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The Fool and the Heretic: How Two Scientists Moved Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue About Creation and Evolution

Todd Charles Wood and Darrel R. Falk. Zondervan, $16.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-310-59543-4

Wood, president of Core Academy of Science, and Falk, professor emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University, examine evolution from a Christian perspective through meticulous and cogent conversations. Over the course of several years, the two met to hash out and record their opposing views. Wood believes strongly in a literal interpretation of the creation story in the Book of Genesis, while Falk takes a broader view, explaining biblical events as metaphorical storytelling subject to scientific examination. Most of the book consists of first-person accounts of Wood and Falk’s time together and discussions of how their experiences have influenced their views on creation and evolution. Wood considers the quirks of biological sciences and the unknowns of the physical sciences (such as quantum physics) as examples of the limits of human understanding. Though Falk doesn’t view this as proof of Biblical literalism, their opinions converge about the spiritual nature of what lies beyond known science; one must understand God, they believe, to truly understand the workings of the universe. The most thought-provoking sections cover their views on how church communities should handle the intersection of science and Christianity, with the consensus that the Bible’s narrative power should remain the focus. Any reader interested in Christian belief will enjoy this refreshing dialogue. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity

Amy Collier Artman. Eerdmans, $28 (248) ISBN 978-0-8028-7670-6

Artman, religious studies instructor at Missouri State University, provides an engrossing portrait of Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976), a leading figure in charismatic Christianity and “miracle healing,” in her strong debut. Artman argues that Kuhlman has been unfairly overlooked in the religious history of the 20th century due to a variety of factors, including her gender and the form of Christianity she practiced. American charismatic Christianity, according to Artman, is formed at the intersection of Pentecostal, evangelical, and mainstream Protestant Christianity; it tends to be an emotional, performative form of worship that, she notes, provokes a strong response from adherents and critics alike. Artman presents Kuhlman as an important figure in the faith; she got her start as a traveling preacher in 1928, rose to national prominence with her “healing crusades” and her TV show I Believe in Miracles, and became the leader of a Christian media empire in 1975 with her nationally broadcast “miracle service” held in Las Vegas. Kuhlman’s career as a healing preacher spanned the country—she established herself first in Denver, then in Pittsburgh—and she was one of the first Christian evangelists to embrace radio and, later, television. This is an excellent biography that rightly situates Kuhlman alongside evangelists such as Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Bakker. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Witchcraft Activism: A Toolkit for Magical Resistance

David Salisbury. Weiser, $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-57863-657-0

Salisbury (A Mystic Guide to Cleansing and Clearing), Wicca teacher and organizer with pagan organization the Firefly House, offers training in basic activism and the use of magic to effect change in this worthy primer. His steps and the book’s sections are loosely based on the five-point “Witches’ Pyramid”: “To Know” covers information gathering and establishing intent, “To Will” addresses strategizing, “To Dare” presents action plans and offensive tactics, “To Keep Silent” covers defense techniques, and “To Go” launches into manifestation and creating magical thought-forms. Salisbury integrates magical and physical action closely, recommending activities such as building sigils to incorporate into emails and flyers, calling on Mercury to help with persuasion during meetings, and invoking previous leaders of movements as guardian spirits. Although Salisbury is clear about his own background working for LGBTQ and environmental causes, he carefully avoids tying his instruction to any particular agenda, making this a resource that will remain useful outside of any specific social or political situation. Salisbury’s approach is smart, detailed, and practical; magic practitioners interested in activism will find his insights concise and valuable. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hausmagick: Transform Your Home with Witchcraft

Erica Feldmann. HarperOne, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-290615-1

In her intriguing debut, Feldmann, founder of magical healing company HausWitch, guides readers through simple magical practices to use in the home. Blending interior design with tools for spiritual health, the book explores ways that the physical environment can influence and access the magical realm. Feldmann asserts that her teachings “harness the positive energy in the home” using “six fundamental elements: manifestation, clearing, protection, comfort, harmony, and balance.” Instruction, on creating essence potions, using charged magical objects, and manifesting spells (such as by burning inscribed paper on pyrite) are highlights. Dividing the book into six sections, Feldmann combines personal anecdotes with opinions from renowned witches and spiritualists to present crystals, meditation, astrology, tarot, visualization, and herbalism, among others, as tools of witchcraft that can transform a home. Guides for making “vision boards,” astrological charts, all-natural cleaners, and restorative baths are included, along with many examples, definitions, and Feldmann’s personal experiences and research into ways that witchcraft can improve the quality and energy of one’s life. This detailed work will be a solid starting point for readers looking to “make the very best of space through intention-setting and magic.”(Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation

Adam Morris. Liveright, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-63149-213-6

Scholar and journalist Morris examines the theological, ideological, and personal relationships among a series of American spiritual leaders over the course of two centuries in his captivating debut. He argues that these messianic figures—such as Civil War veteran and anticapitalist Cyrus Teed, civil rights pioneer Father Divine, and cult leader Jim Jones—compose a movement and shared a conscious rejection of the individualism engendered by “capitalism and exclusionary social hierarchies.” Hoping to restore “primitive” religion to a modern age in need, these figures often emerged from reform movements and embraced communal living, celibacy, and new scientific theories. Though the book examines familiar figures such as 18th-century Shaker Ann Lee, many of these messiahs—including Cyrus Teed, Father Divine, charismatic Quaker Universal Friend (born Jemima Wilkinson), and 19th-century California spiritualist Thomas Lake Harris—will be new to a general audience. Morris’s research is extensive, and his reconstruction of his subjects’ complex personal histories is impressive. Readers hoping for salacious tales will find a few of those too, though in the main these leaders were troubled by the physiology of the brain, the difficulties of running communities, and the aspirations of underlings who might contest their claims to divinity. Morris’s work is a fine examination of a series of Americans whose lives and missions shed light on the dominant institutions and values they sought to subvert. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Plantains and the 7 Plagues, a Memoir: Half-Dominican, Half-Cuban and Full Life

Paz Ellis. CreateSpace, $8.99 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-5454-1078-3

Ellis crafts a love letter to her family in this flawed but charming memoir. Her story begins in 1966, with her Dominican mother’s reluctance to get involved with a divorced Cuban man who already had a four-year-old child. He didn’t give up and they eventually married, with Ellis and her younger sister born within a few years. Ellis’s stories of being raised in and around New Jersey and New York City are candid and sometimes humorous, including such events as her mother slapping her kindergarten teacher (whom Ellis had dubbed “the wicked witch”) and her grandmother’s increasingly bizarre behavior, as with an attempt to shoplift by hiding items underneath her trench coat (but since she was naked beneath the coat, they all fell out). Ellis interweaves the personal material with Cuban and Dominican political history, expanding the scope of an otherwise episodic memoir. The writing is often unpolished and the beginning is confusing, with info dumps and skips in time and location. Bafflingly, the ending upends the overall upbeat feel and fixates on the author’s bitter dislike of her father-in-law and her melancholy over the loss of her mother. Other than the off-putting ending, this memoir of a biracial, first-generation American is pleasant and full of an infectious zest for life. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Why We Fight: One Man’s Search for Meaning Inside the Ring

Josh Rosenblatt. Ecco, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-256998-1

In his erudite yet solipsistic memoir, former Fightland editor-in-chief Rosenblatt contemplates the impulses that brought a 33-year-old, self-proclaimed pacifist and dandy to the cage. After Rosenblatt realized that “part of me had always been attracted to the idea of fighting,” he began studying Krav Maga, then Muay Thai, Brazilian jujitsu, and boxing until, seven years later, he entered his first mixed-martial-arts competition. As the date of his bout approached, Rosenblatt grappled with anxiety, self-doubt, and self-denial, and he offers musings on the mental and physical aspects of competing, including one on a moment he’d been dreading: the weigh-in a week before the fight, when, if he was over his target weight, he’d have to forfeit (“On the day of the weigh-in I consume nothing at all.... I run on the treadmill for twenty minutes somehow wringing from my dehydrated body a few last drips of sweat”). He also discusses histories of combat sports (until the late 18th century, “the jab was viewed skeptically by boxers... for being insufficiently masculine”). Rosenblatt can distract with internal monologues (as an Ashkenazi Jew, “shame is in the blood... the thought that my people didn’t do enough to defend themselves, in Kishinev or Odessa or Auschwitz”) rather than focus on his sparring partners, training, or coaches. Instances where his gaze does turn outward are vivid and entertaining but all too infrequent. Ultimately, Rosenblatt makes it hard for readers to care about his story, or perhaps even remember that he’s training for a fight. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Sleeping with Strangers: How the Movies Shaped Desire

David Thomson. Knopf, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-94699-2

Part personal moviegoing memoir, part deeply informed film history, this allusively titled study from critic Thomson (Television: A Biography) is concerned with “beauty on screen, desire in our heads, and the alchemy they make in the dark.” Pondering eroticism as it is encoded, both overtly and subliminally, into popular movies, Thomson considers how the past century of filmmaking has interwoven “macho confidence, feminine personality, and gay wit.” He includes chapters on the careers of such well-known sex symbols as Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, and Rudolph Valentino, as well as extended studies of less-heralded personnel, among them costumiers Travis Banton and Edith Head, who outfitted actors in numerous films for maximum sex appeal. His coverage extends from specific films, such as Bonnie and Clyde, that bristle with sexual tension to entire genres, such as, unexpectedly, monster movies (which he credits for helping to reveal that most movie characters “are fantasy incarnate”) and to odd-couple films (which he says demonstrate that “attraction can exist in enmity as easily as in love”). Thomson deploys his encyclopedic knowledge of film so genially and dexterously that readers who are movie aficionados will want to rewatch their favorites through his eyes. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Separate: The Story of ‘Plessy v. Ferguson,’ and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation

Steve Luxenberg. Norton, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-393-23937-9

The 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the legality of “separate but equal” facilities for white and black Americans, is widely viewed as the beginning of the jim crow era in the South, but, as journalist Luxenberg convincingly argues, it was the result of decades of debate about race relations. The case of Homer Plessy, a New Orleanian “fair-skinned enough to cause confusion” about which car he should occupy on the state’s segregated trains, was actually a test case engineered by the city’s community of mixed-racial-heritage people, who saw their prestige and power slipping away as the nation moved toward a less nuanced conception of race. In lucid prose, Luxenberg lays out the history of racialized segregation in the North and South of the United States and offers vivid portraits of main actors in this civil rights struggle, from ex-slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass to judge John Marshall Harlan (raised in Kentucky, but a staunch supporter of the Union during the Civil War) and lawyer Albion Tourgee, whose Civil War military service awakened him to the “full awfulness” of slavery. Some readers may find this exhaustively researched account excessively wordy and too detailed, but Luxenberg provides a useful take on one of the Supreme Court’s most influential decisions. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Promise of Wholeness: Cultivating Inner Peace, Mindfulness, and Love in a Divided World

Eric Ehrke. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (298p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1981-5

Drawing from four decades of clinical private practice, psychiatric social worker Ehrke’s impassioned, in-depth and unruly debut integrates philosophy, psychology, and spirituality to create a “dialectic discovery” that intends to lead readers to “wholeness.” Love is at the base of human existence, writes Ehrke, and he directs readers to ask better questions about how one’s innate sense of love and empathy have been corrupted due to circumstances of both nature and nurture. Ehrke breaks the human consciousness into eight forms: illusion, love, devotion, grace, equanimity, empathy, incorruptibility, and henosis (or wholeness, from ancient Greek philosophy). Ehrke then presents his own complicated methods for practicing a more integrated life, such as the “somatic empathy theory” (integration between body and mind) and the “theory of incorruptibility” (the necessity of aligning oneself with the “incorruptibility” of henosis). He also provides meditations to increase empathy, such as the Camel Wave Meditation and form meditations. Often heavy-handed and overly loquacious, Ehrke’s idiosyncratic debut will interest readers already seeking a spiritually oriented integration of philosophy and psychotherapy. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/07/2018 | Details & Permalink

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