Monday, July 21, 2014

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

by Nick Bertozzi
2014 / 125 pages

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was a man obsessed with reaching the South Pole. He tried to the first there, setting out on two expeditions that fell short when harsh conditions drove them back. Ultimately he was beaten to the Pole by a Norwegian, Roald Amuundsen, who made it there in December of 1911.

But if Shackleton couldn't be the first to the Pole, then he was determined to be the first to traverse the Antarctic, from one side to the other. With ambitious goal in mind he set out with his crew August 1, 1914.

He would again fail, but in such a spectacular and heroic manner that the tale of his failure has been retold again and again in countless books and several documentaries. His ship was sunk, his sled dogs all killed for food, his crew stranded on icepack that was constantly breaking up, and the only solid ground being an island 100 miles away across the open water. And yet, somehow Shackleton and his crew all made it home alive, more than 2 years after they left.

Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel is the latest addition to the Shackleton canon and boy oh boy is it a good one. At parts humorous – it includes a toga party and a stowaway who readily accepts that should food be in short supply he will be the first eaten – and gripping throughout. Bertozzi presents Shackleton as a man who would risk much to make it to the South Pole, but who wouldn't throw away his men's lives to complete this goal. As obsessed as he was with the Pole, he was more obsessed about his men's well-being, and was determined to do whatever it took to get them back home.

Language concerns

I've ready many a great graphic novel that then ruins things by taking God's name in vain. In this one there are some language concerns, but not regarding God's name. "Damn" or "damned" occurs about a a half dozen times, and also notable is the use of the word "bloody" which I understand is quite offensive among the British (but doesn't seem so bad to me). It is used more than a dozen times, and maybe as many as a couple dozen times.


I'd recommend this for any teens who might have a history project to do - they might not find it as gripping as the latest Marvel movie, but this is a pretty rollicking tale, so if they consider that it is true, this could well grip them. This will also appeal to any adults who aren't embarrassed at the thought of being seen reading a comic.

It can be purchased from by clicking here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Uncle Tom's Cabin

by Harriet Beecher Stowe
384 pages / originally published 1852
Dover Thrift Edition, 2005

Reputedly, President Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel with provoking the sentiments that led up to the Civil War. Whether or not that is true, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a powerful description of not only the cruelty of malevolent and callous slaveowners, but also the evil and suffering brought about by the belief that anyone, even a relatively generous and kindly man, has the right to own anyone else.

Why is slavery so evil even when the slaves are owned by a man who sympathizes with their condition and treats them with kindness? Because when human beings are treated as property, they have no security. This abstract idea is fleshed out in many ways in the novel.

First we learn of Eliza's desperate attempt to flee to Ohio over the floating ice of a river in winter. Why must she seek such perilous escape? Because her owner decides to liquidate his debt by selling some of his assets (human assets!) - including, without Eliza's permission, her son, as well as the old slave of the title, Uncle Tom.

Uncle Tom ends up in the relatively beneficent hands of Augustine St. Clare, a man who treats his slaves with kindness. St. Clare's cousin Miss Ophelia is from the northern States and is horrified by slavery, but even she does not know quite what to do with the most ignorant of St. Clare's slaves, a girl named Topsy. Topsy is so ignorant, both morally and religiously, as a result of her neglect and mistreatment by her previous owners, that she does not have any idea of who God is, or indeed of her own identity and origins, or of the possibility that she could be anything more than an ignorant slave. Miss Ophelia almost gives up on Topsy, just as many slaveowners claimed that slaves were not worth the effort to give any moral or spiritual education to, and then, perversely, used their ignorance as an excuse for dominating them.

This kind of insecurity associated with being a slave is shown even more clearly and brutally in the life of Uncle Tom himself. His earlier conversations with St. Clare's devout daughter Eva have shown that Tom is a Christian, willing to suffer for his faith, but the novel never gives Tom or other slaves the luxury of feeling that "This much I can suffer in peace." Many of St. Clare's slaves are - again! - sold off when he dies suddenly, and Uncle Tom ends up in the cruel hands of Simon Legree. If it were merely a matter of mistreatment, perhaps Tom could simply endure it stoically. Instead, Tom is told to inflict mistreatment on other slaves as their supervisor. When he refuses, he goes through suffering, Christlike, that is intended to break his will.

Some of the review on indicated that readers might find the novel too preachy; however, without giving away the resolution of any of the plotlines I've mentioned, Christian readers will be inspired by how well it shows that indeed, race, nation, gender, and social class do not separate those who are in Christ; and that Christlike suffering, while part of the Christian life, can never separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The cheapest edition available on is this one and you can get a free pdf version here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


by Randy Alcorn
560 pages / 2004

Author Randy Alcorn wants us thinking about Heaven. But why?
Setting our minds on Heaven is a discipline we have to learn. Pastors and church leaders should train themselves to be Heaven-minded. This means teaching and preaching about Heaven as our future Home. It means presenting a biblical theology that can shape and transform people’s lives, liberating them from the hopelessness of life centered on fallen and failing world.
Ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I daily reflect on my own mortality?
  • Do I daily realize there are only two destinations -Heaven or Hell - and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other?
  • Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what is eternal?
  • Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have a direct influence on the world to come?
  • Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One, and that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter, is His?

This is a large book, with much to love. It is a thorough study of everything that Bible has to say about Heaven. The format is also a big plus. The table of contents is detailed, allowing a reader to quickly find the specific area they are most interested in. What will our bodies be like? Page 281. What does the Bible say about whether there will be animals on the New Earth? Alcorn covers it on pages 373. That’s not to say you will agree with all his conclusions. But in each case he gives you a lot to ponder.

Alcorn is a self-described four-point Calvinist (he disputes limited atonement) so while the book is more “conservative evangelical” than specifically Reformed, there are quite a number of quotations in it from Reformed folk like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Francis Schaeffer.

What might be perceived as the weakness of the book is how often Alcorn makes use of the word “perhaps.” Alcorn takes quite a number of speculative leaps, wondering, for example, whether we might take on space exploration in the next life. However, while some of his thoughts are quite imaginative, Alcorn is always very open about when he is guessing and when what he is saying has much clearer biblical roots. That clarity makes him a reliable guide.

My only critique is one I share with Rev. Johan Tangelder, who first reviewed this book for RP nine years ago. He wrote:
I suggest that Alcorn thinks about Heaven too much from an egocentric viewpoint – focusing in on what interests us the most. With all the discussions of what we may do in Heaven, we easily forget that Heaven is the place of habitation of the Triune God. 
But lest that dampen your enthusiasm for the book, let me end with some effusive praise - I haven’t run across anyone who has read this and not enjoyed it and found it encouraging. Randy Alcorn will have you anticipating the next life. Or, as Rev. Tangelder concluded his own review: critical observations don’t take away the appreciation I have for Alcorn’s work. He gives new insights, and makes you think about the best that is yet to come for God’s people.
To order it at click here.