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Book Reviews

Interpretive Charity and Innovative Leadership

A health care executive devoted his summer reading in 2009 to how the British had cracked the Germans’ wartime communications codes in World War II. Debates about health care reform were raging in Congress, and the outcome of those debates would have a large impact on the executive’s company. While he paid attention to those debates, he was also reading much more widely. He thought that understanding the dynamics of the British strategy would help him think in a more innovative way about the long-term strategic issues his company faced.

RedirectTimothy Wilson’s Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change outlines a story editing approach to helping people reframe their lives to become more hopeful. Wilson, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, contrasts the billions of dollars we have spent on some well-intentioned but ineffective (or, worse, counterproductive) strategies with story-editing approaches that have been carefully tested and shown to make a positive difference. Wilson’s analysis is important to Christian leaders because he shows the power of story in shaping hope, and what he calls story editing has clear connections to what people discover when we locate our stories in the life-giving and life-transforming power of the gospel. Wilson’s earlier book, Strangers to Ourselves , is also fascinating and filled with insights for Christian leaders; he has a gift for presenting careful research in illuminating, accessible prose.

Elegies for the BrokenheartedChristie Hodgen’s Elegies for the Brokenhearted is a beautifully crafted, haunting novel about family, belonging, and the ravages of poverty and brokenness. The story is told as five elegies for people whose misfortunes and bad decisions have shaped Mary Murphy’s damaged life: an uncle, a classmate, a roommate, a piano prodigy, and her mother. Each elegy is addressed to “you” and reveals the ways in which our lives are shaped by those people who enter and exit them, for good and for ill. Hodgen’s eloquent prose and unforgettable characters offer a poignant depiction of brokenness and a longing for peace -- with God, with others, and with ourselves.

UnbrokenLaura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival , Resilience, and Redemption is an exquisitely told real-life story of Louis Zamperini, an example of the old saw that the truth is often stranger than fiction. As a boy he was an incorrigible mischief-maker; as a teenager he discovered a passion for running and became a U.S. Olympian at the 1936 Berlin Games; as a young adult he became an airman in World War II. His plane was shot down over the Pacific, and he survived in a small life raft for a record-setting 47 days; he was then tortured by the Japanese while a prisoner of war. At the end of the war he returned to the United States and deteriorated into alcohol abuse until he heard the gospel of forgiveness preached at a Billy Graham crusade and was converted. He returned to Japan to offer forgiveness and to seek reconciliation and peace with his captors. Unbroken combines Hillenbrand’s beautiful prose with Zamperini’s extraordinary life to examine profound issues of tragedy and triumph, grief and joy, despair and redemption, brutality and