For several years, I’ve used my Labor Day column to share book recommendations. This year, my endorsements include books that run the gamut of human emotions, from thrilling to intriguing, from stirring to scary.
The most thrilling book on my list is the only fiction book I’ve read this year. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is more than a book about aliens versus earthlings. Card’s novel navigates the spiritual angles of those who seek power and the psyche of sibling rivalry that can destroy families. As a bonus, it also piqued my military interest when it made the Marine Corps Professional Reading List.
Alex Stone amazed me in “Fooling Houdini.” Don’t look for him to tell you the magician’s secrets, but he will help you understand the craft and the athleticism of magic. As a hospital chaplain, I was especially interested in the chapter that unmasked the faith healers who scam the sick for money.
The scariest book I read this year was “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. If you want to know how close the world came to meeting Jesus, read this hair-raising book about the numerous times the American military has dropped, lost and burned nuclear weapons.
The centerpiece story is the explosion of a Titan II missile in 1980 and the white-knuckle disarming of its nuclear device.
If Schlosser can’t scare you, then David Hoffman surely will with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Dead Hand.” Hoffman details a Soviet plan that assured the mutual destruction of our planet. It was hard to take my hand off my mouth as I read how many of these weapons remain missing.
If you’re looking for humor, read any book from science writer/comedian Mary Roach. This year, I’m reading her sly and punny book, “Gulp,” in which she recounts every gross and icky detail of food digestion. As a chaplain, this book reminds me that our bodies are as the psalmist suggested, “wonderfully and fearfully made.”
More than challenging was Frank Viola and George Barna’s book, “Pagan Christianity.” These conservative authors trace the roots of Christian worship to paganism. They make it sound like they’re arguing for the demise of the church, but they are actually calling for the resurgence of the New Testament house church. Truthfully, I was a bit peeved by their conclusions, but it was definitely stimulating.
Tina Rosenberg, author of “Join the Club,” was more than intriguing in her book about the positive and transforming power of peer pressure. A major section of book is devoted to telling the story of Willow Creek Community church. This church inspired major life changes in people by organizing them into proximity groups with similar ages and interests. Nearly the opposite point of view is expressed in Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” As a writer, I sympathize with the power of the introvert.
Soul-stirring is how I’d describe “The Art of Power” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, poet and peace activist. This is the most spiritual book on my list and it speaks to how true power only comes as we relinquish our power and control. This book follows the primary message of all his books — namely, “What we seek, we already have.”
All the books mentioned here are available online or from your local bookstore.