Sunday, September 03, 2006

Book Review Time!

Time to check in with the latest books read in the house:

Plague Maker, Tim Downs. In my interminable quest for really good medical thrillers, which I adore but which are extremely hard to find, I came across this one.

It is stellar, truly stellar. Not just because the subject-- the threat of bioterrorism is a very real one. Not just because the plot is can't-put-it-down, edge-of-the-seat, don't-bug-me-man,-I'm-reading gripping.

This story involves characters with very human motivations, failings and fears. It's intelligently written, but not self-impressed. With characters that draw the reader in, it treats us to interesting history and dry humor. And best of all it has a most amazing and unexpected ending, a deep, bittersweet, humanly realistic ending.

This book is appropriate for mature teens and any adult. I say mature teens because you have to know something about terrorism and the agencies that handle it. There is one rather gory scene that comprises all of one sentence, but it is not sexual in nature and is absolutely necessary to the story. This is the novel you want to finish off your summer with.

Time After Time, Jack Finney. Some of you may be familiar with Jack Finney's first book Time and Again, in which a man named Simon Morley has an experimental opportunity to go back to the NYC of 1887. Succeeding, he meets Julia, a beautiful young woman, and the story centers around his decision whether to stay or not. Finney's latest book is the sequel to that story and has quite an interesting plot centering around whether WWI could have been prevented. As usual, Finney illustraes his story with real photographs of that time taken in NYC, which never fail to work the magic of making you feel as though you could have been there yourself, feeling what the people of that time felt, seeing what they saw-- and mourning the loss of almost all of that nearly 100 years later. Finney isn't great literature, but way better than alot of other dreck people waste time over.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, Roy Porter. For some weird reason I seem to get something out of reading medical history. I got started on this thanks to my erstwhile professor and continuing friend, D.W. We have a common interest in Vienna-- he spent some time at the Josephinum, and of course we had sabbatical there. DW passed on to me a book on the history of the medical school in Vienna, beginning at the end of the 18th c. We lived only a little ways away from the University, and I'd tried to get to the museum there but it was being renovated during our time there and I never got to. Anyway, that book was pretty dense. It was interesting, but really a scholarly book (I asked DW if he had read it all the way through; the answer was no), and I found myself lacking alot of background knowledge I needed to make real sense out of it. So I walked into the local library and found Porter's book sitting coyly on a shelf at eye level, and I considered it a 'sign' (heh). Well, it's been very good. Much more readable, but not dumbed-down either, and with just the sort of information I was looking for, all arranged into eras and specialty. One of my ongoing queries has been the whole human dissection thing-- whether there was a reluctance to conduct human anatomical dissection, and if so, why, and when all that thinking disappeared. I had some theories going into it, which were disproved. For one thing, I thought that dissection had been disapproved by the Catholic Church, but it hadn't. It's been interesting to see the interplay between health issues and faith issues. The two should go hand in hand, and usually they do (there were no hospitals until those established by Christians, and no one tended the poor except Christians). But bad theology led to bad practise. Oh well, the same is true today-- or perhaps I should say that no theology leads to bad practise today. In any case, I'm not done yet with this one, and then I need to tackle the one on the Vienna medical school again.

The Coming of the Kingdom, Herman Ridderbos. Recently I began to puzzle over the concept of the Kingdom of God, as it is presented in Scripture. One of my great confusions was that Jesus announced the Kingdom of God when He came, but what had it consisted of before He came? And hasn't the Earth always been a part of His Kingdom? Hasn't He always been sovereign over everything? How do you understand this Kingdom? I asked a dear OPC pastor friend for a book suggestion and this was his recommendation, so I ordered it. Herman Ridderbos was, as his name suggests, a Dutch Calvinist who was (in the very best Dutch Calvinist tradition) a very thorough, exacting, patient, and serious theologian. My friend warned me that this was going to be heavy going, and he was right. I'm not reading this thing chapter by chapter. I read it section by section, and I write notes in the margins to keep ideas straight (this practise makes Rich crazy but he will never read this book so I don't care, nyah). But now I am about 100+ pages into it, and am starting to appreciate Ridderbos' exactitude. It pays to slow down and think and make sure you understand before going on. As I have done so, I have understood more of what God is accomplishing in the world even as we live day to day. The notion that Christ was only the beginning of the Return of the King is a broight and hopeful one. Slowly, painfully, this world is giving way more and more to the Kingdom of God. What a long ways there is to go-- and what a long ways we have come! This is one of those happy istances in which reading more than one book at once makes the sum more than the total of the parts: reading medical history at the same time as a Calvinist theologian makes things much clearer.

In between these I have read and/or skimmed one or two other books, none worth mentioning, just more frogs to kiss.


Blogger The Clinging Vine said...

I need to get that medical one...I like medical thrillers, too, and they're awfully hard to find, as you say.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

okay, now I know what to look for at the Used Book Store!

is it in print long enough to be in a Used Book Store?

the medical thriller, that is. Sounds good!

12:52 PM  

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