Book Review: Victorious Christian Living, by Alan Redpath

I read this book on a recommendation from a pastor friend, and found the majority of it unremarkable. However, I did enjoy chapters 8-11 (the middle portion of the book). While most books have the weakest portions at the middle, this book had its strongest portions there. Here is a selection I enjoyed:

Fellow Christian, if you have made your mistake, lost your battle, and find yourself in difficulty, you cannot make that an excuse for breaking your word. The Christian is a man (or should be) of principle and integrity. Of course, mark you, there are some covenants better broken than kept. For example, Herod’s oath to give anything she asked to the daughter of Herodias, who had inflamed him as she danced before him, was no justification for murder. For heaven’s sake break today a covenant made in open, blatant sin. But some Christian may have entered into a wrong alliance in business or in marriage, and find himself tied to a Gibeonite for the rest of his life. What about that? The Word is the answer, not me. “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. . . . How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (I Cor. 7: 12, 16). Of course, young people, that cannot be taken as a reason for entering into marriage with an unbeliever, for if you do that, you are breaking the Word of God, which tells you not to be yoked with unbelievers. If, however, you stepped into such a marriage inadvertently and found yourself linked in partnership with a man or woman who professed to be a Christian in order to win you, but since has made your life a hell on earth, the Word of God teaches very plainly that you cannot break that alliance. But the Word also tells you that if you come in humbleness of heart and acknowledge before God that you have sinned, He will cause the Gibeonite to whom you are married to be the chief means of bringing you to Him in prayer. The flame on the altar of your love for Jesus will burn the more brightly, and through your life many will be saved. It happened to John Wesley. It has happened to many a man and many a woman since. What they thought was a curse, the mistake from which they thought they could never be free, which seemed to have ruined their testimony for right, was used by God to strengthen their prayer life and deepen their devotion. God turned the curse into a blessing!

Book Review: The Last Witchking by Vox Day

I picked this book up because the Kindle version was free on Amazon a while back. Now, SF/F is not a genre I typically read. Probably I lack the requisite imagination, as I am firmly anchored to the physical and practical. When I do read fiction, I tend to go more for a story that at least ostensibly occurs in the real world–I can picture all the characters in a Hemingway or L’Amour story, but I’m still terribly unclear as to the difference between an Orc and a Gargoyle. However, I have been rewarded by some of my forays into the SF/F genre, notably by Huxley’s Brave New World.

My general aversion to the genre has kept me from reading any of Vox Day’s fiction in the past, but I have been following his blogs for a while, and when I saw The Last Witchking for free I decided to give it a try. It is a testament to the quality of the writing that I immensely enjoyed the read, despite my continued confusion as to the actual differences between the various fictitious creatures.  It did not supplant Winner Take Nothing and Men Without Women at the top of my list of best-ever short story collections, but it was quite good.

Personally, I found the middle story to be the best of the three. I was surprised by this, as the general practice when producing a collection of short stories, an album of music, or any other similar collection is to place the strongest material at the beginning and end, and the weakest in the middle. This story, “The Hoblets of Wiccam Fensboro” deals with the concepts of garnering the hatred of the righteous by appearing to join evil in order to defeat evil. Thus, it puts the concepts of duty of result and duty of example at odds, creating a compelling moral conundrum. Much fiction idolizes the man who takes a public stand against the odds and thus inspires a later victory, but comparatively less examines the value of the man who appears to capitulate in order to sabotage the enemy from within.

If you like the SF/F genre, you will assuredly enjoy this collection of stories. Even if you are not a fan of SF/F, like me, I imagine you will find this collection to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. Give it a try.

Book Review: Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It’s been quite a while since I’ve finished this book, but I put off writing a review until now. And really, this will not be so much a review as comments predicated by the book. This book is not a light read. While the main gist is intuitive and easy to grasp, some parts of the book are quite technical and dense. Generally speaking though, it was an excellent book.

The concept of antifragility is something that gets stronger through uncertainty, disorder, or abuse. Think, for example, Christianity: the blood of the martyrs was the seed from which more believers sprang up. While the robust withstands insult, the antifragile is improved by it. Although Taleb does not really get into it in the book, I believe that the concept of antifragility is especially suited to discussing masculinity and manliness.

Manliness is the ultimate example of antifragilty. It thrives in chaos and disorder, and atrophies in peace and safety. Even today, the enclaves of manliness that exist are inexricably tied to increased danger and chaos. Thus, increasing antifragility will also increase masculinity. This is a fundamental concept missing in many modern analyses of masculinity–we think that we can preserve manliness somehow while simultaneously eliminating the chaos and danger that it thrives on. People lament “Peter-Pan man-boys,” but cheer the safety and stability that caused them.

Jack Donovan is one of the few who understand this, saying: “Manliness requires the opportunity for risk, and those opportunities are decreasing in our highly controlled, pacified society. Men need chaos to restart the world.” In fact, reading Donovan’s The Way of Men and Taleb’s Antifragile together makes the link between masculinity and antifragility very clear.

Chaos can not be held down forever. The longer it is held down, the more masculinity will decline, and the fewer men will be prepared to meet it when it rises again.

Book Review: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Ranulph Fiennes

My third read this year was a departure from the economic/personal finance theme of the last two. Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know was a solid autobiography written in a matter-of-fact style. Whether writing about his SAS experiences, or his polar expeditions, or his insane marathon challenge, or his climb of the North Face, or cutting his frostbit fingers off with a vise and hacksaw, you never get the sense that Fiennes is bragging. He relates the stories as casually as if these are things that everyone does. In fact, it becomes easy to forget how extraordinary some of his stories are–you set the book down, and an hour later go “holy shit, that dude’s insane!”

Oddly, I found the stories of the polar expeditions less intriguing than I would have expected, though I found other aspects of his life captivating. It was a good reminder that life is what you make it, and that if your life lacks adventure it is because you avoid it due to it often presenting itself as trouble. For the average adventurer, I recommend it, but the person with specific interest in polar travel will find it far more intriguing.

Book Review: Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Milburn

I purchased this book with the hope that it would be a good “sharing book” to introduce people to minimalism. Because this book never takes the tenets of minimalism to their obvious conclusions outside of personal life–conclusions about government spending, for example–it is a good introductory book for the person who is currently trying to buy his happiness both with his own dollars and with the dollars of the taxpayer at large.

The conversational device employed seems more than a little contrived in places, but other than that the book is a quick and enjoyable read. The author uses a semi-autobiography to show how minimalism gave both himself and his best friend freedom from debt, freedom from jobs that controlled them, and freedom to pursue the things they are truly passionate about.

This book is not a “how-to” guide, although it does mention enough ideas and techniques for the reader to implement minimalism in his own life. Rather, it is a “why-to” manual that focuses more on benefits and advantages than on specific implementation protocols. Probably the most valuable aspect of the book from a sharing perspective it that it stresses how the author and his friend found increasing happiness tied to decreasing possessions. The most common question I get when explaining that I practice minimalism is “are you ever happy?” Those who are seeking to purchase happiness are keenly aware that it doesn’t work, and will key in on the author’s experience finding happiness.

All in all, it’s not the most practical book on minimalism I’ve read, but it is what I was hoping it would be: A good introductory book to give to the person who is far from minimalism.

Book Review: Bachelor Pad Economics by Aaron Clarey

I first discovered Aaron Clarey when Amazon recommend his book Enjoy the Decline based on my purchase of Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men (also an excellent book). Despite the typos, I was impressed with the content of Enjoy the Decline, and started following Clarey’s blog. When I noticed he had also written a book billed as “the young person’s indispensable guide to choosing the right major,” I downloaded the free Kindle sample. Within 10 minutes, I had purchased the book for my sister, a high school senior. She found it helpful enough that she loaned it out to a number of her classmates after finishing it.

So when Aaron announced that Bachelor Pad Economics was available for Kindle, I immediately bought it.

The first thing I noticed was that the quality of the copy-editing was much better than Enjoy the Decline. However, the down-to-earth style and vernacular were not sacrificed–the book still reads like a friend speaking to you, it just has far less misspellings and missing words. This improvement in editing, coupled with more professional-looking cover, make the book feel more like a book and less like blog selections with a cover slapped on.

As a mid 20’s male who already practices minimalism, read Enjoy the Decline, and fairly regularly reads Clarey’s blog, some of the material was familiar to me. I expected as much. However, even I found plenty of new and valuable information. I had never even thought about most of what is covered in Chapter 13: Legal prior to reading this book. The passage about owning a home in many urban areas having become a liability rather than an asset due to exponential and unconstrained increases in property taxes was another thing that particularly stuck out to me

I would definitely recommend this book to any man who is looking to improve his financial situation, or plan his financial future. Clarey doesn’t lie to you, and when the future isn’t pretty he doesn’t try to paint it rosy. This book will help you avoid dangers that no one else is talking about. (For example, possible 401k confiscation.) While the book was worth the money for me now, it will be most valuable to those aged 12-15, who have not yet learned any of its lessons in the school of hard knocks. I have brothers in that age range I plan to gift with Bachelor Pad Economics in the very near future. If you care about a kid in the same age range, I suggest you do the same.