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Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World

Larry W. Hurtado. Baylor Univ., $29.95 (267p) ISBN 978-1-4813-0473-3

Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, discusses the history and evolution of ecumenical Christian practices in this elegantly straightforward book. He notes that many characteristics of Christianity that are taken for granted today were considered nothing less than radical, even abhorrent, in the religion's early years: one transcendent god, scriptures to guide the faithful, the democratizing evangelism of Christianity, concern with the ethics of everyday behavior. Not only did these practices become completely normalized, he says, but they also shaped ideas about what "religion" is in a more general sense. Hurtado does an excellent job of walking readers through the processes that brought about such universal assumptions about Christianity, and demonstrates how very odd early Christianity was for its place and time and how it came to overturn and replace ancient systems and beliefs. Hurtado writes with a measured tone and learned authority. Those wishing to know more about early Christianity will find much here. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage

Dov S. Zakheim. Koren/Maggid, $27.95 (262p) ISBN 978-1-59264-369-1

Zakheim, a rabbi who is best known for his stints as an under secretary of defense in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, proves an adept expositor of a relatively unknown biblical text. This self-styled "political biography" makes a convincing case that Nehemiah, who was the highest-ranking Jew in the Persian court during the reign of Emperor Artaxerxes I in the fifth century BCE, was an unsung hero. Zakheim is not at all oblivious to Nehemiah's faults: "He was self-centered. He saw himself as superior to his predecessors. He was stingy when it came to giving credit to others." But he places those very human flaws in their proper context, through close study of the biblical Book of Nehemiah as well as rabbinical and historical sources. Nehemiah emerges from the author's logical analyses as a figure worthy of more study and acclaim—a man who restored Jewish national pride and "imposed a social and religious order based on tradition, justice, and decency." Some readers may find Zakheim's repeated efforts to link Nehemiah's actions and thoughts to contemporary political personalities and events a distracting stretch, but the speculation does not diminish the overall strengths of this well-written study, which is fully accessible to the non-scholar. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve

Mother Theresa. Image, $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-49820-5

This collection of previously unpublished writings by the late Mother Theresa (1910–1997) offers welcome spiritual nourishment from the Nobel Peace Prize winner and beloved contemporary saint-to-be. Chapters cover 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy performed by Mother Theresa and her order, the Missionaries of Charity. Excerpts from Mother Theresa's letters, speeches, and interviews provide insight into her extraordinary compassion and simple wisdom: "Be kind to each other—I prefer you make mistakes in kindness than that you work miracles in unkindness." In simple language, anonymous testimonials from witnesses and recipients of her generosity and love over the decades convey examples of her seemingly limitless compassion for abandoned children, homeless men and women, prisoners, refugees, and all people impoverished in body and spirit. Each chapter closes with a brief reflection and prayer that Mother Theresa used in her devotionals. The book's release date is timed to coincide with Pope Francis's "Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy" and the Vatican's canonization of Mother Theresa to sainthood in September 2016. These reflections, stories, and testimonials will challenge and inspire readers to bear witness to a venerable spiritual legacy. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hacked: The Inside Story of America's Struggle to Secure Cyberspace

Charlie Mitchell. Rowman & Littlefield, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4422-5521-0

In 2014, a Federal Trade Commission report on consumer complaints put identity theft at the top of the list for the 15th consecutive year; as this book points out, U.S. lawmakers have taken almost that long to develop and implement a comprehensive policy to protect government, commerce, and citizens from digital crime. In this exhaustive overview, Mitchell, editor and cofounder of Inside Cybersecurity, an online news source dedicated to Internet policy in Congress, compares the online security discussions in Congress of the past decade to the evolution of environmental policy in the early 1970s. He traces the evolution of U.S. Internet security policy beginning with President George W. Bush, who established the first National Cybersecurity Initiative by signing two policy directives in early 2008, with most of the book focusing on the Obama Administration. The book draws largely from the author's daily reporting for Inside Cybersecurity; Mitchell livens the writing up with pop culture references to William Faulkner and the political satire film The Interview, but it's best suited for serious policy wonks seeking to understand the complexities of digital security policymaking in Washington. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry

Nicholas Dodman. Atria, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4902-0

Veterinary behaviorist Dodman (The Dog Who Loved Too Much), founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, constructs a compelling and succinct case for "one medicine," a revolutionary approach to veterinary care based on the idea that animals and humans have a similar biology and can mutually benefit from medical discoveries among all types of species. The discussion presented is easily digestible even for those unfamiliar with medical jargon and incorporates all types of perspectives on the subject to keep the material light and interesting. The science of genetic testing is mixed in with stories of concerned pet owners. Logical, well-explained links are created between the psychiatry in animals and humans. Dodman overstates his case and the narrative gets repetitive, but the passion that Dodman puts into his work shines through these shortcomings. Filled with heartfelt case studies of autistic dogs, cats with Alzheimer's disease, and horses with Tourette syndrome, among others, Dodman injects empathy into a world where sympathy previously reigned. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers & Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel

Dan Slater. Simon & Schuster, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2654-3

Journalist Slater (Love in a Time of Algorithms) offers a grim, gripping account of the lives of two boys caught up in the drug wars. In a dramatic prologue set in 2006, the reader is introduced to 19-year-old Gabriel Cardona, a soldier for the drug cartel known as the Company, who is in the midst of pep talk with a neophyte hit man. But before Gabriel and his comrade can go into action, he's arrested. Slater then backtracks to the mid-1990s in Laredo, Tex., "the poorest city in America" and Gabriel's hometown, to delineate how Gabriel went from an ordinary child to a murderous would-be manager for narcotics traffickers. Young Gabriel is depicted as a model student with perfect attendance and advanced reading skills. The details of his childhood are made all the more poignant by knowing where he will end up. The book also provides the story of one of Gabriel's cohorts, known as Bart because of his resemblance to the Simpsons character. Bart, who "carried the rage of a poor boy whose family couldn't feed him," turned to gang life at the age of 12, and ended up killing more than 30 people. Slater effectively alternates between Gabriel's perspective (based off extensive correspondence with his subject) and that of dedicated cop Robert Garcia, who worked tirelessly to capture and convict the two young men. Slater ends on a depressing note as he is led to troubling conclusions "about evil as a natural product of human consciousness." Slater's effective use of historical context, including tracing the roots of the Mexican drug trade back to the 16th century following the conquest of the Aztec Empire, elevates this above similar accounts.. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Belief

Robert Reiss. Jessica Kingsley, $13.95 trade paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-78592-062-2

Reiss, canon emeritus of Westminster Abbey, challenges readers with this very readable study of how Christianity can be made relevant in a scientific world. He acknowledges that religion is being questioned by a new generation of thinkers, both young and old. As critical thinkers reject the supernatural elements of Christianity— the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.—they are exiting the churches in large numbers. He presents a possible curative, citing Jonathan Sacks, who posited "it was the job of science to take things apart to see how they work, but it was the job of religion to put things together to see what they mean." Following this guidance, Reiss takes the components of traditional Christianity and determines the meaning of these parts in a society disinclined to accept fanciful notions about God and the cosmos. Readers will come away from this study with a deeper appreciation for the faith of their forebears as they reach out to faithfully understand the world around them. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on the Rocks

Bobby Rydell, with Allan Slutsky. Doctor Licks, $16.95 trade paper (248 pages) ISBN 978-0-9973851-0-6

Rydell was one of the many young pop singers who were marketed to fill the void left in pop music when Elvis Presley joined the Army in 1958. Unlike most of those singers, Rydell was a talented performer. His first hit record, 1959's "Kissin' Time," started a four-year period of success that generated 14 albums and 10 Top 40 and seven Top 10 hits, including the smash "Volare." Thanks to a still-loyal fan base, Rydell has enjoyed a strong career through the present day, and this entertaining memoir—written with the aid of musician Slutsky, author of Standing in the Shadows of Motown—will satisfy them all. The first half of the book follows Rydell's rise from the streets of Philadelphia and his pop success, which included almost constant touring and a well-received acting role opposite Ann-Margret in the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie. Then came the arrival of the Beatles and the "British Invasion that ended pop music as we knew it." The second half chronicles his ongoing work with other former teen stars such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian, as well as his struggles with alcoholism. But the earlier section is the most fascinating, serving as a well-sourced account of a time when young pop stars had to have more in common with Frank Sinatra than Elvis and providing pop historians with an inside look at Rydell's record company, Philadelphia's famed Cameo-Parkway Records label. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Health Home, and Committing to the Common Good

Chuck Collins. Chelsea Green, $17.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-60358-683-2

Collins (99 to 1), born to great privilege, takes a thoughtful, well-written, and carefully researched approach to solving the extreme imbalance in wealth distribution, directed toward one- and 99-percenters alike. Refreshingly, Collins not only talks the talk but walks the walk: at age 26 he gave up his $500,000 trust fund and dedicated his life to ending inequality. The book's first half outlines the problems of uneven wealth distribution, which have been made even more evident by the 2008 economic downturn. This part includes a section addressing racial issues in the U.S. and making the case for federal reparations for slavery. What Collins does even better than describing the challenge is, in the book's second half, outlining significant and specific solutions. He includes 10 elements of a program for the wealthiest 1% to follow, imploring readers to connect with both "people around us" and "people who are completely different." He makes an appeal for "humanity and empathy" at the book's very beginning, shows how he and others have worked to embody it, and reinforces the importance of this approach at the conclusion. Wherever readers fall on the economic scale, this is a worthwhile book to read, digest, and share. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sugar Daddy

Sawyer Bennett. Loveswept, $3.99 e-book (227p) ISBN 978-1-101-96812-3

Bennett's trilogy opener starts in a very dark place, with 26-year-old Sela watching TV and seeing the man who led a gang-rape of her 11 years before. That man, Jonathon "JT" Townsend, is now the successful head of Sugar Daddy, a creepy dating site that matches rich older men with young women in need of money. Sela decides she'll get into his life, find out who else was involved with the rape, and kill them all. Her plan eventually leads to her seducing JT's business partner and friend, perpetual bachelor Beck, but both she and Beck find themselves falling for each other as they realize how incredibly sexually compatible they are. Of course, Sela continues to attempt to investigate JT while hoping that Beck wasn't a part of the group that raped her. Bennett writes copious hot sex scenes and also does a solid job of making her characters multifaceted, but the choice to split Sela's story into three short novels (and resultant lack of any closure here) might disappoint some readers. Agent: Michelle Johnson, Inklings Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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