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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Realities: 2011-2020," Jan. 15, 2011

Decision Points

Former President George W. Bush lays the groundwork for his two terms to be judged through a Sept. 11 lens, devoting much of the book to his decisions to go to war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and to protect the homeland. He's at his most revealing as he writes about his early life and his decision to give up drinking. That he includes his decision on stem-cell funding as one of the most consequential of his presidency shows him to be more pro-life than many suspected. Although he's writing about events that happened less than a decade ago, memories are short: He provides useful reminders of the way things were.

America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin begins her second book with a replay of Tea Party speeches and the run-up to the recent elections. That's dull, but then the book becomes interesting. She writes comfortably about her form of feminism, her family, her faith, and her pro-life beliefs; she writes movingly about her youngest baby and how, from her daughter Bristol's experience, she knows that single motherhood is hugely hard. She's at her best when connecting her individual experience and the broader issues facing the country. Suggestion: Start at the end of the book and read backwards to experience some depth before hitting the sound bites of the initial chapters.

A Secret Gift

When journalist Ted Gup opened a trunk his elderly mother gave him, he didn't expect to uncover a family secret dating from the Great Depression. The trunk contained letters written at Christmastime, 1933, to B. Virdot, who turned out to be Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone. The letters were written in response to an anonymous ad Stone placed in the Canton, Ohio, newspaper. It offered $5 to worthy families who wrote and described their economic plight. Gup uncovered his grandfather's story as well as the stories of many of the letter writers, who never knew who their anonymous benefactor was. He tracked down descendants, researched businesses, and provides a mini social history of the Depression through the generous act of one man in one Midwestern town.

Awakening the Quieter Virtues

The quieter virtues-discernment, innocence, authenticity, modesty, reverence, contentment, and generosity-are, despite the name, "as tough and bold as they need to be." Each chapter discusses a different virtue and a discipline meant to cultivate that virtue in our loud, fast, image-saturated and sexually brazen culture. His definitions are provocative: For instance, discernment is "the wisdom to recognize the difference between life and death-with the motivation to choose life." Its cultivating discipline is attentiveness. With illustrations drawn from the culture, his family, and students, Spencer puts meat on the bones of these definitions and shows how the quiet virtues help "communicate God's beauty" and "speak into a wild and noisy world, shouting softly."


Think (Crossway, 2010) should be in the stocking of any Christian trying to discover the place of the mind in loving God and loving others. Piper roots his argument in two references: 2 Timothy 2:7 and Proverbs 2:1-6. He shows why thinking deeply is important, where it can lead us astray, and how human wisdom and divine wisdom are different. An important book for students and others.

Vance Christie is an avid reader of Christian biographies. In Timeless Stories (Christian Focus, 2010) he collects stories from the lives of famous Christians and groups them under headings: family, service, faith, prayer, witness, forgiveness, stewardship, and adversity. These aptly chosen stories from the lives of John Wesley, Amy Carmichael, Billy Graham, George Muller, Corrie ten Boom, and others give insight into these heroes of faith and whet the reader's appetite for more. An inspiring and quick resource for teachers, preachers, parents, and kids.


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