Category Archives: Reading

Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town


Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

by Rachel Held Evans.

My Rating:      didn't like itit was okliked itreally liked it (my current rating)it was amazing

Status:    Read from June 25 to 30, 2011

My Review:

Based on a popular blog, this book walks through a twenty-somethings evolution of faith from a fairly fundamentalist background to a more liberal and reformed approached to Christianity. I was surprised a just how much of her experiences mirrored my own. She definitely poses the more difficult questions that a Christian must deal with today. I hoped to have her tackle the questions more directly than to just have her cherish the ability to pose them. Nevertheless, it was a good read and I would recommend it to any young adult who has struggled with doubt.

The Real Story

Last week, a friend on Facebook pointed me to a story that seemed like it would be of interest to mathematician like myself but upon reading the story, there were a number of quirky details in the story and some important details missing.  It made me suspicious.

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – A 16-year-old Iraqi immigrant living in Sweden has cracked a maths puzzle that has stumped experts for more than 300 years, Swedish media reported on Thursday.

In just four months, Mohamed Altoumaimi has found a formula to explain and simplify the so-called Bernoulli numbers, a sequence of calculations named after the 17th century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, the Dagens Nyheter daily said.

See the rest of the news story here.

Now, I’m no number theorist but I did take a course in Special Functions where the topic of Bernoulli numbers came up.  I was not aware of any 300 year old problem so I did some hunting and couldn’t find out what problem had been solved.  I also couldn’t find any mathematical news source citing the major development.

Thanks to Keith Devlin, we have a little more insight to the story.  In his MAA article this week, he wrote,

So I dug around on the Web for more details. There were a lot of news stories about the topic, but they all said more or less the same as the article I had already seen. Eventually, however, I found a Swedish news Website with an English-language story that was close to the source (Uppsala University).

"Swedish teen tackles centuries-old numbers challenge" was the headline. The story began, "A 16-year-old Iraqi immigrant in central Sweden has single-handedly figured out a formula with Bernoulli numbers that is normally reserved for much more seasoned mathematicians, earning him praise from professors at prestigious Uppsala University." Ah. Much more believable.

The reporter went on to explain that Altoumaimi, the young high school pupil, had developed some equations involving the Bernoulli numbers. When his school math teachers were unable to tell him whether what he had done was correct, the student contacted a professor at Uppsala University, who, after examining his work, declared that it was indeed correct. Not new, however. As the story continued,

"While it’s not the first time that someone has shown such Bernoulli number relationships, it’s highly unusual for a first year high school student to make his way through the complicated calculations, according to Uppsala University senior maths lecturer Lars-ke Lindahl."

I feel better knowing the truth behind the story.  Devlin was able to find the source I couldn’t find in my own digging.  Thanks, Keith.

Finished Reading – Ender’s Game

image I just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  I had a great time reading it and will definitely continue on in the series.  I’ll not spoil anything but the ending wasn’t too much of a surprise until I recognized the connection between Ender and the buggers.  I’ll say nothing more than that.  If you haven’t read it and you’re into science fiction, it’s definitely worth your time.  There’s a reason it is considered one of the modern greats.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

Next Read: The Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Finished Reading “The Grass Crown”

image I have been reading a series by author Colleen McCullough called the Masters of Rome.  Two nights ago, I finished reading the second book in the series.  Spanning over 1000 pages per book, I have been utterly fascinated by the lives of men playing pivotal roles leading up to the beginning of the Roman Empire as it moves out of its time as the Roman Republic.

Here is the review I posted over at the website:

Fascinating continuation of Colleen McCullough’s Master’s of Rome series. This is the second book in the series of seven and it covers the Civil/Social war under the eventual leadership of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. It deals largely with the rise of Sulla to leadership both in military campaigns as well as policital power. It finishes with the fall of Gauis Marius, the third founder of Rome, as his mind fails following two strokes and he takes over Rome in a blood bath, killing anyone in Rome who once stood against him. It is his final goal before dying to subdue the rising star of Gauis Julius Caesar, which he supposedly does so by placing him in the role of a lifelong priesthood. The tale ends there, but we all know that Julius Caesar is not out for good and is destined to become the greatest man Rome has ever or will ever see.

I continue to enjoy this series and am continually fascinated by how developed society was even thousands of years ago. The struggles of society not all that different than today, only without the western influence of Christianity.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Reading List Updates

I finished up a couple books since last time I updated the reading list on this blog.  I also added another few books to the list.

Just finished:

  • Being a Christian in Science by Walter R. Hearn
  • The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

    New Additions:

    Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology
    by Darrel R. Falk

    Read more about this book…

    Biology Through the Eyes of Faith (Christian College Coalition Series)
    by Richard Wright

    Read more about this book…

    Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
    by C. John Collins

    Read more about this book…

    A New Kind of Science
    by Stephen Wolfram

    Read more about this book…


    Currently Reading

    * Science and Faith: An Evangelical Dialogue
    by Harry Lee Poe, Jimmy H. Davis

    Read more about this book…

    Review: The Year of Living Biblically

    The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
    by A. J. Jacobs

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    I am not even sure how I was turned on to this little book but late this past fall, I added it to my reading list and was fortunate enough to receive it from my parents as a Christmas gift.  I love that I usually have time over the holidays to make it completely through a book.

    Summary: The book is basically a journal through A.J. Jacobs’ religious experiment to obey the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as literally as possible.  Those familiar with the Scriptures realize that there are a great number of, shall we say, “interesting” rules to be dealt with as you make your way through the Old Testament Law, e.g., stone adulterers, avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, a number of unclean animals and various other things that shouldn’t even be touched, animal sacrifices, etc.  The book documents his experience over the full year (+ two weeks after) walking the reader through some of his encounters with the most interesting characters you might be able to find reflecting the full spectrum of religious perspective: the  fanatics down to the most liberal interpreters of Scripture.  He obviously admits that he won’t be perfect but he makes every attempt at being obedient to the minutest detail in the Scripture.

    I knew going in that he was approaching this experiment as a secular Jew with little religious background especially with respect to the Bible.  I was correct in assuming that there would be a lot that I could gain for seeing someone’s outside perspective to a faithful life.  I, personally, was inspired by his initiative to read through the Bible in preparation documenting as many rules, laws, and commandments he could find.  He also gathered a significant number of religious advisors from both Jewish and Christian traditions, consulting them often throughout his experience.  He dealt with the challenge of updating many archaic restrictions to a modern world.  I was surprised to learn just how much information was already out there to be used in obeying the Jewish law in today’s society.  I, personally, have had virtually no exposure to Jewish tradition.

    He split the year into two major components: the Old Testament (9 mos.) and the New Testament (3 mos.).  I was most intrigued by the Old Testament portion because of my lack of experience with Orthodox Jewish tradition.  I was most disappointed with his approach to the New Testament, however.  It is to be expected, since, as I believe, the whole New Testament is centered around the idea that we can’t be obedient enough to be holy and perfect.  We need grace, forgiveness, and salvation in order to experience the power of the New Testament.  We are freed from the law, though we remain obedient to the spirit of the law: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.  But here’s the kicker for me: there is a lot of the Old Testament law that I am not required to obey, but a lot of it provides me step by step instruction on how to demonstrate that love to God and to my neighbor.  Even though we don’t live under the law anymore, there is a lot in there from which we can gain insight and many practices that will develop our intimacy with God.

    The other point that he admittedly misses is that true religion is not an experiment.  It is not a cafeteria plan that you can try out what you like and then leave it all behind when it has helped you.  It is not about us, it is about God.  It is his desire to have us dedicate our entire selves to him and if you can give that up after a one year trial, then you didn’t truly surrender to him and experience what biblical living is all about.  Nevertheless, he does justice to the fact that religious people aren’t just a bunch a kooks.  Through the world’s eyes, faith is foolish, but when you see it up close and experience side by side with the faithful, you can begin to see what drew them there in the first place.  He helps the reader to see the genuinely faithful.

    I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it greatly to anyone both inside and outside the faith.  Jacobs style of writing makes it hard to put the book down and easy to enjoy the experience as if you are there watch his beard grow longer everyday.

    Here are some particularly important lessons and observations I have taken away from his book:

    • We should recognizing that the laws have some motivation behind them even if it is just to make us holy and special. There is GREAT value to our faith in obedience.
    • “When it comes to the bible, there is always – but always – some level of interpretation.”
    • At the end of third month he realizes that he is becoming pharisaical when he is so busy reading Ecclesiastes (his favorite book) that he misses a woman in need of his seat. Religious zeal can push us to missing the bigger picture.
    • One major theme of the year: “The outer affects the inner.”
    • Every adventure he undertakes that is seemingly ridiculous and absurd when looking from the outside in, (Serpent handlers, chicken sacrifice, etc.) doesn’t seem so strange when done with the devout and when seeing it through their eyes.
    • Lesson from one of his Jewish spiritual advisors:
      “Two men do their daily prayers while at work. One spends twenty minutes in his office behind a closed door and afterward he feels refreshed and uplifted, like he just had a therapy session. The other is so busy, he can squeeze in only a five minute prayer session between phone calls. He recites his prayers superfast in a supply closet.
      Who has done the better thing?”
      Rabbi Yossi answers the second: He was doing it only for God, sacrificing his time. There was no immediate benefit to him.
    • He realizes during his visit holy land the paradox of doing religion alone. It was originally intended as part of a group.

    There’s a lot else, but I’ll keep them for myself.

    My next read:

    Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
    by David Michaelis

    Read more about this title…