Into the Book


History/Current Events

  1. When teaching difficult, controversial subjects, there are two ways to present an issue. The first way is to teach the Teacher’s opinion, pointing out the faults of the other sides while revealing the strengths of the Teacher’s view. The other way is to present the shines and dents in all sides, then allow the students to decide for themselves. When talking about the Bible, the latter approach is a difficult one to take. Yet, that is how Nichols and Brandt decided to present their book on the Bible. (more…)

  2. Owen Strachan’s latest biography, The Colson Way, is on the subject of “Loving your neighbor and living with faith in a hostile world.” Chuck Colson, presidential aide to Richard Nixon turned champion of prison ministry and revitalizing American culture, is his subject. Strachan has created an enlightening and valuable look at a man who many may not have heard of — especially those of us younger folks. Through the example of Colson’s life, Strachan challenges his readers to live with a bold and loving faith in the middle of the public square.


  3. Ben Franklin, George Whitefield, and the surprising friendship that invented America.

    Randy Petersen’s latest book, The Printer and the Preacher, is a medium-length biography on Ben Franklin and George Whitefield, telling how together they were broadly influential over the fledgling United States. It’s a fascinating book, despite a few flaws, and serves as a great introduction to both men and how they related. Read on for more: (more…)

  4. No Greater Valor tells the story of the heroic stand of the 101st Airborn Divisions, at the siege of Bastogne in World War II. Jerome Corsi compiles many first-hand accounts and military records to draw together a cohesive, gripping account of the final days of World War II. Despite a few flaws, the book is engaging and well-researched. (more…)

  5. Al Capone once quipped, “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun then you can with a kind word alone.” A more precise summation of the Gangster Way you couldn’t ask for.

    In Public Enemies, Bryan Burrough chronicles the true-life account of America’s greatest crime wave and the rise of the FBI, from 1933-1934. Drawing on a formidable array of sources – primarily federal files, released in bits and pieces since the mid-’80s – Burrough strips away the layer of myths surrounding the lives and exploits of infamous criminals like Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Barkers. What’s left is the spellbinding yet utterly factual story of the American “War on Crime” – and how the fledgling FBI grew up in the midst of it.

    This is a great book – one which history buffs cannot afford to miss. As mentioned above, Burrough’s research is impeccable; his commitment to detail and accuracy tremendous.

    Please keep one thing in mind as you read: This book was not “imagined,” as with some recent popular histories. It was reported. the conversations and dialogue in this book are taken verbatim from FBI reports, the Karpis transcripts, contemporary news articles, and the memories of the participants. If you’re wondering how I learned something, check the source notes. If I don’t know something, I’ll tell you. If there’s a mystery I can’t clear up – and there are a few – I’ll make that clear. (p. xiv)

    Burrough pairs his research with splendid writing: Public Enemies is no dry, yawn-inducing history text. It’s an epic, colorful, artistically-excellent feat of storytelling, bolstered by prose that “bounces across the page like a getaway car through a wheat field.” (Newsweek)

    Thanks to this, readers are put right in the middle of the action – from Dillinger’s prison breaks (including one where he used a wooden gun) to the pursuit of Bonnie and Clyde to the disastrous Battle at Little Bohemia. Engaging stuff. I kid you not: when it comes to grabbing and holding the reader’s attention, Public Enemies puts many novels to shame.

    J. Edgar Hoover has always struck me as an interesting figure; and after reading this book, I find that he was, indeed, very interesting. I don’t have much respect for him, though. I respect much of what he accomplished – but his shifty, overbearing, and remarkably disingenuous ways make it difficult for me to admire the man himself.

    For those curious about content issues: the gangsters swear like gangsters – including a handful of F-words – and their law-defying exploits result in a number of shootouts with the police and federal agents. Some of these firefights are relatively non-graphic; others are described in gritty detail, placing us right next the bloody, bullet-riddled corpses. (Police leveled 150 rounds at Bonnie and Clyde in the ambush that ended their careers.)

    Public Enemies is first-rate: a book which I gladly recommend. It’s hard for me to imagine a more precise, fascinating, or better written examination of this critical era in American history.

    – Corey P.

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  6. Roman citizen Aulus Aurelius and his family were murdered for their faith in AD 67. Since then, he has observed Earth from Heaven and now writes these letters to modern Christians. Page-turning fiction with practical application.

    This is a neat and short read. It doesn’t have the power that Randy Alcorn’s or John Piper’s writing entails, but it is certainly useful. Hussmann overtly states that LFMC is largely speculative, and shouldn’t be used as an authoritative source, such as the Biblical parables. That said, I think he did a great job enticing readers with a view of Heaven, and advising them well with applicable lessons.

    The setting of A.D. 67 was good, in that it gave perspective on Christianity. Culture details notwithstanding, it was a good choice. However, the whole storyline in LFMC, before and after Aulus’ death, wasn’t developed enough for the full appreciation a novel like this should have. While there were many stories, from Aulus’ life and others’, it could have used more to make the advice a bit more personal.

    This book was provided free by the publisher in conjunction with the program. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.

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  7. Q. What sort of people does God use to accomplish His work? A. Not the sort you might expect.

    In Twelve Unlikely Heroes, John MacArthur takes us on a tour of biblical history, showing us a dozen ordinary men and women who were used by God for extraordinary things. These people were not flawless; to the contrary, they were unsettlingly real. They stumbled, doubted, and fell. Some of them were pretty messed up. But God’s strength “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) – and He worked through these men and women in astonishing ways despite their shortcomings.

    Before I write any further, though, I have a confession to make: this is the very first MacArthur book I’ve ever read. No joke. Several of them are on my reading list – Slave, in particular, is one I’d like to get my hands on – but Twelve Unlikely Heroes was the first to land on my shelf.

    Thankfully, I think it proved to be an excellent starting point for a MacArthur-rookie like myself. His writing is simple (though far from simplistic) and engagingly conversational; and he does a smashing job of showing how the stories of these “heroes of the faith” apply to believers today.

    Some of the heroes covered in the book are ones which we generally don’t think of: Enoch, for example; or Jonathan; or Moses’ sister Miriam, dubbed “the leading lady of the Exodus.” But as MacArthur digs deeper into their lives, it becomes plain that their inclusion was well-merited.

    Ultimately, though, in reading about these men and women, we see something – or rather, Someone – even bigger. As MacArthur writes,

    It is imperative to emphasize one critical point: the true hero of Scripture, in every Bible story, is God Himself. A quick review of several classic Sunday school stories immediately illustrates this point. Noah did not preserve the ark in the midst of the flood; Abraham did not make himself the father of a great nation; Joshua did not cause the walls of Jericho to fall down; and David did not defeat Goliath on his own. In each of those well-known examples, and in every other case, the Hero behind the heroes is always the Lord. 

    In literature, the hero is the main protagonist, the principal character, and the central figure of the narrative. This is certainly true of God throughout the pages of Scripture. He is the One who always provides the victory.  It is His power, His wisdom, and His goodness that are continually put on display – even when He utilizes human instruments to accomplish His purposes. Consequently, all the glory belongs to Him. (pp. xiv-xv)

    Needless to say, I loved this book. I think you will, too. Consider that a recommendation, find yourself a copy to read.

    – Corey P.

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  8. In all honesty, I’m not sure know how this book escaped my notice for so long. But it did. Somehow. I first ran across it several weeks ago, at Costco (of all places). Even though I didn’t know quite what to expect, I picked up a copy… and it turned out to be one of the finest war books I’ve ever read.

    With that in mind, I find myself in a difficult place. A reviewer for the Dallas Morning News sums it up perfectly: “In trying to review a book as precious as The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, there is a nightmare fear of saying the wrong thing – of not getting the book’s wonder across to you fairly – and of sounding merely zealous, fanatical, and hence to be dismissed. If I can’t get you to go out and buy this book, then I’ve failed you.”

    No pressure, right?

    A finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, The Things They Carried is not a novel, nor a memoir, nor a short story collection: it is, instead, an exquisite combination of all three. Through this unique but effective merging of fact and fiction, the author paints a picture of his life (and the lives of his fellow soldiers) before, during, and after the Vietnam war. And what a picture it is.

    War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. (p. 76)

    O’Brien’s book is less a straight-up battle account and more a meditation – a meditation on courage and cowardice, life and death, imagination, memory, the nature of war, and ultimately, the power and potency of storytelling. Like a fabric, it’s an interweaving of the beautiful with the obscene, the graphic with the poignant, the disturbing with the surreal.

    And in the end, the thread that holds it all together is the writing: raw and honest and vivid and forceful and poetic. Spilling over with emotion, without a hint of sentimentality. O’Brien sets pen to paper with a complete mastery of language, and the result will haunt your mind, pierce your heart, and pummel your gut. It will even, on occasion, make you laugh. Just consider this passage, one of the most creative pieces of descriptive writing I’ve ever come across:

    For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute, and then multiplying by maybe. (p. 86)

    In my opinion, The Things They Carried is not only a must-read for lovers of war literature, but also for those (like myself) who wish to study the art of writing.

    At one point, O’Brien pauses to remind the reader that “a true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.” This book does that. Violence is graphic. Language is harsh. And some of the imagery is singularly nightmarish. So if there’s one warning I would give to potential readers, it would be this: prepare to be jarred out of your comfort zone.

    But it’s worth it. Believe me, it’s worth it.

    – Corey P.

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  9. At age twenty-four, U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnell was given command of a forty-man elite infantry platoon – a unit that came to be known as Outlaws. Their job: find, fix, and destroy the Pakistan-based insurgents along Afghanistan’s eastern frontier.

    It was assumed they they would be facing a scrappy band of undisciplined civilian fighters. Reality, however, was much different. In May 2006, what began as a routine mountain patrol ended in a bloody ambush that nearly overwhelmed the platoon. From then on, the situation was clear: the Outlaws were dealing with the most professional light infantry force the U.S. Army had encountered since the end of World War II.

    Outlaw Platoon is a story of heroes, renegades, infidels, and the brotherhood of war in Afghanistan – a combat memoir on par with Marcus Lutrell’s Lone Survivor. Parnell’s detailed account of sixteen months of mountain warfare is as mentally and emotionally demanding as it is suspenseful. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself struggling to wrap your head (and stomach) around what these guys go through on the front lines.

    Parnell is a consistently superb storyteller. As a fellow soldier noted, “He brings you into his thoughts of success, loss, perceived failure, and all emotions that troops process during and after heavy combat operations.”

    The story of his platoon is resurrected with guts and bravado-less honesty, and it’s about as close as you get to the real deal: a fascinating depiction of courage, camaraderie, and leadership laced with mortar fire and the ripping spray of .50 machine guns.

    Gunfire has its own language. Suppressing fire, the purpose of which is to pin you down, sounds undisciplined; it wanders back and forth over you without much aim. It is searching and random and somehow doesn’t seem as deadly.

    Accurate, aimed fire is a different story. It has a purpose to it. You know as soon as you hear it that somebody has you in their sights. The shots come with a rapid-fire focus that underscores their murderous intent. Somebody is shooting at you. It becomes intimate and fear inducing…

    The enemy machine gunners hammered at us with accurate bursts. As their bullets struck home, they spoke to us infantrymen as clearly as if they had used our native language. Message received: these were not amateurs in the hills on our flanks. (p. 77)

    It’s quickly apparent how deeply Parnell cares for the men he’s writing about, and over the course of the story, we come to care about them, too – from Staff Segeant Phillip Baldwin, who sacrificed everything after 9/11 to serve his country; to Specialist Robert Pinholt, a soldier with “the mind of a warrior and the heart of an economist.” Heroes. And the cost of battle wasn’t cheap for them. Over 80 percent were wounded in action, putting their casualty rate among the highest since Gettysburg. Some of them never made it home.

    Like the men whose story it records, this book is rough. And I mean rough. The brutality of modern war comes through clearly in Parnell’s narrative and no punches are pulled in describing the atrocities perpetrated by the insurgents. Swearing is frequent, especially during the final half of the book, and it’s usually R-rated fare (including a handful of crude sexual references). Such content issues are par the course for war books, but you should know what you’re getting into. My age recommendation would be 17 and up. At least.

    For those old enough to handle it, Outlaw Platoon is a must-read – especially if you’re even remotely interested in stellar combat memoirs. To quote Steven Pressfield, “Sean Parnell reaches past the band-of-brothers theme to a place of brutal self-awareness… he never flinches from a fight, nor the hard questions of a messy war.”

    – Corey P.

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  10. On October 3rd, 1993, a small, elite group of U.S. Rangers and Delta Force soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the swarming heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their assignment was to kidnap several high-ranking deputies to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and escort them out of the city. Simple, right?

    But what began as an hour-long mission soon devolved into something much worse: pinned down by thousands of heavily-armed Somalis, the men fought for their lives through an entire night of bloody urban combat. By morning, eighteen Americans were dead and over seventy badly wounded.

    Mark Bowden chronicles those events in Black Hawk Down: a gritty and relentless story filled with the blood, noise, and heroism of battle. Drawing on official reports, army records, radio transcripts, video tapes, and countless interviews, Bowden has crafted a non-fiction narrative so intensely real, you’ll feel that you’re standing right next to the men you’re reading about.

    Coupled with this meticulous attention to detail is the author’s prose – skilled and stripped-down and unpretentious. Consequently, the book gains a forcefulness that would’ve been lacking had Bowden opted for rhetorical flamboyance. He points away from himself: bidding us marvel, not at his prowess as a writer, but at the valor of the men who fought and died in Mogadishu. He says,

    Readers who picked up the book were not supposed to be struck by my cleverness, but by the extraordinary courage and humanity of those young soldiers They made mistakes. They were terrified. Sometimes they shot at people they shouldn’t have shot at. Sometimes they shot at each other. They became tragically confused and some of them were killed and others horribly injured. The story raised all sorts of questions about the wisdom of their leaders, about whether and when it is appropriate to send young soldiers off to fight and die, and what that decision means in the real world. But along with all of these mistakes and questions, the story captured the undeniable nobility of military service, and was shot through with my respect for these young men who felt so entrusted with this story, and who shared it with me. (pp. 357-358)

    For those thinking about picking this book up, be warned: it’s not a light or casual read. It’s gritty. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s exhausting. You can’t simply pick it up every once in awhile and read a few lines. It demands complete mental and emotional investment on the part of the reader.

    But it’s worth it.

    If you take the time to read Black Hawk Down (and I strongly recommend that you do) you will find yourself repaid a hundred-fold. It is a searing and hellish depiction of modern warfare. In that respect, I’ve seldom read an uglier book. But I’ve also seldom read a more beautiful one. The picture it gives of camaraderie, sacrifice, and raw, manly courage is unforgettable.

    They say “war is hell”, and Black Hawk Down shows us what that really means. Violence throughout is bloody and punishing: men are shot to pieces, dismembered, and eviscerated. There’s nothing funny or glamorous about it. It’s sickening. And it makes you respect the heck out of the guys who endured it. There’s also quite a bit of hard language, shouted in anger and frustration, as well as some sexual references. Make no mistake: this is an R-rated book. Prospective readers should take that into account.

    I’ll leave Bowden the final word (from pp. 345-356):

    Many of the young Americans who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu are civilians again. They are beginning families and careers, no different outwardly than the millions of other twenty-something members of their generation… In my interviews with those who were in the thick of battle, they remarked again and again how much they felt like they were in a movie, and had to remind themselves that this horror, the blood, the deaths, was real. They describe feeling weirdly out of place, as though they did not belong here, fighting feelings of disbelief, anger, and ill-defined betrayal. This cannot be real. Many wear black metal bracelets inscribed with the names of their friends who died, as if to remind themselves daily that it was real.

    To look at them today, few show any outward sign that one day not too long ago they risked their lives in an ancient African city, killed for their country, took a bullet, or saw their best friend shot dead. They returned to a country that didn’t care to remember. Their fight was neither triumph nor defeat; it just didn’t matter. It’s as though their firefight was a bizarre two-day adventure, like some extreme Outward Bound experience where things got out of hand and some of the guys got killed. 

    I wrote this book for them.

    – Corey P.

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