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Who Needs the Fed? What Taylor Swift, Uber, and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America’s Central Bank – by John Tamny

Talk about an enticing sub-title! This book started off strong–with a fantastic and insightful analogy involving Uber and Taylor Swift–but got bogged down in repetitive and occasionally confusing detail. I'm not sure why, but I had a very difficult time concentrating while reading it. Tamny carves out some intriguing positions about the Federal Reserve and its role in the credit economy, at times criticizing everybody: the Austrians, the Moneterists, and the Keynesians. Most interesting to me was his strong critique of the Fed's role in the Austrian conception of the business cycle, and the banking system's use of fractional reserve lending. I'd like to find an Austrian who engages that critique.

Tamny's basic point here is that credit is not money, but access (through real savings) to real economic resources, and the Fed doesn't really control it. He provides a lot of examples illustrating this. The Fed, Tamny argues, is incapable of doing both the good its supporters think it does and the bad that critics attribute to it. It's neither the savior of the economy nor the bogeyman responsible for all its woes. So the Fed can't create credit but can only partially redirect it to unwise and inefficient uses; it cannot use inflation to manage unemployment. Similarly, government cannot spend us into prosperity, because any resource it gets is acquired from others who would inherently employ it more effectively on their own.

It went in far too long and I felt like I re-read many of the same sentences multiple times. That said, it's a worthwhile popular-level contribution to an important subject otherwise ignored by the mainstream press.

Get it on Amazon.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

casual vacancy cover

I started The Casual Vacancy with eyes wide open to the fact that this was no Harry Potter novel–and yet, even though I wasn't offended by the much more adult tone (and content!) that Rowling establishes right out of the gate, I was a little surprised by it. No matter how prepared you are, it's just weird to hear the f-bomb dropped by one of Hermione Granger's literary cousins. What didn't surprise me at all, though, having read and loved multiple analyses of the Potter books, was Rowling's masterful plotting and the literary alchemy she weaves to engage the reader and drive the story. Indeed, that is what made me love the book.

Pagford is a small town that seems idyllic on the surface, but underneath the veneer of folksy charm the place is roiling with class warfare, sexual tension, violence, back-stabbing and duplicity. Rowling's characters are broken, wounded, cynical, crass, self-centered, petty, and strangely sympathetic. The reader gets a first-person perspective from everyone as each maneuvers around the other, reading (and often misreading) the circumstances from a unique and limited vantage point–to hilarious but often tragic effects.

This is a book about the mundane. There is no cosmic battle, no good vs evil motif, no characters righteous nor wholly despicable. Beyond the events in the finale, there is almost no physical “action.” What there is takes but a few pages; the real climactic focus is the cathartic effect those events have on the people of Pagford. Since the book is entirely character driven, it took me about 50-60% to get really invested in the story, to actually care about those involved and to be able to tell them apart. Rowling introduces us to so many people so quickly that, until you know how they all intertwine, it can be hard to keep track of them. But by the end, Rowling uses tragic events to perform the alchemical work of fundamentally transforming her characters: rekindling romance in a marriage, uncovering an affair, breaking down facades of derision and indifference, facing guilt for the first time, mending parent-child relationships, forcing major choices. Life is nasty, brutish and short–and the messiness of Pagford illustrates that cliche with a depressing beauty.

Initially I had one main disappointment: missing from the story was any character who exhibited evidence of real, character-transforming Christian faith. Not a Ned Flanders, but someone who actually tries to live as a disciple of Jesus, however imperfectly. Not to say that there weren't redemptive elements by the end of the book, and of course a story doesn't need an explicitly Christian character in it to be complete. Yet I wondered how even one person like that could have contributed to the alchemical crucible that transformed the world of Pagford. And then I realized: the one person who is the link between Rowling's wide range of misfit reprobates, the character indirectly at the center of the entire story, the man who's death (prior to the narrative beginning) impacted the entire town in a thousand small ways that the reader gets to see played out, is in fact the sole genuine and self-sacrificing Christian in the narrative.

What Rowling does in The Casual Vacancy is literary art.

Check it out on Amazon.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

Reuben Land grew up believing in miracles. He is eleven, living in rural Minnesota in the 1960s with his father and two siblings, when his older brother Davey shoots and kills two neighborhood bullies breaking into the house at night. The day before his trial verdict, Davey escapes, and his family drives out in search of him—led by equal parts Holy Spirit and meandering intuition. Along the way the reader is treated to bittersweet prose so beautifully written it’s a wonder to read. Enger sprinkles gems of poetic wisdom (“Fair is whatever God wants to do”), insights into human nature, and hilarious descriptions throughout. Part fictional memoir, part western adventure, part coming of age tale, the ending was powerful and heartbreaking and redemptive and perfect. Rarely does a book leave me in tears. I wanted to pick it right back up and read it again. Excellent and beautiful.

Here are some memorable quotes:

“Listening to Dad’s guitar, halting yet lovely in the search for phrasing, I thought: Fair is whatever God wants to do.”

and

“In this picture I saw no forgiveness for myself—not from Davey, not from Swede, not from anyone but Dad, who was so forgiving it almost didn’t count.”

and

“Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone's been missing too long. I have to think my mother felt something like that.”

Get it on Amazon.

[Guest Post] How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

[Guest post by Katy Congdon]

When I read fascinating things, I often can't keep quiet about them…and How to Raise an Adult has been enlightening.

I've found that certain things in this particular book have lightened a load on my shoulders about parenting. Society today has put SO much stress on protecting and entertaining and helicoptering our kids and I'm exhausted and far more stressed than I think I'm supposed to be!! Is that why we're here as parents? To prevent all things from “happening” to our kids or are we here to help them experience things and know how to troubleshoot resolutions? To do things for them to make their lives easier or to help them see that life is tough and to raise competent, capable adults? To intervene every time a confrontation arises or to allow our children to figure out ways to respond the most godly way they can?

This book talks about the 8 things an 18-year-old should be able to do by the time they leave my home. Here's to goal setting over the next 8 years….

1. Must be able to talk to strangers. The crutch: We teach them not to talk to strangers instead of teach the nuanced skill of how to discern the bad strangers from the mostly good ones. I want my boys to know how to approach strangers for help, guidance and direction they will need in the world…and I want them to do it respectfully and with eye contact.

2. Must be able to find his way around. The crutch: we drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there. I want my boys to be able to navigate, cope with transportation options and snafus, know how to fill the car with gas, etc.

3. Must be able to manage his assignments, workload and deadlines. The crutch: we remind our kids when their homework is due and when to do it—sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them. I want my boys to be able to prioritize tasks, manage workload and meet deadlines without regular reminders.

4. Must be able to contribute to the running of a household. The crutch: we don't ask them to help much because the checklist childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work. I want my boys to know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others and do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5. Must be able to handle interpersonal problems. The crutch: we step in to solve misunderstandings and sooth hurt feelings. I want my boys to know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without my constant intervention.

6. Must be able to cope with ups and downs. The crutch: we step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, talk to the adults. I want my boys to know that in the normal course of life things won't always go their way…and they WILL be okay.

7. Must be able to earn and manage money. The crutch: they don't hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for whatever they want or need. I want my boys to develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, having accountability to a boss who doesn't inherently love them, or have an appreciation for the cost of things and how they need to manage money.

8. Must be able to take risks. The crutch: we've laid out their entire path for them and avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles. I want my boys to develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. “grit”) or the thick skin (a.k.a. “resilience”) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Man am I glad I still have eight years. “Lightened my load about parenting?” you ask. Yes. The reason my load is so heavy is because I'm often raising these boys in fear. I've taken far too much on my own shoulders to make things “better” or “easier” for them when in the long run that's teaching them nothing and not only hurting me, but them as well.

Get it on Amazon.

About the author: My name is Katy Congdon and I've been married to the most fabulous Mark Congdon now for 13 years! We have three incredible boys: Judah (9), Asher (7) and Reuben (3) who keep us young and incredibly busy! Mark and I have a huge passion for the young families age group and are currently assisting with the young family's ministry at Topeka Bible Church. The small group we have been leading has been on parenting and we are excited to see where this ministry leads! Mark is an educator in a high school and I am an independent consultant with Usborne Books & More, working hard to make books a priority again in this day and age. Raising godly men who are as prepared as they can be for this world when they leave our home is our goal.

Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates by Tom Bethell

We're going to dive right into a really fascinating book that I think you'll find very stimulating and enriching.

Darwinism is a fascinating topic on many levels. On one hand, it's recognized throughout the world as the leading–perhaps the only acceptable–theory of how earth and its inhabitants came to be. Its assumptions permeate the media, popular culture, and the scientific community. Yet at the same time millions of people remain unconvinced of its explanatory power; some even reject it outright–for reasons theological, philosophical, and even scientific.

Evolution. Natural Selection. Common Descent: the press write stories on hundreds of topics in ways that assume a monolithic consensus on these issues among the scientific community. This is often totally innocuous–the media needs a basic canvas of shared assumptions on which to paint, and so a boring and uncontroversial scientific consensus provides that for the story at hand. Yet the truth is thankfully far more interesting and intricate. The scientific conversation over these issues is not like a peaceful pool of undisturbed water, but rather a roiling cauldron of critique and counterattack, not always friendly and certainly not always intellectually honest.

And so I highly recommend Darwin's House of Cards by Tom Bethell. With the eye of an investigator and the explanatory prose of a seasoned journalist, Bethell takes a look at Darwinism from multiple vantage points. He packages a very readable and engaging overview of the battle fronts in the scientific community–past and present–regarding multiple facets of the Darwinian paradigm. What follows is a brief overview of some of the topics he covers, the inconsistencies he points out, and the conclusions we both draw.

The Origin of Life Question

Natural selection, commonly referred to as “survival of the fittest,” is often used to explain the origin of life, but the reality is that the concept assumes self-replicating entities, so it is necessarily downstream of the origin question. Logically, there must be some other explanation for life's origin other than Darwin's signature concept. It's also unequivocally true that nobody has yet to observe natural selection resulting in one species transforming into another. This is immensely significant but often overlooked or outright ignored. More on this later.

Common Descent

This is the idea that all living things descended from a common ancestor. In other words, we're all in a massive family tree, and at the very top is the very first organism. We are all tangentially related. I won't go into the details, but Bethell cites a variety of problems with this view and writes that “…the verdict on common descent must be: ‘unproven.’ The evidence for it is weak. The genetic code is not universal.” (56)

Natural Selection

This is used as the one-size-fits-all solution for literally any problem posed to Darwinism, but modern research continues to show that natural selection–or minor genetic mutations that accumulate over time–is far more likely to be destructive to cellular organisms that to construct new functionality. One way we've been able to test this is with studying bacteria, which have such a short life cycle and replicate so quickly that we have observed millions of generations and monitored genetic mutation in action. Genetic mutation is how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance, for example. Bethell quotes biochemist Michael Behe, who argues that bacterial resistance is “good evidence that mutations can do little more than break things. And occasionally those breaks have a beneficial side effect.” But this process “certainly isn’t building anything.” (76)

As I mentioned a moment ago, natural selection is pulled out to explain away virtually every objection to evolution. It's the skeleton key of Darwinians. Here is Bethel:

“Has any researcher ever been able to show such ‘indefinite departure from the original type’? [sidebar: this means a shift from one species to another.] If not, what reason do we have for accepting Darwin’s theory is true? Meanwhile, natural selection is perpetually affirmed by proponents as the mechanism built into nature that can account for whatever is observed to exist. Its details do not have to be observed. Whatever exists, natural selection explains it. Darwin continues to be the hero of materialism because he ‘discovered’ an unguided mechanism that can be brought on stage to explain everything that exists in biology, without having to resort to the supernatural. So far, however, there is no evidence to show that this process is actually responsible for the fantastically diverse array of species that populate our world. [and here's the money quote:] Natural selection functions in the realm of philosophy, not science. (80-81)

Extinction of Species

Natural selection is the trouble-maker again. The way it's used amounts to circular reasoning. Here is Bethell quoting public intellectual Norman Macbeth: “It is all too easy to say that a species becomes extinct because it failed to adapt, while establishing its failure to adapt only by its becoming extinct.” (86)

Variation Within Species

We've all heard about the Galapagos finches, right? Or the moths that changed colors to match the polluted climate. Or the wolves who evolved to be white in order to blend in with the snow and thus survive. The problem is that these examples are used to make a leap into assertions that this process of minor variations within species also creates new species. But the existing research clearly indicates that species adapt to conditions within a specific range of their “mean” (or benchmark) state, and never go beyond those bounds and become something new. Even when human intervention prompts and guides variation–i.e. animal breeding–it has failed to exceed inherent boundaries. This is more evidence of the classic–and still unanswered–distinction between microevolution, which virtually nobody denies, and macroevolution (or jumps between species). As the environments change, the species inevitably revert back to their starting point.

The scientific term for this is unlimited variation (or indefinite departure). Bethell writes that this “has not yet been observed. If it had been, we would never stop hearing about it. It has been deduced by assuming the truth of the theory that it is meant to confirm. The continued advocacy of indefinite departure by biology department amounts to the triumph of ideology over science; or perhaps, we might say, to the triumph of hope over experience.” (102)

And later he notes that “What the evidence shows us is not indefinite departure but oscillation about a mean.” (105)

Other Topics

Bethell dives into convergence, homology, the fossil record, objections from Intelligent Design Theory, and problems posed to evolution by information theory and what the experts call “complex specified data.” For example, the mathematical probabilities involved with randomly generating even one of the proteins required for life boggle the mind and immediately create hurdles that the average person would identify as insurmountable.

Here's a quick summary of information types. Complex information is something that is statistically unlikely but not necessarily designed, such as a particular hand of cards that gets dealt, or 20 letters arranged in a particular order. Specified information actually contains meaning, or real content in a message. Specified complexity, information that is both statistically unlikely on its face AND which contains meaning, is so unlikely to arise randomly that it should be considered statistically impossible. Or, you might say, to believe it happened due to unguided natural processes requires a certain measure of….faith.

Methodological Naturalism

Finally, Bethell gets to a topic that I've read a lot about over the years and wrestled with where to land on: Does science, by logical necessity, have to be tied to philosophical or methodological naturalism, or can they be extricated from each other? Theologians like John Walton have argued that one can and must embrace methodological naturalism in order to “do science,” all the while keeping it separate from the philosophical variety (indeed, Walton rejects that kind). But I have long worried that this simply cedes too much ground to the secular evolutionists.

There are many outspoken and viciously anti-theistic Darwinists out there. One has to ask: are they that way because they hold to evolution? Or do they hold to evolution because they are anti-theists?

For Darwinists, once the materialist philosophy is assumed and moved past, then of course evolution is true, and natural selection is the default answer to any objection, no matter how strong. Evidence doesn't even matter, because any other answers are dismissed out of hand, a priori. Here's Bethel: “At this point Darwinism becomes little more than a deduction from a philosophy. The science is redundant. There is no need to bother with information theory, enumerate mutations, whether favorable or unfavorable, or fuss about fossils. Darwin’s theory is embedded in its underlying materialism.”

Listen to Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA:

“Your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… You are nothing but a pack of neurons.” (169)

To me, the main reason Darwinism continues to resist the critiques brought on by reason and evidence is that it’s fundamentally grounded in philosophical naturalism and materialism, not observable phenomena. The fight is not over evidence but epistemology.

As new research in biochemistry and genetics continues to pile up mountain of counter-evidence against natural selection, the responses of fully committed Darwinians have become increasingly ridiculous. They will grasp at any straw, no matter how unlikely, to avoid any explanation that might undermine their secularism. Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins both posited what amounts to an “aliens seeded our planet” explanation, which simply kicks the can that is the original of life dilemma further back in time. Biologists initially scoffed at the supposed “junk DNA” that fills up most of our cells, claiming vindication of natural selection, only to be embarrassed as further research continues to reveal its complex function and incredible value to cellular life.

I'll close with one final observation. It's really fascinating to note that later in his life Darwin appealed to theological justifications for the correctness of his theory. They were standard theodicy-type objections–you know, “problem of evil” stuff. It was clear that Darwin was looking for a reason NOT to believe in God. But the key point is that teleology–or purpose–was there in his theory from the very beginning. It was never purely about science, following the evidence wherever it led. Some Christians, like the BioLogos crowd or theologian John Walton, attempt to separate the science from teleology and from the philosophical naturalism and materialism that too often accompanies it among mainstream secular scientists. As I noted above, I've wrestled with whether I think that separation can actually happen, or whether natural selection is inextricable from materialism. For a while I was open to being convinced they could be kept separate, but I am increasingly convinced they cannot.

Why should we cede epistemology to the Darwinists when their edifice is crumbling? There is no reason to give away the store. We should continue to critique Darwinism–even on its own terms and according to its own premises–and wait for the dominoes to fall. It's only a matter of time.

Bethell's book provides a very straightforward, readable account of the major flaws inherent to Darwin's theory and the significant challenges posed from without. I highly recommend it to skeptics and adherents of Darwinism alike–indeed, to anyone interested in science or philosophy.

Buy it on Amazon.

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

The Undercover Revolution: How Fiction Changed Britain by Iain H. Murray

Cover: The Undercover Revolution

undercover_revolution_iain_murray

The Undercover Revolution: How Fiction Changed Britain by Iain H. Murray

Iain H. Murray's book, The Undercover Revolution: How Fiction Changed Britain, has a fascinating premise–that the sharp uptick in the popularity of novels in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly novels written by secularists both ambivalent and hostile toward Christianity and her moral and social norms, was the catalyst for the massive cultural shifts that British culture (and Western culture at large) underwent during that time. In other words, Murray argues that it was the subtle, worldview-shaping power of stories–not science or rational inquiry, per se–that shaped and defined the religious and sexual mores of modern society.

It's an unexpected argument, although it seems reasonable and intuitive once considered. But I remain unconvinced–not because I think Murray is wrong, but because he doesn't really explain why or how the fiction and authors he reviews directly support his thesis. This is an extremely short book, almost a pamphlet, and can be read in one sitting. Murray provides a some brief biographical info and analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy, and to an even lesser extent Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. He shows that their personal lives directly rebutted their public statements about religion, morality and and human sexuality. Despite proclaiming that one can be happy without monogamy (or marriage at all, for that matter), satisfied by “free love,” and fulfilled by agnostic or atheistic philosophy, their lives were absolute wrecks and utterly failed to vindicate their worldviews.

All this is no doubt true, but there virtually no discussion of the contents of their novels, which I found curious. Beyond an introductory statistic about the skyrocketing popularity of novels in this era–and the correspoding decline in popularity of other literary forms–Murray simply doesn't present much evidence for his thesis. Knowing what I do about worldviews and how people develop beliefs, I am sympathetic to his conclusion. But with so little supporting content (in this book, at least), the argument is unconvincing.

With a more sympathetic perspective, pastor Douglas Wilson thinks this is a “good book for jump-starting your brain.” Wilson has some solid insights about how Murray illuminates the power of story and narrative in cultural development. In any case, it's a fascinating discussion of the impact of literature on society.

Purchase it on Amazon.

Themis Files Trilogy (Sleeping Giants, Waking Gods, Only Human) by Sylvain Neuvel

Themis Files Trilogy (Sleeping Giants, Waking Gods, Only Human) by Sylvain Neuvel

Thousands of years ago, an advanced alien race arrived on our planet, disassembled a giant robot, and buried its pieces all over the globe. In our time, one day an 11-year-old girl wanders through some woods at night and falls in a pit–and into the palm of a huge metallic hand. For years the greatest minds in science and government can make no sense of it, until that same girl–now grown up–puts the clues together and oversees a global project to find and put together the robot.

What does it all mean? What is the robot capable of? Why was it left here? Who is the mysterious, anonymous intelligence official who seems to have unlimited government resources and the ability to start or prevent military operations? Why does a seemingly average, middle-aged private citizen have a detailed knowledge of the aliens who showed up thousands of years ago but haven't been seen or heard from since?

Sylvain Neuvel's trilogy The Themis Files is a gripping and intelligent exploration of very real and contemporary questions. It touches on genetics and race, politics, war, the moral quagmires of tribalism and xenophobia, intense and dysfunctional relationships both romantic and parental, the philosophy and real-world impact of interventionism and isolationism on a global and intergalactic scale, cloning, and more.

All three novels are presented in a format of log files–meeting transcripts and/or diary entries from a variety of characters. There is no third person narration. It takes a lot for me to overcome my dislike of this approach (I couldn't get in to World War Z for that reason); it takes significant skill to advance a (very complicated) plot and develop one's characters in this way, but Neuvel succeeds admirably and ably.

This tale has so many twists and turns; I seldom saw them coming, but looking back they all make sense. If you like sci-fi stories with real humanity and a thoughtful exploration of difficult but realistic issues, I highly recommend The Themis Files.

Content warning: a medium amount of language, but nothing else objectionable for adults.

Purchase them on Amazon.

Are You A Loser If You Still Read Kids’ Books? (Plus a FREE Customized Booklist) – Ep 4

Are You A Loser If You Still Read Kids' Books? (Plus a FREE Customized Booklist) – Ep 4

Does children's literature have any value? Should adults even bother to read it? Jake Nuckolls believes so strongly in the value and power of kid lit that he started a free service to provide customized book recommendations to his friends–and anyone else on the web who manages to find his site. Click the image below to request a personalized book list!

In this episode Jake and I explore our mutual love of kid lit, discuss how we read aloud to our large families, and shamefully admit to some of the classics we never got around to reading.

Here is a list of books and authors that came up in our discussion. Enjoy!

Newberry Medal Winners
Caldecott Medal Winners
C.S. Lewis | The Chronicles of Narnia
J.R.R. Tolkien | The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien | The Hobbit
J.K. Rowling | Harry Potter series
N.D. Wilson | Leepike Ridge
N.D. Wilson | 100 Cupboards Trilogy
N.D. Wilson | Ashtown Burials Trilogy
N.D. Wilson | Boys of Blur
N.D. Wilson | Outlaws of Time
N.D. Wilson | Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl
N.D. Wilson | Death By Living
Kenneth Grahame | The Wind in the Willows
Kij Johnson | The River Bank
Jacqueline Kelly | Return to the Willows
William Horwood | The Willows in Winter
William Horwood | Toad Triumphant
William Horwood | The Willows and Beyond
William Horwood | The Willows at Christmas
Lloyd Alexander | Chronicles of Prydain
Dan Gemeinhart | Some Kind of Courage
Matthew J. Kirby | The Clockwork Three
Susan Cooper | The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Brian Jacques | Redwall
Roald Dahl | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl | Danny, the Champion of the World
George MacDonald | The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald | At the Back of the North Wind
Andrew Peterson | The Wingfeather Saga
Kazu Kibuishi | Amulet series (graphic novel)
Royden Lepp | Rust series (graphic novel)
Matt Phelan | A Storm in the Barn
Matt Phelan | Around the World
Matt Phelan | Bluffton
Matt Phelan | Snow White
Eoin Colfer | Artemis Fowl series
L.M. Montgomery | Anne of Green Gables
John R. Erickson | Hank the Cowdog series
Steve Augarde | The Various
Richard Peck | A Long Way from Chicago
Richard Peck | A Year Down Yonder
Jean Lee Latham | Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley | The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley | The War I Finally Won

[This site uses affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.]

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

Episode 3 – On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest and most violent in human history. Looking back at totalitarianism, fascism, and the banality of evil in a time expected to achieve the pinnacle of human progress, what lessons can we learn as we enter the era of Trump, Brexit, Calexit, the rise of new authoritarians like Putin, and the new social pressures imposed on us in the Internet Age?

Check out our discussion of this fascinating, pithy, and brief collection of reflections by Yale professor Timothy Snyder.

Buy it on Amazon.

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the bumper music.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

This is one of the best middle grade children's books I've read in a long time. It's charming, the characters are genuine and realistic, the prose is poetic and creatively descriptive, and the plotting is tight without seeming unlikely.

The story takes place in a steampunk version of New York City (although it's never named as such) in the late 18th century, and involves three kids whose stories intersect and overlap:

Giuseppe is an “employee” of a low level thug who provides minimal food and shelter for street urchins in exchange for all their money earned playing instruments on the streets; he's effectively a slave. When a magical green violin washes up on shore, the music that Giuseppe pulls from it literally stops listeners in their tracks, and he earns more money in one song than he does in a week with his old violin. He quickly realizes it's his ticket out, back to Italy where his family is from. But his patrone discovers the new violin and Giuseppe barely escapes with his life. Now he's on the run from ruffians, but unable to get out of the city or buy a boat fare home.

Hannah is a school age bookworm, but she must work to provide for her family ever since her stonemason father's stroke left him bedridden. A maid at a grand hotel, she overhears her devious superiors plotting to find a treasure that a mysterious resident supposedly hid somewhere in the building years ago. She intends to find it first, to pay for the medicine that will save her father. But when Hannah's desperation leads her to steal a valuable necklace from a hotel guest, she gets fired–and the prospects for her family are grim.

Frederick is an orphan and apprentice clockmaker. He dreams of making journeyman in the artisan guild, and all his extra time is focused on building a complex clockwork automaton. Yet as new details emerge about the mother who abandoned him to the orphanage, he begins to break under all the pressures. When a friend leads him to a discovery of momentous historical significance, he steals a valuable item and barely escapes with his life. Now Frederick is in over his head, and can't bring himself to trust his master, the clockmaker, with the truth.

Matthew Kirby takes all three of these story lines and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry of adventure, friendship, innocent romance, and gentle social commentary. It's even grounded in some true events from 1873 New York City. There's a little bit of the supernatural–hence the steampunk feel that makes it not quite historical fiction–but it feels realistic. The colorful and descriptive prose just rolls off the page; I found myself re-reading certain sentences with delight.

Buy it on Amazon.