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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

The Geography of Bliss

National Public Radio correspondent Weiner calls himself an unhappy man. Reading about his quest to discover what makes people and countries happy is like traveling the world with Woody Allen: insight accompanied by lots of carping and self-deprecating humor.

His search takes him from Amsterdam, home to the World Database of Happiness, to Bhutan, where the government keeps track of Gross National Happiness. He follows his hunches to Qatar and Switzerland. He falls into Buddhist thinking: "Once we see life as a game, no more consequential than a game of chess, then the world seems a lot lighter, a lot happier."

Economic Facts and Fallacies

Thomas Sowell's clear prose and plucked-from-the-headlines examples make this a useful guide to public policy. He begins by explaining four basic fallacies: Zero Sum (gain by some means a loss by others), Fallacy of Composition (what is true of a part is true of a whole), Chess Piece fallacy (you can move people around like inanimate objects without affecting behavior), and the Open Ended fallacy (resources and uses are unlimited).

He then illustrates how these fallacies affect discussions across a range of issues: urban, gender, race, income, Third World, and academic. Armed with this book, the governed should be more skeptical of what their governors promise and prescribe.

Eat This Book

Peterson draws the title from Revelation 10:9, where the angel gives John a little scroll and commands him to "take it, and eat." Peterson notes that even though evangelicals profess that the Bible is God's Word, too many of us pick and choose lessons from it and keep it at a distance, instead of letting ourselves be drawn into the story and formed by it.

Peterson suggests "spiritual reading" as an antidote to our tendency to reduce the words of the Bible to information: "Reading is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul-eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight." Eat This Book shows us how to eat slowly. (See "A patient Peterson" for a description of Peterson's unhurried lifestyle.)

The Living Church

Throughout the pages of this slender volume, theologian and pastor John Stott lays out his vision for R.C. (radical conservative) churches-"'conservative' in the sense that they conserve what scripture plainly requires, but 'radical' in relation to that combination of tradition and convention that we call 'culture.'"

Stott has earned a close reading through his more than 50 years of faithful service to the church, both as rector at All Souls in London and as a writer/theologian. He understands the dangers facing the church and the urgent need for "God's new community" to be biblically strong and outward looking. He seeks a biblical middle ground between emergent churches and those traditional ones that have become complacent.

Spotlight

Tim Keller's The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008) brilliantly and succinctly explains why we should doubt doubters and believe the Bible. In the course of doing so he explains why oft-heard indictments of Christianity fall apart.

Here's one example: Have you heard people say that the divorce rate (or some other rate) among Christians is no better than that among nonbelievers, so the gospel makes no difference? If such stats are accurate, Keller explains why: "Imagine that someone with a very broken past becomes a Christian and her character improves significantly over what it was. Nevertheless, she still may be less secure and self-disciplined than someone who is so well adjusted that she feels no particular need for religious affiliation at all. . . . It is often the case that people whose lives have been harder and who are 'lower on the character scale' are more likely to recognize their need for God and turn to Christianity."

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