Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Fear by Woodward

I’ve been asked by several people why I would even read this book. After all, we already have two sensational, and likely self-serving, books on President Trump (that I didn’t read). We already have mainstream media’s constant attacks on the President. We already have Trump’s Twitter feed. What more can I get from this? The answer and goal I always have is the same: the truth. The question is, does this book provide the truth? I’m not sure.

Fear
by Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster
September 2018

I did a lot of research on Woodward. The stuff he became known for is before my time: I wasn’t alive during Watergate. I was a child during Reagan and a young adult (who wasn’t paying attention) during Clinton. I wanted to make sure I was reading a “real” journalist’s account because I was tired of the sensational and self-serving. According to his press, Woodward seems like the real deal and one who may be above the squabbling and divisiveness of the current culture wars, which is important to me.

Over the last decade, our shared American culture has fractured. Social Media echo chambers reinforce and magnify myopic views that ignore the big picture, like someone taking and posting pictures of the hub caps on their beater car. The rise of citizen journalism, a good thing, has given bad actors a new platform to abuse the truth that along with the open political advocacy of publications – right and left – has worked to degrade trust in fact-based reporting. Pundits and opinion “journalists” have only made it worse as we seem to have more activist pundits than actual journalists in media and print. Bill O’Reilly may have made “the no spin zone” a popular phrase for a generation of watchers but he did so while continuing to spin himself. Everyone spins. Everyone is biased. But like the detective of old, what we really need, I think, is “just the facts, ma’am.”

In this culture of fear, suspicion, and distrust, I want to know what to believe. I’ve heard Trump give speeches. I’ve read transcripts. I know what he says and what he didn’t say (but is reported to have meant, which is dangerous to assume.) I know his voice and how he speaks. I think I know his character. What I’d like to know is if what I perceive is accurate of the President. Woodward is the best shot we have, I think, of finding that out.

But can we trust Woodward and his anonymous sources? On the plus side, we get information that we probably wouldn’t get otherwise for fear of reprisal. Anonymous sources drive most of the insider investigative reporting I’ve read or listened to. Not knowing the name of the leaker doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But on the negative side, I see several really big drawbacks, the biggest of these is if the journalist or the sources are driven by agendas. This is the one I’m most concerned with. If Woodward wanted to cash in his reputational chips, he could do a ton of damage to Trump here and maybe even justify to himself that the lies are worth it since he may believe something like “Trump is damaging the dream of America more than any terrorist attack ever could” (Joe Scarborough, published by the Washington Post on 9/11/18, the same paper that Woodward is an associate editor at and on the same day his book was released). We would never know that he was lying, if he did.

We have no assurance that the people he interviewed weren’t lying. For instance, there are scenes where we read the thoughts of people, like Lindsey Graham’s when talking to Trump. Something like, “Graham thought that [fill in the blank]…” Assuming this is actually happened, we could only know his thoughts if Graham was the source or someone who Graham told his thoughts to was the source. Graham has not been a fan of Trump and has made his feelings very clear during the 2016 campaign. Many of the stories with Graham make him out to be reasonable and willing to work with people he doesn’t like/agree with, and a few more make him look like a callous political elite who is fine with a million people dying in South Korea rather than in the US (according to one story.) Is someone trying to make Graham look a certain way? Is he? We don’t know. It is likely that many, if not most, of the people interviewed for the book no longer work at the White House (it seems likely that Bannon is a source since there are several Bannon and Trump private conversations recounted), or never did and maybe never were a fan (see Graham as an example.)

The only thing I know for sure is this: if these stories are accurate then there is a lot to be concerned about. I’m no politician, but I know NATO is one of the most important alliances in the history of humanity. I don’t get briefed by national security advisors, but I understand that strategic positioning of troops and military assets, including THADD installations, in South Korea are more important than the cost of upkeep. The list goes on. Trump’s statements, if true, are significantly more dangerous to national security than Gary Johnson’s “what is Aleppo?” comment, but in the same vein.

But what does all this mean? Joan Didion, in 1996 (New York Review of Books,) called Woodward’s reporting “political pornography.” While vulgar, it’s hard to say that this book can’t fit that description. Woodward recounts a series of stories, told by people we don’t know and we can’t know how they spun the stories according to their unknown agenda, that readers who already despise Trump will get a perverse pleasure from reading what may be true but what is certainly gossip. Others, who want to know the truth about what’s going on, will ultimately end up with a lot more information, but no more certainty.

While reading this, I was reminded once again of Proverb 18:17, “The first to speak in court sounds right–until the cross-examination begins.” This is Truth. Woodward’s book is… maybe true or maybe not.

My friends were right. Why did I read this book?

Unbelievable by Katy Tur

I don’t normally read books like this, but the Trump phenomenon over the last several years is so seismic (or yuge) and because the book was on sale, I felt that I had to give it a shot.

Unbelievable
by Katy Tur
Dey Street Books
September 2017

I’d heard some of the complaints by Trump about “Little Katy” during the campaign but didn’t understand what was going on. I don’t watch the news on cable or TV and had almost no experience with who this reporter was or her role in covering the Trump campaign. I almost stopped reading during the first couple chapters. Tur came across exactly how I had worried she might – argumentative, vulgar at times, and – most importantly – clearly biased. I had no interest in reading a book by someone with an axe to grind. But I was listening to this book – thanks Audible! – while playing Elder Scrolls Online so I left it playing while I became the Scarlet Judge. After a couple hours at 155% speed I was about half way through the book and had overcome my concerns. Oh, Tur is definitely biased and she I believe she definitely has an attitude (she narrates and I believe it’s clear in her tone). But she is also really interesting.

The background of what happened at key interviews and campaign stops was fascinating. Recognizing her bias and taking that into account I can say that this book was worth reading/listening for the first hand insight into the campaign and how Trump thinks (which may be extrapolated by how he acts in conjunction with Tur’s opinion.)

I’m not sure I’ll read other books by Tur in the future – or other books about Trump or his campaign – but as a one-time, sale-induced read it wasn’t bad.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

12 Rules for Life by Peterson

No matter what you think of Dr. Peterson there is no doubt at all that he is a worldwide phenomenon with sold out speaking tours all around the Western world, YouTube and social media accounts in the millions of views each month as well as this bestselling book. It would be foolish to read just our favorite news sources’ opinions of him when there is so much he publishes himself. So reading his book was a no brainer! And I’m glad I did.

12 Rules for Life
by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
Random House Canada
January 2018

Dr. Peterson blends an interesting mix of history (especially totalitarian history) with philosophy, religion and mythology all held together by psychology. So while some chapters may seem like they would go the normal self-help route he takes a long detour around his vast knowledge of these topics to provide insight into why he thinks we ought to do the things we do. In the meantime, we get good advice, some of it used to be called common sense, as well as lessons in all kinds of disciplines. I think that’s important. Too often, readers are told to simply trust the author because, well, they wrote the book after all. But why should I trust someone I don’t know? But make the case with authorities and evidence I can check myself or that I do know and I’m willing to bite. Peterson does that. Well.

I made the decision to listen to him on audiobook and it’s the way I’d recommend it to anyone. I love listening to authors read their own work – see Al Gore, President Clinton, President Bush, President Carter, Katy Tur – because you can hear what they really mean and how they really feel by their emphasis and tonal changes. I could hear the passion that Dr. Peterson felt when discussing certain topics as well as the pain. For instance, when he spoke about his daughter’s suffering.

Controversy and politics aside, there is no good reason I can think of not to listen to or read this book. His 12 Rules, if followed, can’t possibly be bad for anyone. Quite the contrary, in fact. We could all use more advice and urging to make the most of ourselves, fix ourselves before we try to fix the world (and in fact, fixing ourselves is probably the best kind of fixing the world there is,) focus on what’s good and make the time we spend with people matter by listening well and recognizing that they have something to teach us. There is so much in this book that’s extremely positive I recommend it highly.

A note about religion, especially Christianity. One thing that does vex Christians, myself included, is whether Dr. Peterson is actually a Christian in the born again/ giving his life to Christ way, rather than the respect for Christ and God, theist or Universalist way. I thought I had him figured out most of the way through the book as someone who follows Christianity because of what it represents – every character and story is archetypical or represents a greater truth. If that’s true only, and I’m trying to be precise here, then his faith may not be Christianity as we know it. But then towards the end of the book I’m certain I heard more personal faith in both his tone and his words. He points to the Bible throughout without directly proselytizing, but at times, especially in the Pet the Cat section and following, he seems to open up a little more about what his faith does for him. If that’s true and I wasn’t reading into him, then it’s possible that Dr. Peterson may be discussing Christianity in a way that won’t put off readers who don’t believe, while not specifically hiding what he does, but simply using what he understands about Christianity in ways that bolster his claims for universal truths in his Rules. So after reading this long book as listening to many of his YouTube videos and podcasts I am back where I was at the start: I have no idea what kind of Christianity Dr. Peterson has. Regardless, this is not a “Christian” book. But it is a good book. I’ll have to live with the ambiguity of Dr. Peterson’s cat-ness, here.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Bullies by Shapiro

Book 17 of 2018: Bullies by Ben Shapiro. I’d read political books by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, (and I highly recommend this,) and historical memoirs, (like Booker T. Washington’s earlier this year, ) but never a political book by someone who hasn’t been in the White House or been that close to power, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Bullies
By Ben Shapiro
Simon aand Schuster
January 2013

The first thing I noticed was how dated this book was. It was published at the start of 2013, right after the second election of Barack Obama. So many of the characters named, people and organizations, are no longer in the news daily. And several controversies have been resolved, even if only because of time passed.

But the topics are still timely. You may not be Republican – and I include myself here – but the attacks and tactics Shapiro discusses are relevant today even more than they were five years ago. Free speech, the freedom of religion and the exercise of religious practice, and disagreeing agreeably are constantly under attack in the zeitgeist on college campuses and public square where speakers, especially non-far left speakers who toe the ideological neo Marxist line, are deplatformed, slandered and even attacked physically. The calls for thought control and speech control are shockingly “1984” but for some reason we are ignoring the past and seem doomed to repeat it.

I’m not ideologically aligned on several points that Shapiro espouses but I would never suggest he doesn’t have the right to express his opinion. And in the end, that’s why I read books like this or by ex- Presidents on both sides of the political spectrum. I find that most of them make some good points and I grow in respect and empathy for some people that I may not have agreed with previously. In fact, I still may not agree with them or perhaps what they did, but understanding their perspective is important.

I like how Shapiro ends his book quoting E Pluribus Unim, “out of many, one” as the goal. As Americans, we may have a lot of differences but we are all on in the same boat. Listening to each other with respect and empathy will strengthen our unity and perhaps put the chill on all the divisiveness in our culture.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Up From Slavery by Washington

Booker was born a slave on a plantation in Alabama. He died the president of a university and one of the most celebrated men in America.

Up From Slavery
by Booker T. Washington
1901

This is a fascinating autobiography by an important fight in American history! The first few chapters, especially, give a history of the end of slavery and the first 25 years after emancipation from the perspective of a former slave that are indispensable! Later chapters focus more on Washington’s accolades and the growth of Tuskegee University and aren’t as interesting, except for certain events.

This is a book worth reading and one all Americans should read for the history and also Washington’s attitude and philosophy, which I think still matters: educate yourself, gain skills, work hard. Rise up.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

The Abolition of Man by Lewis

This very short collection of lectures is a fascinating look at a mid last century argument against, what I believe we now call, postmodernism.

The Abolition of Man
by C.S. Lewis
1943

Lewis argues most vigorously against the attack on reason that a couple authors of a school text make, knowingly or not. The idea that sets Lewis off is a seeming rejection of objective reality; that things are objectively true regardless of our opinions. He carefully makes his argument without referring to Christianity or any religion at all, but falls back on what he calls the Tao or – and Lewis readers will recognize this one – natural law.

This argument is a winning one, but unfortunately we see that nearly 80 years later society has embraced it. Postmodernism and relativism rule academia and culture. “My truth” and “your truth” are accepted even though they don’t exist, objectively. “That’s how you see it” or “That’s your opinion” have not only been shown to be as destructive as Lewis anticipated but lead to exactly where he warns us: the death, or abolition, of all objective knowledge.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare

A graphic art non-fiction account of the artists visit to Northern Syria / Rojava (Kurds) and first hand account of his impressions on the factions currently at war.

Kobane Calling
by zerocalcare
Lion Forge
October 2017

I don’t accept the stories as gospel, because there is simply too much confusion and propaganda on all sides. But I do accept these stories as his experiences and will continue to dig deeper into this crazy abyss that currently has so many nations in a sort of proxy war over this area. It was fascinating and, if true, heartbreaking. Definitely worth taking a look at.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Patterns of Evidence: Exodus

Did the Exodus from the Bible actually happen? Many say there is no evidence, but what if the time frame that they were looking for evidence was wrong? That’s what this documentary wants us to consider.

Patterns of Evidence: Exodus
by Timothy P. Mahoney
Thinking Man Films
August 2015

A well made and intriguing documentary – if you dig archaeology – the film provides what it sees as evidence of the Exodus happening earlier than most current archeologists believe. By changing the expected date, according to the film, the Exodus fits the evidence almost perfectly. I’ve watched this film several times and find the “evidence” compelling. The problem is that there is almost no documentation outside of this film to fact check.

I’ve looked for more information on what I think is a fascinating find that deserves more information: the pyramid tomb of someone who may be Joseph. But outside of links to and about this film it is hard to find more information on that. What I would like to see, and what I think is very important, are follow-up about the evidence itself. This is the problem with most documentaries: are you telling me a story or are you presenting facts. I’m not sure.

The only works cited I can find on the documentaries website are a bunch of books by David Rohl. Dr. Rohl, according to Wikipedia, is an Egyptologist who has been putting forth theories like the early dating of the Exodus since the 1980s. (He has also put forth his theory of where the Garden of Eden would have been – next film, maybe?) What is interesting about Dr. Rohl is that he is not a Christian so what he says isn’t easily dismissed as biased. But minority opinion is still a fair label. Whether he is right or not may not be knowable at this time.

In the end we have a documentary that makes a strong, if somewhat unsubstantiated, case for an early dating of the Exodus that kept my attention twice so far and has intrigued me so much that I may end up reading Dr. Rohl on the topic. I recommend it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This movie was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Journey by Sanna

As I lay down on the ground with my 7 and 10 year old boys to read this book I considered the reasons for doing so. This book is not your typical children’s book with an upbeat and happy story. This is a story about war, death, destruction, fear, migration and refugees. Why should I read this to my young boys? Because I want them to understand the crisis and to empathize with those who have lost almost everything. Empathy is so powerful and it’s so lacking in the world today.

The Journey
by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books
September 2016

We took turns reading the beautifully illustrated pages about the war (obviously Syria based on the starting point and the journey). The reading level was higher than my first grader but fine for my fourth grader. As we finished, I took a minute to unpack this for them. We discussed what happened and what it would be like to live through this. I explained that this is a true story and it really happens. I showed them before and after pictures of the destruction in Syria (careful to avoid pictures of casualties and injuries). “Why don’t we stop this?” they asked. I said it wasn’t that easy. In language they could understand I told them about the crisis and encouraged them to care and to pray for these people.

Hours later when they told mom about this story they were still upset that we couldn’t save these people – the nearly 6 million displaced, the over 4 million refugees, and the nearly half a million deaths. My hope is that thanks to a book like this children and their adult readers can come to empathize and care. That this isn’t just a news story that can be ignored.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

My First Book of Hockey by Sports Illustrated

Almost everything you need to know about hockey.

My First Book of Hockey
A Rookie Book: Mostly Everything Explained About the Game
Designed by Beth Bugler
Sports Illustrated
September 2016

This children’s book contains cut outs of photos of real players that are used to describe action and how the game is set up. There is a cartoon little boy who shows up occasionally to allow your child to connect and see themselves in the game. It covers very basic information, like how many players, what happens at face offs, scoring and some fouls. Exactly what a young person needs, in my experience.

My youngest guy, who is 7, is taking part in our local NHL team’s training program for new and have never played kids and so this book was my attempt to help acclimate him to that and to his first visit to watch a game live. It was very easy for him to follow along with and to get an idea of what he was watching and what he would be doing. The pictures had just enough visual appeal to keep interest (although as an adult, I found the pictures boring and sometimes out of context, but it’s not for me.)

I recommend this to others who want to introduce their children to the basics. I found it helpful.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.