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Book and Movie Reviews

Book reviews available

On this page:

On separate pages:

Looking at the book reviews I have done thus far, it seems that this section was becoming more of an arena for releasing my frustrations with books I don't like, rather than a platform also for reviews of the books that I have found inspiring and helpful, so I've started to rectify that situation.

Other books I've thought were really good include The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, The Quest by Eugene H Peterson (author of The Message commentary/paraphrase/version of the New Testament), Who Moved The Stone by Frank Morison, and possibly Putting Away Childish Things by David A Seamands.


Movie reviews available

BTW, Jurassic Park IV is in pre-production (at time of writing, mid 2008), but has been delayed because the script wasn't good enough for Steven Spielberg, and then the Writers Guild of America went on strike, so it's been delayed again.

Grace Awakening

By Charles (Chuck) Swindoll

Review by Ian Mander, 3 March 2001 of Chapter 1, American spelling used in quotes, as per the original.

In a book about grace I found it strange in the extreme that chapter one should start with such a scathing attack. After all, grace is not normally associated with such action. The only time that Jesus made an attack like this (calling the Pharisees things like "you brood of vipers"), He was addressing hypocrisy. This opens Mr Swindoll to a charge of hypocrisy himself, for (apparently) the point of the book is that people living under the Grace of God should themselves display graciousness (or grace as he calls it*) when dealing with the people around them. That is all very good and proper, but the people most lacking in showing graciousness he starts off by condemning as "killers" who "maneuver and manipulate others in the most insidious manner possible." It seems to me that these very "killers" are most in need of a book such as Mr Swindoll's, and yet they are alienated and offended in the first four pages, and are thus very unlikely to continue reading.

*The difference between grace and graciousness is not made clear in chapter one.

So who is this book for? In those first few pages I had the impression that Mr Swindoll was trying to influence his readers (and no offence intended, but I can more easily imagine a stereotypical American reader here) to agree with him simply because they would not want to appear like the "killers" he was describing – and fair enough, for his description was, as I mentioned, scathing. These readers would probably be people raised to already have a certain amount of graciousness toward those around them, and while they may gain a lot from the book, they do not necessarily need to read it; certainly not as much as the "killers" do.

Also, in the closing paragraphs of the chapter I found the description of the first gridiron game he went to rather gratuitous. What was he trying to convey with this? Why was the account here? Perhaps he wanted to include something that a typical American would be able to identify with, something undemanding and familiar that would encourage them to read the next chapter. Or perhaps he hopes that anyone reading his book will find it just as life changing as the game supposedly was for him. Whichever, it did not come across to me as a natural remembrance or a smooth insertion, such as the reflections I found in Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew.

"Deny it or debate it and we kill it." (Page 5.) Why not reword this to "Disagree with me and you prove my point, by blatant assertion." Where is the room for discussion? He defines grace on page 9 by using Donald Barnhouse's description, but goes on: "To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn't deserve it and can never earn it." The trouble with a definition like that is that every human has the capacity to earn human graciousness. It is only God's grace that can never possibly be earned. From the Internet:


A man dies and goes to heaven. He is met at the Pearly Gates by a Heavenly Custodian.

The Custodian says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into Heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful," said the Custodian "that's worth three points!"

"Three points?" he said. "Well, I professed all my life; never missed a meeting! And I supported the ministers financially and any other way I could."

"Terrific!" responded the Custodian. "That's certainly worth two points."

"Two points?! I worked every year at the annual convention and in preparation for the convention for several days too; for years and years!"

"Fantastic, that's good for one more point," he said.

"One point!" the man cried. "At this rate the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God."

"Bingo, 100 points! Come on in!"

Perhaps I am too cynical to read a book that starts with a chapter like Mr Swindoll has given this book. Or too lacking in graciousness, perhaps. The first few pages rather offended me, and I never really "recovered" from that while reading the rest of the chapter.

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The Creator and the Cosmos

By Hugh Ross

Semi-random notes by Ian Mander, made before giving up on reading the book. (Because these are notes made while reading the first few chapters of The Creator and the Cosmos, having a copy of the book handy might help in understanding what I'm talking about here. I do not recommend spending any money on it, however.)

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The Puzzle of Ancient Man

By Donald Chittick, 1999.

Review by Ian Mander BSc, 12 March 2000.

Sadly, Dr Chittick spends most of the book drawing conclusions and comparing his evidence to the Bible, rather than actually presenting his evidence. I found this rather disappointing. He presents summary information rather than decent data (eg, doesn't explain how the forming techniques on page 118 are different).

He also misrepresents his sources on occasion, and this is very serious. For example, he refers to After the Flood by Bill Cooper and to Morley, The Ancient Maya. On page 121 Dr Chittick claims that the year zero on the Mayan calendar was the creation of the world, referring to Morley. However, Bill Cooper makes the claim that the Mayans knew their age started with a flood and that their Day One started after that. This may be just two sources disagreeing with each other, but it gets worse.

[I was intending to write more in this review but it never happened, sorry.]

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The Bible Code

By Michael Drosnin, 1999.

Review by Ian Mander BSc, 20 May 2000, updated 26 March 2018.

Last Saturday I went to see the movie The Omega Code, a movie I think partly inspired by The Bible Code. I say partly inspired because the "codes" involved are quite different. On my way home from the movie I stopped at a friend's house, and found she had an unread copy of The Bible Code. Liking to keep an open mind, I decided to read it, and after finding the first page interesting and the rest of the first chapter a real "bang my head against a brick wall" struggle, found the rest of the book quite interesting.

The codes the book talks about are words found in the Hebrew text of the first five books of the Bible by taking letters determined by a regular skip. For example, taking every 50th letter in Genesis (just the first few) spells out the Hebrew word Torah. Fine so far, but so what? If two discovered hidden words (with same or different skip steps) are reasonably close to each other, or even crossing, they allegedly form a code. The code may predict the future, or recount a past event (which was still a prediction 3000 years ago when he says those books were written).

Mr Drosnin claims that using these "codes", assassinations, calamities, moon-landings etc are all predicted.

Throughout my reading, however, I had a real problem with his claim that these sorts of codes are not found in any other book, Hebrew or otherwise. But he stated it emphatically: They were only to be found in the Bible.

So I went searching the Internet. One of the first things I found was a CNN interview with the author in which he claimed words to the effect of "These things don't occur in Moby Dick." That piqued my interest, so with advice from my brother I searched for "Bible code" and "Moby Dick." Bingo.

What Michael Drosnin doesn't point out in his book is that he omits all vowels from his Hebrew text. This alone makes his task of finding hidden words hugely easier, since whatever the desired vowels are can be added. Australian mathematition Brendon McKay took up Drosnin's challenge, and just to make it harder on himself, used the straight text of Moby Dick, vowels and all.

He found "codes" of assassinations and significant events in Moby Dick just like in Drosnin's Hebrew Bible. But my favourite one was a Moby Dick code that Dr McKay called The Demise of Drosnin. Yes, Moby Dick apparently predicts the violent death of The Bible Code author. What's more, the word LIAR appears in The Demise of Drosnin code no less than three times, and LIES once.

In conclusion: No code has been found in the Bible which could not also be found in any other book. If you're looking for divine revelation, just read the plain text of the Bible. If you're looking for hidden messages, give Moby Dick a try – it'll be as good as anything else.


Predictions made by Drosnin include:

  • There will be a nuclear (atomic) holocaust and world war in 2000 or 2006.
    • Update: Didn't happen in either of those years.
  • The Armageddon will be in the lifetime of Syria's present leader Hafiz al-Assad.
    • Update: Didn't happen. Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, less than one month after I wrote this review.
  • There will be (a) fire and an earthquake in Los Angeles, California in 2010.
    • Update: Didn't happen. There was a wild fire in LA in 2010 which was not unusual at all – there were a total 17 wild fires in California that year which destroyed 1000 acres or more) and it wasn't the most destructive wildfire in California that year in terms of either area or structures destroyed. It wasn't caused by an earthquake. For a really big LA earthquake you have to go back to the 1994 quake, before the publication of this book.
  • There will be a great earthquake in 2000 (or 2006).
    • Update: Didn't happen. The most deadly earthquake in 2000 only killed 103 people – much less than other years. There are large earthquakes every year, but none in 2000 or 2006 notably greater than in other years. This prediciton is so non-specific as to be useless.
  • There will be an earthquake in China in 2000 (also 2006).
    • Update: He might just as well as predicted rainfall in China sometime during those two year; according to this list notable earthquakes in China occur regularly. There were no notable earthquakes in China in 2000 (ie, failed prediction), but there was one in 2006; a magnitude 5.2 quake, it killed 22 people and buckled some railway lines. It was right at the lower end of 1,865 magnitude 5.0 or greater earthquakes that happened in 2006 and killed far fewer people than either of two earthquakes in Java that year (total 6,479 killed). That a much more serious Chinese earthquake in 2008 was missed in favour of 2000 or 2006 can only mean the prediction was wrong.
  • There will be a collision [of Earth?] with a comet in 2006.
    • Update: Didn't happen.

In listing the above predictions, I note that earthquakes in LA aren't all that infrequent anyway. The city rests uneasily on multiple fault lines. There are also almost regular fires in the hills surrounding LA, which are often serious enough to destroy homes.

A review which deals more specifically with the end of the world predictions can be read here (broken link).

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