I listen to a lot of audio books during my daily commute and while performing menial tasks. Although I worked from home three out of five days for much of the year, according to Audible I still managed to listen to audio books for 23 days 5 hours and 5 smokin’ minutes. Now I know there is a lot of debate over whether listening to a book is the same as reading a book. This is a silly argument. According to my Reading Specialist Mother-in-law, “The same area of your brain is used whether you are reading or listening.” There is nothing like sitting in a comfortable chair in a quiet room and reading a real hard back book with typeset printing. Alas, I spend ten hours a week on the road and I try to make the most of that time with audiobooks.
Rather than give you the huge list of books I finished this year-some of which were duds-I’ve tried to narrow it down to the five titles that resonated most with me.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Defender of the Realm by William Manchester and Paul Reid
This was the first audiobook that I tackled back in January. This 53 hour behemoth covers the life of Winston Churchill from 1940-1965. Which is to say that it covers world history from that time period. It inspired me to listen to several of Churchill’s speeches and read a host of other books about World War II. If I could only recommend one of those books it would be The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan.
While the book obviously focuses on Churchill, it goes into great detail about his relationships with other world leaders like Stalin and Roosevelt. I found it interesting how Roosevelt, ever the politician, slowly and steadily dismantled the British Empire.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
I love Charles Dickens. His books are fun to read, but there is something marvelously appealing to me about listening to a great narrator read in all the Dickensian accents. I like to listen to Dickens whenever I finish a truly heavy work of non-fiction like Night by Ellie Wessel.
Why Little Dorrit made the list is not because of the great storyline-it’s good, but it’s not Dickens at his best to me. This book made the list solely because of his invention of The Office of Circumlocution. Anyone who has ever been frustrated with inefficient government bureaucracy will appreciate Dicken’s satire. It is worth thumbing through if only to read those passages.
Conquistadors by Michael Wood
Of the five books I completed this year in this area of study, this title is an excellent sampler. I found this subject so interesting that I’ve started studying Spanish again after I realized that all the hard words were Nahuatl anyway. This book focuses on Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizzaro, Francisco de Orellana, and Cabeza de Vaca. It also spurred my curiosity to learn more about people like Father Sahagun, and Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, and events like the Valladolid debate between las Casas and Sepulvida.
It is amazing how these conquistadors were all more than a little bit rogue. Hernan Cortes was actually fleeing from the governor of Cuba when he began what became the conquest of Mexico. Orellana led a rebellion from a failing expedition and became the first European to sail the Amazon River- from West to East no less.
Perhaps most interesting though is the story of Cabeza de Vaca, who washed up on an island off the coast of Texas after the ship returning from an aborted expedition into Florida sank in a storm. The natives that rescued him insisted that he could heal people. He attempted to refuse, but then eventually began to pray for people when he realized that they would not take no for an answer. For the next few years he walked to through Texas and Mexico healing people on his way back to Spanish civilization. There were even reports of the dead being raised.
This book had one statement that stood out to me. I am paraphrasing, ‘The native peoples were unfamiliar with the concept of separation between the natural and spiritual worlds. They believed that the spiritual world could break in on the natural world at any moment.”
As a Christian, I strongly share this feeling.
The Sultans by Noel Barber
This book helped fill a large gap in my knowledge about the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks often receive praise for being efficient administrators of such a vast empire, but we must remember that they did not establish their empire. They overtook a fully functional empire from the Byzantines, who called themselves Romans, who received it from the Greeks, who won it from the Persians, who took it from the Babylonians. In essence the Ottoman Empire-and a lot of the rest of the world-is the scrappy leftovers of the most glorious empire in history: Babylon. (See Daniel chapter two)
The book follows the Sultans from Sulieman the Magnificent, to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). The Sultans were a colorful lot as far as characters go. Their biographical sketches read like fantastic story book material, albeit not for children. For all their piety many of these Sultan’s exemplified the basest elements of human nature. I suppose a few could be called supervillains. It is a fortunate thing for western culture that the Ottoman empire slowly self-destructed by fratricide.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
My brother recommended this book to me. Aside from the Bible, this is the most important book that I have read this year. Dr. Frankl was already an established psychiatrist prior to World War II. He survived a number of concentration camps during the war, although many of his family members did not.
In this book he argues that as long as man has meaning-something to live for-he can endure the worst circumstances. He uses his harrowing experience in the camps to support this idea. Without meaning, man loses the will to live and will die. Dr. Frankl states that every person’s meaning is different, and it is up to the individual to find that meaning.
I believe that there is an ultimate meaning that supersedes the elusive personal meaning that Dr. Frankl is describing.
That ultimate meaning can only be found in serving Jesus Christ.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
Colossians 2:8-12 KJV