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Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

A weekend reading review…because Pastors also need a break from heavy theological reading.

Note: I actually finished this book a while back but didn’t want to post this while I was overseas teaching missions lest some government think I’m a CIA guy or something.  Well here’s the book review!

Robert L. Grenier. 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, January 27th 2015. 464 pp.

4 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This is the memoir of CIA officer Robert L. Grenier with a significant portion of the book devoted to his time as a station chief in Pakistan during the response of the United States to the September 11th attack.  I picked up this book to read because of its title that really grabbed my attention.

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A weekend nonfiction reading review…because even pastors need a break from heavy theological reading!

Paul French.  Midnight in Peking. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, April 24th 2012. 260 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This is a very fascinating book covering an extraordinary time in history in a fascinating place that involves the unusual phenomenon of “East meets West.”  It is 1937 in Beijing (what back then was written in English as “Peking”).  The Japanese imperial Army has invaded all over China and they are at the doorsteps of Beijing.  In the midst of all the whirlwinds of wars, famines, imperial armies, warlords and corruption there is a murder of a young lady name Pamela Werner that captured the headlines both in China and elsewhere.  What makes this murder stands out in the midst of many murders that takes place in the dark corridors of 1930s China is this is a foreigner who is a victim which automatically makes this an international incident.  She’s a young schoolgirl.  The public interests to this story is compounded with the reality that Werner was the daughter of a former British consulate official who himself is an interesting figure.  But most shocking of all is the matter in which her body was mangled.  Sometime real life mimics fictional works of mystery and in this story readers will find that the more one digs for the truth the more unusual the twists and turn and the colorful casts of suspects, detectives and other characters.

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No doubt some people will be traveling to visit family and relatives as Christmas gets closer and/or people take a vacation or are done with the semester in school.

Here’s some nonfiction audio books recommendations to help with your travel whether you are waiting in the airport, on the bus or driving cross country.

Secret Warriors: The Spies, Scientists and Code Breakers of World War I

Taylor Downing. Secret Warriors: The Spies, Scientists and Code Breakers of World War I.  Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio Inc, April 15, 2015. 13 hours, 8 minutes and 10 seconds.

4 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This work is about how the Great War/World War One was a different military conflict than the wars that came before it since it was a war in which the world entered a new age with modern warfare.  I think the author presented his case quite persuasively with his focus being primarily on the British then German and French developments in the Western front.  I enjoyed this work in audio book format and found that the work overall was informative and interesting.  It was also read in such a way that helped the listeners endure over thirteen hours of materials without any problem.

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A weekend non-theological book review.  Cause Pastors also need a break with other readings…

Robert M. Gates. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.  New York, NY: Knopf, January 14th 2014. 640 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

Let me begin by saying I rarely pick up memoirs and of those I have started very few I have ever finished.  A lot of them end up being somewhat anti-climatic and sometimes they can be too narcissistic for my taste.  Often in the back of my mind I wonder if there are things left out or opinions given that end up being more of a hindrance to knowing the truth.  So the fact that I finished this memoir and am writing a review of this book speaks volume of how much I enjoyed this work.

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A weekend non-fiction book review.

Luke Harding. A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West.  New York, NY: Vintage Books, January 24th 2017. 432 pp.

4 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

Sometimes facts of history can be more fascinating than any work of fiction.  This is an example of where current events mimics a spy suspense novel of the Cold War era except it is all too real including the fatal consequences.  The author Luke Harding is a British journalist who worked for The Guardian and have spent several years as a foreign correspondent in Russia.  He has written quite a bit about modern Russia including several books on the topic.  I first read his book on Wikileaks which was also intriguing.  This book’s subject matter is even more intriguing than the first.

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I didn’t get to post this earlier as this weekend non-fiction review since our church was going all out for VBS but here it is…

T.J. Stiles. Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America.  New York, NY: Knopf, October 27th 2015. 608 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This book is a biography on the legendary George Armstrong Custer.  The book also was the recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History.  For the general readers it might be good to know that the book is more on the personality of Custer than a book solely on military operational history of Custer’s campaign.  So it is quite readable and makes for a fascinating read.

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A weekend nonfiction book review! ‘Cause Pastors need a mental break too.

Val McDermid. Forensics.  New York, NY: Grove Press, July 7th 2015.  310 pp.

5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This is a fascinating book on criminal investigations by a British author of crime novels and thriller.  In this work of nonfiction she explores the various specialization and sciences behind criminal investigation.  In the beginning of the book she notes that there is a lot of misconception that the public has for those involved with criminal investigations in light of TV shows like CSI.  Intrigued with the topic she gives us a journalistic account of those involved with investigating crime and how the men and women go about with the art and science of finding and proving the suspects.

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As 2016 comes soon to a close here are reviews of 4 audio books that I listened to during the last three months of 2016.  If you are interested here is last year’s .

Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World
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Jay Sekulow. Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World.   Brentwood, Tennessee: Howard Books, September 20th 2016. 320 pp.

4 out of 5

This book is written by Jay Sekulow who is probably best known to most people as the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.  This is the second work by Sekulow that I enjoyed.  In this present title the author tackles the issue radical Islam and also the strange relationship between Iran, Russian and Sunni radical Islamic groups.  For the audio book Jay Sekulow read the book himself and the upbeat manner and pace of how he speaks on his radio show is also how Sekulow read the book which is a plus since I’ve always thought his voice makes whatever he was talking about as serious, urgent and interesting.

The book is comprised of eleven chapters in which the bulk of the book focuses on the history of Iran and explanation to Western readers about Islam.  I found the discussion about the Sunni and Shite divide to be have been pretty spot on.  I think the West often think of radical Islam as affiliated with extremists of the Sunni variety (think Al Qaeda and ISIS) but there’s a whole Shiite form that most in the West don’t think of in the form of Iranian backed Shiite terrorists groups (think Hezbollah, Shiites militia in Iraq backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, etc).  I did learn some new things reading this book concerning the history of Iran though and I was surprised to learn of how long it was that Iran was once Westernized.  Of course we know the Iranian revolution with their own Shiite brand of Radical Islam changed all from 1979 onwards.  Towards the end of the book the author cited various evidences of the strange relationship between Iran and other unlikely jihadists and terrorists groups.  Sekulow talked about instances in which Iran helped Al Qaeda and Iran’s support for Hamas even though Hamas is predominately Sunni.  The most interesting wild card is the Russian alliance with Iran in backing Assad’s regime in Syria.

Overall this is an interesting work.  I give it a four out of 5.

Purchase: Amazon

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Another weekend, another weekend leisure reading review.

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Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.  New York, NY: Sentinel, November 3rd 2015. 238 pp.

5 out of 5

I remember as a kid reading old books on Marine Corps history that talked about a conflict I rarely hear people talked about in which the Marines was at the tip of the spear waging a war against Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean and North Africa in the early part of the 1800s.  It sounded so exotic and I was fascinated with how the United States’ Navy and Marines as small as they were back then went about trying to execute their mission despite limited manpower and military capabilities.  It was during a time when the United States was still a new country and the leaders of the US was still trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.  So I am glad that over two decades later I came across this book on the United States response to the Tripoli pirates.

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Leo Barron. Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne.  New York, NY: NAL Caliber, October 28th 2014. 432 pp.

This is another work on the European Theatre of World War Two that I enjoyed in the fall of 2016. In this instance I listened to this book in audiobook format.  This book is more operational history and is what probably many who are interested in World War Two battles want to read and hear.  It tells us the story of General Patton’s attempt to break the German military stronghold surrounding the US Army 101st Airborne Division in a town called Bastogne from the perspective of one of Patton’s favorite outfit: The Fourth Armored Division.

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Tonight’s weekend reading review…as always, because Pastors also need a mental break.

the-price-of-valor-the-life-of-audie-murphy-americas-most-decorated-hero-of-world-war-ii

David Smith.  The Price of Valor. Washington DC: Regnery History, January 1st, 2015. 258 pp.

I enjoyed this biography on Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War Two.  It is about time I finally know more about him!  I was wondering whether to start with Audie’s autobiography or this biography told in a third person perspective but in the end I thought it was better to start with this work by David Smith.  I don’t regret it—that’s because I enjoyed it very much.

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Joby Warrick. Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Islamic State.  New York, NY: Doubleday, September 29th, 2015.  416 pp.

The author Joby Warrick is a journalist whose career includes covering the Middle East.  Previously I read the author’s first book titled The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA.  I enjoyed this present volume a lot more both in terms of the subject and writing style.  In Black Flags the author focuses on what was formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and how the organization later evolved into the Islamic State.  The book was filled with a lot of facts that I didn’t know before but learned from here.  The work was so fascinating that I had a hard time putting down the book.  Given how I am reading this book on the eve of the Iraqi and Kurdish army’s invasion into the last stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq in the city of Mosul, I found this very timely and eye opening.

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Scott Shane. Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone.  New York, New York: Tim Duggan Books, September 15th, 2015. 416 pp.

This book tells the story of radical Islamists imam Anwar al-Awlaki and the US government war against him in the backdrop of the larger issue of President Obama’s war on terror using drones for targeted killing of Al Qaeda members.  The author Scott Shane is a New York Times reporter who specializes in issues of national security.  Shane does a masterful job in his research for this book and his work really shows.  I don’t think there’s any other book length treatment that is as detailed concerning al-Awlaki like this book thus far.  Other than passing news headlines most American don’t really know about al-Awlaki and the shadowy war the US pursued against him.  The subject of this book is already interesting enough to be picked up and read.

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summer-road-trip

I love summer.  I think of vacations, road trips and travel.  And also the possibility of listening to some audio books!

Most of the titles in the following lists of audiobooks that I reviewed were what I listened to on my travels earlier this year to a particular country to teach theology.  The travel there was rather long (more than the hours of most people’s typical workweek!) and not necessarily all easy and I spent more time enroute there more than the actual time I spent on the ground in that country.  So I got to read a lot and also listened to a lot of of audiobooks as a break from my normal reading.  The following are my suggestions.  Not all the books are written by Christians and some are books that by God’s common grace can be insightful to human nature and history.

First recommendation of course is the Word of God itself!

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As usual each Friday I try to post a review of weekend readings that pastors and others can read that serves as break from their spiritual readings.  Tonight’s book was one that was a great exercise of other parts of my mind.

The Insurgents David Petraeus by Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, January 2nd, 2013. 432 pp.

What an amazing book.  I have so many good things to say.  But first a brief summary:  The author Fred Kaplan takes a look at the US Army’s wrestling with the idea and practice of counterinsurgency after the post-Vietnam era.  Kaplan makes the point that after the Vietnam War the leadership at the Pentagon never wanted to fight another counterinsurgency again.  Instead the military as a whole focused on the more traditional concept of warfare such as big tank battles, heavy artillery and mechanized heavy infantry.  A lot of this was due to the ongoing Cold War with the threat of Russia and the Eastern Bloc.  It was also what was most familiar to many of the Generals and Admirals.  But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the fourth largest tank army during Desert Storm soon reduced the likelihood of the traditional warfare that the US wanted.  Unfortunately after Vietnam the Army has stopped thinking, teaching and training for counter-insurgency.  It didn’t even have a manual for that kind of warfare among its publications!  This book focuses primarily on how this mentality hurt the US military and also on the men and women who tried to change the Army’s way of fighting war.  It concentrate largely on the war in Iraq though it does give a brief look at Afghanistan.  Having recently read a number of books on military history I must say this book was one of the best military history nonfiction I read in the first half of 2016.

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