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Rev. Thomas Scarborough (Cape Town, South Africa)
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The Local Church in a Global Era: Reflections for a New Century
The Local Church in a Global Era: Reflections for a New Century
by Max L. Stackhouse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary Theology and Global Issues, 30 Oct. 2006
Princeton Theological Seminary, at the invitation of World Vision, co-hosted a conference in the autumn of 1998 "to aid the publication of materials intended to help redefine missions for the next century". They jointly invited some one hundred delegates, primarily Christian academics and religious leaders. The book covers five major areas of interest at the conference, which might be summarised as: global ethics, spiritual formation, science/technology, pluralism/ecumenism, and issues of violence -- all of which have an eye to the "global future for local churches".

On the one hand, while the book professes to address issues in a "global era", it almost completely excludes non-U.S. perspectives. It fails to define crucial themes such as salvation or mission. Not least, while professing to be about "Christian faith", it is heavily biased towards ethics. On the other hand, it is refreshing from the point of view that it addresses some substantive issues, and is not as "politically correct" as many U.S. books on theology -- partly because the authors were given tight deadlines. I might suggest, more tongue-in-cheek, that the book represents an attempt to apply postliberal theology to global issues.


The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
by Bill Thrall
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Capacity Ladder vs. Character Ladder, 30 Oct. 2006
The book begins by describing the well known "Capacity Ladder", which usually has "four basic rungs". According to this model, the progression to competent leadership runs through four stages: 1) discover what you can do, 2) develop your capacities, 3) acquire a title or position, and 4) attain individual potential. What is wrong with this picture? Perhaps not much in itself. "We have a born impulse to better our lives." However, this may not be "sufficient to ensure that our abilities will result in positive influence or an enduring legacy". "Character immaturity" may lead to self-defeating behaviours, or leaders may rise up the capacity ladder, and "have a negative impact on those around them".

The authors therefore present the "Character Ladder" as an alternative. This simple concept underlies the entire book. The ladder has five rungs instead of four. The first is "stepping up through an act of trust". Above all, this means "expressing your willingness to trust God" for the future. The second is "choosing vulnerability". This means the courage "to come under another's influence", not to go it alone. The third is "aligning with truth". This means "to love and be loved as you reach for your dreams". The fourth is "paying the price". At this mature stage of leadership, "leaders face the greatest challenges from without", and need to go about "regaining objectivity" -- in particular spiritual perspective. The fifth rung is "chutes and leaders". This refers to failure, and the temptation to "take the easy way out".

This is a well written book -- a lightweight read which explains some important concepts, building on a well proven model. However, I had the sense that the book elevated "God's standard" -- character, values, and principles -- to too high a status, and placed too great an emphasis on the source of destiny lying in "the heart".


The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas L. Friedman
Edition: Hardcover

63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "God Bless America", 9 Oct. 2006
A member of the U.S. Congess donated a photograph to a local shop in Cape Town. He wrote across the bottom: "God bless America." Little did he understand what these words would mean in Cape Town: "America? Should God not bless the world?" The photograph would seem an appropriate metaphor for this book. The idea for the book was born when author Tom Friedman, a celebrated journalist, investigated outsourcing to India -- proof that "intellectual capital" may be delivered "from anywhere". As a result, he considered that "the global competitive playing field was being leveled" -- and decided to pursue the trend.

Is the world really flat (or flattening)? Is it flattening competitively, as Friedman suggests? Early on in the book, Friedman alluded to the dark side of such "flattening". He wrote: "But contemplating the flat world also filled me with dread . . ." My own first thoughts were: "Perhaps he thinks of the avarice of the West, or the deceitfulness and destruction of empire?" Yet he was thinking exclusively of "Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks". This seemed bound to be a one-dimensional book. Did his attitude change as he developed his theme? Essentially, no. Some four hundred pages later, his main concern was "a fundamental interest in keeping the American dream alive".

Friedman considers that there have been "ten forces that flattened the world". #1. The "balance of power across the world" has tipped towards democracy. #2. "The computer and its connectivity [has become] inherently more useful for millions of people". #3. Connectivity has enabled "work flow" to be distributed worldwide. These flatteners, in turn, have empowered "new forms of collaboration", which represent Flatteners #4 to #9. Finally, Flattener #10 serves to amplify "all the other flatteners": the fast advancing digital revolution.

Friedman "always believed in free trade". Should he now? In Bangalore, he looked across "these Indian Zippies", and considered: "Oh, my God, there are so many of them." His first thought: he would not want "any American" to suffer. However, "the way to succeed is not by stopping the rail­road line from connecting you, but by upgrading your skills and making the investment[s]". So the advantage comes down to skills and investments. I wondered whether Friedman missed a page in Economics 101, titled "Terms of Trade". He might have spotted the New International Economic Order (NIEO), and how industrialised countries, led by the U.S., opposed much of the agenda, tipping the world scales in their favour.

This book would seem to represent a sobering example of the propaganda of empire -- not to speak of how the deception of empire swallows those who indwell it. Not only is this a book by a celebrated journalist. He won the approval of the Pulitzer Prize committee three times -- which would represent, presumably, the opinions of a large swathe of the U.S.A. I had suspected that such thinking might exist in the U.S.A. This book provides disturbing insight.


How to Read Wittgenstein
How to Read Wittgenstein
by Ray Monk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Reader, Yet Lacks Wider Perspective, 8 Sept. 2006
A "reader" differs from an introduction or a beginner's guide. A reader selects key passages from an author, and "brings the reader face-to-face with the writing itself in the company of an expert guide". Thus Ray Monk elucidates key passages of Wittgenstein.

It would seem that the Wittgenstein passages are well chosen, and well explained. As far as the "How to Read" books go, this one strikes a good balance of explanatory power and simplicity of style, and further points out some common mistakes in understanding Wittgenstein. A further strength is its plain explanation of the shift from the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus to the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations.

Monk expresses some strong views about Wittgenstein, and it would seem hard to tell whether he loves him or hates him. He quotes Wittgenstein's patron, Bertrand Russell, who considered that "the later Wittgenstein seems to have grown tired of serious thinking." This, he considers, may be "precisely right".

A major weakness of the book, I felt, was that Monk did too little to give one a sense of the wider significance of Wittgenstein's views -- or of their wider intent, if Monk should think that Wittgenstein had any. It is one thing to explain a passage in simple terms, another to explain its significance. So, for instance, Monk gives one little idea of the wider place of language games or of private language in the wider scheme of things.


Linguistic Turns in Modern Philosophy (The Evolution of Modern Philosophy)
Linguistic Turns in Modern Philosophy (The Evolution of Modern Philosophy)
by Michael Losonsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £64.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour de Force, 20 Aug. 2006
This was a superb book. It is unusual for one to encounter such thoroughness and thoughtfulness, even in an academic work. However -- Philosophy 101 and a good Dictionary of Philosophy might be advisable before tackling this one. Bear in mind, also, that this book is less about linguistics than it is about the history of the philosophy of language. That is, it is less about language than about its broader place and meaning in our lives.

Losonsky investigates several important "linguistic turns" -- critical contributions to the history of the philosophy of language -- beginning with Locke. He continues through Leibniz, Mill, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Derrida in particular, with many fascinating forays into lesser known linguists and philosophers, such as Hamann and Austin. This having been said, two things puzzled me. Firstly, there seemed to be an inordinate emphasis on Frege (some forty pages). Secondly, there was a near total absence of Saussure (not one paragraph). However, Saussure arguably received indirect treatment through those whom he influenced.

A major theme of the book is the divide between ideal language and the way that language is actually used. Another is to what extent studies of language are able to probe and articulate values and meaning. Much of the strength of the book lies in the detail -- in snippets of correspondences, variant interpretations, insight into people's character, discernment as to their motivations, and so on. While it is not perfect, this book fully deserves 5 stars.


Practical Electronic Filters (BP)
Practical Electronic Filters (BP)
by O.N. Bishop
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Well Balanced Book, 14 April 2006
Despite its compact size, this is a surprisingly comprehensive book. The author begins by leading one systematically through the basics of the electronic components used in filters, and the fundamental concepts. He describes passive filters, active filters, and orders of filters. He covers low-pass, high-pass, notch, and band-pass filters, and a few more. While the book surely does not have room to do more than skim over nuances like Bessel, Butterworth, or Chebyshev, such knowedge would not be required for most simple applications.

Filter theory can be staggeringly complex, and in this regard the author steers a good path between the explanatory and the technical. Basic theoretical information is included in the text (this is not always the case in such books), then a deeper level of theory (though still fairly elementary) is moved to a final chapter.

What are filters FOR? In this regard, the author includes twelve electronic projects incorporating various filters -- for instance a tunable audio filter (used to highlight e.g. a voice in a recording), or a baby alarm (used to filter out short-period sounds, e.g. a snuffle or hiccups). However, in this regard I would have welcomed a little more variety, and greater simplicity (some projects use thirty of forty components). This is not to detract, however, from the great value of the book. Although it is an introduction, it is the filter reference I most often reach for when designing.


How to Read Derrida
How to Read Derrida
by Penelope Deutscher
Edition: Paperback

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, Powerful Writing -- yet "Unfinished", 28 Mar. 2006
This review is from: How to Read Derrida (Paperback)
A reader is not the same as an introduction or a beginner's guide. It selects key passages from an author, and "brings the reader face-to-face with the writing itself in the company of an expert guide". Thus Penelope Deutscher explains -- or perhaps one should say explicates -- key passages of Derrida. This she does very well -- and while it is not easy reading, it is not inscrutable if one is prepared to concentrate.
In the main, Deutscher would seem to have chosen crucial extracts of Derrida. They are passages which should be read and understood. She takes little for granted, and explains all that needs to be explained to the reader -- lucidly and intelligently. In fact she effectively communicates the de(con)structive power of his work. She further draws comparisons between Derrida's early and late work, and highlights a few of the issues that were problematic to Derrida himself.
There were two things that I missed in this book. Firstly, I would have welcomed a more thorough comparison between Derrida's post-structuralism and the structuralism or (more broadly) modernism that went before. Secondly, Derrida's ideas were highly controversial, and there was little hint of this in the commentary. For what it is worth, however, this book is well written, and does much to deepen one's insight into Derrida.


The Big Questions in History
The Big Questions in History
by Harriet Swain
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approachable, Intelligent, Illuminating., 1 Sept. 2005
Big Questions In History was a most worthwhile read. It deals with twenty major themes, including:
* What is history?
* What makes a great leader?
* Why do revolutions happen?
* How does private life affect public life?
* Why do religious and spiritual movements grow?
* Can history have an end?
Each theme is introduced by a leading authority in the field, and this is followed by a commentary by freelance writers -- contributions which are equally interesting and profound. Each contribution is about five pages long -- dealing with the issues in an approachable way, and opening up intelligent discussion, with illuminating examples from history. As a mere glimpse at the content of the book, three subjects follow -- the first two being chapter themes, and the third being an underlying theme of the book.
Linda Woodhead deals with the question as to why religious and spiritual movements grow. She proposes the following. Religion is likely to flourish in alliance with worldly power -- or, on the other hand, in DEFIANCE of earthly power -- while spirituality (personal religion) is likely to flourish in the wake of the same. In this regard, she comments, "Islam finds itself in the sweet spot where the two most propitious conditions for religious growth coincide." On the other hand, Stephen Phillips proposes that those Christian Churches which are seeing the strongest growth today "feature a less intellectually rarefied, omniscient, interventionist God", which further appeals to "the poor and downtrodden".
The chapter which came as the greatest surprise to me was, What makes a great leader? Brendan Simms and Phil Baty describe characteristics which at first seem quite counter-intuitive. Leadership, firstly, should be unplanned -- a major example being Otto von Bismarck, who began as "a defender of a narrow conservative Prussian aristocratic interest", yet became the architect of German unification. Simms quotes Oliver Cromwell: "He goeth furthest who knows not where he is going." Secondly, great leaders tended to surround themselves with "enemies". Baty refers to Margaret Thatcher as an example, for "her willingness to keep critics".
As for the persons considered to have had the greatest impact on our modern understanding of history, Niccolo Machiavelli and Karl Marx rank high on the list. Machiavelli was a famous-notorious political philosopher, and a great realist and pragmatist. By and large, it would seem to be his realist approach to history that gives him his present appeal. Ideology is out, realism is in. Marx, on the other hand, has pride of place, not for his view of historical progress (which the book generally regards as a "blithe" attitude), but for the view that history is shaped by broad movements of men and women. Before Marx, history tended to be limited to "great men".
This book was a most worthwhile read, and gave one a good feel for "the state of history" today. It includes useful lists for further reading, and a comprehensive index.


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