Book Review: Against All Odds by Chuck Norris and Ken Abraham (four stars)

Book Review: Against All Odds: My Story by Chuck Norris and Ken Abraham (four stars)

“Ideally martial arts training should help a person avoid physical altercations and other adverse confrontations.”

An entertaining and uplifting autobiography by the well-known martial arts champion and actor. Not well written, but sincere and open. The reader gets Norris, warts (and scars) and all. Victim of ambush journalism.

“Few people become successful overnight at any endeavor. Most successful people have learned to stick with whatever it is they wish to achieve and to work step by step until they reach their objective.”

Up front with the importance of faith and family in his life. Norris is not a well-known communicator, so the pedestrian quality of the narrative rests on Abraham, a professional collaborator.

“Most juvenile offenders are so obsessed with a “the world owes me” attitude that if they were forced to help the less fortunate, they would soon see that life has not really been that hard for them. Something of an infomercial for his business and charitable enterprises.”

(Didn’t know he’s a Christian or anything else about him. I’ve never seen a movie or television show of his, so I came into the book open minded.)

Book Review: True Strength by Kevin Sorbo (Four Stars)

Book Review: True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo (Four Stars)

“When I got back to LA I was booked into a six-week Action Hero Boot Camp, and the rest, as they say, is history—with a little mythology thrown in.”

Well-told story of Sorbo’s largely unknown with aneurysm, blood clots, and stroke which nearly killed him while portraying demi-gods and science fiction heroes to the world. Straight-forward prose and transparency lift this autobiography above the norm. Written in 2011.

“Huizenga’s evening assurances of being on track to finding the problem only seemed to emphasize the fact that no one knew what was wrong with me.”

Sorbo allows other voices to tell parts of his story, adding depth and perspective. (He kept watching TV even amid the headaches. Would have thought the flashing images would make them worse.)

“‘Norwegian! Your name ends with a f-ing vowel! You’re a f-ing Italian!’ [said Joe Pesci.] We’ve been friends ever since.”

Sorbo is something of a straight arrow among the hedonists of Hollywood. Even before arriving in tinsel town, he eschewed drugs, smoking, and the alternate lifestyles often associated with modeling and acting. Despite being a clean liver, at thirty-eight Sorbo was struck by an aneurysm which triggered blood clots in his left arm and brain—resulting in almost losing the arm and three micro-strokes. Yet he tried to continue his career, marry, and have children.

“Thinking positive things when your health is absolutely tanking is difficult. You become self-absorbed: my vanished past, my lost future. I was clinically depressed, for sure, if that counts as good reason.”

How did he do it? Read the book.

“The unforgiving industry equates dropping out of a show to a betrayal, and I equate my career with my life. The fact that we’re both wrong is irrelevant.”

Book Review: Oral Roberts’ Life Story (Four Stars)

Book Review: Oral Roberts’ Life Story (autobiography) (Four Stars)

“Son, I am going to heal you, and you are going to take my healing power to your generation.”

Fascinating autobiography by a pioneering Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer. Like that of Ben Franklin, this memoir was written early enough in Roberts’ life that much of what he was famous (and infamous) for came later. This is something of an origin tale.

“God always has some one He can trust and someone He send to help those that lose their way in life.”

Roberts tells his story in a simple, straightforward manner. His narrative is the right balance between detail and leanness.

“God will take care of us. You just hush and you will see what the Lord will do.”

Before you judge a person (whether faith healer, politician, media celebrity) it’s good to hear their side of their tale. Roberts came from a conservative faith tradition which did not recognize faith healing, so he had a rocky road to recognizing and growing in his calling.

“In a world of unfriendly, unbelieving people I would hear Papa say, ‘You just wait and see. This is the one God has His hand on.’”

Amazing illustrations by Eloise Gray

“When His power is not upon me I cannot deliver people. I have no personal power. I cannot heal. Only God can heal.”

(I listened to Oral Roberts on live radio broadcasts in the 1950s with my grandfather, a conservative Methodist minister. He liked Roberts’ preaching.)

“I cannot stop preaching the gospel because all men do not receive it. I cannot stop trying to get people saved because some reject God. Neither can I stop praying for the sick because I fail on some. I have to do the best I can and leave the results in His hands.”

Book Review: The Answer Is …: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Answer Is …: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (Four Stars)

“Messing up on live TV taught me an important lesson about show business: learn to laugh at yourself.”

Not quite an autobiography, but close enough. Trebek shares anecdotes from his life and times. I knew little about him beyond his Jeopardy! persona. The format is appropriate, like answers from his game show.

“Yes, hard work and experience are essential. But so is timing. And luck. Don’t ever discount the importance of luck in terms of determining your opportunities and your future.”

Trebek has rougher edges than shown on television. He has opinions and preferences. He shares them.

“Courage is a conscious decision. You do it in a dangerous situation, when you have a choice. Here, there’s no choice. I’ve been diagnosed with a disease that is probably going to kill me. And probably sooner than later. So courage does not enter into it.”

He lived an almost-charmed life, and he recognizes it. A class act. A good read.

“I used to think not crying meant you were tough. Now I think crying means you’re tough. It means you’re strong enough to be honest and vulnerable. It means you’re not pretending.”

Book Review: Spitfire Pilot by David M. Crook (Four Stars)


Book Review: Spitfire Pilot: A Personal Account of the Battle of Britain by David M. Crook

(Four Stars)

“In the latter part of the year there occurred the tragic deaths of so many gallant friends, among them being some of the finest people I ever knew.
But on the whole it had been easily the happiest and the most vivid year of my life.”

This book illustrates the value of primary source history. The reader gets a participant’s eye view of history as it is made, in this case the Battle of Britain in 1940. Crook took notes contemporary with the action. Crook was one of “the few” to whom Winston Churchill claimed England owed so much.

“We had a new C.O.[commanding officer], and of the fifteen original members of the squadron, only four were now left.”

The prose is straightforward with no attempt to embellish. That makes it all the better. Some of the slang is out-of-date, even offensive by today’s standards, though Crook’s use twice of the n-word racial slur both times refers to himself. Numerous contemporary photos.

“It seemed so funny to be dining peacefully in Piccadilly only a few hours after being in such a desperate fight.”

Crook notes the incongruities of normalcy next to war and the sudden loss of close friends in the course of a morning.

“We learnt our lesson from these deaths, though it seems so grim that in a war experience is almost always gained at the expense of other men’s lives.”

This book was first published in 1942. Unfortunately, Crook did not survive the war. He was lost at sea during a non-combat aviation mission in 1944.

“One lives and one learns – if lucky.”

Book Review: The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

(Three Stars)

“Life is a narrow valley, and the roads run close together.”

Fascinating and sad. An anomalous document: an autobiography written in the third person by a grandson and great-grandson of American presidents; Henry Adams. Written late in life these are Adams’s reflections on his lifelong search for truth and meaning.

“He never thought to ask himself or his father how to deal with the moral problem that deduced George Washington from the sum of all wickedness. In practice, such trifles Continue reading

Book Review: Sergeant York by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill (Three Stars)


Book Review: Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill

(Four Stars)

“I only did my duty to God and my country, and every man should do this.”

The true story of an extraordinary man of conscience who also happened to be an incredible shot with a rifle. York’s struggle with the conflicting dictates of his faith and his patriotism is perhaps a more compelling story that his battlefield exploits, and those—though documented—are so incredible as to seem like pulp fiction.

“Great care has been taken to preserve his mountain dialect.”

Writing this in York’s semi-literate dialect may have played well in the 1920s, but today’s reader will find it obscure and dishonest. This is obviously Continue reading

Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith by Thomas Merton

(Four Stars)

“By the gift of faith you touch God.”

Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

“The only law we (student Communists) had to obey was our own ineffable little wills. And if, afterwards, we changed our minds–well, were we not our own gods?”

Hard to believe this book was so popular when published in 1948. Merton sounds like a man from a different century, if not a different planet. His generation may have been the last to routinely learn Latin. He touched all the best his world had to offer in Cambridge, Columbia and the fleshpots of New York City and, while still relatively young, he left it–converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist monk.

“I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence. I had to be led by a way that I could not understand and I had to follow a path that was beyond my choosing.”

Many parallels with C. S. Lewis’ conversion at about the same time, as reported in Surprised by Joy. Many converted to Catholicism in mid-twentieth century. That the converts had good and sufficient reason Continue reading

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (Five Stars)


Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

Five Stars

“We are all of us very arrogant and conceited about running down other people’s ghosts but just as ignorant and barbaric and superstitious about our own.”

I wish I read this book forty years ago. Instead I was reading fantasy and science fiction and tripe like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Not that I agree with Pirsig on everything, but he wrote about things I’m still pondering.

“The ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible. One lives longer in order that he may live longer.”

Normally I read and review a four hundred page novel in three days. This book took several weeks because I kept stopping to look up or ponder things. The bottom line is: this is a deep investigation of life and reality. It’s a mashup of Continue reading

Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Five Stars

Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Five Stars

“The wretchedness of slavery and the blessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me. It was life and death to me.”

The straight scoop from the giant of abolition. Frederick Douglass’ life and words–not Abraham Lincoln, certainly not Stephen Douglas–mark the beginning of the end for slavery in America. Self-liberated, self-taught, read his words for yourself. His life illustrates the power of literacy to lift a man over apparently insurmountable odds.

“For her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so.”

Conceived in the adulterous lust of his white master, born in the for-that-time moderate slave state of Maryland, owned by respected Christian men; Douglass puts to rest the many myths and lies surrounding the practice and impact of slavery on both the imprisoned and the imprisoners. It’s not pleasant reading. Yet the truth varies from the popular representations today spread by those both defending and condemning America 170 years ago.

“Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch.”

Should be mandatory reading in every high school history course in the United States. Primary documents, such as this, tell the story far better than the propaganda that most states offer. Well written; short and to the point.

“Thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends.”