Jul 06

A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White, Jr. ★★★★

This is a delightful 676 page biography of Abraham Lincoln, well studied and well written, describing Lincoln’s life from birth to death. The book reads quite easily, and inspires one to appreciate the greatness of the man who was to be our 16th president. I appreciated that the book was also heavily illustrated, and that the illustrations were not to be found in the center-of-the-book glossy pages, but abundantly mixed with the text.

I shall not detail and reiterate Lincoln’s life, being born in Kentucky, moving then with his family to Indiana, and then to central Illinois. White details how Lincoln was mostly self-educated, including studying law and passing the bar exam on his own. Lincoln dabbled in politics, winning a 2 year term in the House, mixing that with maintaining a highly successful law practice. Several failed attempts to achieve elected office ultimately led to his improbable but highly fortuitous win of the presidency.

Lincoln was considered an amateur in politics. He came under severe criticism for being inept and misguided. This continued on through the entirety of his presidency. Lincoln achieved an immortal status mostly after his death. Unfortunately for Abe, he entered the presidency during the onset of the rebellion with the South. Lincoln held preservation of the union as most important. Sadly, he was bedeviled by truly incompetent generals, the first (McLelland) was pompous and completely inadequate as a general, though he had the audacity to run against Lincoln for Lincoln’s second term in office.

It is odd that so much of the discussion regarding the civil war, that it was not over slavery, that it was a question of state’s rights, that the question of how to deal with the negro, the question of dealing with internal rebellion, suspension of habeas corpus, etc., remains questions that persist to today. Sadly, so many contemporary Confederate sympathizers of today present these issues as issues that were only critically analyzed and resolved by the South. I can appreciate the worn-out, hackneyed sympathies of the South but consider these assertions as mostly contentious rather than thoughtfully critical. Likewise, contemporary assertions that the South tended to be the most “Godly” against a heathen North, fail to recognize the deep religious convictions of Northern Generals and northern folk. Lincoln himself, though he grew up a Baptist and had no church affiliation for much of his life, attended a Presbyterian Church in Washington DC with Phineas Gurley as the pastor, a reverend who studied under none other than Charles Hodge. Many of Lincoln’s speeches bore witness to the heavy influence of Reformed thinking.

White excelled at providing analyses of Lincoln’s speeches, pointing out the literary techniques that made Lincoln uncannily exceptional as an orator. Indeed, White has written an entire book on the 2nd inaugural address, truly one of the greatest speeches of all mankind. Lesser minded folk will heap criticism on many of Lincoln’s greatest speeches, such as his Gettysburg Address; these very criticisms only attest to the absence of value if casting one’s pearls before swine.

Lincoln, toward the end of the war, was much concerned about the restoration of the south in acts of reconstruction. Sadly, he was assassinated before that could ever happen. We don’t know how things might have evolved differently had he been able to serve out a full second term as president, and speculation is unwise. What is tell-tale is how so much of the north, just like the south, really had no vested interest in the negro. True, many in the north detested slavery, and that, out of religious convictions. Both the north and the south refused to look on the negro as equal in value to any other human being. Whether they were most fit to be either slaves or second class citizens, there was little interest in helping the negro achieve a foot in society, only to have Woodrow Wilson’s segregationist policies extremely exacerbate the problem. Lincoln was correct in his 2nd inaugural address that blame is affixed to the entire nation, and not just the south, for the negro problem. Sadly, the problem hasn’t gone away.

I highly recommend this book. It is well written, though a touch tedious to read at times, and sometimes missing in details that I would have appreciated reading about. White paints Abe Lincoln as one of a few truly great Americans and Ole Abe deserves that distinction, regardless of those who would challenge otherwise.

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Jun 16

Mount Rainier: A Visitor’s Companion, by George Wuerthner ★★★★

Within the next few years, I plan on doing volunteer work within Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP), and hopefully, being a trail walker. This means that I walk the trails in popular spots in the park, and tell people to stay on the trails and leave their pets in the car, as well as answering their questions, and offering help and guidance. I have hiked essential every trail in the park, as well as climbed the mountain twice via the Disappointment Cleaver. In a way, I feel that it is my backyard park, and it is! Thus, I wished to read a summary of information that might be helpful to those who would be curious about the park.

The book does offer a very superficial summary. It starts a very brief history of the park, the weather, the climbing history, as well as how the park was made a national park and then developed. Next discussed is park geology; it’s a volcano! Surprise, surprise! The geography of the park has changed a bit over the years, since glaciers, mudflows, and extreme weather has had an influence on the mountains. Wuerthner then has several lengthy chapters discussing the flora and fauna in the park. The chapter on plants in the park offers a page summary of the common trees, flowers, and shrubbery; the summary is not thorough enough to offer an identification guide. Fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals all have their own chapters, with descriptions accompanied by editorial comments. The last chapters are on hiking in the park, and nearby attractions to the park.

The book is most superficial in its detail so that any detailed information on any of the topics in this book must be found elsewhere. There are major books on the geology of the Northwest. Abundant histories of the park exist and can be obtained at Amazon. Climbing history of the park is best detailed in Dee Molenaar’s The Challenge of Rainier; this book is truly an excellent classic text on the history of climbing the mountain. Tree, flower, and animal guides would better serve the visitor than this book, though the summary of the main park plants is very well done. Hiking in the park is best guided by one of many hiking books specific to MRNP, such as the classic Harvey Manning and Ira Spring’s 50 Hikes in MRNP.

If one wishes for a brief summary of MRNP, this is a good place to start. If there is a particular area of interest, my advice is to look elsewhere, including a few of the texts I had mentioned above.

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Jun 09

Grant, by Ron Chernow ★★★★★

Having just finished a biography of WT Sherman (see recent previous review), I had waiting on the bookshelf the biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. As mentioned in my book review on Sherman, Sherman stands as one of the greatest of all the American generals to have lived and possessed an unsurpassed brilliance at tactical strategy on the battlefront. Working in close cooperation with US Grant, Sherman was able to achieve battlefield victories with remarkable skill. Grant and Sherman remained very close friends throughout the war and shared very similar strategies toward warfare. They also shared very similar opinions on the nature of war itself, both being very reluctant to have anything to do with war. This story now focuses on US Grant. Chernow weaves a spell-binding account of Grant’s life from birth through to his death.

Ulysses was the first of several siblings, born in the backwoods of Ohio, near to Cincinnati. He was a quiet kid like his mother, and did not like the aggressive boistrous egotistical personality of his father. Because his father was mostly self-educated later in life, he insisted that his son get a good education. His father Jesse, using the influence of political friends, was able to land Ulysses a spot at West Point, a bit to Grant’s chagrin. Grant had a very mediocre performance at West Point, excelling mostly at horsemanship, but not doing so well at most other subjects. He had gotten to know a number of other officers at that time, many of whom became lifelong friends, even though some of them ended up as confederate officers that he eventually needed to confront in battle. After West Point, Grant was stationed just south of St. Louis, where he met his wife-to-be. Grant was soon to be deployed in the war against Mexico where he served with distinction and began honing his skills as an army officer. After the war, he was deployed to Fort Vancouver (WA), and eventually to Fort Humboldt on the northern coast of California by Eureka. Out west, Grant tried a number of business ventures, all of which he did very poorly. In addition, the weather and minimal activity led him to drink heavily, Grant being a person who could not hold his alcohol, which made him behave quite drunkenly. This led him back to St. Louis and discharge from the military, where he and his wife tried out several businesses, again resulting in dismal failure. Finally, Grant moved to Galena, Illinois to work in a family leather store, where he was able to pay off past debts, but was bored silly. At this time, the civil war broke out, and through family connections, Grant was able to move up quickly in the western campaign, starting as a brigadier general. The biggest struggles were against incompetent superiors and a malignant press who continually harped on Grant’s incompetence and addiction to alcohol. Grant was able to win a major battle at Fort Donelson, leading him to be promoted to major general, and then turned a near-disastrous encounter with the enemy at Shiloh into a rout. In further battles heading south, Grant finally achieved fame through his victory at Vicksburg, a challenging campaign that pitted the offense at an extreme disadvantage against the enemy. Turning east, Grant then achieved a challenging but decisive victory at Chattanooga, leaving him as the most talked-about General of the Northern army. Lincoln decided to pull him off of the Western campaign and assigned him as commander-in-chief of all forces, but stationed in the east, which was plagued by incompetent, indecisive, timid generals. Grant assigned his friend General Sherman to be the General in charge of the western army, a story told elsewhere. In 13 months, Grant was finally able to encounter his foe, General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox where surrender occurred. Because of Grant’s very lenient, fair handed deal with Lee, Grant later in life remained deeply respected in the south.

This brings a few comments to mind. Grant was a very taciturn, quiet, humble man. At no point in his life did he promote himself. He was not ostentatious, and when he would drift into towns, he usually was confused as an aide to someone in his vicinity. His problem with alcohol was endured by having his chief aide Gen. John Rawlins tenaciously guard him against the bottle. It was mostly effective, save for brief lapses when battles seemed to be dragging out. Grant was quite a religious man, regularly attending the church of his youth, the Methodist church. Much is often made of Grant doing well at war only because he had unlimited resources at his disposal. That is most untrue. Firstly, the witness of the numerous failed generals that preceded Grant attest to Grant’s superior ability to lead an army into battle. Secondly, the confederates had a massive home-field advantage, which most military strategists admit requires 2-5 times the attacking force to overcome. A look at Grant’s and Sherman’s field strategies attest they truly were the greater generals. One distinction of note for the confederate generals was their superior air, best seen at Appomattox. General Lee arrived with a freshly laundered uniform and freshened appearance, while Grant slogged in coated with mud and grime. Grant attempted friendly small talk but was rebuffed by Lee desiring a terse exchange and communication of the terms of surrender. This difference was seen not only with the folk of the north vs. south but also noted when Grant visited Europe, where he would generally show up for a state engagement on foot, while the royal host expected Grant to show up in a coach surrounded by servants and great flair.

Abe Lincoln was assassinated 6 days after the end of the war, and replaced by Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a southern democrat from Tennessee, and most reluctant to engage in the reconstruction of the south. During his tenure, the 13, 14, and 15th amendments to the constitution were enacted by congress, giving the freed negroes the right to vote on an equal basis with whites. Grant grew increasingly disenchanted by Johnson, who went through an impeachment trial that nearly removed him from office. At the end of Johnson’s term, Grant was easily ushered into the office of the presidency without applying for the office or campaigning. Grant did not have a problem with alcohol in the presidency or afterwards though he was occasionally accused of drunken flings. A summary of the main issues that Grant as president had to contend with were as follows.

Corruption was a continual issue with President Grant. It wasn’t that Grant was corrupt, in that he was known throughout his life to be impeccably honest and forthright with people, even when it served to his disadvantage. Grant had a horrible time choosing people that did not mislead or bamboozle the president. His numerous failed business ventures attested to Grant’s total inability to sort out and manage people in peacetime. Though the presidency of Grant is often referred to even to this day as a corrupt presidency, close analysis shows that there was not a presidency starting with Washington that was free from corruption. It was just more apparent during the Grant years.

Foreign policy: Grant realized that the USA was emerging on the international scene as a power to be reckoned with. Among his triumphs was the ability to negotiate a fair treaty with England regarding the Alabama, a Confederate warship that England harbored and costly to American shipping during the Civil war. This event nearly led to war with England. Grant fought hard to annex the Dominican Republic, which proved to be a failed venture that Congress would have nothing to do with.

Reconstruction and Indian problems: Grant’s most vexing problems related to restoring the south to a situation where blacks were not considered second class citizens and treated equally under the law. This also applied to the western Indian populations, who were not ready to give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle down. Regarding the south, blacks seemed to be tipping the vote in favor of Republicans and the southern response was to threaten blacks that went to the polls to vote. Blacks were harassed by the Ku Klux Klan, and later by white Rifle Clubs, and essentially rendered to a subservient status. The Ku Klux Klan was subdued, but other southern vigilante elements worked without end to undo Reconstructive efforts of the south. The North became increasingly dominated by Democratic elements and Liberal Republicans, who wished to undo all aspects of Reconstruction, a move that Grant felt would undo the Civil War and return blacks to a new form of slavery. This state of quasi-slavery was not essentially dealt with until the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and beyond.

The Lost Cause movement in the south started immediately after the end of the Civil war. Its’ basic thesis is that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about state rights. I would have thought that this discussion would have silenced over time, but it hasn’t, and still has its’ adherents vociferous that the Civil was about state rights, economics, and a host of other things. Regarding state rights, what was the chief “right” that the South contended that they lost after the Civil War? It was the right to own slaves. Did the South really care for those slaves? A lot is made out of how slaves were treated as family and loved by their owners. The slave owner’s love lasted only as long as they could still maintain possession of black-skinned people as chattel. When the ability to own another person was lost, the love of slave and owner was immediately lost. Sadly, the North was not as loving toward ex-slaves as they pretended to be before and during the war, and a deep-set prejudice towards blacks had set in that remains a problem to this day. Those who boast moral superiority of the south, who fly confederate flags or boast of a lost virtue, the virtue of their generals and southern gentry, are living in a fictitious world that doesn’t offer true remedies to solve racial issues. Sadly, when one looks at established Democrat and Republican politicians then and even today, I see an air about them that views me as a less knowledgeable, hoi polloi, a serf of their system. Grant and Sherman were among the few men that had insight into the race problems that would be so problematic in years to come.

Grant was at his wits’ end toward the end of his presidency, and though his wife Julia wished for a third term, Grant had more than enough. Retirement for Grant entailed a two year tour of the world, starting in Europe, then going to India, China, Japan, and then back to the west coast of America. His visits to foreign capitals proved Grant to be a master statesman, though soft-spoken and always humble in his approach, as he had been throughout his life.

Finally returning to the east coast, the Grants ultimately decided to settle down in Manhattan, and was able to afford this through the generosity and appreciation of many of his wealthy friends, like the Vanderbilts. Grant entered into a banking deal with a friend that ended up being a total unmitigated failure, costing Grant and his children nearly every penny of their wealth. Left destitute, Grant then discovered that he had an oral cavity cancer that was incurable. In the face of excruciating pain, Grant sought to earn some revenue to provide for his wife, and was coaxed by Mark Twain and others to write his memoirs. Soon after completing this masterpiece, Grant quickly deteriorated in health, passing away at a resort provided by loving admirers in upstate New York. He was buried in Manhattan, only to have President McKinley authorize and fund a giant memorial at the site where he and his wife Julia are now buried.

Grant truly was an honorable man. He was admired by both the North and the South, beloved by negroes, and the chief friend of western Indian populations. In life, he had many enemies and many folks that took advantage of Grant and cheated him out of great wealth. Yet, Grant always maintained a composed posture, and even in the heat of battle or at his most stressful moments, did not flinch or cower. He is a statement of what is great about America, a person that could arise from an obscure family, gain prominence solely on merit alone, could be great at some things, and yet a disaster in so many other things. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth like his opponent Generals in the civil war, or his political opponents. He maintained a solid integrity throughout his life. He acknowledged his problem with alcohol, eventually overcoming alcoholism. Indeed, it is people like Ulysses S. Grant that certainly made the USA a great nation. Sadly, there are few people like him today.

Finally, some comments are in order about the book and its author. This book is a wonderful read. Though it is lengthy, at 959 pages, much of it is written in a suspenseful fashion that compels the reader to not put the book down. It is very detailed. It offers a character sketch of US Grant that is intimate in its details. It truly is a masterpiece worth reading.

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May 17

The Origins of the Second World War, by A.J.P. Taylor ★★★★★

It is often said that history is written by the winners, and certainly such is the case with World Wars 1 and 2. At least for the second world war, there was a sense of public shame in Germany regarding Hitler and the events of his era, and memory of the Hitler era was understandably suppressed. Should Germans write a war history at this time, it would be meaningless and probably concur with everything written in the past by the “victors”. Yet, one cannot expect the English speaking world to write a fair and balanced history of the war. From the inception of the Great War (World War 1), the British masterminded propaganda regarding the Germans. Germans were painted as blood-thirsty savages that raped women and slaughtered babies, and who had absolutely no regard for human life, being brute beasts that lacked any form of dignity or humanity. The hypocrisy of the English was profound in painting the Germans as such, since their own lineage of Queens and Kings were of German origin, even resulting in them quietly changing their name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to that of Windsor. Their royalty was more proficient at speaking German than English. Oh well! This fact must be securely hidden and forgotten. Perfidious propaganda and defaming characterizations persisted well after both wars against the Germans. I was reading about the meeting of some British and German climbers high in the Himalayas in the 1970s, and a German noted to a Brit that the Brits were recently beaten by the Germans in their national sport of soccer, to which the Brit replied that they just beat the Germans twice in their national sport of war. This ignores the fact that the Brits had been in constant war for at least the past two centuries in their attempt to rule the world. Oh well again! This current book was written in the early 1960’s by a Brit that has gone against the standard line which started back then and persists. This book is not revisionist history since it was written soon after the end of WW2 and based entirely on documents made public and publicly available evidence.

AJP Taylor provides a slightly different type of history of the events leading up to WW2, in that it is history almost entirely spent in recounting the work of ambassadors and statesmen from England, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and other involved European countries. In this book, you are told what was said, and just as importantly what was not said in trying to negotiate a lasting peace. What is clear (but often vehemently denied) was that the second world war reallystarted in 1918/19 at the signing of the treaty of Versailles and was just a continuation of what we call the first world war. The British and French both eventually developed a sense that the treaty of Versailles was pathologically flawed, yet flailed at resolving how to undo this treaty as well as other treaties that were made in the interim before the world war resumed in 1939.

Taylor notes that we have abundant documents from Germany since they were left in the rubble after the war and used in the Nürnberg trials. He also notes that we don’t have that luxury of obtaining essential documents from the Soviet Union since they have kept to this day most of their records as secret. The British and French have been selective in what records they have allowed to be seen. Thus, there will remain an intrinsic bias to any account as to the cause of world war 2. Regardless, the unearthed German documents tell a much different story than the current party line as to why there was a continuation of the war into what we call world war 2.

It would be weary for me to recount on a chapter by chapter basis the reiteration of what was said so eloquently by AJP Taylor. But a summary of the main thesis is simple. It is clear that Versailles demanded another war. It is clear that there was massive ineptness on the part of ambassadors and their states in trying to resolve the slow unraveling of the Versailles treaty, which by this time was looked on dimly by all parties. Hindsight is a wretched curse on all of us, yet we can now see that the war could have been prevented or made far more limited would the British and French had not wished to maintain their illusion of their being the prevailing super-power in Europe and honestly sought for reconciliation of the bad decisions at Versailles. The Germans were accused of frequently lying to the Brits and French, though Taylor has been able to show that both sides maintained an equal wealth of lies in their statesmanship. Most importantly, it can be shown quite clearly that the Germans (and especially Hitler) did not have a plan to conquer Europe or the world, and for that matter, had no interest in going to war with either Great Britain or France. Most certainly, the records from Germany demonstrate quite adequately that much of what happened in the events of 1936-1939 was unplanned and happened off the cuff; they were not the demonstration of a well thought out over-arching plan to stepwise conquer Europe. That the teaching still exists that Hitler was some evil mastermind going by a well-crafted script is testimony of how people wish to retain their own narratives regardless of the factual content of those narratives.

I’ve been told that the above recounting of the origin of WW2 is only one man’s opinion, and the debate continues and will never be resolved. It seems strange that those who say that simply wish to deny the evidence out there, their thinking being cemented in place by the fictional narratives that have created both world wars. Other authors have supported the thesis of Taylor by writing of the grave errors in the statesmanship of the Germans, British and French, specifically referring to Patrick Buchanan (Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War) which I had previously reviewed. Unfortunately, because we refuse to see the past clearly, we most certainly will persist in our errors in the future. More world wars can be expected, and blame will be fixated on the vanquished, regardless of the actual facts.

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May 03

J.I. Packer: A Biography, by Alister McGrath ★★★★★

I was recently given a biography of JI Packer written by Leland Ryken, and written within the last few years. It was an excellent account of the man Packer, but Ryken frequently referred to an earlier biography of Packer written by Alister McGrath, and that is the book that I’ll be reviewing now. McGrath wrote his biography in 1996, at the time of Packer’s retirement from Regent College (and the time that I took Systematic Theology from Packer), thus leaving out the last 24 years of Packer’s life. Within the last 24 years, Packer did not remain inactive, but was quite busy in a number of activities including writing, leading a protest against the Canadian Anglican Church for their stance on gender confusion and LGBTQ+ issues. Also, he was the lead for the new translation of the Bible presented as the English Standard Version of the Bible. McGrath will definitely need to write an addendum or second edition to this book!

McGrath takes a completely different approach to JI Packer than that of Ryken. In McGrath’s text, the chapters are entirely chronological. McGrath’s biography is much shorter, but provides better detail into the thought processes of Packer, as well as detailing the events that transpired with the major controversies and battles that Packer needed to contend with. I was left with a much better feel for the legacy of what Packer left us through his various battles. Specifically, McGrath did a wonderful job of outlining Packer’s fight for the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. McGrath also gave a much better feel for Packer’s desire to stay in the Anglican Church (much to the chagrin of Martyn Lloyd-Jones) and desire to maintain a rapport with “co-belligerents” in the Catholic Church, leading to a falling out with RC Sproul and many others. I have a far greater sympathy for what Packer stood for by reading McGrath’s book. McGrath can correctly state that the current status of the evangelical world today has been influenced greatly by Packer, and perhaps it was Packer that most heavily influenced how Evangelicals now behave and think. Certainly, Packer led the charge for doing theology well, noting that many heresies are the natural result of zealous Christians who are not interested in theology.

In my life, I owe much of my Christian thinking to two people, Francis Schaeffer and J.I. Packer (St. Francis and St. James!). As far as I can tell, the two men lived somewhat contemporary to each other (Schaeffer dying in 1984 and Packer being still alive but now completely incapacitated by blindness and hard hearing) but probably never met each other. Both men are giants in resetting “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” from being a description of brain-dead, only-believe morons, to re-energizing a scholarly, thoughtful Christian faith community, capable of contending with the secular world at large. Both men rose above their own circumstances to influence the world around them. Just as almost nobody realizes that Francis Schaeffer was a devout, committed Presbyterian, few people think of JI Packer as a devout, committed Anglican. Both men had an extraordinary ability to interact with the broad Christian (and secular) world out there. Both were humble men, and extraordinary in their ability to treat those who were even their “enemies” with kindness, graciousness, and love.

I do not view either McGrath’s or Ryken’s text as a better biography. They are both complementary descriptions of the life and thinking of James Innes Packer, both honor him as truly one of the great Christian thinkers of the end of the 20th century, but both books provide a different flavor to Packer — the man. Thus, I highly recommend reading both biographies to better understand St. James.

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Apr 20

JI Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by my old professor of Surgical Oncology, Dr. Donald Wood. I’m not sure how he knew that I had a deep appreciation for the life and works of JI Packer, but the book came as a total surprise on my doorstep. I immediately resolved to put down my other reading and take this up. As you might notice, I have not published at this site since the end of last year, and it is worthy of a catch-up article at this time. I am otherwise reading John Frame’s Systematic Theology, a very well written but thick text, not only in length but also in thinking. Thus, this book was a welcome interlude.

Leland Ryken divides his book up into three parts, the first being a chronological account of Packer’s life up to this time, the second part is an attempt to describe Packer’s character, and the third takes up Packer’s life from a thematic perspective. Packer’s life starts with his birth in Gloucester, England. He was born to a normal middle-class family. Early as a child, he sustained a head injury, leading him to be restricted in sports and spawning his academic career. He did well and was admitted to Oxford University, where he became a Christian in his first year. During this time, Packer decided to commit his life to the ministry and theology. Packer completes his undergraduate studies and then attends the American equivalent of the seminary. He lands a job as the assistant pastor at a church on the outskirts of Birmingham, where he stays for two years and gets married. Packer then returns to academia and teaches at Wycliffe Hall in Bristol before returning to Oxford to become warden of Latimer House, a function of the conservative portion of the Anglican Church. After 10 years, he returns to academia in Bristol, eventually becoming a lecturer at Trinity College in Bristol. In 1979, Packer surprised the world by announcing a move to Canada to teach at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. Packer, though now retired and blind, has remained in Vancouver to this day. Throughout his life, he has maintained a very active writing and speaking career, spending much time in the Americas during his time in England, and in both continents while living in the USA. He has remained active up to recently in various projects and controversies, his last large project being the general editor for the new English Standard Version translation of the Scripture, now used in many evangelical churches.

The second part, describing the personality and character of JI Packer is very weak. Those who have met Packer and have gotten to know him (as I have), know him to be thoughtful, humble, exceedingly gracious, but brilliant. One would never imagine him to be engaged so deeply in numerous controversies, yet that has been Packer’s fate. Ryken fails to truly describe Packer the man and his personality. Ryken never talks about Packer’s family. Packer’s wife Kit is barely mentioned, and there is no mention of family life, or of Packer’s children. Packer’s daughter is mentioned only in a passing comment, and his son is not mentioned at all. Ryken does not leave you feeling like you’ve encountered Packer the man.

The lifelong themes of JI Packer is an interesting section of the book, with a special note on the controversies that surrounded Packer’s life. Packer first came to fame as a defender of the inerrancy of Scripture and defense of the Bible as God’s word. He is probably best known as the foremost authority on the Puritans and even participated heavily in an annual seminar of the Puritans that lasted for about 10-12 years. Very early in his career, JI Packer took serious criticism for his stance against the Keswick movement in England, a stance formulated by his readings of the Puritans, and especially John Owen. Packer had encounters with Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement in the Anglican Church, but Packer took a guarded response toward this movement, causing much consternation with those who felt that Packer should be speaking wholeheartedly against the movement. Packer has received the most criticism in his life for his stand with the Anglican Church. Most evangelicals had known that the Anglican Church was hopelessly lost to the liberal faction of the church. Thus, it remained puzzling why Packer insisted on remaining active in the Anglican church, even though his conservative sentiments were generally a voice talking to the wall. There was a conservative element that remained within the Anglican Church, and while Packer seemed to catch much flak for his stand with the Church, John Stott did not. His church stance caused a very disappointing falling out with the most prominent evangelical in England, Martin Lloyd-Jones. Packer’s stand on church issues and conciliatory moves without compromising his theology caused an eventually falling out with many North American evangelicals for his stance in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Most notable was the fall-out with RC Sproul.

Packer has stood strong and uncompromising throughout his life. To date, he has stood against female ordination in the church, abortion, and the gay/lesbian agenda. This latter issue has led to him being defrocked from the Anglican Church of Canada, causing him to move to a conservative Anglican denomination. JI Packer seems to be a lone voice in the Evangelical world for restraint in dealing with interactions among fellow Evangelicals, and even those (like Catholics) who though saved, tend to disagree with some of the essential doctrines of the Evangelical mindset.

This book was a joy to read. I wish that I could have read it before my time as a student under Packer, as my conversations with him could have been less naïve and better directed to knowing his heart and soul. Ryken does not offer an explanation as to why he felt necessary to write a second book about the life of JI Packer, as a fairly detailed text had already been written by Alister McGrath. Ryken frequently quotes McGrath in this text. Packer continues to engender controversy, and if a person (like myself) expresses their deepest appreciation for Packer, many evangelicals tend to treat them as compromising in the faith. Packer was never a compromiser, and such an accusation is shameful and wrong. It is my desire that more people pick up the writings of JI Packer and learn to appreciate him as deeply as I have.

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Dec 23

How Britain Initiated Both World Wars, by Nick Kollerstrom ★★★★

First, I’d like to discuss why I chose to read this book and to mention why it received 4 and not 3 or 5 stars from me. The topic of responsibility for the two world wars in Europe is to most Europeans and Americans quite obvious—it was the Germans. Sadly, this commonly known “fact” is almost certainly not true. It takes much gall to go against the prevailing opinions of the elite, as Nick Kollerstrom discovered in writing this book. My interest in war responsibility started after reading Pat Buchanan’s book, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. In this text, Buchanan bucks the notion that Hitler was an evil maniac desiring the conquest of the world. Odd that the person who most promoted the notion of the Hitler image, Winston Churchill, was an evil maniac that controlled an empire ruling 1/4 of the surface of world. The British had discovered the usefulness of war propaganda long before Himmler ever used it to his advantage. Churchill had to paint the Germans as desperate immoral mongrels raping women, slaughtering children, and kicking innocent dogs. This is strange, since Churchill’s beloved Queen (Victoria) was the grandmother to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany who was currently head of state of Germany. It is no surprise that the embarrassed British had to quietly change the name of their King from a German-sounding name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. People have written many volumes detailing the deception, crimes and ineptitude of the “ruling elite” in government: even my own brother Dennis has produced a book of this sort many moons ago, titled “What is Going On?” (or something like that). I would not have drawn the same conclusions as Dennis, yet agree that there is a “deep state” that gives democracy an illusion of populace control of the state, when actually the ideology, thoughts, and decisions of the public are expertly manipulated by very few people, and decisions made and kept secret from the population. Have we not seen that in our recent impeachment hearings and the uncovering of deep moral vacuousness in the FBI and other state institutions? I’m not surprised. Dennis lacks by being too kind to the depth of depravity transpiring in the unseen world of world politics. A number of recent books have come out, and there are now YouTube videos that have taken Buchanan’s book and run with it. See the Horus YouTube site, for instance. I’ll be reading yet 1-2 more books after this also on the causation of the two world wars. This book was good in offering detailed accounts of the subterfuge and deception of Churchill and Grey exercised in desperately trying to get a war with Germany (in 1914) while the British parliament was deeply opposed to the idea. The basic idea was that Britain was never honest in its diplomacy with Germany which led to misunderstandings that resulted in the tragedy of WWI.

The book is an assemblage of four papers that Kollerstrom wrote that form the four chapters. The typesetting and book organization is horrid. The call-outs are just lengthy repetitions of the text and serve no useful purpose. Statements are multiply repeated both within chapters and between chapters. Kollerstrom fails to sufficiently develop the England-causality idea sufficient to be completely credible. Other than that, the book offers some intriguing insights, some of which I will discuss.

Chapter 1, How Britain initiated both world wars, is the lengthiest and takes up over 1/2 of the book. Starting with WWI, the author brings up multiple statements and news clippings from the pre-war years showing how Kaiser Wilhelm (II) was a man of peace. Germany had not been at war for 50 years, while Britain remained in a constant state of war over those years, and France engaged in other wars. Diplomacy failures and horrible treaties all resulted in the ensuing carnage of the Great War. The treaty of Germany with Austria, and France with Russia forced very unwilling hands to act. Secretive but later uncovered defense treaties between France and England escalated what could have been a limited conflict, when everybody would have realized the illogical nature of the battle. Fueling the turn of the war from a few defensive skirmishes and attempts to assure a position of safety, Churchill and Grey were most masterful at creating a war that the politicians (of both England and Germany) did not want, and that the people of England were soon to regret. Untruthful propaganda by Britain’s war department still prevails in western thinking even when it has been shown to be nothing but malignant lies about the German people.

World war II is really a continuation of WWI, since the treaty of Versailles was patently unfair in both the assumptions (war responsibility 100% Germany’s) and the “punishment” to Germany. It is no wonder that Germany behaved like a wounded lion, ready to settle the account. Yet, history doesn’t show that at all. The Versailles’ decision to divide Germany up into many pieces and allot those pieces to Poland, Czechoslovakia (a horrible mistake), resulted in lands that were almost entirely of ethnic German peoples now serving under other nationalities. It is not that these nationalities, especially Poland, were benevolent and impartial governors. Tabled from view were the atrocities that German people received from their new Polish rulers, which explains the mass migration westward of Germans that occurred in the 1920’s. The west noted that this simply was a lie that Hitler created to justify his actions. There is no doubt that Hitler created lies, but this was not one of them. Above all, Hitler made it abundantly clear that he did not wish for a war with Britain or France. They forced his hand. Multiple quotes from many of Hitler’s writings (even Mein Kampf) and speeches noted Hitler’s desire to remain peaceful with Great Britain. Churchill would have none of that. Churchill wanted war. And, Churchill got war. It is surprising that the west has the naïveté to regard Churchill as a great statesman and hero of the west.

Chapter 2, On the avoidability of WWI, mostly reiterates what is found in chapter 1. Chapter 3, Britain as pioneer of city bombing, demonstrates yet another propaganda lie that Churchill has shoved on the British people. We are taught that the British bombed to smithereens every Germany city because the Germans started it all by bombing London. Actually, the opposite is true. Germany had no interest in going to war with Britain, and had no long-range bombers to accomplish that. Meanwhile Britain was building a huge long-range bomber force with anticipation that they would someday bomb Germany. History clearly records Britain bombing civilian centers in Hamburg and Duisberg and Berlin months before the first aerial bombing of London by the Germans. Precisely, Hamberg was bombed on May 11, the day after Churchill became chancellor, and the first German bombing was on September 6 of 1940. This was in spite of clearly stated British declarations of war morality noting that civilian bombing was completely off-limits. Hohum. I presume that one’s moral statements and one’s actions don’t need to coincide. Worse yet, in spite of having declared the immorality of civilian bombing, the Brits were bombing civilian populations in India and Asia years before, in the early 1930’s. Oh wait, I forgot, Indians and Asians and Germans are not human, so guess it doesn’t matter.

Chapter 4, will of the warmongers, provides additional historical material regarding events leading up to WWII that destroys the notion that Hitler was an insane maniac desirous of ruling the world. Victors write the history books, but fortunately, enough history is still existent that we are able to question the forced narrative of the past to ask what really happened to start WWI and II. Truth be told, we all stand guilty. My only regret is that history still offers Churchill a “saint” status. He was a chain-smoking besotted drunk womanizer thirsty for war and willing to destroy nations to accomplish his blood-thirsty lust for power.

People often attribute my stance on Churchill and German as representing me as a Hitler lover or pro-German-regardless-of-the-truth subscriber. Neither is true. I might be of German heritage, but I am American. I do care about the truth, and when facts are given that are inconsistent, then I question the facts. The prevailing narratives of WWI & II are such situations. Therefore, whether or not you tend to accept the prevailing explanation as to why the great world wars occurred, I suggest that you challenge those thoughts momentarily and ask as to the veracity of those explanations. I believe that you may not like what you find. I offered only the briefest details of what was spoken of. You might have many questions as to the veracity of this book since it’s not what you were taught in school, yet the documentation comes mostly from easily available sources as so remain credible. I don’t recommend this book as a starting book on the topic. Watch some the Horus YouTube videos on Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, or better yet, read Pat Buchanan’s book for yourself and discover a replacement narrative that is truer than the one you’ve been taught.

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Dec 20

The liberal Media Industrial Complex by Mark Dice ★★★★

OK, it’s another review of a book by Mark Dice. I’ve followed Mark since he was doing Bohemian Grove exposés and Illuminati discussions. Mark has been accused of being a conspiracy theorist, though some get off the hook regarding conspiracy “delusions” when they speak of vast right-wing conspiracies (eg, Hilarious Clinton). Certainly, the “conspiracies” that Mark discusses are true, though I doubt that they are run by a cabal of hyper-wealthy evil masterminds that sit in James Bond-style high tech caves plotting the destruction of the world as we know it. The “conspiracies better fit the Three Stooges antics or Peter Sellers out on a new detective mission.

In a way, one could identify the Media Industrial Complex (MIC) as yet another conspiracy, but that would further misuse the word “conspiracy”. It perhaps is better to say that the media is a mirror on the nature of all humankind, being evil to the core, desirous of control of fellow citizens, not compelled to exercise integrity when half-truths could better serve their purpose, and examining the world through deeply tinted rose-colored glasses.

Mark is quite successful and heavily referenced in showing the MIC as unduly biased and most sly in their intent to conceal their biases. The chapters of this book are short, detailing how the MIC controls our thinking through censorship of news and information that doesn’t fit the desired narratives, and that has distinctive agendas (anti-gun, anti-God, pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ, enviro-apocalyptic) that through manipulation lead audiences into thinking that their viewpoints are the only existing viewpoints without contest. Mark spends several chapters discussing (not in these words) Trump-derangement syndrome, and the assault on God and family of the media. Finally, Mark does a superb job of detailing the assault on truth and the manipulation of the news and public square for information that social media is inflicting on a purposely uninformed public. Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all fall prey to the discerning knife of Dice’s exposé. Most scary is the final chapter (The Future…) where the possibility of news being created by AI programs that now already exist, which can reconstruct anybody’s voice to say what it will, or incorporate a person in video that never ever happened. This technology is not Dick Tracy-esque, but already exists.

So, why do I give this book only 4 stars since it is an excellent and well-researched text? One thing missing from the book is a better in-depth analysis of what is being seen with our eyes wide shut. Mark Dice needs to be not only a provocateur but also a pundit and sage. Perhaps time and maturity will accomplish that feat. Do I recommend this book? Absolutely and whole-heartedly. Stop right now and order your book. It’s worth a read.

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Oct 31

A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There, by Aldo Leopold ★★★

This book is very popular among environmental groups as it offers a strong case for the current environmental movement, and is often quoted by environmentalists. I became interested in the book only after reading another environmental book, Another Shade of Green, also recently reviewed by me.

This edition is divided into 4 parts; 1) a fairly lengthy introduction by Robert Finch, which I’ll not review, 2) A Sand County Almanac, which is observations Leopold made on his farm in central Wisconsin for each month of a certain year. 3) Sketches Here and There, which are brief observations from various states of the USA and Mexico. 4) Leopold attempting to lay a philosophical basis for the environmental movement. Section 2 and 3 are very similar in their style detailing Leopold’s observations of nature, but are organized first chronologically, and then location-wise.

First, I found it challenging to stomach the arrogance of Aldo Leopold. He is constantly making statements suggesting that he sees things in nature that other people callously don’t pause to notice. But, are you surprised? That is what Aldo is supposed to be doing. He has been trained to observe nature, and that was his occupation. He knows the names of minute plants and organisms. I scarcely am able to differentiate the names of various common trees. But, I am a trained surgeon and notice physical characteristics of the human body that go unnoticed by everybody else. Yet, I don’t insult or condescend to my patients for not noticing things that I have been trained to notice. That one does not quickly identify subtle changes in nature, or take note of obscure plants that wax and wane over the year, does not reflect on one’s absence of appreciation for nature. Similarly, my patients appreciate good health, even though they are not always cognizant of subtle signs and symptoms that reflect a loss of that good health.

Leopold appeals most to the irrational emotions of people by creating a Disneyesque nature to our world. Animals talk and think rationally. Animals think out a rationality to nature that simply doesn’t exist. In the process, Leopold turns our world into a giant version of Disneyland. The technique of personalizing beasts of the field and birds of the air leaves for delightful reading. Doesn’t one often have curiosity as to what animals are thinking about? It’s ok to be creating scenarios of sentient creatures, but don’t sell it as a plea to protect our world.

Leopold is often hypocritical about protecting nature. He loves to hunt but laments how hunting has altered the ecosphere. He loves nature but complains when others get out into nature in a different style than him, such as through the use of RVs and motorhomes, etc. He bemoans over-population but doesn’t volunteer to help reduce human population by eliminating himself. Clearly, he lives in a solipsistic world that has reduced tolerance to those different from himself.

The greatest thing I noticed in reading this book is that Leopold remains entire blind to the most obvious fact observable in nature, that of a Creator. Leopold will frequently refer to Biblical stories, though they are treated more in a fairytale fashion than actual history. His god is evolution which created his beloved environment through time and chance from the primordial slime. Yet, the heavens and firmament are screaming at deafening volumes as to a loving, wonderful God who gave us a beautiful earth. It is sad that Leopold doesn’t see the forest because of the trees, and fails to realize that there is a connectivity, and moral rationale for protecting nature based on a desire to care and nurture the world God has given to us.

I found part 4 of this book the most interesting, but also the most muddled in thinking. He agonizes about a “land ethic” but never defines it completely. Then, he details the two types of environmentalists, those that are mostly hunters/RV campers/occasional participants in the outdoors, and those that have a strong interest in going as natural as possible and preserving wilderness as a natural phenomenon. He could have picked two names, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir, to make his point, but he didn’t. His idea was that the more “natural” we keep nature, the higher good is obtained. Now, I have my repulsion for hunters and RV campers, but that doesn’t make me establish a superior attitude to them. We all enjoy nature in different ways. I tend to side with the later (John Muir) camp, but also realize that we have a responsibility to care for nature. I also have a very difficult time identifying that the more natural things are, the better off they are. A perfect example is the California forests, which are burning up because of the absence of forest management. Another example is the rise of Lyme disease in the Northeast because of the return of farmed lands to “nature”. It is difficult for me to grasp exactly what the most proper natural state of the biosphere would be. I also have difficulty seeing the moral superiority of a burned-out piece of wilderness over a carefully managed piece of wilderness. The most aggressive environmental pundits long wistfully for wilderness in the Daniel Boone sense, but that is a wish that is similar to wishing that one could again believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. An expansive wilderness that covers half a continent simply will never again happen.

Aldo Leopold paints a very fancy picture of the outdoors and longs wistfully for the wild untouched land of yesteryear, but that doesn’t help when attempting to create a rational policy toward wilderness and natural sites management. The environment remains an emotional issue for all. Who is there that cannot gaze upon a majestic mountain scene or a stately elk in its native environment, and not be overwhelmed with emotion. These emotions don’t help when attempting to formulate public policy. Leopold worked in the public sector all his life and should have known better. In my opinion, wilderness speaks for itself. Most people agree that we must not destroy the natural beauty of our world. How we go about saving our natural areas, and exactly what is meant by saving our natural areas remains a topic of discussion. Overmanagement might be a grave evil, but so is undermanagement. This is our earth, and we must care for it diligently but cautiously.

I can appreciate the witness that Leopold gives to the beauty and majesty of our natural world. I don’t appreciate that he fails to discuss the most obvious conclusion of his observations, that…

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

…yet, there remain so many folk, especially educated elitists like Leopold, that close their eyes and remain deaf to the obvious, that we live in our Father’s world, and because it is His, we darn well better take good care of it!

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Sep 01

A Different Shade of Green, A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the Dominion Mandate, by Gordon Wilson★★★

This is a book I received recently direct from Canon Press and not from Amazon, and chosen because of my avid interest in a Biblical approach to environmentalism, ecology, and wilderness ethics. Gordon Wilson has a degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy and lives in Moscow, Idaho. He is the brother of Douglas Wilson, a preacher and well-known personality in the town of Moscow, Idaho.
The text is easily readable, which I did in about 4 hours, and geared for the early high school level. I don’t have any serious criticisms of the book, save for the book being moderately non-academic and rather incomplete in its thinking. I mostly agree wholeheartedly with the thesis and many of the conclusions of Gordon, but feel that he did a poor job of developing a comprehensive Christian/Biblical approach to the environment. There are many questions which he left untouched and unanswered in the book.
He heavily quotes two people, Aldo Leopold and his Sand County Almanac and Francis Schaeffer in Pollution and the Death of Man, written in conjunction with Schaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middelmann.
I have read and re-read Schaeffer’s text many times, and it has been formative in my thinking on the environment; I’ve read the Sand County Almanac once and have reviewed it elsewhere on my webpage. This current book tends to support Schaeffer’s theses, and thus I would stand in whole-hearted agreement with all that Wilson has to say. New in Wilson’s thought was his emphasis on the biosphere operating analogically as a giant machine, and each part of the biosphere (and physical earth I presume) being an integral part of that machine. Thus, all species and subspecies play a role in the overall and necessary function for the best operation of the total biosphere.
What did Dr. Wilson leave up to question? He definitely overuses a few words without defining them, such as the word “dominion”. He quotes the word as used in Gen 1:28, where the text really doesn’t give a strong clue as to precisely what is meant as “dominion”. Perhaps the overplay of the word orients around a possible adherence to Dominion Theology. While Dr. Wilson may adhere to Dominion Theology (I don’t), I don’t find Dominion Theology as necessary in building a Christian stance for the environment. Certainly, Francis Schaeffer and Udo Middelmann did not feel that way! Wilson focuses heavily on the animal kingdom, giving the plant kingdom only passing mention, and the physical earth as almost no mention. This is problematic. To what extent is it ok to “remodel” the earth? Is dynamite sinful? What about the preservation of beauty? How would he lean in the (still ongoing) Hetch Hetchy controversy? Would he lean with Pinchot or with (the probably more Christian) Muir? Waffling on the question is NOT an option. What about the state preserving areas such as wilderness? Wilson in the book not once (that I could find) even mentions the word “wilderness”. This leaves a giant lacuna for the book. Can he form a wilderness ethic? Does he have any comments on the wilderness act of 1963? Is it good or bad? How would he change it? He suggests leaving some areas “natural”, yet that is NOT Biblical, as “dominion” suggests caring for all the earth in a fashion to groom, control, contain it. Another giant lacuna is a discussion of bioengineering, the production of genetically modified organisms, and its role in ecology. Is GMO a good or a bad thing from an environmentalist perspective? I would reiterate a question, how would Wilson lean in the Pinchot versus Muir debate? How do we balance utility of the biosphere with the preservation of the native state of nature? Is logging ok? How much logging? What about the grazing of sheep and cattle? Is it simply a question of “sustainability” (i.e., over-grazing”) or are there aesthetic issues involved? What about the preservation of exotic subspecies? Part of my recent hike (the PCT) was detoured because biologists felt that the sound of human steps disturbed the sex life of the yellow-legged frog. I felt that this was misdirected thinking. How would Wilson weigh in on this? The last few years had an unprecedented number of west coast forest fires, and at least a few of these were the result of poor forest management or laissez-faire attitudes toward forest upkeep. Does Wilson have any comments on this? Should we manage forests in a way to limit the number of forest fires, or should we allow natural fires to have their way? He quoted briefly Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, yet this book has come under serious attack for being very bad science, and perhaps completely inaccurate as to the effects of DDT. How would Wilson respond? I have been engaged numerous times with libertarians who contend that a libertarian approach to the environment would have the most salutary effect at preserving wild places. Experience and time have shown that the libertarians are dead wrong on this issue. I believe that there is a role for the state in preserving wild areas and maintaining laws that prevent the destruction of the environment, maintaining necessary areas such as wetlands, fields, forests and other habitats for members of the plant and animal kingdom to survive. How much control of our land does Wilson feel the state should have? How would Wilson interpret Biblical law in order to protect the environment? How does he reconcile the Quiver-full movement with environmental destruction from “over-population”? Any form of development of the land intrinsically leads to habitat destruction. Clearing out the land for a house or housing development, flattening a large parcel for a shopping mall, diverting rivers for flood control, putting in roads across natural ranges for animals (bison!!!), and even the development of hiking trails leads to habitat destruction. How does one balance the good and bad of human activity in this world? This ultimately leads to the most fundamental issue, and that pertains to the orientation of the universe. Wilson and I both believe that the universe was created for man, for both sustaining men but also for man’s enjoyment and pleasure. This makes both Wilson and I side (I presume) toward an anthropocentric universe. This seems to be the fundamental difference between us and the secular environmentalists who do not believe the world is anthropocentric, and that man is an often an unwelcome invader in this world. I wonder why he didn’t develop this thinking further, as any discussion of wilderness focuses on man’s role in this universe?
Enough questions. With time, I could draw more that I think are vital to answer in any form of engagement of Christians with non-Christians in their discussion of environmental issues. The book is a good read, and I recommend it, even to those with a passing interest in environmental issues.

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