4 Booklist September 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
Philosophy & Psychology
American Philosophy: A Love Story.
By John Kaag.
Oct. 2016. Farrar, $26 (9780374154486). 191.
Standing before students gathered in Harvard’s Holden Chapel in 1895, philosopher
William James wrestled with one urgent question: Is life worth living? More than a century
later, a troubled postdoctoral student—
namely, John Kaag—confronts the same question.
Near despair after his recent struggle to discern
meaning in his father’s death from cancer,
Kaag is vexed by his failure to progress in his
academic research and by his emotional paralysis in a disintegrating marriage. Surprisingly,
salvation—intellectual and personal—comes
through the discovery of the private library (in
philosophy, religion, and poetry) of the pioneering American philosopher William Ernest
Hocking. This forgotten trove of books helps
Kaag renew his passion for philosophy, Amer-ican-style (Emerson, Pierce, James), enriched
through connections to European thinkers
(Descartes, Kant, Hegel), and infused with insights from Eastern religions. Renewed passion
of a different sort gives him courage to attempt
a new romantic start with a woman who shares
his commitment to philosophical inquiry. This
is philosophy not as mere academic concepts
but as lived experience. —Bryce Christensen
American Prophets: Seven Religious
Radicals & Their Struggle for Social and
By Albert J. Raboteau.
Oct. 2016. 280p. illus. Princeton, $29.95
African American studies pioneer Raboteau
The Gay Preacher’s Wife: How My
collects his lectures on seven American reli-
gious leaders who gave the greatest impetus
to religiously based movements for social and
political change. The twentieth century deter-
mined the thrusts of their work for political
equality and against war. Three—Dorothy
Day, the soul of the Catholic Worker move-
ment; Martin Luther King Jr., who rose up
to lead the black civil rights movement; and
Fannie Lou Hamer, the singing heart of the
Mississippi Freedom Project to register black
voters in 1964—remain household names.
But Trappist monk and writer Thomas Mer-
ton, Jewish theologian and philosopher
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Christian pacifist
organizer A. J. Muste, and African American
theologian of nonviolence Howard Thurman
get a welcome boost from Raboteau’s profiles.
The subjects knew one another and partici-
pated, often shoulder-to-shoulder, in events
like the great southern civil rights marches
and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of
the 1960s. As important, they wrote, spoke,
and guided the movements. Let the study
of them together start with these concise yet
weighty appraisals. —Ray Olson
Gay Husband Deconstructed My Life &
Reconstructed My Faith.
By Lydia Meredith.
Oct. 2016. 256p. Gallery, paper, $16 (9781476788937).
Lydia Meredith had it all—a loving husband, beautiful children, and a thriving
ministry—only to have her world come crashing down with the discovery that her husband,
the respected pastor of a large church, was gay.
Meredith’s life had been one of hard work and
perseverance, and she was a successful profes-
sional in her own right before meeting and
marrying the exciting young pastor. The two
were partners in life and in ministry when
warning signs first appeared. The resulting
betrayal and disintegration of the marriage is
painful to read, although it takes several years
and multiple incidents before she gives up.
Rather than abandoning her faith, however,
Meredith pursues a seminary degree, diving
into what faith can really do and emerging
with a profound sense of God’s love and care
for all humanity. While some of the anger at
her husband is evident, her ultimate message
is one of care and reconciliation. It’s a power-
ful testament to the human capacity for love
and determination in the midst of startling
circumstances. —Christine Engel
Genghis Khan and the Quest for
God: How the World’s Greatest
Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom.
By Jack Weatherford.
Oct. 2016. 304p. Viking, $28 (9780735221154). 201.
Weatherford’s third revisionist history of
the great Mongol Empire frames a biography
of its builder within the fascinating argu-
ment that that monarch’s
policy concerning religion
anticipates those of the
U.S. and subsequent secu-
lar nations. Genghis Khan
made no establishment of re-
ligion, allowing his subjects
the unfettered practice of
their faiths throughout the
largest state in history. He professed no faith
himself, though he did habitually refresh
himself spiritually at the sacred mountain
in whose shadow he was born. He relished
learning about religions, however, especially
Christianity and Taoism. He knew enough
about Confucianism to consider it not a re-
ligion but a bureaucratic regime inimical to
the adventurousness necessary for empire-
building. The spiritual value he most valued
was loyalty, the betrayal of which he im-
placably punished with death. Weatherford
proposes that Genghis, regarding religion as
a disruptive force, wanted it kept far from
the councils of state. Several founding fa-
thers—Jefferson chief among them—knew
of Genghis’ separation of church and state
and saw to it that the Constitution essential-
ly mandated it. Waterford bases some of his
interpretations on the most recently discov-
ered imperial Mongol documents, including
one that offers a view of Genghis’ encounter
with a great Taoist leader that is very differ-
ent from the other eyewitness account of
it. An engrossing history that sheds further
light on a figure the West has long regarded
as the ultimate barbarian. —Ray Olson
Making Sense of God.
By Timothy Keller.
Sept. 2016. 336p. Viking, $27 (9780525954156). 211.
Pastor Keller has a weekly open discussion
for skeptics at his church, Manhattan’s enor-
mous Redeemer Presbyterian, out of which
comes this book. While his undergirding aim
is to persuade readers to consider the truth of
Appearing below is a list of all the print reference titles reviewed in this issue. Reference
librarians should also remember that all Booklist reference reviews can be accessed by
Booklist subscribers on Booklist Online.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. By Joshua Foer and
others. p. 18
Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects. By Brett Weiss. p. 13
Field Guide to Trains, Locomotives, and Rolling Stock: Your Complete Guide to Everything on the Rails Today. By Brian Solomon. p. 13
ISIS: An Introduction and Guide to the Islamic State. By Brian L. Steed. p. 13
The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. By Mehrdad Kia. p. 14
Resisting the Holocaust: Upstanders, Partisans, and Survivors. By Paul R. Bartrop. p. 14
Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. By Rolf
Blancke. p. 7
Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes. By Marilyn J. Roossinck. p. 8