Cioffi, Frank L. One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook. Princeton Univ. Apr. 2015. 392p. bibliog. ISBN 9780691165073. $24.95. REF
Cioffi’s approach to grammar is unusual. Instead of reviewing and reinforcing rules on sentence structure and other related precepts, the author examines the English language as it is actually written in the real world of today and places great emphasis on its evolving nature. In fact, Cioffi (writing director, Baruch Coll.) challenges many accepted conventions and wholeheartedly endorses new practices such as beginning sentences with conjunctions, ending them with prepositions, and splitting infinitives. At the same time, he argues that proper form still enhances effective communication while nonstandard English often marginalizes or stigmatizes a writer. To make his points, Cioffi effectively employs a fast-paced narrative style that readers will find entertaining and insightful, especially in the chapters on parts of speech, punctuation, and diction. Somewhat reminiscent of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style in its simplicity, conciseness, and readability, the work includes a bibliography, glossary, and a teachers’ guide. The section refuting 15 myths about digital-age English is superb. Although no substitute for the comprehensiveness of more traditional works such as the Harbrace College Handbook, The Little, Brown Essential Handbook, or Edward D. Johnson’s Handbook of Good English, this title certainly has a place in most collections. VERDICT The work is accessible, fun to read, and packed with helpful information on almost every page. It will appeal to a wide audience—not only those who love grammar but also those who do not.
Farhadian, Charles E. Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement. Baker Academic. Mar. 2015. 560p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780801032349. $49.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441246509. REF
Farhadian (world religions and Christian mission, Westmont Coll.; Introducing World Christianity; Christianity, Islam and Nationalism in Indonesia) proposes to offer a comprehensive introduction to the world’s religions, incorporating Christian perspectives. The book begins with a list of illustrations and a world map of religious populations including a historical map from 1910 for comparative purposes. Chapter 1 discusses the persistence of religion throughout the world, while the nine chapters that follow are devoted to particular groups of religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism and Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and new religious movements. In each, a current overview is followed by an “Origins and Concepts” section that makes up the bulk of the chapter, and then information on “Worship and Practice” and “Modern Movements.” Call-out boxes throughout integrate Christian reflections on the topics at hand. Each chapter ends with a time line, key terms, and a list of suggested readings. The work concludes with endnotes, a glossary, and bibliography. VERDICT Farhadian succeeds in providing a digestible overview of world religions from an ecumenical Christian perspective, avoiding any value judgments, a point of view that distinguishes the book from other reference offerings on the subject. A worthy addition for such collections supporting undergraduate studies in religion or theology.
Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices. Baker Academic. 2014. 832p. ed. by Terry C. Muck & others. maps. index. ISBN 9780801037764. $44.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441246004. REF
The editors of this volume on the religions and religious-like philosophies of the world are explicitly evangelical in their approach. However, rather than focusing on an impartial description of the various religious movements or on an apologetical comparison, the 134 essays contained here seek to describe the basic beliefs as well as their interactions with Christianity. The volume consists of five parts that cover the study of religion in general, world religions, local religious movements based on geographic regions, newer religious movements, and the interaction of religion and cultural themes. As with any work by multiple experts, the writing at times assumes a general knowledge of the topic and is dense or overly simplistic in explaining the basics. The “study aids” sprinkled throughout, including bulleted lists, maps, time lines, and statistics, add greatly to the usability of the volume as a textbook. As a general reference work, the design of multiple essays on a religion or religious topic somewhat limits its relevance since one must read multiple essays to gain the full picture. For instance, the section on Hinduism’s history, beliefs, and practices will leave the reader puzzled until they read the other essays on Hinduism. Many of the writings can stand on their own, but the design is clearly to read them as a group. VERDICT Despite some issues, overall the editors accomplish their aim of providing a introductory evangelical perspective of various religions and their encounters with Christianity.
Judovits, Mordechai. Find It in the Talmud: An Encyclopedia of Jewish Ethics and Conduct. Urim. 2014. 525p. ISBN 9789655241464. $34.95. REF
With an alphabetical list of subject entries following an overview of the order of the Jewish Talmud, a list of abbreviations used, and an explanation of Talmudic expressions, longtime Talmud student Judovits’s (Sages of the Talmud) work will help anyone seeking a Talmudic reference to support their ideas in writing or speaking. The English-language entries helps make the Talmud more approachable to non-Hebrew speakers, and the references to the Talmud in each summary offer the more advanced reader the original source of the item. Lengthier entries address events or complete stories; however, some items are brief, offering the title of a topic and a description, though more information can be gained through the sources referenced. Of benefit, especially to those who are not familiar with the Talmud, is an identification of the entries as ethereal or anecdotal information, with icons as appropriate and the repetition under different headings of sources from the Talmud. Whether readers want to know about Alexander the Macedonian king and what the Talmud says about him or need to find a discussion of alleys in the ancient text, this book is beneficial. VERDICT Geared toward a Jewish audience, this volume will be of minimal benefit to non-Jewish readers who are not interested in finding information in the Jewish Talmud. However, those who are studying the central text or those simply wanting to find a quotation to strengthen their speech, will find the material helpful.
Mars, Brigitte & Chrystle Fiedler. The Home Reference to Holistic Health & Healing: Easy-To-Use Natural Remedies, Herbs, Flower Essences, Essential Oils, Supplements, and Therapeutic Practices for Health, Happiness, and Well-Being. Fair Winds: Quarto. 2014. 224p. illus. index. ISBN 9781592336364. pap. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781627881807. REF
According to Brigitte (The Country Almanac of Home Remedies; Naropa Univ.) and Fiedler (Beat Sugar Addiction Now!; contributing author, Prevention Magazine), natural cures can help battle stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain and improve sleep and mental acuity. Offering medical disclaimers and common-sense cautions such as not mixing prescription drugs with alcohol and advising medical professionals of any natural remedies one is applying, the authors maintain that these kinds of therapies can improve a person’s well-being and balance by restoring a sense of joy and contentment. A brief discussion of holistic practices and natural remedies (acupuncture, acupressure, aromatherapy, craniosacral therapy, flower essences, herbs, homeopathy, massage therapy, meditation, qigong, reflexology, and yoga) leads to material on stress, anxiety, mood, rest, brain power, weight, energy, pain, grief, trauma, joy, and happiness. The appendix includes brief, informational blurbs on essential herbs (name, plant family, medicinal uses, and contraindications); aromatherapy (plant purpose, formula, and usage); teas, resources, and a bibliography. There is also a comprehensive index. The writing style, a mix of both friendly and technical with some industry terms, is intelligible. While serviceable to the average reader, the book would be stronger had the authors replaced jargon (e.g., “tonify” and “chologogue”) with commonly spoken English or included a glossary. VERDICT Despite the occasional jargon, this title is affordable, informative, and basic. A helpful and current starting point for those seeking alternative medicine information.
Martin, William Patrick. The Mother of All Booklists: The 500 Most Recommended Nonfiction Reads for Ages 3 to 103. Rowman & Littlefield. 2015. 208p. bibliog. ISBN 9781442238619. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442238626. REF
Nonfiction, especially children’s, is a buzzword at the moment, thanks to the Common Core State Standards. And for a few years now, more authors and publishers have been answering the call and writing exceptional informational books. In an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff in a very crowded genre, bookstore owner and former education professor Martin has compiled this hefty guide to the 500 most recommended nonfiction books for ages 3 to 103. What makes the list stand out is that it culls from more than 100 other authorities (annual awards as well as recommendations from noteworthy sources including librarians, teachers, magazines, and more), providing a vast number of diverse points of view. Covers are shown and titles are annotated and there is a great multicultural representation. The book is divided into appropriate sections (e.g., preschoolers, early readers, young adults, etc.). But as thoughtful as the organization and selection is, some of the titles appear misplaced in their chapters, with excellent works, such as Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier’s Dave the Potter and a volume on the Underground Railroad inappropriately listed among the preschool ages three–five groupings, for example. Other books, recommended as they may be, are very old; a 1971 title is included in the section for middle readers. VERDICT Appropriate as an additional purchase for a parent-teacher collection.
The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art & Architecture. 2d ed. Oxford Univ. 2014. 654p. ed. by Peter Murray & others. ISBN 9780199695102. pap. $24.95. REF
From the third century to the present (the period covered by the dictionary), Christianity has strongly influenced Western art and architecture, to the point that the meaning and potency of much great art requires understanding the Christian religion. (The Last Supper wasn’t just “a meal,” to reference an anecdote from the preface.) To increase that knowledge, retired art historians Peter Murray (The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance) and Linda Murray (Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists), published the first edition of this dictionary in 1996. At the time of their deaths, the Murrays were working on a second edition, and clergyman Tom Devonshire Jones has completed their revisions, working with 28 contributors. The entries cover potentially unknown imagery in artwork, the names (Biblical people and places, saints, notable clergy) and terms (e.g., transfiguration) appearing in a work’s title, plus artist biographies. They also define architectural terms such as apse and nave that refer to parts of churches and cathedrals. Throughout are articles on various time periods, media, styles, and geographic areas. Moreover, the editors have cross-referenced the general to the specific, in anticipation of how much a person might identify in an image: one might not recognize a dove, for example, but could surely tell it was a “bird, symbolic,” and go from there. VERDICT The entries are detailed, informative, and easy to understand, although dry and unexciting—a condition not improved by small print. However, creating a written reference to the visual is a difficult job, and the authors have done it well. Recommended for adults and college students without specialized knowledge.