On Book Reviews, Recommendations and Bibliographies

In praise of books, reviews and reading lists:

I begin on a personal note: One of the big advantages of having a rather large, well-stocked, and carefully selected library is this: You can have some books sitting on the shelves for 10, 20, 30, or 40 years largely untouched, but then you find that you are really keen to get back into them.

No probs. You do not have to scour second-hand bookstores or pay exorbitant prices to find some long out of print copy somewhere. You simply stroll to your shelves, locate the book, grab it, blow off the dust, and greatly enjoy it. It does not get much better than that. One of the small joys I have.

But that is me – I am a book guy. You might say I am a book nerd, but guy will suffice. And it gets better in a library such as this. You might be reading some volume where a neat quote comes up, so you check out the footnote or endnote, only to discover you have that book. So you merrily head to where it might be found, look up the passage in question, and enjoy it and its context. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.

I like books. And I happen to think books are important because I believe ideas are important and ideas have consequences. Some of the greatest evils perpetrated on mankind over the centuries have sprung from bad ideas. Bad thoughts were put into bad books by bad people such as Marx or Mao, and millions died as a result.

So bad ideas need to be countered with good ideas. That in part is why this website exists: to share far and wide good ideas and to counter bad ones. When I buy a new book I am not thinking only about what I might gain from the book – I am also thinking about what gems I find that I can share with others, be they neat quotes or important ideas or deep insights or lofty themes.

I want to share what I learn and discover with others, because I want to be of some help to others. Exposing others to important thinkers or key authors or moving prose or life-changing ideas is something I not only enjoy doing, but feel is part of my calling.

Obviously sharing God’s truth comes first and foremost, so simply sharing all sorts of biblical texts on the social media for example is one valuable use of my time. In my daily reading of Scripture I almost always find something not just that I benefit from, but I want others to benefit from as well.

But I also like to alert folks to good books and must-read authors. Perhaps most are Christian books and Christian authors, but not all of them. When I find important truths, regardless of the source, I am usually eager to share them. I hope others will be helped and grow and mature by them just as I have.

Book reviews

I have 633 book reviews on my website. OK, so that is only just over eight per cent of all the books I own – but it is a start. They are important for various reasons. They of course alert others to good books, and I hope my review will encourage them to get the volume for themselves and read it through.

And if folks do not have the time or money to get the book, hopefully a good review will give them a helpful overview of the book and its contents. If I can present some of the key thoughts from the book, or feature some of the better quotes from it, that may be sufficient for some folks.

That is a big part of the work of CultureWatch. Because I think books are important I think book reviews are important. That is why there are over 600 of them here. Most of these are proper full length reviews while others may just briefly mention the books or quote from them. Some recent reviews are these:

The War on the West by Douglas Murray
The Bodies of Others by Naomi Wolf
Scanned by Nick Corbishley
The Great Reset By Glenn Beck

Some authors I have recently discussed, mentioned or quoted from include: Chesterton, Sheen, Esolen (all Catholic writers) and folks like Spurgeon, Lewis, Packer, and Schaeffer. Perhaps the majority of my articles, whatever the topic may be, will at least feature some quotations. I always hope to spur the reader on to follow up with these authors and be as blessed, encouraged and educated as I have been.

Bibliographies

I happen to have a lot of recommended reading lists and bibliographies on my site. There would be hundreds by now, either quite lengthy ones or shorter, partial ones. Often people will ask me for book recommendations of a particular topic or subject. I can almost always just point them to one of these reading lists.

I have many others that have not yet been put up on my site, so stay tuned. And then of course I might have posted a bibliography 15 years ago that is now rather dated, so I will then need to put up a newer, revised version. New titles are always pouring forth from the presses, and being the book aficionado that I am, I will often try to get some of the better ones.

And I think my sense of which are among the better ones is not too shabby. Indeed, once when I was at Wheaton College I invited my political science prof over for lunch and he looked over my (then) somewhat small library and said, “You have good book sense”. I have often felt that I am fairly good at zeroing in on some of the better authors and better books in various areas.

Some years ago I taught a course on “Analytical Thinking” at a Melbourne Bible college. I included a session on how to pick the best books, especially in the area of theology. I included the obvious things like being aware of the solid publishers, knowing something of the author, checking out blurbs on the back cover, noting who they quote, and so on.

There are zillions of books out there, and many of them are just not all that good or worthwhile. Others are much better, and some are always worth running with. So we have to be discerning and selective. Indeed, sometimes on this site I will have an article simply listing some of my favourite authors or some of my favourite books – or sometimes even my fave publishing houses.

For example, here are three such lists that have to do with theology:

billmuehlenberg.com/2008/06/09/on-my-favourite-theologians/

billmuehlenberg.com/2018/10/01/some-of-my-favourite-sets-of-theological-books/

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/21/the-10-most-influential-authors/

Of course my tastes and preferences are not shared by everyone else. I am selective in my reading habits. First of all, I read very little fiction (yes, I hang my head in shame). And worse yet, poetry tends to leave me cold. My bad. So it is mainly prose for me, and mainly the humanities: politics, history, theology, ethics, philosophy, and so on.

As to the theological, biblical and spiritual books that I mainly run with and recommend, as can be expected, they reflect my own particular position, that of evangelical Protestantism. But as I have often said, some of my all-time fave authors are folks like Chesterton who are not from that camp. And the political titles and the like also mainly reflect my particular stance – that of conservatism. So there are some limits to what you will find me promoting and reviewing.

But it is hoped that some folks will find these reviews and reading lists of some use. If that is the case, I will keep cranking them out. And of course that means I will keep having to buy new books – and some older ones as well. Shhh, don’t tell my wife!

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One Reply to “On Book Reviews, Recommendations and Bibliographies”

  1. I procure that you are a – “a book nerd” and s a s dare to stand for it.
    You always have a lot of good tips, no odd stuff but evergreen…
    I think that book antiques should have “state support” for their act of “preserving” books.
    In my library in recent years I have discovered three or four books that do not exist in reality but only in the register…

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