Grover Cleveland by Henry Graff (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This biography on President Grover Cleveland in the American President series is typical for that series, but this volume is a little better than some others because of the author’s appreciation of the subject. Some I’ve read in this series have disdain for the president they write about and it colors the biography in a needlessly negative direction. Perhaps part of the this work is positive was the author’s determination to make Cleveland the progressive of a mostly Republican era. That is a stretch to be sure, but he was at least the only Democrat. In a few places, I thought the author really overworked that dubious connection. Still, I feel I know Cleveland from reading this book. It’s short length was perfect in my opinion for this lesser-known president.

Cleveland was a simple, fairly unassuming president. He was straight-laced, committed to work, had far more diligence than passion, and appears to be a generally likable person. To me, that almost seems to be a trend among a stretch of presidents in this time period. He was clearly a man of principle, though not necessarily one of vision. He was true to his word and possessed distinct integrity. He was a weak communicator, an average public speaker, and has no particular claim to fame other than the fact that he is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Still, his demeanor and service matched the times in which he served. He had no scandal, unless you count marrying a much younger woman while president. What I read here, makes it sound harmless enough. I personally feel that Cleveland is a man that you would be comfortable to sit down and talk to.

In these reviews of the presidents, I’ve been taking the additional task of particularly noting the religious beliefs of the president. Cleveland was raised in a pastor’s home and carried that influence throughout his life. The author of this biography did not find it interesting enough to tell us Cleveland’s personal convictions about Christ, but I read between the lines and suspect Cleveland was a believer.

Again, Cleveland was in that stretch of presidents between Grant and Teddy Roosevelt that are mostly unknown to us, but he seemed the caliber of most of them and better than a few of them. Garfield had great potential and McKinley was possibly the best of the bunch, but Cleveland was a fine man who made a competent but perhaps average president.

Rutherford B. Hayes by Trefousse (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Rutherford B. Hayes is not a widely remembered president. Perhaps he is too soon after Lincoln and Grant. In my quest to read at least one biography on each president, this short volume by Hans Trefousse proved to be the ideal biography for me to read on Hayes. Trefousse seemed to have at least a genuine respect for Hayes even if he wasn’t exactly overly impressed with him. In that sense, it is superior to several volumes I’ve seen in the American Presidents series because some of the authors appear almost hostile to their subjects. In fact, the only oddity of this volume is that it was written shortly after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000 and all the drama that surrounded that election, particularly in Florida. The author seemed obsessed with the fact that Hayes had also lost the popular vote yet still won the electoral college vote and it happened with some degree of disputed results. Still, the book reads really well and is truly interesting. I’d label it the perfect length for the subject.

Hayes had an interesting background including serving successfully in the Civil War. He seemed to be a man of genuine character. Though many of us highly respect President Ulysses S. Grant, it’s true that there were scandals that happened on his watch even if he were not implicated in any of them. Hayes made a point of cleaning up a lot of that corruption. He also took on the Senate and their patronage system. It was a gallant going against the grain for sure. Though there were not any major crises during his term, Hayes did seem to have a successful presidency.

A few things about his character jump out. He seemed to fight corruption because he genuinely hated it. He adored his wife and family. Unlike several other volumes in this series, this book doesn’t dodge religious background either. Hayes clearly professed to be a Christian and showed good Christian values on several occasions. Though he wasn’t a member of a church, he was highly involved with a Methodist Church that his wife was a part of. He was vice president of a Bible Society and he was even a teetotaler!

I’ve read that there are some other longer biographies out there that are more complete on his life, but if you are satisfied with an overview of the lesser-known presidents, this volume will be perfect for you.

Other Presidential biographies here.

Impeached by David Stewart (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Though this is not a cradle to grave biography of President Andrew Johnson, I’m glad that I chose this volume as my biography of Johnson. Though President Johnson’s home is the closest to where I grew up of any president, he is really not a likable person from what I have read. He consistently came down on the wrong side of history in my opinion, and even if he happened to be on your side, he seemed to be a man so full of pride that it colored everything that he did.

Still, this book by David O. Stewart is outstanding. It is incredibly well written and even riveting at points. As a matter of pure coincidence, I finished reading this book the same day that the Senate failed to convict President Trump after his impeachment. There were some similarities between the two situations. To be transparent, I believe that President Trump was a victim in his impeachment and has generally been on the right side of what I feel would be best for the country. On the other hand, President Trump says many things that rub some people the wrong way. How offended you are by such statements often directly correlates to how much you agree with him. President Johnson, in my opinion, did not really commit any high crimes or misdemeanors either. He was, however, dismantling Lincoln’s accomplishments as much as he could just as Trump has been successfully dismantling many of Obama’s objectives. I’m glad that both impeachments failed to remove a president. The biggest difference, however, is that President Johnson was politically neutered after his trial while it appears that President Trump still has his same standing with both strong supporters and dedicated enemies. The irony of happening to be reading about Johnson’s impeachment while Trump’s impeachment was in process is quite strong as well as enlightening.

Back to President Johnson. It’s hard to believe that Lincoln could have had a worse vice president to take his place than Andrew Johnson. Had Lincoln finished his term, I don’t think there’s any chance that Johnson could have been elected outright. Johnson is from East Tennessee which stayed true to the Union even though the other two-thirds of the state were a majority that led to Tennessee’s secession from the Union. It is, then, bizarre to me that Johnson was so aligned with the South in many ways during his term. As it turns out, in my opinion, he did the South no favors. He contributed to the ugly history of Reconstruction. Had Lincoln lived with his big heart the South would have had a profoundly better Reconstruction than she ended up having with Johnson.

Another thing that Stewart’s book brings out is the never-changing bickering that is American politics. Politics has always been cutthroat in our country. Maybe that is because we have so much going for ourselves that it is well worth fighting for.

I always try to notice where each president falls religiously as I read through these biographies. Johnson seemed to quote the Bible when it was convenient but he did not strike me from what I read here as a man of faith. There’s always a chance that authors dodge this subject, but there were several irreligious comments recorded by him. I’ve never come across information from other sources that make him stand out as one with strong Christian beliefs.

It turns out that this book is not as well known as it deserves to be. It reads like the better presidential biographies for sure.

To read about other presidential biographies, click here.

Franklin Pierce by Michael Holt (Presidential Bio. Series)

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I must confess that I knew almost nothing about Franklin Pierce before I read this biography written by Michael F. Holt in The American Presidents Series. This book was pitched perfectly. Its length and depth were ideal for this less significant president. As you may be aware, he is in a stretch of Presidents who often fight over being our worst one. This book told me all the broad details of his life that I needed to know and surprisingly succeeded in its few pages to dig into what made Pierce tick. Some volumes in this series are a complete dud, but I’m happy to have found this volume to be my choice for a biography of Pres. Pierce. To my mind, his presidency could fairly be called a failure while Pierce himself would’ve been far more interesting to meet than, say, John Tyler or James Buchanan. Though he was far too caught up into politics to have ever been a visionary, he does come across as sincere.

Franklin Pierce did succeed in his home state of New Hampshire in various offices. He rose through the ranks at an incredible rate and became the political power of his state. He had a near obsession with the Democratic Party that the author well exposes. The more I read about presidents in this era the more I’ve come to believe that they had little chance to succeed. We often think of the country dividing along sectional lines between the North and the South, but there was an equal division between Democrats and a succession of Whigs/Know-Nothings/Republicans. If you survey the election results from these years, you will see that they did not divide along the Mason-Dixon line. Much like our day, some states leaned more toward one party or the other with an occasional flipping. New Hampshire was the most democratic state in the Northeast and Pierce did everything he could to keep it that way. It was, however, true that some of Franklin Pierce’s decisions help solidify our country finally dividing between the North and the South.

What is inexplicable about Pierce was his dedication to the South. To be honest, since he was from the north, it makes no sense to me at all. You might find a few clues in him forging some strong friendships with Southerners and that his interest in the success of the Democratic Party was far more important to him that how the issue of slavery turned out. Historians will always label Pierce as being on the wrong side of that issue. I don’t think he was proslavery, but he was going to protect his friends and acquaintances that stood with him in earlier political battles. Another mistake that he made was not accepting the new direction of the North even in how they viewed Lincoln who followed him. He openly criticized Lincoln at times and also tried to support Jefferson Davis during his trial for treason after the Civil War. Again, it seemed to be nothing other than he would be true to his old friends. That kind of thinking will probably keep your friendships strong, but it may destroy your historical standing.

As with several other presidents, it’s hard to pin down where Pierce was regarding Christianity. The author paints Pierce as the poster child of an 1800s party animal in his youth. While that may have been true, he married a very religious woman. She was no social bug either. Still, he seemed to adore her. He curtailed his drinking and stuck by her through several health crises. There are not a lot of other facts to go on, but the author relates casually that one time Pierce detested working on the Sabbath while he was president. When his wife died shortly after his presidency ended, he started drinking some again. The author insinuates that he married his second wife for money, but they appear to have had a good relationship too though he spent more time alone during those years. He still had his demons and alcoholism finally destroyed his health and ended his life. Though the author never said, I can’t help but wonder if the obvious failings of his presidency though he genuinely meant to do what he thought best led him to discouragement. All in all, he was probably a far better person that he was a president.

 

For others in this series, look here.

Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Millard Fillmore is usually relegated to a dusty list of our forgotten presidents. Admittedly, most are hard-pressed to name any of our presidents between Jackson and Lincoln (well, maybe Polk has a few fans). To make it worse, Fillmore has been summarily dismissed as the ultimate underachiever. After reading this biography by Robert Rayback, I’m wondering if historians have been a little too unkind to Fillmore. While it’s true that Rayback greatly admired Fillmore and perhaps cast events in the best light possible, I did feel that many of the facts were on Rayback’s side.

While I have no illusions that Fillmore was one of our presidential greats, he does appear to be a likable person, especially when compared to one of his irascible predecessors, John Tyler. He held principles on several occasions where personalities involved caused him to want to go another direction. He was an effective legislator before he became president and was perhaps more suited to that role. He was more adept at compromise and order than he was at either possessing or casting vision. Any record of the short-lived Whig party cannot deny his importance to its history. Somehow, he came through successfully the rough-and-tumble backroom battles of his party without being as cutthroat as many of his colleagues.

Most negative modern analysis of Fillmore stems from his part in the Compromise of 1850. That is somewhat unfair on two fronts: a desire to solve the slavery question without war was obviously appealing at the time and the reading of the convictions of our day onto the past without regard for the context of those times. Since war came a decade later anyway and destroyed slavery in the process, it knocks the luster off what many across the spectrum thought worthwhile at the time. Did, however, the nation progress in that decade to be more able to accept the demise of slavery? Since we can be sure of completely different leadership on both the Union and Confederate sides in this prior decade, are we confident that we would’ve had the same result had it burst out in 1850? Maybe I put more stock in the providence of God than most readers, but it appears to me that the vastly different events of 1850 and 1861 were ultimately for the best.

In reading these presidential biographies, I’ve made a point to check out the religious background of these men. I’m aware that the outlook of the biographer can add an unfortunate layer to what I find. Rayback explains how Fillmore joined the Unitarian church prior to becoming president. He further explains that although Fillmore did not appear to attend church much before this move to the Unitarian church, he became quite faithful afterward. It does appear to me that the author has made a mistake in describing Unitarians more as they are today than they were in Fillmore’s time. Some other American characters widely known for their Christianity were, in fact, Unitarians in those days. Mrs. Fillmore was the daughter of a Baptist pastor and was raised in the Baptist Church. The author is probably correct in explaining that Fillmore did not join the Methodist Church, which was quite zealous in those days, even though he had family members in it. The Unitarian church probably matched his more genteel ways, but it seems altogether possible that Fillmore was a Christian. We may never know for sure.

Since this biography was written 60 years ago, I dreaded a dry writing style. Since presidential biographies have attracted some of the best writers of our day in the last few decades, it’s easy to become spoiled. To be sure, Rayback is no McCullough or Chernow, but I thought his pages flowed easily and were pleasant to read. Even though the book was well written and Fillmore was likely a better president that he’s often given credit for, I’m still of the opinion that 250 pages would have likely been enough for his life. Since I’ve heard that the volume in The American Presidents series is a complete disaster, I’m glad I read Rayback’s take on Fillmore.

For more in this series, look here.

The Marriage Knot by Ron and Jody Zappia

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The marriage knot shared in this book ultimately ties the couple to Christ in a “cord of three strands”. Along the way we dig into the seven areas the authors feel are essential to a marriage successfully staying together. Authors Ron and Jody Zappia themselves almost lost their marriage early on because of Ron’s infidelity. Meeting a pastor who introduced them to Christ at that pivotal time avoided the complete shipwreck even if there were gashes in the hull of their relationship. The seven principles are presented as what was slowly learned the hard way, yet still, the revelations that led to a beautiful relationship these many years later.

They teach on these pages with the accurate assumption that we all come to marriage clueless of the most important things that make it work. I found some comfort in that approach as I’m 20 years in and am still learning and am still shocked about how far I have to go. If you are like me, you will appreciate the tone of this book. It’s not heavy-handed, doesn’t talk down to you, and presents its contents with a you-can-do-it attitude.

The book reads as if you were at a marriage conference. While that means it may not have the polish of some marriage books, it communicates personally and clearly.

At this point of a review, I usually discuss the contents of the book but think it better, in this case, to make you wait until you read it to get their 7 principles. You’ll probably think as you read that you could have guessed some of them yourself. It’s not that they present things you’ve never read in other marriage books but that they present them collectively. I’m no expert but they seem to be arguing that you could do several of the seven wonderfully and still loosen your marriage knot by overlooking a few of them. Succeeding in marriage is so challenging that you’ll likely need a lot of good marriage books. I know I do. This book is a fine one to add to your pile.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics (Fourth Edition)

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That this book reaches this 4th edition shows its influence. My guess is that’s its one of the most popular ethics textbooks from a Christian perspective available today and has been so for over twenty years. Morality is both in decline and being pushed out of our consciences by today’s amoral culture. Scott Rae brings a biblically grounded view of the major moral issues of our day in this helpful book. Rather than speaking in black and white terms alone, he helps us shine Scripture into the gray areas. While what the Bible explicitly says is strictly black and white, the ravages of sin often back us into confounding gray areas. In other words, we can use some help in sifting things that are not readily apparent.

Another feature of this book is help where the Bible is clear but culture is in rebellion. Standing against the tide requires more than glib answers. As Christians, we want to help people more than merely winning a fight, so we need more than surface-level thinking. Right and wrong and therefore morals can be logically proclaimed. We need to know how to make a difference.

After a fine introductory chapter that explains why morality is desperately needed, we have further looks at how to think of morality, what Christian ethics is, and insights into how to make ethical decisions in the subsequent chapters. The balance of the book takes individual issues and includes things like abortion, biotechnology, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, sexual ethics, and even environmental issues and border control. As you would expect, no reader is likely to agree with every argument or conclusion. I know I didn’t. But how to think about these issues is effectively presented in every case.

This fine textbook reads well, is easy to follow, and would be a boon for any reader. It’s a great title to either work through or have on hand when specific issues arise.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Commentary on the Revelation of John by Ladd

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Here’s a time-tested commentary that’s rightfully being republished. Eerdmans has realized the value of several great commentaries that were subsequently replaced in some of their stellar commentary series (NICOT, NICNT, NIGTC) as well as some standout independent commentaries. There are commentators like F. F. Bruce, John Murray, Leon Morris, Merrill Tenney, and Herman Ridderbos among others. These newly-released reprints are published in matching styles in paperback as The Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series. This volume by the late George Eldon Ladd is an influential commentary on Revelation.

The Introduction is more direct than most in modern commentaries, but the information gets to the heart of the study of Revelation. Since I just recently reviewed a modern critical commentary on Revelation, this work was like a breath of fresh air. He covers authorship, date, and setting including historical background. He gives a fine overview of methods of interpretation. He categorizes them as Preterist, Historical, Idealist, and Futurist. He’s a Futurist himself with a little Preterist thrown in but sees dispensationalism as excessive. I don’t follow him in all his conclusions, but really appreciate reading them. His view of structure is simple, divided around visions, and is also presented in an outline.

The commentary is in that straightforward style that can sometimes be missed in these days. It gets to the point but is never careless or superficial. He renders complexities with simple clarity. It’s a little jewel and I’m glad to see it reprinted!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. 

Hosea (Apollos Old Testament Commentary) by Joshua Moon

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The Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is starting to get out enough titles to see that we are going to have a major series on our hands. They run from conservative to moderately critical and are far more conservative overall than, say, the Word Biblical Commentary series. This latest release is a helpful volume on one of the Minor Prophets, Hosea. I enjoy having individual commentaries on even the smaller books, and this is one of the few major ones on Hosea. Only Dearman in NICOT comes to mind, yet their strengths are different enough to make both worthwhile. Both have impeccable scholarship, yet I suspect pastors might favor this one while scholars will go with Dearman. I’m glad to have both within reach. Joshua Moon is the younger scholar, and perhaps like me, you hadn’t heard of him before. I suspect a productive career for him after writing this quality commentary on Hosea. He seemed adept at commentary writing as he pitched this book perfectly for both scope and length.

The Introduction begins with an overview of Hosea’s historical backdrop. He holds to a conservative chronology. From there, he broadens his purview to Hosea’s place among the prophets. The next section looks at Hosea from a writing perspective. He says, “As will be amply demonstrated, no part of the text requires a date earlier or later than the era stated in the superscription”. He does discuss editing which always strikes me as fanciful. The sections on text and structure are a little too brief, but the one viewing Hosea in light of the Covenant was well done. Theology could have used more space too, but I suppose he saved it for the commentary itself.

The commentary is truly helpful. It’s presented in the usual Apollos style: translation, notes on the text, form and structure, comment, and explanation. I liked what I found here.

The Apollos series has another quality title here and I warmly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

God the Trinity by Yarnell

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This book takes a unique approach in presenting God the Trinity. There are several outstanding conservative volumes on the Trinity in print today, but Malcolm Yarnell gives us one that’s organized unlike any other. The conclusions found in this volume are conservative, baptistic, and supported by some of the finest theologians today.

On the downside, I had trouble following the logic of the flow of the presentation of the material. At times, it seemed random, conversational, and something of a flow of consciousness. Finally, I figured out that he was just addressing some of the most important biblical texts on the Trinity. All the arguments given showed scholarly depth and theological perception, it’s just at times they didn’t always seem the most persuasive tracks to prove the author’s point. In fairness to Mr. Yarnell, it could have been that I just didn’t personally connect with his design. Probably it’s best for you to check it out as it might be just what the doctor ordered for you.

The key Scriptures discussed are Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Deuteronomy 6:4-7, John 1:18, John 16:14-15, John 17:21-22, Ephesians 1:9-10 and Revelation 5:6. Without doubt, these are crucial texts in grasping what the Bible has to say about the Trinity.

The glowing recommendations that come with this book mean that despite my personal tastes about it, you will want to check it out if you’re trying to collect a study library for the Trinity.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.