."

Employment:
Gains from trade apply from employment-- you provide something I need, I provide something you need; hence, we become interdependent and are able to obtain more than we could in the absence of trade-- both parties benefit. We are also able to gain from efficiencies through specialization of labor, producing more than what could be done as independent entities.

Temptation for misuse: Owner reaping 99% of the benefit to the 1% of the worker. Owner's pride, withholding wages, being unfair (James 5:4). Employee temptation to sin through carelessness (Prov. 18:9), laziness, jealousy, bitterness, rebelliousness, dishonesty, and theft (Titus 2:9-10).

Commercial transactions (trade):
"Several passages of Scripture assume that buying and selling are morally right." (Lev. 25:14 among others).  We "manifest interdependence and thus reflect the interdependence and interpersonal love among the members of the Trinity."

"Commercial transactions are in themselves good because through them we do good to other people...because of the amazing truth that, in most cases, voluntary commercial transactions benefit both parties...we can honestly see buying and selling as one means of loving our neighbor as ourself...every business transaction is an opportunity for us to be fair and truthful and thus to obey Jesus' teaching."  (Matt. 7:12). 

Temptation for misuse: Being dishonest in business dealings. Breaking contracts. One party gaining 99% of the benefit to the 1% of the other. Selfishness.

Profit: 
"Profit is an indication that I am making good and efficient use of the earth's resources, thus obeying God's original 'creation mandate' to 'subdue' the earth" (Gen. 1:28).

In Jesus' parables, servants who made profit were praised while those who chose not to work towards profit to honor their master were rebuked. The Proverbs 31 woman is praised for profitable merchandise (Prov 31:18).

Temptations for misuse: Rent-seeking behavior to protect a monopoly, and exploitation of market power.

Money: 
"Money enables all of mankind to be productive and enjoy the fruits of that productivity thousands of times more extensively than we could if no human being had money, or we just had to barter with each other."

"If money were evil in itself, then God would not have any. But he says, 'The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts'" (Hag. 2:8).

Temptations for misuse: Accumulating and hoarding too much, serving money as an idol.

Inequality of possessions: 
The Bible teaches us that there are varying degrees of reward in heaven, and that some people--even angels--are given authority while others are not. God has endowed people differently in terms of backgrounds, talents, access to resources, etc. and these "will be part of our life in heaven forever." Therefore "the idea of inequality of stewardship in itself is given by God and must be good."

"In the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), agricultural land returned to its previous owner and debts were canceled, but there was no equalizing of money or jewels or cattle or sheep." Grudem also rejects any suggestions that the New Testament espouses or exemplifies equality of possessions. While in Acts people gave voluntarily and held things in common, they still owned homes and other property (several passages cited).

It's worth noting that Greek and Pauline scholar Rodney Reeves argues that the great famine and poverty that befell the Jerusalem church was a consequence of their attempt to sell their properties and share it amongst themselves. Ie: there was less productivity and saving that would have occurred otherwise, leading to the church's poverty.

Nonetheless, we should work to combat poverty. The definition of "poverty" varies among societies, for some it's a standard of living, others it's a gini coefficient-- inequality.

Temptation for misuse: Living extravagantly. What about redistribution?

"There is no corresponding command in the New Testament to take some wealth away from the very rich, and there is no teaching that a large amount of wealth is wrong in itself. But there are strong warnings against spending too much on ones self and living in self-indulgent luxury" (James 5).

Competition: 
"Competition seems to be the system God intended when he gave people greater talents in one area and gave other people greater talents in another area, and when he established a world where justice and fairness would require giving greater reward for better work."

Competition results from incentives. Competition makes us better, causes us to strive to produce more from what we're given (part of the process of subduing the earth), and to be the best we can be. "God has created us with a desire to do well, and to improve what we are able to do." By us doing better, we help our neighbors.

Temptations for misuse: Envy, jealousy, cutting corners to get ahead.

Borrowing and Lending: 

"When you make your neighbor a loan..." (Deut. 24:10) presupposes that Israelites would make loans to one another. Psalms 112 and 37 seem to commend lending. Romans 13:8 ("owe no one anything") more accurately means to pay what is owed, when it is owed. Don't be overdue on your debts, pay on time.

Lending is the temporary transfer of the control of property, but not the ownership. "The great value of borrowing and lending is that they multiply the usefulness of all the wealth of society." Think of a library book, the process of borrowing and lending multiplies the use of it and benefits more people than if it were not loaned. Grudem anticipates borrowing and lending in heaven to the glory of God.

The fractional reserve banking system is seen by Grudem to be a God-given invention that allows us to multiply the amount of money that's available for all to use and borrow. I know some Christians who firmly believe Austrian economics is Christian economics-- and therefore denounce the fractional reserve system as creating the illusion of creating wealth. When a bank loans money that it doesn't actually have, it's seen as dishonest by the Austrian Christians. Grudem seems unaware of this criticism or dismissive.  Operating on a cash basis would lower our standard of living.

Temptations for misuse: Moral hazard, to borrow and not repay. To not lend due to adverse selection issue.

Grudem's last couple chapters deal with attitudes of the heart and world poverty. The best solution to poverty is enterprise-- which requires property rights and incentives. Businesspeople should not feel guilty about business, since it's God-glorifying, and we should therefore see more businesses opened, preferably in locations of poverty where those are needed.

Criticisms of this book I anticipate relate to the environment and how educated people can be about where their resources are going in our current market system. For example, while creating an iPhone may be God-glorifying, the elements that make up the microprocessor come from places like Congo where brutal wars are fought over the resources. Likewise with some of the food we eat-- the disconnect between what's on our plate and where it came from and how it was created, whether that's on-net positive or negative, should give us pause. 

I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. It's short, and very useful. It would fit more into economics and does little to nothing to advance a theology of work.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Book Review (#27 of 2014) Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is an autobiography of C.S. Lewis' childhood to sometime in university.

The first several chapters of his schoolboy days are quite boring. It's almost as though he feels compelled to record the story for posterity but does not do so with much passion-- I don't think he looks back on his childhood with much enjoyment. His mother dies of cancer when he is young, and his father never fully recovers. His best friend was his slightly older brother. You don't get much of a sense of whether Lewis was affable or awkward; it appears he loved little more than reading.

Lewis was Irish and he and his brother initially attended a boarding school in England. I have never read any positive accounts of English schools, and this is no exception. All it seems to do is alienate kids from their families, who they see infrequently. The headmaster was likely insane. Later, Lewis attends a public high school and hates it and recounts the social drama. He criticizes current members of Parliament for insisting the English educational tradition continue. Lewis contends all it does is make people "priggish"-- snobbish and bitter. He is thankful that he didn't become as snobbish as others from the experiences.

Lewis learned Latin at an early age and began reading the classics. He also has an affinity for fantasy type books and enjoys mythology--something he has mixed feelings about. In his adolescence he makes friends with a neighbor boy who shares Lewis love for Norse mythology and other fiction--his first real friendship. Lewis eventually convinces his father to send him to live with a tutor to prepare reading for university exams. He later learns Greek and enjoys reading things like Herodotus' Histories in the original. He learns French and Italian to read classics in those languages, and enough German to get by (I'm rather envious at this point). England enters WWI, and Lewis' brother enters the service while Lewis prepares for university; he later decides to enlist and enter university afterwards. After a relatively mild Army service, Lewis is accepted to Oxford. He recounts his closest friendships, including with J.R. Tolkein, and his first real encounters with English literature, learning to appreciate Bronte and others.

From an early age, Lewis had decided on atheism. He almost feels guilty with his affinity for books involving mythology, pantheism, and the occult. He develops the typical intellectual elitism of university atheists, wondering how anyone could believe otherwise. But he's troubled by reading other intellectuals who don't hold to atheism, including French philosophers who espouse pantheism. Aren't these all unsatisfying? During his university days he reads G.K. Chesterton and enjoys him, despite his Christianity. Real blows to Lewis steadfast atheism occur when his closest friends become interested in Christianity and begin reading the Bible. He begins to appreciate the consistency of other Christians he meet who actually live out what they believe. He says one of the biggest blows came when an adamant atheist he knew commented on the evidence for historical veracity of the Gospels-- "one can almost believe those things happened." The man never became a Christian, but just the fact that the evidences of real events being behind the writings of Scripture being stronger than other classics that Lewis had read made a real impact. Lewis' lifetime of reading Latin and Greek mythology allowed him to see that the Gospels were not written as myths-- they did not have the same qualities. Lewis contends that the only two valid worldviews could be Christianity or Hinduism, but notes that Hindu mythology lack the historical evidences and basis that Christianity has; hence, he rejects Hinduism. Lewis also had a nagging sense of lack of joy-- something he was unsure whether he wanted. But it seemed Christianity would be the solution-- it would give him a worldview with a finality of how it all comes together. It would free him to love.

So, on the final pages Lewis decides to become a Christian. No Emmaeus road experiences, just a decision to become a Christian while going to the zoo. Thus the book concludes abruptly.

I give it 2.5 stars out of 5. If you're a huge C.S. Lewis fan, then you can read this book to understand the man better. If you're just interested in the final events leading Lewis from atheism to Christianity, as many were at the time of his writing, then read the last few chapters.




Friday, March 07, 2014

Book Review (#26 of 2014) The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli

I should have read this book (free for Kindle) years ago. Machiavelli's works on ancient history came up frequently in a different book I read recently, and he has been cited in several other books on my lists. Alas, I've now read this work. I find some of the oft-cited passages I hear are somewhat taken out of context.

The version I read had a brief biographical sketch of Machiavelli, which was helpful. Machiavelli is foremost a historian, so he cites examples of rulers and conflicts both from Florentine and Italian history, the current Ottoman state, Greco-Roman history, and the Bible. 

He starts by looking at the failures of statecraft-- how a monarch can lose a state which he has conquered or inherited. Louis XII was one such object of failure in his aims on Italian provinces. He talks of how one holds a free Republic, you either have to destroy it or make it a tributary while encouraging development of an oligarchy there to maintain defacto control. This seems like it's played out accurately in world history.

Machiavelli's "it's better to be feared than loved" is in the context of a Prince who takes a territory who was originally not his own. There will likely be unrest, so the advice is to do some large act of cruel suppression up front to quell dissent and then do small acts of benevolence over time to keep the populace pacified. If a ruler drags out the cruelty, he will breed hatred which is the ultimate failure of a monarch. The ruler must appear to be capable of both cruelty and mercy, so that he appeals more broadly, and where possible he should have an underling be the "bad cop" enforcer. It'd be best to be both feared and loved, but you will always have to give one of those up and it's best to give up love. The great projects of history, according to Machiavelli, were done by rulers who were remembered to be mean and not kind.

It's always a bad idea to rely on foreign mercenaries for your army. Machiavelli marks the decline of Rome with the hiring of Goths to do soldiering at the cost of the Roman army. France was making the same mistake in relying on Swiss mercenaries at the time of his writing. Building fortresses are of no defense when the people hate you. 

A ruler has to be "liberal" in his spending. Games and welfare for the people, benefits for the standing army. This is obviously hard to do unless you're conquering and expropriating-- otherwise you bankrupt your treasury. The Prince gains glory and reputation by accomplishing big tasks-- namely conquering territories and enriching the kingdom.

The Prince should also seem to be a man of integrity. The great rulers abandon virtue when they have to-- sometimes they have to break their word in order to protect their position or the state. This is acceptable so long as not done in such a away that the people despise him. The prince should be virtuous but also know how and when to get his hands dirty.

A Prince should have a few advisors that he listens to and that he rewards for speaking honestly and openly; he should ignore all other opinion. The Prince should always make sure his advisors and viceroys know that their positions-- their wealth, authority, and very lives-- are at the whim of the Prince so that they don't go seeking their own gain or become corrupt.

A Prince is someone who believes he has the power to shape world events, that everything isn't left to "fortune" or random chance forces of history. He yields that authority and has other men follow him.

I enjoyed this book, it's obviously a 5 star classic.





Book Review (#25 of 2014) The Way I See It by Temple Grandin

The Way I See It, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's. I recommend reading either Grandin's autobiography or other biographies (my review) before starting this one, just so you can see what Grandin has overcome and what she has experienced. It will also give you details on the personal anecdotes she briefly shares on these pages. Those experiences color her observations and advice.

I say this book is a must-read for anyone with a child on the autism spectrum. It is almost a how-to guide or an explanation from an insider into "why" a child may do certain things. I found it a more succinct and helpful primer than two other books I've read with actual methods of prescribed therapy by practitioners. Good ideas and observations. Perhaps the book's greatest value is that Grandin has spoken to a lot of other people on the autism spectrum, learned some of how they think and behave, and is able to translate that for us due to her own perspective. She's also done a lot of reading, which helps point the reader to many recent sources of research.

I give it 4 stars out of 5.


Thursday, March 06, 2014

Book Review (#24 of 2014) Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

In my Southern Baptist circles, I often hear too often "Not enough men go into ministry," or "preaching is the highest form of worship," or "I could do so much more for the Lord as a full-time minister." I believe this often creates guilt among laypeople and sets up a class divide-- either you're "really spiritual" or you're part of "the world." Keller argues that these types of statements lack a proper understanding of a theology of work. This book is a wonderful primer into theology of work, including praxeology. Keller cites from many sources, the bibliography is rich and helpful.

Redeemer Presbyterian has a Center for Faith and Work that seeks to equip individuals in all work spheres with tools to develop a biblical worldview, inspire creative and Gospel-soaked behavior, and help entrepreneurs both start new ventures and revitalize current ones with a view to the Gospel.

Keller's thinking is along the same lines as A.W. Tozer and others before him who saw everything we do as Christians being a reflection of God's work in us, and a way to worship and glorify Him.

"If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever."

Keller notes that the attitude of an actively working God, and a God who created a world that needs work (Genesis 1) which He has appointed us to do for His glory, sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies. Unfortunately, the Greek concept of work as a necessary evil to be avoided is what has permeated Church culture, particularly Catholic doctrines, until relatively recently.

"In the beginning, then, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration."

Keller tears down the false dichotomy of "secular" and "sacred:"
"No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth... “Secular” work has no less dignity and nobility than the “sacred” work of ministry...No everyday work lacks the dignity of being patterned after God’s own work" (emphasis mine).

Keller does not cite A.W. Tozer, but I find my favorite Tozer quote from The Pursuit of God applicable here:
"Paul's sewing of tents was not equal to his writing an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul...
"The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry."

One beautiful allegory Keller often refers to is Tolkein's short story Leaf by Niggle. We should view whatever work we do here as having echoes in eternity.When Paul exhorts his followers that they should remain in the work God "has assigned to him, and to which God has called him,"

"Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks—'secular jobs,' we might say—and naming them God’s callings and assignments."


Keller looks at how man is called to "subdue" the earth in Genesis, and how the Hebrew used to describe God's work in creation is the same as that used repeatedly for ordinary human work. God's call to "subdue" doesn't give a license for exploitation, but rather cultivation and invention-- to call forth things from the earth and bring order to chaos as God did with the universe. That is what we do as entrepreneurs and technicians.

"Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it—no matter what kind of work it is."

It's helpful to draw on earlier church sources for help in developing a theology of work, but Keller doesn't spend much time looking at various debates. He notes that Catholicism over the centuries has evolved from having the Greek view of work to now being more in line evangelicism in work being a way we can be the "fingers of God," as Luther put it.

"It means that all jobs—not merely so-called helping professions—are fundamentally ways of loving your neighbor. Christians do not have to do direct ministry or nonprofit charitable work in order to love others through their jobs."

Keller and others argue that the Christian worldview is distinct among other belief systems in its approach to work. I found the chapters on "common grace" quite helpful-- we are all made in God's image and therefore many non-Christians will have amazing talents, creativity, senses of justice, and be among the best in their field. We should learn from them, but understand that what those people are missing is an avenue for greater glorifying their Creator. Similarly, because of sin all work Christians do-- whether ministry in the church or at the workplace-- will be tainted with sin. That's where redemptive grace comes in, we recognize that all work needs to be redeemed through Jesus.

Work, status, money, etc. can all become idols. But so can family, ministry, knowledge, etc. This definition of "idol" really rocked me:

"Now, if anything is our 'salvation' we must have it, and so we treat it as nonnegotiable. If
circumstances threaten to take it away, we are paralyzed with uncontrollable fear; if something or someone has taken it away, we burn with anger and struggle with a sense of despair."

Anything that is a "non-negotiable" to me-- that isn't Jesus-- is an idol. That's powerful. The Gospel frees us to work without fear of status or failure. Keller notes that too often our society, and our churches, look down on people who are "underemployed," not understanding that all work is worship and valuable and by fulfilling God's calling on our lives. Maybe I'm better equipped and called to be a $30,000/year teacher even though I could easily be a $250,000/year investment banker. And one job is not morally superior to another.


How this plays out in reality is the focus of much of this book, and Keller offers up many stories from Redeemer congregants. He rightly combats the "dualism" often much too present among Christian thought:

"Dualism leads some to think that if their work is to please Christ, it must be done overtly in his name. Or they must let everyone know that they lead Bible studies in the office in the morning before work hours...The integration of faith and work is the opposite of dualism."

If you're a carpenter, the best way you can serve God and love others is to make great tables...!  There's an opposite dualism that's also problematic: "Christians think of themselves as Christians only within church activity." Christians need help in understanding that worship is a 24/7 thing.

"To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life—and for the whole of the organization under your influence"


That's where the Center for Work comes into play, there are small groups of professionals bouncing ideas and ethical dilemmas off one another for wisdom and accountability-- that's how church should be done!

I found this work encouraging and would recommend it to all business students and faculty, as well as pastors and factory workers-- ie: everyone. Five stars





Saturday, March 01, 2014

Book Review (#23 of 2014) Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup

I enjoy reading books, especially autobiographies, from the 1800s--this one published in 1853 and was a bestseller at the time. The movie made from this book is nominated for several Oscars. It bothers me that we're so ignorant of our history that we have to "rediscover" books from just 150 years ago. This book is available for free since it's way past copyright, but you can buy an updated annotated version by some professors who researched the history. The version I listened to was read by Louis Gossett, Jr. which made it great. Solomon Northrup's story was supposedly used as the historical basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

*spoilers below*

Northrup was born a free black man and lived in New York where he owned property and made a good living for himself and his family. One day, some travelers offer to pay him for his services in playing the violin and convince him to travel to New York City, where he obtains legal proof of his freedom, and onward to Washington, D.C. where Northrup is kidnapped and cruelly sold into slavery, within sight of the Capitol; the irony of this is lost on no one.

He is transported to New Orleans and recounts the sad tales of other slaves along his journey. For example, one woman was the slave mistress of a master who seemingly had loved her and promised to free her. When she thought that day had arrived, she was instead delivered to an auction with her children, and she is to be resold in New Orleans. She is desperate to keep her children with her and her new purchaser offers to buy her daughter, but her owner will not sell her because she is beautiful and will fetch a large sum from men for her use when she's older.

Northrup is able to sneak a letter off of his slave transport, which reaches his family in New York (he later learned) but they are unable to do anything without more information on his whereabouts. This is the last letter he is able to send for the next 12 years as it was forbidden for slaves to get access to pen and paper, and illegal for a post office to mail a letter from a slave without his master's consent. It's a crime to kidnap and sell a free man, so his story could get many in trouble (and cause later masters to lose possession of him) for which he fears his own life. Northrup is given the name of Platt and lives by that name for 12 years, keeping his real story secret. This also hinders any chance of recovery by his family.

He is purchased by a "good, Christian man" and Northrup remarks at the way slavery is seen by Christians in the North as anathema but in the South they see no problem with it; his first master actually is kind to his slaves and reads Scripture to them on Sundays-- Northrup enjoys working for him and endeavors to please him. Reading and thinking recently about the theology of work, the way a man can take pride in his own work no matter the situation is very instructive for me. Northrup observes that the better slaves are treated, the harder and more earnestly they work; but always, they long for freedom. They know there are places where there is no slavery and it's a heavenly dream to them.

When the kind master falls on hard financial times, Northrup is mortgaged and then sold to a notoriously harsh carpenter who twice tries to kill him-- and Northrup responds by beating the man almost to death the first time, running away back to his original master the next. Northrup was able to escape only because he had learned to swim in the North, whereas it was forbidden for slaves to learn to swim in the South. He serves another master (Epps) for ten years, and Epps, like most masters, treat their slaves cruelly.

He encounters everything from Indians to Cajuns to runaway slaves in Louisiana and engages in various occupations on a few plantations, being repeatedly resold or leased out. He develops a reputation everywhere he goes of being remarkable-- both for his beating of previous taskmaster, and to his intelligent work. He recounts the daily fears of working the plantation during cotton season; whippings in the fields for small mistakes, whippings at the gin for bringing in too much or too little cotton, the fear of being late, or of going hungry. He details the processes of cotton, corn, and sugar harvesting and processing. He recounts the fate of slave escapes and rebellions-- always ending badly. If you've seen Roots or really any PBS documentary discussing slave life, nothing in this book will shock you. There are a couple of grotesque scenes that vividly portray the depravity of men given license to do as they wish with other men-- one act which Northrup rightly describes as "demonic." What you glean from it is the perspective of a man who was always aware of what freedom was-- like a prisoner unjustly imprisoned with little hope of release.

Some new details that stood out to me about slave life are that slaves were usually given 3-6 days off at Christmas, but worked the other 360 days. At Christmas, plantation owners would host a large feast for the slaves, and the slaves would have a lively dancing party that was looked forward to the whole year. They were also traditionally given a pass to go where they pleased for those days, and most slaves took time to visit loved ones on other plantations. Any work done in the Christmas season (and on Sundays year round) had to be compensated by law-- and that's how slaves were able to afford food and other necessities not provided. Solomon goes 12 years without sleeping on a bed, just floors with a blanket used for horses. Most slaveowning households had a tense relationship between the wife and the slaveowner's slave mistress. This plays out on several occasions in the book.

In Why Nations Fail (my review), Acemoğlu and Robinson point out that the South lagged behind the North in terms of patents filed during the slave plantation period--there was little innovation. This is evident in that Solomon modifies tools and practices based on simple things he had seen in the North and these are huge innovations on the plantations that his masters praise him for. Unfortunately, it makes him too valuable to sell to the one abolitionist he encounters-- a man named Bass.

Bass is a Canadian journeyman carpenter who finds work on the plantations. At one point he lectures Northrup's master on the equality of the races and how ungodly slavery is. Overhearing this, Northrup confides in Bass and Bass devotes his life to helping emancipate him, primarily by mailing letters to Northrup's acquaintances in the North. The Governor of New York is enlisted (by law) to begin the process of retrieving Northrup, and eventually an emissary is sent to find Northrup. It was providential that the emissary is directed to Bass just before he sets out on a long journey, and they are then able to find Northrup's plantation. Northrup's master and other authorities fight the extradition, but Northrup is freed and quickly returns to Washington, D.C. where his kidnapper is prosecuted-- and the case is dismissed for lack of evidence and due to witnesses who contradict Northrup. Northrup hopes his book's publication is some vindication, I believe.

At last, Northrup returns home. Truly remarkable providence that he encountered Bass and that things worked themselves out as they did. Northrup ends the book by remarking that doubtless hundreds of other free men are enslaved in the South. One marvels that it would be another decade and hundreds of thousands of American lives lost before the institution would be ended.

This is a 5 star book