Subscriber-Only Content. You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, the latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access to over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: PWHelp@omeda.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (outside US/Canada, call +1-847-513-6135) 8:00 am - 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday (Central).

Why Do Jewish? A Manifesto for 21st Century Jewish Peoplehood

Zack Bodner. Gefen, $18 (240p) ISBN 978-965-7023-68-6

Bodner, the CEO of a California Jewish community center, responds to the question of how Judaism can adapt to modern life with a superficial summary that doesn’t do the topic justice. Bodner outlines challenges to Judaism that include widespread acceptance of intermarriage and atheism, and the growing divide between Israel and the Diaspora. This cursory history leads into a proposal for an “ ‘operating system’ for Jewish Peoplehood” under the acronym TACHLIS (a Yiddish term for getting things done), which amounts to prescriptions including renewed focus on Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), art and culture, community, holidays and rituals, learning, Israel, and Shabbat and spirituality​. One key original recommendation—that Jewish students spend the year between high school and college in an intensive program focused on faith—lacks detail (including how to make it attractive to teens eager to position themselves for worldly careers). Bodner often notes complexities in a passing way, as in a discussion of Jewish families that observe both Hanukkah and Christmas, or a story about his daughter trying bacon (he’s relieved she doesn’t like it, but doesn’t go much deeper). Readers would be better served by one of Bodner’s sources, Robert H. Mnookin’s The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus

Brant Pitre. Image, $27 (366p) ISBN 978-0-525-57276-3

Biblical scholar Pitre (The Case for Jesus) fuses theology and scriptural insight in this well-grounded introduction to Catholic spirituality. “Jesus himself is the supreme teacher of the spiritual life. He is the master and model of all Christian spirituality,” Pitre writes in his examination of techniques (such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and meditation) and topics (notably, the seven capital sins and their countering virtues). Throughout, he mines the Bible, especially the Gospels and Psalms, for illustration, drawing broadly on the writings of Christian mystics and other ancient church fathers such as Ignatius Loyola, John of the Cross, and Francis de Sales. For example, in a section on how to “ponder the word of God” through meditative prayer, Pitre cites Loyal’s words that attentive reading can bring faithful into a sense of intimacy: “We should ask God for “an intimate knowledge” of Jesus so that we can “love Him more and follow Him more closely.” This is a solidly traditional, scholarly approach; readers looking for contemporary references should look elsewhere. Those seeking a thoroughly cited classical Catholic thesis will be well served here. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change

Chad Brennan and Christina Edmondson. IVP, $25 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4723-5

Brennan, founder of the racial justice–focused nonprofit Renew Partnerships, and Edmondson, cohost of the Truth’s Table podcast, make a convincing case for Christianity’s central role in the “taxing” work of racial unity. Despite the subtitle, the advice and measurements of improvement they provide are built on a foundation of communication: designed to “prompt dialogue,” each chapter concludes with a prayer and discussion questions. The authors analyze the ways many Christians rely on an outdated and dysfunctional “cultural toolkit” to assess (and too often dismiss) racism and institutional discrimination, then go on to lay out “essential elements of having a biblical, effective approach” to antiracism. They encourage readers to take vocal, public stands in support of antiracist legislation, such as “laws that protect foreign workers, including those who are not legal residents” or against predatory lending practices. Pedagogic rather than polemical, the arguments are both logical and scriptural, and feature biblical quotes along with data from surveys, statistics, and interviews. The authors take to task Christianity’s shameful complicity in the institution of slavery, and hold up Martin Luther King Jr., “our country’s most famous Christian activist,” as a paradigm of religiously inspired social justice. While it has an unmistakable Christian perspective, much here will resonate with people of all faiths who are dedicated to racial justice.  (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Here & Hereafter: How Wisdom from the Departed Can Transform Your Life Now

Tyler Henry. St. Martin’s Essentials, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-79677-6

Self-proclaimed clairvoyant Henry (Between Two Worlds) offers a heartfelt, mystical guide on how to live an “authentic” life (while still living), based on his reported conversations with the departed. In his introduction, he explains how, upon death, a person goes through what he calls a “life review,” facing their human difficulties, deepest traumas, and all of their “existential baggage.” Tapping into what “the departed would do differently” for advice, Tyler outlines a path to a “spirit-filled life,” including how to “check your ego” and cope with loss. He coaches readers on how they can also identify signs “from the great beyond,” including those found in dreams, visions, and “happenstance or synchronicity.” Along with glimpses of his own spiritual encounters, he weaves in anecdotes from celebrity clients’ lives, such as Alan Thicke (from three months before Thicke’s unexpected death), and historical tidbits such as how Harriet Tubman guided the enslaved to liberation “by following the guidance from visions.” The self-help takeaways aren’t all that fresh, but their uplifting delivery will appeal to the faithful: “I consider a message from a loved one to be God-sent,” Henry writes. Skeptics won’t be converted, but those already bought into spiritualism will come away with a deeper appreciation of the value of gleaning knowledge from “the hereafter.” Agent: Brandi Bowles, United Talent Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Chasing After Wind: A Pastor’s Life

Douglas J. Brouwer. Eerdmans, $22 trade paper (238p) ISBN 978-0-8028-8187-8

In this searching memoir, Brouwer (The Truth About Who We Are), a retired Presbyterian minister, recalls his decades spent serving mainline churches and debates with himself what qualifies as successful ministry. Recalling his upbringing in a “Christian sect” (the Christian Reformed Church in North America), his early tutelage from Sunday school teachers who “made Bible stories come alive,” his time at Calvin College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and his various church jobs, Brouwer ponders his sense of vocation (“I didn’t choose this way of life. It chose me”). Reviewing the years of committee meetings, fundraising campaigns, mission efforts, weddings and funerals, and involvement with the national church hierarchy, Brouwer questions whether his ministry had lasting value or if it was all, like the writer of Ecclesiastes claimed, “chasing after wind.” Brouwer also speaks with candor about how ambition complicated his ministry and kept him from speaking out on social issues such as the church’s stance on ordaining gay and lesbian ministers (“I wish I had put less of my time into management and more into living out the gospel,” he laments). It’s a somber, meditative reflection that will give the fellow faithful, be they pastors or congregants, much to ponder. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Find Your Cosmic Calling: A Guide to Discovering Your Life’s Work with Astrology

Natalie Walstein. Fair Winds, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7603-7279-1

Graphic designer turned astrological career counselor Walstein debuts with a stylish tour through reading natal charts, or what she considers the “soul’s blueprint.” Her “Cosmic Calling Formula” focuses on four aspects of the chart: Sun Sign (self-expression), Moon Sign (emotional needs), Rising Sign (identity), and Career Line/Midheaven (impact). With the goal of revealing the reader’s innate drives and opportunities for fulfillment, Walstein walks through each planet’s influence based on its location in one of the 12 houses (for example, the moon in the third house indicates one is fulfilled by connecting people, but if it’s in the sixth house, then one is satisfied by supportive rituals). More esoteric components, such as north and south nodes, Chiron, and Pallas Athena, point toward “deeper soul-level motivations.” While she directs readers to online sources to generate the basic chart, and replicates and annotates a blank version, the omission of a filled-in example may leave novices confused. The aim is larger self-analysis rather than career counseling: no specific jobs are suggested; instead readers should “try to see every step you take in the direction of your calling as a curious experiment.” But for those who believe their life’s purpose is coded in their birth chart, Walstein’s cosmological framework provides ample grounds for self-exploration. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
God: An Anatomy

Francesca Stavrakopoulou. Knopf, $35 (608p) ISBN 978-0-525-52045-0

Biblical scholar Stavrakopoulou convincingly argues for understanding the Christian God as an embodied being in this fascinating comparative mythology. Despite encountering “broad assumption” among Jewish and Christian insistence that God is “formless,” Stavrakopoulou found “ancient texts conjured a startlingly corporeal image of God.” She demonstrates this through biblical appearances, alongside the mythologies of an embodied God from the ancient Hebrews’ neighbors. Stavrakopoulou starts with the feet and moves upwards, using body parts as jumping-off points to explore cultural and theological issues. She considers genitals (including Ezekiel’s vision of God’s genitals filling the temple); the torso and organs (with a section on the heart as the seat of cognition); and arms, hands, and head (including an eye-opening exploration of the power of scent in rituals). She moves into what those parts can do, as, when discussing hands, she considers the ancient power invested in writing. By placing Hebrew stories in their local context, she explains what body parts meant to the original writers of the Bible, and offers insights into the reasons and methods that later theologians employed to diminish God’s corporeality. Stavrakopoulou writes with the fluidity of a seasoned storyteller, using ample footnotes, but never getting weighed down by academic jargon. This is a provocative tour de force. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Witch Queens, Voodoo Spirits, and Hoodoo Saints: A Guide to Magical New Orleans

Denise Alvarado. Weiser, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-57863-674-7

Alvarado (The Magic of Marie Laveau), a researcher and practitioner of the Louisiana folk magic tradition, delivers an inspiring survey of 20 witches, healers, and saints drawn from the Big Easy’s history and legends. Profiles include, of course, Queen Marie Laveau, a free woman of color in the early 19th century revered for her healing, and Voudou spirit Papa Legba, the “cunning celestial trickster” known as the “Black Man at the Crossroads.” Alvarado also introduces Annie Christmas, a pre–Civil War superheroine who could outwork and outdrink anyone on the Mississippi riverfront and became a Voudou saint petitioned for empowering women and destroying bullies. Alvarado explores how newly converted African slaves associated their Voudou spirits with Catholic saints, as was the case with St. Expedite, who is based on a “fringe saint” fourth-century Armenian Catholic martyr and has evolved to be revered as the “patron saint to computer programmers and hackers.” Mixing historical sources and folklore details, these well-researched sketches reflect Alvarado’s reverence and admiration. It’s a rollicking party of spirits that should appeal to tourists, contemporary spell casters, and armchair historians. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Mission Possible: Go Create a Life That Counts

Tim Tebow. WaterBrook, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-19400-3

Former Denver Broncos and New York Jets quarterback Tebow (Shaken) seeks to help Christians identify their God-given purpose in this earnest and often quite funny motivational guide. Tebow urges readers to embrace that they were “made in God’s image, hand-chosen by Him and fully equipped to carry out works of eternal significance,” and avoid compartmentalizing worship and daily living (“no matter what, turn your present task, moment, or emotion into an act of worship”). He combines scriptural examples, which are amusingly retold (he imagines Noah’s neighbor quipping “I bet you five goats he’s having a midlife crisis”), with his reflections on contemporary figures, film, and theater that have inspired him (Braveheart for modeling “bravery and compassion”; Elf also gets a mention), and cautions readers against complacency and dwelling on negative emotions. Instead, he models how to reframe obstacles using examples from his own life; for instance, he believes his family’s financial limitations during his childhood taught him to value hard work and gave him a strong “mental edge.” While he admits Christians may not be able to live perfect lives, he repeats that they’re “created to live mission-possible ones.” This pep talk will spark the hearts of faithful readers (particularly sports fans) needing a kick start. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends

Mark Juergensmeyer. Univ. of California, $21.95 trade paper (182p) ISBN 978-0-520-38473-6

Scholar Juergensmeyer follows up God at War with an uneven look at how and why religiously motivated conflicts end. He undertakes a close study of three such violent movements: the Islamic State (which he claims was “territorially defeated by 2018”); the Filipino Moro Movement for a Muslim Mindanao (1969–2019); and the Sikh separatist movement in northern India (1980s and early 1990s)—though “in each case, aspects of the struggle linger on.” Through on-the-ground research, including conversations with former militants, Juergensmeyer considers how each conflict concluded, such as via military destruction, a loss of popular support, or negotiation. On the latter, he purports that when engaged in “cosmic war,” his term for “a form of absolute war that is totally merged with a religious view of the world,” combatants may feel invulnerable, and their leaders resist negotiation. Abandoning a religious war worldview requires, he writes, “a conversion out of it, or a dramatic accommodation to a new sense of nonviolent religious commitment.” But Juergensmeyer found that facts on the battlefield, such as losing ground, could overcome such faith in divine support. His ambiguous conclusion—that “cosmic war... can live on symbolically, perhaps someday to rise again” begs for further analysis. This is a solid starting point, but it raises more questions than it answers. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Forgot Password

Premium online access is only available to PW subscribers. If you have an active subscription and need to set up or change your password, please click here.

New to PW? To set up immediate access, click here.

NOTE: If you had a previous PW subscription, click here to reactivate your immediate access. PW site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. If working at an office location and you are not "logged in", simply close and relaunch your preferred browser. For off-site access, click here. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options, please email Mike Popalardo at: mike@nextstepsmarketing.com.

To subscribe: click here.