New books

I had a chance last week to read a few books, all of which I would recommend in some fashion or another:

National Geographic’s “The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography” This is a very good, basic field guide to photography. It covers a huge range of subjects and, not surprisingly, has some beautiful photographs. The book covers both film and digital photography, editing, archiving, composition, and has a great inspirational chapter describing Robert Clark’s photographic travelogue using only the camera in a cell phone. My only complaint about the book is that it covers too many topics, but not much in depth. It’s a great book for a beginner, but there wasn’t too much I hadn’t seen already.

“Peopleware” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This is apparently a classic on productivity in an IT environment. It was written in 1987 and then revised in 1999. The book is an incredible look at projects, teams and what makes them successful. DeMarco and Lister worked in the software development industry, but their insights are applicable to any IT field. They start by describing IT and other knowledge based environments and how these are different than classical manufacturing environments, noting that we need to manage IT workers differently than we would in other environments. The remaining chapters are organized into parts: The Office Environment on how the environment affects productivity (hint: cubicles are not the way to go); The Right People on the need for good (and different people), how to cultivate them, and keep them (given the high costs of turnover); Growing Productive Teams which discusses how to get good people to jell into even better teams (unfortunately, there aren’t good ways to encourage this – other than to avoid killing teams); It’s Supposed To Be Fun to Work Here whose topic you can figure out. The last part is the update for 1999 – Son of Peopleware. In that last part, the authors note that they stand by everything they wrote 12 years ago, they reinforce certain topics and provide suggestions to implement some of their original ideas.

This really is a great book on management in IT and it actually quantitatively confirms many of my personal feelings about management. My plan at this point is to re-read it while taking notes. There are things in here that I think we need to address in my current job – keeping in mind that even the authors think that you can only tackle one of the problems.

“The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Gregory Boyd. A while back, I wrote about the separation of church and state. In that post, I briefly mentioned that such separation was good for religions. Gregory Boyd takes this much further and discusses how keeping religion out of politics is good theology. While he never uses the phrase “separation of church and state,” as a pastor, he presents an extremely compelling case for it. The book came out of a series of sermons Boyd gave in the run-up to the 2004 election. He and other pastors at his church were under significant pressure to promote certain candidates and positions. After he gave the sermons titled, “the Cross and the Sword,” about 1,000 people (20%) left his congregation.

The book and the sermons dealt with two kingdoms, that of the cross and of the sword. The kingdom of the sword represents nations and political entities. That of the cross represents the community of Christians and what they are called to do, which is primarily service to others (as demonstrated by Jesus in the gospels). Boyd goes on to describe how the early church emphasized that conflating political power with Christianity was idolatry. This changed in the 4th century when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity after winning an important battle. Since then, the church has often tried to grow through political power.

Boyd then describes current efforts to “take America back for God,” and proceeds to destroy the myth that the United States was ever founded as a Christian nation. He goes through the litany of beliefs from those whom state this and systematically refutes them. For example, he points out that the preamble to the Declaration of Independence is more indicative of deists and followers of the enlightenment (which the founders were) than it is of Christian thought.

Finally, Boyd goes through a number of very difficult, current questions and discusses the, in his mind, appropriate kingdom of the cross perspective. Not surprisingly, the answer is never to legislate away that which you don’t think is moral or Christlike.

All in all, a very important perspective on the importance of the separation of church and state. I highly recommend it.

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