A review of James Oakes’s *The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution*

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There are two ledges that amateur and professional historians alike can veer toward in their analysis of Abraham Lincoln. The first is a hagiography of Lincoln that unabashedly celebrates him as “the Great Emancipator” at the forefront of the abolition movement who saw black and white equality exactly the same as many of us do today. This is not true. But the counter-narrative, that Lincoln was a white supremacist who used abolition of slavery only as a political tool and was only antislavery when it behooved him, is also not as supported as it may seem. James Oakes takes aim especially at the second of those narratives in his new book, The Crooked Path to Abolition. …


The best books to fill out your reading list for 2021

This year, I was able to read 80 books (five more than last year), so 2020’s list of favorite books has an even greater sample size from which to choose. (One of these days I will be able to reach the elusive “100”.) As usual, this is a collection of the best books I read in 2020, not the best of those published in 2020. That qualification is especially important this time, as half of my top ten were not published this year.

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A review of Raleigh Sadler’s heart-wrenching book, *Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking*

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Why am I sitting here, on Christmas Day, writing a book review about human trafficking? I bought Raleigh Sadler’s Vulnerable: Rethinking Human Trafficking a little less than a year ago, and it’s been on my list but kept being pushed just far enough out of reach. Then the New York Times posted a story (for some reason as an op-ed even though there was tons of reporting) entitled “The Children of Pornhub”. I encourage you to read it in full when you have time to devote it, not scrolling and half-reading like I’m sure you do with book reviews. But for the uninitiated, Pornhub is the world’s largest pornography site, and the story unveils the trafficking, abuse, rape, and under-age videos that pervade the site. I read this story and it broke me. I wanted to know what I could do. So I picked up Sadler’s book, followed him on Twitter (it turns out we run in the same Twitter circles as well), and fully committed to learning and taking action. …


A review of Phillip Lopate’s new compilation of historical essays, *The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present*

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Has reading an essay ever changed your life?

It has mine. “Common Sense” helped me fall further in love with reading history. “A Case for Reparations”, while I don’t fully agree with the conclusions, sent me scrambling for more information on race in America (a quest that continues to this day). Depending on your definition of “essay”, these two might not even count. But that is part of what Phillip Lopate seeks to reconcile in his new book, The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays from Colonial Times to the Present. There is no agreed-upon definition of what an essay is, so Lopate seeks to codify an inclusive definition and set up a canon of sorts. …


A review of Roland Ennos’s new history, *The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization*

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I’m a sucker for books marketed as “the complete history of (some noun that is completely overlooked in history but probably very important)”, as are many. Mark Kurlansky has made a career out of it with Salt, Milk!, and Cod. I was excited for but ultimately disappointed with Timothy Winegard’s The Mosquito. But I loved Judith Flanders’ history of alphabetical order, A Place for Everything (I even interviewed her about it), and I am looking forward to reading Flanders’ 2017 history of Christmas as well. …


A review of Seb Falk’s *The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science*

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The Dark Ages. The Middle Ages. Medieval times. Those are the descriptors historians use for the time from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in roughly A.D. 476 (the Eastern Roman Empire stuck around for almost 1000 years more) to the Renaissance in the 1300s and 1400s. All of those terms have taken on a derogatory meaning, as the time period has been seen as devoid of the science, art, culture, and “civilization” (whatever that truly means) that characterized the Greeks and especially the Roman Empire.

This characterization is heavily countered in Seb Falk’s new book, The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science. As the subtitle implies, Falk lasers in on science in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and skillfully shows that medieval science was much more advanced than is often credited. To achieve this, he takes the perspective of one man who lived a fairly normal life in medieval Europe and, despite not being famous in his time or ours, is connected to many of the advancements of the time period: John of Westwyk. By using John’s perspective, Falk anchors his analysis in a specific place and figure but still retains the flexibility to branch out into a discussion of medieval science at large. …


A review of Trevin Wax’s new book, *Rethink Your Self*

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Think back to your high school graduation. What were the major messages there? “You can be anything you want to be!” “Stay true to yourself!” The *Oh, the Places You’ll Go!* message. If it was anything more substantial than that, you can count yourself blessed. As Trevin Wax mentions in his new book, Rethink Your Self, the message of the ceremony behind high school graduations might be the epitome of individualistic American culture, pushing the narrative of “You do you” to its limit. Wax calls this cultural ritual, “looking in”, which is so true of all aspects of our society. We are told to “look in” to see who we are, what we should do, how we should act. …


A review of Dan DeWitt’s new chock-full-o-truth children’s book, *The Bright Light and the Super Scary Darkness*

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Are you afraid of the dark?

My kids are afraid of the dark, for sure. What’s weird, though, is they don’t start off being afraid of the dark. It’s only when they reach a certain age. My two year-old, she goes to bed like it’s nothing, no problems at all. My five year-old, on the other hand, has to hug our dog and pray so she’s not too scared, and my three year-old boy is very vocal about how scary the dark is until he conks out in about five seconds.

As you can imagine, I was enthralled to receive a new children’s book about how the dark isn’t so scary after all because we have the light that pushes it away. Dan DeWitt’s The Bright Light and the Super Scary Darkness tells the whole story of the Bible with the metaphors of light and darkness. It’s written in a way that little kids can easily understand, yet it holds such deep truth that I could keep reading this to them for years and they’ll consistently understand more and more of what it says about God and the gospel. …


A review of Diane Langberg’s new *Redeeming Power: Understanding Abuse and Authority in the Church*

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God created a one-flesh union and called that union of male and female to rule and subdue the earth, not each other.

A scorcher of a quote so near the beginning of Diane Langberg’s new book on authority and abuse in the church, Redeeming Power. It sets the stage so well for what’s to come: a call for the church to condemn all forms of abuse and take steps to make sure that abusers are stopped before they can repeat their crimes against God. Langberg’s call finds its center in the gospel of Jesus Christ, more specifically the part of the gospel that states humans are created in the image of God and have worth because of their Creator. …


A review of James Lang’s *Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It*

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When you were in high school, how much did you see people disciplined for being distracted in class?

One of my teachers used to (by his own admission) throws a chalkboard eraser at distracted students in the back of the room. You could see the eraser marks on the back wall sometimes. You might notice by the “chalkboard eraser” reference: this was pre-iPhone days. Are classroom distractions a new thing?

While distractions have proved easier to come by since 2007 (the year the iPhone came out and my senior year of high school), to say that pre-2007 students weren’t similarly distracted in class is almost laughable. I didn’t have a smartphone until after I graduated from college, but I was still frequently distracted in class. When the thing you’re supposed to be paying attention to seems unworthy of your attention, the brain finds other things to do. Smartphones have diverted that attention mostly to one place for a majority of people, but take away student phones and I promise you they would find other distractions on which to shift their attention. …

About

Jason Park

Book-reviewer, AP World History and AP Psychology Teacher. MAT Secondary Social Studies, University of Arkansas. Arlington, TX.

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