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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Stones into Schools

Mortenson picks up his saga where he left off in Three Cups of Tea. When tribal leaders in Afghanistan hear about the schools he has been building, they seek him out on horseback to plead with him to build schools for their people. Thus begins his story of the difficulties, stretching over many years, in keeping that promise. He compellingly shows how Afghan tribesmen, weary after decades of war, are willing to sacrifice almost everything to establish schools (and a future) for their sons and daughters. Through his keenly observed stories Mortenson, who has advised the U.S. military, invites readers to enter into the lives of the Afghan people.

What the Dog Saw

Gladwell's bestselling books, including The Tipping Point and Blink, largely grow out of what he learned in researching and writing his reportorial essays in The New Yorker. Gladwell collects in this delightful volume his favorites, organized in three groups: profiles of "minor geniuses," articles proposing larger theories, and essays on personality and intelligence. He is an elegant writer who uses detail piled upon detail to paint portraits of people and ideas: In his skillful hands, data points and topics that seem unrelated turn out to be facets of the same thing. Statisticians quibble with some of his conclusions, but Gladwell's genius is in taking a familiar topic and making it yield new insights.

A God Who Hates

You can tell by the title of this book that Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist who has lived in America for the past 20 years, doesn't play politically correct games about Islam. Now an atheist, Sultan believes that "we ourselves created God, and then we allowed him to create us." The existence of God is not a question that's very important to her except "when this vicious cycle produces a deformed chicken or a rotten egg," which is the relationship she sees between Islam and Arabic culture. Her searing analysis deals with Islam's brutal treatment of women, its raiding culture, and inability to cope with modernity. Sultan draws examples from her life and her deep understanding of Islam.

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Fiction

Tischler, a professor emeritus at Penn State, gathers in one volume information about 90 writers who wrote within the past 60 years. She uses "Christian" loosely to refer to those whose books reflect parts of a Christian worldview, and some of the authors are better known for their criticisms of the church. Each entry contains background information about the writer, major works and ideas, critical response and awards, and bibliographies both of the author's works and works about the author. Tischler aims her encyclopedia at novel readers who want "a quick way to find information on a contemporary Christian writer's life, faith, works, and influence."

Spotlight

In The Voices of Christmas (Zonderkidz, 2009), poet Nikki Grimes presents in verse the various characters involved in the Christmas narrative: The angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, a shepherd, the innkeeper, the wise men, Simeon and Anna, and even Herod, all react to the news of Christ's coming. Scripture accompanies the poems, as do soft, pastel illustrations and an audio CD.

I Did It His Way (Thomas Nelson, 2009) gathers in one volume the inspirational cartoons of the late Johnny Hart, creator of B.C. (see "A caveman with convictions": our April 20, 1996, cover story about Hart). The cartoons include both black and white and color strips: Some are funny and light-hearted, some are thought-­provoking, and all show that Hart had courage to present the gospel in a medium with gatekeeping editors who sometimes refused to run his work. Happily, Hart had millions of fans.

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