John Knox in Controversy by Hugh Watt

The title explains perfectly the content of this little book. This is not a biography of John Knox but rather an overview of four major controversies or confrontations that he encountered as he led the Reformation in Scotland in the sixteenth century. A fuller understanding of Knox’s life is needed to get a decent handle on the events found in this volume. Only a church history buff would find much interest in this work....

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel

If you are looking for a Louis L’Amour storyline, this isn’t your book. If you are looking for authentic accounts of the mid-1800s wagon trains on their journeys west and that from the perspective of the women travelers, you have come to the right place. As the title implies this is not a novel but true stories as found in the diaries of women who made this incredible expedition. What these women had to endure, how they managed (toting along numerous children and often pregnant), how they buried their young and sometimes their husbands on the trail and then stoically continued their journey, is like nothing portrayed in the movies. In our cushy little world it is hard to imagine anyone purposely putting themselves through such turmoil for any reason – but these pioneers saw things differently. To be sure the western migration was the fantasy of the men,...

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

For some reason this little story about the last days of a man dying of a terrible disease has hit the right buttons. It is the account of a 30-something yuppie who has sort of lost his way in life, but finding new insight about what is truly important from his former college professor. Every Tuesday the author travels to Morrie’s house to record his words of wisdom trying to discover where the author, and his generation, lost the path. The under girding philosophy that Morrie has to give is found in an oft’ repeated phrase, “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live” (p.82). Tuesdays is a story full of pathos, and perhaps this is its appeal. Many have lost loved ones who seemed to have a better handle on life than they. Maybe we should have taken the time to listen a little more...

Tolkien, a Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

With Tolkien mania on the rise again, Tolkien buffs will want to read this authorized biography. This is a well written, interesting biography that fleshes out Tolkien’s personal and professional life. Tolkien’s relationship to C. S. Lewis is detailed, including the part he allegedly played in Lewis’ conversion. Whether Tolkien himself was a Christian is doubtful. He was a Roman Catholic and extremely religious, but his relationship with Christ is not explored in this book. Those who like Hobbits and Middle-earth will enjoy this biography; all others should skip this one....

The Wolf from Scotland by William B. Forsyth

In the mid 1800s a pioneer missionary took the gospel to two Portuguese speaking nations: Medeira and Brazil. Dr. Robert Reid Kalley was in the same league as Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson as far as his effectiveness as a missionary, but he lacked the fame of his peers. This biography goes a long way towards remedying this slight. Kalley was a Scottish medical doctor who, due to health concerns of his wife, moved to the Madeira Islands off the coast of northwest Africa. There he modeled the medical missionary for future generations, brought many to Christ and established a vital church in Madeira which so enraged the Roman Catholic population that strong persecution ensued. The Kalleys had to flee to Scotland and the Maderian believers (which numbered over 2000) to the West Indies. Ultimately a large number of these relocated to Springfield and Jacksonville, Illinois. After the death...

The Story of Billy McCarrell by Dorothy Martin

This little biography of the founder of the IFCA, while certainly not a comprehensive study of McCarrell’s life, is nevertheless well worth the time it takes to read — especially for those in the IFCA, and similar separatist organizations. In my opinion, Martin spends too much time with minor details that are not later developed. For example, the author writes of numerous trivialities of the McCarrell’s home life, while making only passing references to the Fishermen’s Club and McCarrell’s involvement with Wheaton College and the Moody Bible Institute. This reader would have liked to know of the impact that the Fishermen’s Club had in Chicago. I have heard that McCarrell and the Fishermen’s Club stood toe to toe with Al Capone — but whether that is true, our author does not say. It would have also been instructive to learn about issues that McCarrell may have faced as a...

The Life and Times of Cotton Mather by Kenneth Silverman

I can’t imagine too many Christians wading through a 400+ page biography about a man that most of them have never heard about, but they should. If nothing else, they would gain tremendous insight about life in early America, especially the Boston society. Along the way they would learn much about one of the most interesting and prominent characters of the colonial times. Mather came from incredible stock; the uniting of the most honored families in early New England, the Cottons and the Mathers – both grandfathers being famous Puritan preachers in early colonial history. Cotton, obviously named after both grandfathers may seem like a strange name until you know that his own father, also a well-known minister was named Increase (Cotton named one of his sons Increase, and later had a grandson by the same name; how did such a name fall out of favor?). Cotton lived from...

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps because it has been heralded as one of the finest of all autobiographies, I found Ben Franklin’s a bit disappointing. Not that it isn’t interesting, filled as is was with all sorts of trivia not usually found in the history books, but on the other hand, there is nothing outstanding or terribly exciting either. Mostly the autobiography tells of Franklin’s success in various enterprises and of his observations and hurdles along the way. On the disappointing side The Autobiography said virtually noting about his wife or children, nor are we given details about interactions with other famous patriots of the times. As a matter of fact the account ends in 1765, before the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States for which Franklin plays such an important role. Of special interest to me were Franklin’s religious views. He was raised Presbyterian but soon parted company (pp....

That Man of Granite with the Heart of a Child, A New Biography of J. C. Ryle by Eric Russell

There has been a recent resurgence in interest in the life of John Charles Ryle. This is due largely to the reprinting and promotion of some of his many writings, especially the excellent book Holiness. Ryle was a nineteenth century English Reformed evangelical pastor, author and, for his last twenty years, Bishop of Liverpool. His ministry overlapped other well-known evangelicals, most notably Charles Spurgeon. What set Ryle apart ecclesiastically was his loyalty to the Church of England. Due to the increasing influence of the Oxford Movement, with its return to Catholicism, and the encroachment of liberalism, stemming from German Higher Criticism, the Church of England was a spiritual and theological mixed bag at best. Many of the finest ministers abandoned Anglicanism and joined the nonconformist movement. Ryle stood his ground. This is the story of Ryle’s uncompromising faith and his tireless efforts to lead and reform the Church of...

That I May Know Him by Vance Havner

There is just something about the preaching and writing of Vance Havner that relaxes the soul. This little book is vintage Havner: low key, tranquil, thought provoking. As Havner himself admits, his ministry did not major on interpretation but on application. He was not a profound expositor of the Word; he was a simple country preacher who had a way of saying things that caused a person to reflect. Havner was born, “before the family was let out by auto and the world let in by radio.” He advises us that, “In this day of peanut-butter-sandwich theology, what a price we have paid for passing up the moral beefsteak of books that are books indeed.” He believed that life was happier before the “Amen age gave way to the era of So What.” Yet there was a period in Havner’s life when he drifted toward liberalism beginning to see...