Our High School Book Reviews

The following books were reviewed by my 16 and 18 year old daughters and myself..
The Screwtape Letters-My daughter, Bryana, states that this book provides “a look at Satan's destructive tactics. It is probably my favorite of Lewis' books. Of all his works, I find this one the most relevant for someone who is already a believer.”
The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith-“No other book has given me such a complete picture of the ideal Christian life. Smith writes with conviction in a gentle, understanding and approachable tone. Despite the fact that it is old and uses some 19th century examples, this book is not outdated. It is timeless.”
The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer -  “Only C.S. Lewis and possibly G. K. Chesterton wrote better apologetics. This is one of my favorites. Schaeffer writes firmly and leaves no room for debate but shows compassion. One gets no feeling of condemnation from his book but only a deep sense of understanding. Even a skeptic could possibly be induced to read it. Unfortunately, the book is a little too technical and philosophical for the average person today. Someone needs to do a re-write, because his ideas are way too good to ignore (we recommend that you read How Then Should We Live? first
The Age of Revolution by Winston Churchill- Well, my daughters had two different opinions about this book.  One said: This book is pretty dry and hard to maneuver, but a good historical resource. I recommend the more curious reader tackle it for the first and third term but Paul Johnson's book is enough for the second term. The other said: This book covers in intriguing detail a string of very important events preceding and influencing the American Revolution, events which are otherwise pretty generally skipped over. Especially the War of the Spanish Succession, the Continental War, and the Seven Years (French and Indian) War. And without Marrin’s ‘Napoleon,’ it is the only solid source on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. It also provides an account of, and insight into, the lives of leading figures in history – William of Orange, Marlborough, and Eugene of Savoy, and is possibly my favorite of Churchill’s histories.
Hmmm..... you decide.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine- Required reading in most American high schools. Great essay. Entertaining and inspiring. Paine's arguments are not historically accurate but very persuasive.
Letters to His Son by Lord Chesterfield- My daughter, Bryana states, “Some sound advice and interesting as a study of the styles of letter-writing employed in the day, but readers should watch for the Victorian empty morality based on outward appearances rather than a pure heart.”
Miracle at Philadelphia-  “A 'must read'- thorough account of the Constitutional Convention. Details the noteworthy proceedings of each day, and exhaustively relates the standing of each of the founders involved. Rather than just dwelling on the "giants" like Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, Jefferson and Washington, this book explains who else was involved and what they said and thought. Excellent resource for someone who wants to know more about the little guys - and why they aren't as frequently discussed.” (this book is long. plan accordingly)
A History of the American People by Paul Johnson – A – Johnson’s text is  engaging, readable and informative. Johnson is very positive about Capitalism, and uses numbers to show how well it worked in America. Being a historian, and a European himself, he is able to have some perspective on the issue --- he realizes that while there was abuse of this system in America, Europe’s oppressed have always been more oppressed. America’s system gave the destitute opportunities to rise above their situations. Johnson is entertaining, although you will find some bias. He is a much more cheerful writer than Churchill. I enjoyed this book very much.
Update: We've been reading A Patriot's History of the United States by Schweikart and Allen and comparing it to Paul Johnson's History of the American People. We like it a lot so far. It is a slightly easier read the Johnson and, as every history book has its biases, we like these authors' biases better than we like Johnson's. Liberals hate this book, but they hate Johnson's book too. If you decide to use it, make sure you get the updated version that has several minor errors corrected.
The English Constitution- A good read, although somewhat difficult, for an American who wants a better understanding of the British mindset in the early twentieth century. In a country founded on principles of universal freedom and equality, the aristocrat finally gets his say. Recommended for more advanced students. (alternatively, you can read the more important chapters. Intro to ch 4)
The Rights of Man- A must-read, but part one only.  Paine's deistic philosophy of government and human rights has been the standard in public schools for years. His powerful rhetoric and incredible eloquence has swayed literally millions of people. The student should read this book with an awareness of Paine's influence on modern thought and only after or while reading Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Rights of Man was originally written to combat Burke's "Reflections" and is incomplete when taken out of context, as has happened too often in the American education system. In my opinion, Burke and Paine balance each other out and neither should be read exclusively because each gives only one side of the popular opinions on their day.
Reflections on the Revolution in France- Should be read with Thomas Paine's Rights of Man as he refers to this book often. This book expresses the overlooked and under-appreciated side of popular opinion in the days of the American Revolution. Admittedly, it can be dry at times, but it is certainly worth the effort. No student's education is complete without a chance to hear Burke's (the British monarchy) side of the story in a country where for years we have only heard Paine's (American democracy).
Are You Liberal, Conservative, Confused?- Maybury's book serves as a great example of Thomas Paine's philosophy of government at work in modern society.
John Adams by David McCullough “A Delicious read! Highly detailed account of the Adams' family. John Adams is one of the most underrated of the Founding Fathers and this documentation of his life, complete with letters and journal entries, finally gives him some of the credit he deserves. The book also gives a taste of the flavor of life at the time. I found the section on social issues in France particularly intriguing, as well as the details of Adams' diplomatic missions and tussles with Benjamin Franklin.”
Autobiography of Ben Franklin- Well-written and of great historical value. It isn't long and we feel it's worth reading to get a picture of the man and his times, although it does get tedious in places.
Founding Father by Richard Brookhiser- This biography of Washington speculates about the thoughts going through the head of this very private man in the years that he served our country. I appreciate the fact that the author discusses the impact of Cato, and other works of Roman history and literature (such as Plutarch’s lives) on Washington's life. While definitely being a positive book, it gives a fair account, neither glorifying nor demonizing the Father of his country. Maybe a little unfair in his portrayal of Washington's personal faith, but the book below balances it out.
George Washington, The Christian by William Johnson- Shows the faith of George Washington by viewing his journals and other personal letters and writings.
Life of Johnson by Boswell (abridged)- Boswell's extensive biography of Samuel Johnson is worth reading for more reasons than simply for the purpose of learning about Johnson's life. Its vivid picture of life in London in the eighteenth century is worth it for its' own sake. Through the eyes of Johnson, Boswell and others, the book shows the typical English middle-class attitude about such subjects as marriage, promiscuity, alcoholism, royalty, revolutions, poverty, religion, clergy and virtue. However, in the style of most old-school biographers, it glorifies Johnson unduly at times. (this book is long and recommended for advanced readers.)
Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars by Albert Marrin- Brief, but detailed enough to give a good account of this period and a very enjoyable, easy read. Highly recommended.
Founding Brothers by Joseph P. Ellis - gives details on some lesser-known events surrounding the most prominent American founding fathers. The information about Hamilton and Madison is especially important. The book also combats some inaccurate depictions of feuding between the founders that is suggested in some of the other books.
Royal Road to Romance- Great geography source. Halliburton is funny, educational and intriguing. He is an author that can laugh at himself and his book is a joy to read, although he is too fascinated with the opposite sex.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose - Not only does this book give a feel for the times, and for the attitudes of different classes in America in the first years of the nineteenth century, but it also depicts the scene of American politics during Jefferson's presidency, the Whiskey Rebellion, and especially with regards to Indian affairs. As an extensive biography of the depressive and suicidal Meriwether Lewis, it also deals with such issues as alcoholism, leadership, destructive habits, and virtue in the early nineteenth century.
Ourselves- Charlotte Mason deals with issues of character using examples common to students in the 19th century, but the concepts she covers are timeless. She has a way of getting straight to the heart of an issue, which puts this work above most Victorian treatises on virtue that deal too much with forms or with the outward appearance. We read Book 1 in previous years together.  Book 2 on Self direction is read  privately by my students.
Plutarch’s Lives- Being familiar with Plutarch’s writings has helped me so much this year while studying the French Enlightenment and America’s founding fathers. While Plutarch does deal with issues of character and he exercises the mind with rich vocabulary, he does so in a pagan context. I think that it's important not to unduly glorify Greek and Roman thought and philosophy, but to learn how to glean the truth from it while remaining aware of the deadly evil that coexisted in the same society.  If Plutarch scares you, have your student read Weston's version available used or at mainlesson.com.
The History of Rasselas- If you plan on reading Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, you should read this book. The text is wordy and dated. However, students familiar with the older language and long sentences can enjoy the book. If you do not read Life of Johnson, skip this book.
She Stoops to Conquer- This play is a comedy of manners poking fun at a social class. It is entertaining, and a good book to get a feel for the time.
The School for Scandel-We read this but decided to omit it. Year 9 is very full and we felt this book wasn’t worth our time. My daughter states, “Stock characters and a flabby story. There's nothing memorable about it and it's not even good as strictly moralizing fiction since there is practically no moral point in it whatsoever.”
Goethe's Faust edited by Walter Kaufmann- It is a story built on a myth about a professor who makes a pact with the devil for the purpose of gaining knowledge. We thought we didn't like Faust until we found this particular version by Kaufmann. I don't think just any translation will suffice. Make sure your student reads Invitation to the Classics' section on this book. The ideas in this book have influenced countless people and it is important that your students is familiar with the story. It is often referred to in other literature and historical works.
The Count of Monte Cristo- “The account of a young man robbed of his future and his bride by two jealous "friends," and his subsequent revenge. I found this book delightful. Rather than being a vicious portrayal of vengeance, which was my fear, I found it to be balanced and intriguing tale of life, love, history, and justice. It does have elements of the horrific but all on the side of the "bad guys," as is proper.” ( We recommend Barnes and Noble abridged version. It edits some questionable parts for young people, however, the abridgment is well done and still remains a 600 page volume.)
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – Both of my daughters despised this book. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read. It is a classic because of its great influence on its readers in Swift's time. Let your student try to understand Swift’s underlying message throughout the book. Unlike Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Swift is a pessimist. My daughter Shannon states, “It must be appreciated for its inventiveness and originality, but is ultimately depressing and despairing. The protagonist is despicable and the book has unnecessary vulgarity. The final conclusion is that man is entirely evil and irredeemable.
A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift – “This is another sacrilegious work, but I think it serves a far better purpose than Gulliver's' Travels. In A Tale of A Tub, Swift complains about the corruption in the Church, using three brothers to represent Catholicism and other factions of Christianity. This is one of the few books that I would recommend researching before you read it. The student may choose to skip the author's "digressions" which mostly concern current events of Swift's day and distract from the real purpose of the allegory.” - We read the Wikipedia article about this book before reading it and skipped all Digression chapters.
Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift - Another work worth researching before it is read. It is a satire written about real events in Swift's day, concerning literary progress. It is short and enjoyable.
Icons of Evolution by Wells- good choice for discussing the issues behind the evolution debate and the false information in school texts that well-known evolutionists admit should not be there. The arguments against evolution in this book are not as simplistic as some creation books we have read. We also enjoyed the movie. Eye-opening.
The Ethics of the Dust- (Not recommended)  An account of the origin of crystals and minerals mixed with beautiful thoughts about life, personal ethics and character cultivation. The reader will notice that Ruskin does not seem to be able to decide if he is writing for children or for adults. While many of his concepts are for a mature audience, he talks down to the reader and can be preachy. This can be frustrating at times, but is worth overlooking.
The Natural History of Selbourne (White) – Not recommended for American readers. We tried this book but decided against using it. The author studied plants and animals in a particular area of England and recorded his (sometimes faulty) observations. With so many other good books, I don't feel this should be in the curriculum unless, perhaps, for those living in that area today.
War of the Worldviews- “A synopsis of various worldviews with some good arguments. The book is clearly written for Christian youth. DeMar doesn't spend much time backing up his points and this type of writing quickly turns critical readers off. No secularist could get through it without throwing a fit."
Post Modern Times by Gene Edward Veith - Another must-read. This one goes right along with The God Who Is There, filling in where Schaeffer left off, and using familiar examples from the nineties. Veith is able to deal with such topics as abortion, Andy Warhol, pornography, television, video games, mega churches, multiculturalism, and environmentalism, The book shows how the ultimate effect of post-modernism is to eliminate man himself, in an abstract way. It is a kind of "anti-humanism." Schaeffer dealt with this concept when he explained how "the abolition of absolutes ends up reducing man himself to zero", but Veith's summary is much more coherent to the modern reader. We moved this book to year 10. Proofread this. There is some mature content.
Sir Gibbie- Bryana states, “This is by far my favorite of MacDonald's stories. I think it portrays the love of Christ better than almost any other fiction book I have read.” Avoid simple abridgments.
Pride and Prejudice- highly recommended for both sexes
The Scarlet Pimpernel- “This is a thriller and a page-turner. Full of mystery and adventure, The Scarlet Pimpernel tells the story of a noble band of Englishmen dedicated to freeing the French gentry from the hands of the Parisian mob. But it is also a love story, set in the middle of a broken marriage.”
The Good Earth-Personally, I don't recommend this book until a person is married.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis-  The conversations in this book are aimed at unearthing the deceptions with which damned humanity defends its refusal of God. C.S. Lewis is a favorite in our home.
Books by P G. Wodehouse- old British humor. We enjoy these.
Man Alive- this one is easier than The Man who was Thursday 
The Man Who Was Thursday- Chesterton’s books are favorites around here.
Northanger Abbey- Don’t let this be your first Jane Austen novel. It’s fair, but Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s best work.
Scaramouche-excellent book. Highly recommended reading that gives a better understanding of how the French Revolution came about.
‘Til We Have Faces- “A wonderful reworking of the myth of Psyche and Cupid, with deep spiritual insights.”
Waverly Novels- some are better than others. Our favorites are: Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, the Talisman and Rob Roy.
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – A – A must-read. The author achieved something with his novel that is rare in the world of fiction: he succeeded in writing a story that both flows with poetry and plays with emotions. An instant bestseller when it was published in 1948, this is a phenomenal and groundbreaking piece of writing about life in South Africa just before apartheid.
How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer – A – What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? Schaeffer is a wonderful thinker and philosopher, and although he sometimes has difficulty bringing his thoughts down to the comprehension level of the common man, this book is considerably easier than The God Who Is There. I would recommend this book to those who want to read a brief overview of history from a sound Christian perspective. I also recommend reading this one before The God Who is There.
The Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell – A – Phenomenal work on public education theory. Mitchell is a little wordy and uses some exhausting vocabulary, but he is amusing and entertaining as well as wise. I do not endorse every part of his theory of education, but the book is more an expose of the taxpayer-supported public system than a manual for educators. I really, really liked this book.
Arguing About Slavery by William Lee Miller – A – My favorite non-fiction book in Year 10, Arguıng About Slavery tells the fascinating story of the Congressional debates on slavery just twenty-five years before the Civil War. The book focuses on John Quincy Adams’ enormous role in bringing the issue to the forefront of the American political struggle. One of the most interesting, amusing and inspiring history texts I’ve ever read.
Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard – A – In an age when spiritual disciplines and discipleship are being neglected by much of the western church, Willard’s book serves as a good wake-up call. He encourages the church to get serious about growing and maturing, and discusses the power that is unleashed in God’s people when they choose to purify themselves for the purpose of seeking the Kingdom. 
Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather – A – Historical fiction novel about Catholic priests in New Mexico in the mid-19th century. The book paints a powerful picture of its time and place. The character profiled is a European who has chosen a life of lonely mission work, cut off from his family and making his home in a foreign and bleak desert. Cather does a fantastic job of showing the worth of the man and his work, even though he is neither famous nor widely influential. The novel’s central point is expressed in the words: “To fulfill the dreams of one’s youth – that is the best that can happen to a man. No worldly success can take the place of that.”
Civil War Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott – A – The hospital sketches are short and can be read in one sitting, but powerfully moving and give a good feel for war in general and the Civil War in particular. I cried through the second half of the book.
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill – A – While I don’t think that Mill is right on with regards to all issues of public policy, he does make many excellent points in this thought-provoking volume. This book should be compared and contrasted with Frederick Bastiat’s The Law. Mill’s theories coincide with Bastiat’s libertarian theory of political freedom – however, in practice, Mill’s ideas heavily influenced modern social liberals in the west. 
The Microbe Hunters – A – The Microbe Hunters is fun, engaging and well-written. Even people with little interest in science (myself, for instance) will be sucked into the intriguing stories of the men who discovered and scoped out the fields of pathology and microbiology.
The Arts by Heinrich Willem Van Loon – A – I continue to find The Arts a whimsical and delightful account of art history. Parents should be aware that the author is an atheist and his take on religious issues comes through in his writing. But a high schooler well- grounded in truth should be able to handle it just fine.
Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte – A – Although it is a dark, and sometimes depressing read, I thought that Wuthering Heights was worth it. The story profoundly underlined and re-enforced the importance of moments, especially in the shaping of a child’s character, and it placed a strong emphasis on the dangers of unchecked sins. Now, months after finishing the book, I begin to realize that it has influenced me more than most fiction I have read. And it does end on a cheerful note! 
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather – A – Cather’s short novel about a struggling homesteading family in Nebraska is a bit bleak, but, as with Death Comes For The Archbishop, this factor somehow doesn’t make her writing depressing --- only thought-provoking. O Pioneers! had me soberly evaluating my own dreams and hopes for the future – an excellent read for the older student. I found that it affected me in much the same way as Wuthering Heights, and was intrigued to learn that Cather was a great admirer of the Bronte sisters.
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington – A – The story of Booker T. Washington’s remarkable life tells how he made something of himself through hard work and dedication -- even in a society where he was disadvantaged and unlikely to succeed. I was most inspired by the second half of the book, which details the policies and practices implemented in the schools he founded for African-American youth and adults.
One Blood – A – This short little book is not only a concise summary of the biblical case against racism, but also shows how the Theory of Evolution contributed to the racist attitudes of the civilized world.
The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell – A – I highly recommend this volume on public policy and socio-political issues. Sowell’s points are backed with overwhelming numbers and pages of citations. His volume demands to be respected, even by those who disagree.
Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – A – Killer Angels covers just four days of the Civil War, including The Battle of Gettysburg. It is detailed far too precisely to be considered non-fiction, and yet deals almost entirely with historical characters, causing the reader to feel that he is reading a historical text of some kind. This makes it a very powerful written dramatization, so to speak, of the war. The movie Gettysburg was based on this book and is a good supplement.
Plutarch’s Lives by W.H. Weston – A – This is an excellent re-telling of several of Plutarch’s Lives. Weston retains the rich language and moralizing tone, but removes unnecessary digressions so that the stories flow smoothly and are not difficult to understand. There is also an explanation before each reading that gives historical background.
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt – A – Novel about a farm boy whose life is profoundly affected by the American Civil War. Although he doesn’t go away to fight, he watches his brothers leave to join two different sides of the same war. This heartbreaking story uses strong imagery and plot complications to portray the plight of a rural American family during this national conflict.
Chesterton’s Essays by Gilbert Keith Chesterton – A – I recently heard someone say that Chesterton is brilliant even when he is wrong- and he’s usually right.  His essays are thought provoking and quite delightful to read.
The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins- A-A mystery set in Victorian Britain, concerned with the nefarious exploitation of two very different women by a selfish, scheming blackguard of a baronet who is hiding a devastating secret. Told by several different people, it is a story of mistaken identities, asylums, amnesia, and secrets on all different levels. The intricate plot is eventually resolved by a young artist, who makes incredible sacrifices in order to do the right thing. Complicated, serious, and unpredictable, the story ranks as one of my favorites in the classic mystery genre.
God In the Dock by C.S. Lewis-A-A collection of apologetic essays on theology and ethics that provides enlightening discussion on relevant controversies and covers all kinds of topics, from vivisection and women in the Church to Dualism and Natural Law. It is the intellectual approach to Christianity at its finest, made from every conceivable angle. Serious, but maintaining a light style throughout, it is a wonderful example of Lewis’ ability to put things simply and obviously, so that everyone can understand. The title is taken from one of the included essays, wherein Lewis aptly recognizes that in this day and age, the concept of God is on trial in the minds of the masses. And that is really what the book is about.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde- A-Set in 19th century England, tells the story of a handsome, naive young man who is seduced by a worldly ‘friend,’ and after making a bargain with the Devil, trading his soul for eternal youth, he plunges into a life of ultimate luxury, debauchery and excess of every kind, systematically going through every worldly pleasure imaginable, and ruining the character of everyone he comes in contact with. His friends grow old, and he remains young and beautiful and charming, but the real state of his soul is reflected in a once-beautiful portrait an old artist friend once made of him, a portrait that decays and morphs into a monster over time. When his wild life eventually leads to murder, his unfulfilled existence becomes a tortured nightmare, and he tries to destroy the portrait of his soul, and ends up killing himself. The story is haunting and powerful and the book’s wit and eloquence in portraying both sides of the argument is unmatched.
The Great Democracies by Sir Winston Churchill –B-Churchill focuses on political history, covering the period of time from George IV and the Reform Act, to World War I. Complicated, detailed and very informative, it provides a sense of time and place and a comprehensive picture of the events it illustrates. Crowded with names, titles, battles and dates, it is a little dryer and less interesting than the preceding volumes in the series, but I believe that is due less to the author’s skill or lack thereof, than to the simple fact that as we get further into more modern and recent history, and more embroiled in political complexities, history itself cannot help but lose some of the epic, glamorous, almost legendary qualities that attended it when the world stage it took place upon was significantly different than it is now, and when the story was simpler because there was less to know about it, since it happened so long ago.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – B – While I’d like to give this book an A for style, readability and layout, its unfair bias brings its score down to a B. Brown is so intent on telling the story from the perspective of the Indians that he often omits telling all of the story. I found this frustrating, and while I enjoyed the book and learned a lot of history which helped me form my own opinions about the U.S. Indian policy, I felt like the author was too concerned about my taking the side of the Indians, and that I would have to have another source if I wanted to get a clear picture of what really happened. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Indians were grossly mistreated and this is a blight on our history. However, I came away feeling I only heard one side of the issue.
Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin– B – Ruskin will always be a bit rambly, but Sesame and Lilies was much better than Ethics of the Dust.  I can’t recommend Ethics of the Dust. I can recommend this book. The lectures are for adults, and thus not as fanciful and childish as his lectures for the girl’s school. They deal with such varied topics as the noble position and responsibilities of women, the importance of purposeful and detail-oriented reading, the decline of real interest in the arts and the corruption of the industrial age as a result of greed. The second lecture, dealing with the position of women, was especially good.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis – B – The book highlights many important issues neglected by much of the church today – the temporal nature of life on earth, the holiness of God, and the lethally destructive properties of sin. My biggest issue with Thomas A’Kempis’ classic devotional work is the author’s depiction of negatives – such as grief, suffering, etc. – as being holy in their own right. A’Kempis suggests that with the world being as perverted as it is, grief is a holier thing than joy. Of course, this is not biblical at all. If we have a sin in our life, we are meant to grieve over it and turn away from it. Then we are meant to “rejoice in the LORD always. Again I will say it: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) A’Kempis was living in an age when the church was overwhelmingly aesthetic in its teachings, and had not yet learned to balance spiritual disciplines with a holy and proper enjoyment of God’s gifts.
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss – B – 19th-century first-person novel written in the form of journal entries by a young girl. This book is a little dated and the author was clearly influenced by Thomas A’Kempis. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It tells the story of a woman’s journey through adolescence and into adulthood, all the way up until her death, as she grows into maturity and draws closer to God.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – B – Novel that deals with the Russian aristocratic class during the Napoleonic wars. The book is about as long as Les Miserables, though it does not come close to capturing humanity and emotions in the way that Hugo’s work does. War and Peace is especially fun to read after finishing Marrin’s Napoleon, because it describes in fiction the historical events that Marrin writes about. 
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox – B – Novel about a Kentucky orphan who grows to manhood during the Civil War. In order to follow his conscience, he is forced to pick sides in the conflict and offend his benefactor. A little old-fashioned, but enjoyable.
How To Read a Poem by Burton Raffel – B – I hate to have to give this fabulous book a B, but while Raffel has detailed a remarkably interesting and in-depth study of poetry, the sexual themes and imagery in some of the poems he analyzes are not appropriate or healthy. I cannot recommend the book without this warning. Parents will want to read it first and edit.
Beacon Lights of History (Volume X) by John Lord B – John Lord died in 1894, so his text and style is necessarily a little dated. However, this antiquity is also the strong point of Beacon Lights of History – many of the events that Lord writes about were current events at the time! The author’s own take on some of issues comes through in his writing and this personalization makes the reading more memorable. While the other volumes I’ve read were biographical collections, Volume X deals with events -- notably with the Crimean War, the Italian Revolutions and reform deals in the British parliament. It overlaps with Churchill’s The Great Democracies on some issues involving Britain, but I think that Beacon Lights gives a clearer and better presentation of these topics. The readings are long and I wasn’t able to finish the entire volume.
Silas Marner by George Eliot – B – Story of a miserly and misunderstood old weaver living in a quaint British village. After his money is stolen, Silas Marner’s loneliness is interrupted by an abandoned child that is found on his doorstep. As he grows to love the little girl and to consider himself responsible for her, Marner finally begins to mature out of his selfishness. The story’s plot is something of a fairytale -- in the end, evil is punished, and good rewarded. Eliot attempts to tell us that nothing can escape the governing of God, and that everything will come together in the end.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence – B – This collection of Brother Lawrence’s letters is inspiring and encouraging, although the religious language of the day fails to do adequate justice to the mystery and glory of which he attempts to write.
Evaluating BooksWhat Would Thomas Jefferson Think? by Richard Maybury – B – While Maybury makes a lot of good points in this little volume, the main problem with it is expressed in the title: What Would Thomas Jefferson Think? Maybury bases his judgments about political policies on the opinions of Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, rather than on a belief system that is consistent with the Bible. It’s still an informative read.
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton – B – It would perhaps be fair to say that Glimpses of the Moon doesn’t get really good until the end. The novel is about a young couple who learns almost too late about the sacredness of marriage and the irrelevance of money in comparison. Although they are not portrayed graphically there are some mature themes, such as adultery, discussed in the book. We replaced The Great Gatsby with this novel because even though both books give the reader a better understanding of the decadent lifestyles and ideals of many people during the 1920's, Wharton's story has redeeming qualities, whereas Fitzgerald's does not.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe– B – It is rumored that Lincoln referred to Harriet Beecher Stowe as “the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin is long, but not a difficult read.  Stowe exaggerates to make her point. Nevertheless, this book awakened the American public to the evils of slavery in her day.
The Book Of The Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin –B -A community of farm animals, led by the cantankerous rooster Chanticleer, suddenly find their world threatened by a terrible new Evil, incarnated in the serpentine rooster Cockatrice, who, seducing a weak-minded neighboring rooster chief, has escaped from his confinement in the deep places of the earth and bred an army of basilisks to conquer the world. A fierce struggle ensues, followed by a victory made hollow when the farm animals realize that the defeated Cockatrice was only the forerunner of a far greater Evil. Character driven, with powerful, emotional writing and a focus on gripping (and sometimes revolting) imagery, nevertheless, I though it to be a confusing story with obscure allegorical elements, possibly capable of different interpretations. 
The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle-  B-Another thrilling Holmes episode - clever, unpredictable, and satisfying, though somewhat lacking in depth.
The Prisoner Of Zenda by Anthony Hope- B-Story of an idle young British chap traveling in Europe who gets himself caught up in a complex whirlwind of startling events, due to a chance physical resemblance that obliges him to impersonate the young King of the imaginary country of Ruritania. He rises out of his lackadaisical complacency to meet the challenge, and embarks on a desperate escapade to rescue the real King and free Ruritania and the beautiful Countess from the hands of his Majesty’s evil rival, Black Michael. In three tension laced weeks full of action, romance, court intrigue, and unexpected temptations, his life takes on new meaning while he manages to maintain his sacred honor and put things to rights, at the expense of his own happiness. Very short, plot-driven, and exciting, but not exceptional.
The Importance Of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde C-A Victorian play about two typical rich scoundrels and their typica,l boring love affairs, with no lack of careless, superficially clever dialogue, silly feminine affectations, and pacification of annoying relatives. With shallow characters, cheap and very unfunny humor, the whole thing is an infinitely pointless waste of wit. Coming from the author of Dorian Gray, it is a dreadful letdown, ino. (I'm Shannon : )
 Moby Dick by Herman Melville – C – Moby Dick is one of the few classics that added nothing to my life. The story, which is already slow-moving and not very interesting, is fraught with digressions giving inaccurate scientific accounts concerning whaling issues. The main theme of Moby Dick is the powerlessness of humanity before the will (or whims) of nature/fate/God. The author also spends some time attempting to equalize religions – he repeatedly expresses that the “cannibal” Queeqeg has as much or more of a real religion as the Christian Ishmael, and that neither belief system can be said to be superior to the other.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau – C – Honestly, I have to say I found Walden a bit overrated. The book is not really a nature writing – it struck me as more of a conglomerate collage of varied, unrelated and sometimes contradictory philosophical statements. Walden dwells at length on the importance of the simple life as a means of minimizing waste and helping others, but admits that he himself does nothing to help others. He says fishing is a wholesome pursuit and a means of connecting with nature, but that eating meat is a barbarous habit. Students may, however, wish to become familiar with the work for the reason that it is so widely known.  We have chosen to remove Walden from the curriculum as a nature reader, and instead, scheduled just one chapter -in order to at least become acquainted with this well-known work.
Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman) – A  -A must-read. Reveals the sinister nature of the visual entertainment culture and the demise of literacy and rational thought as a result of the pervading medium of television and television-based communications. We probably took more away from this book than from any other book this year, and would definitely rate this as one of the most indispensable books in Year 11.
Economics in One Lesson (Henry Hazlitt) – A -This a splendid introduction to classical economics and debunks eloquently and with common sense a slew of Keynesian myths and fallacies, providing the student with a more realistic picture of the economic scene than would be offered by most economic textbooks. Hazlitt’s book is based on Frederic Bastiat’s essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen” and written in the tradition of The Law. 
A Concise History of the 20th Century (Martin Gilbert) – A-  -The author covers deftly and skillfully an era of great trauma, great changes and great conflicts. Due to the fact that the book includes so much information and presents it so concisely, students should definitely narrate frequently and be encouraged to discuss what they’ve read in order to help them to retain the kaleidoscope of events set before them. His biases come through and we don't always agree with them, but overall, provides a solid, engaging narrative of history. (We will be using A Basic History of the United States by Clarence B. Carson for our other children.)

Ernie Pyle’s War (James Tobin) – A- Wonderful biography of an exceptionally tenacious combat journalist in World War II. The book includes samples of Pyle’s most enduring columns covering the war. While this work is a biography, its most enduring integral theme is that of the conflict itself and of the spirit of humanity under the pressure of overwhelming disaster. Pyle himself had a troubled personal life and the cloud of his failed marriage does hang over the book at times.
The Glimpses of the Moon, by Edith Wharton A-Set in the jazzy 1920’s high life of the upper class, the story of Nick and Susie Lansing and their matrimonial experiment highlights the emptiness of a glittering social world that is built out of compromises. The book is an emotional and satisfying read that not only raises questions about the true nature of love and commitment, but also provides sincere answers.
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque – A-Remarque takes the reader behind German lines during World War I in this compelling first-hand account of an average soldier’s life on the Western Front. The story is told from the perspective of the men, scarcely more than children, who went and fought without a real reason, without asking why.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynne Truss) – A   Truss’ delightful book serves as a refresher for issues of punctuation in writing. Students will appreciate this last look at sentence structure that is too much fun to be considered a “course” of any kind.
Hitler (Albert Marrin) – A  Marrin’s biography not only tells the personal, chilling life story of the infamous dictator but also giving a concise and simple account of WWII which serves as an excellent summary. The section about Hitler’s childhood, which is not covered by any of the other historical texts in the curriculum, is especially interesting and crucial to arriving at any kind of understanding of the man. The book is an easy read for any Year 11 student and can be finished in a few weeks.
The Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – A- Bryana says, “One of my favorite books from Year 11, the Lord of the Flies is a masterpiece of fiction, dealing memorably with issues of original sin and the warped condition of humanity. He exempts no one from the tragedy of human fallenness, bringing children and adults alike under its yoke. Golding writes with a command of language that stuns and his depictions of ugly things are heartbreaking rather than grotesque. Note that the book was not intended as some form of biblical allegory and should not be taken as such. Rather, it reflects certain truths about humankind in a loose but effective way.”
The Men Behind Hitler (Bernhard Schrieber)– A -A fascinating and chilling look at the culture of eugenics and racial cleansing that led to the Nuremberg laws and Nazism. Important book.
How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn) – A -A Novel about a Welsh boy growing up amidst hardship in a village caught between the old and the new worlds. Llewellyn’s writing soars with poetry and captures the exquisite beauties of a gone-by way of life. The book offers a wealth of insight into the human condition. There is some mature content and two questionable scenes. Parent’s may wish to preview.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters To His Children – A -An easy read, and highly recommended. This collection of Roosevelt’s letters to his children shows the man’s broad and varied fields of interest and how his great appreciation for knowledge and endless pursuit of wisdom caused him to be able to enjoy the world widely.  It provides fresh insight into Roosevelt’s character, and is a nice example of what a healthy relationship between father and child should look like.Compare his letters to Lord Chesterfield’s with your student.
Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe –A-Shannon writes, “This book makes a compelling case against Darwinian evolution on the molecular level. Behe explains why certain biochemical systems are too complex to have evolved gradually. Good for advanced students or those with a keen interest in the subject.”
Icons of Evolution by Wells-   A -If you choose not to use Darwin’s Black Box, Icons of Evolution is a good choice for discussing the issues behind the evolution debate and the false information in school texts that well-known evolutionists admit should not be there. The arguments against evolution in this book are not as simplistic as some creation books we have read. We also enjoyed the movie. Eye-opening.
Safely Home (Randy Alcorn) – A -Christian novel about a wealthy American businessman who reconnects with an old Chinese roommate and discovers another side to the American cultural conception of China. While the writing quality of this novel about the persecuted Church is not especially good, it’s fast-moving and an easy read and offers a glimpse of a world of which most Americans know little. Very helpful for students that haven’t had the opportunity to travel to a third world country.
Bleak House (Charles Dickens) – A  -I’ve heard this book called Dickens’ most mature work. I concur. Although the title’s grim tone suggests a desolate storyline, I found Bleak House to be one of Dickens’ cheerier stories. This isn’t to say that the tale is not fraught with unpleasantness and even tragedy, but the strong and sweet character of the protagonist puts the grotesque aspects of the narrative into perspective.
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) A  -One can imagine Ray Bradbury throwing his hands up and saying hopelessly and little pitifully, “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.” This novel is a sinister and poetic warning about may come to pass. Lovers of literature and liberty everywhere will appreciate it.
Modern Fascism (Gene Veith)A - With his usual brilliance and knack for cultural commentary, Veith examines aspects of the fascist theory that gave rise to Nazism and their alarming prevalence in western culture during the 21st century and throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
Reading Between The Lines (Gene Veith)A  -This is an excellent primer for Christians embarking on the adventure of exploring great literature. Veith illuminates the murky and confusing panorama of Western literary history in a concise and readable style. Chances are you’ll come away from this volume freshly inspired to read more and read better books.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn- B-An eye-opening account of life in a Soviet labor camp, this provides a glimpse into the narrow existence of men who have been mechanized and disconnected from their humanity. Includes strong language.
The Chosen (Chaim Potok) – B -Novel exploring Jewish-American culture during World War II, and examining the differences between the Hasidic sect and the Zionist movement. Informative and thought-provoking, but not indispensable. A student should not read this book without a general knowledge of Freud, and an understanding of his worldview, as Freud is a central theme. (Freud is discussed in Seven Men Who Rule The World From the Grave)
Sophie’s World (Jostein Gaarder) – B -Sophie’s World manages to offer a history of philosophy in the form of a readable and engaging novel. The version of history that it offers, however, (particularly in the second half of the book) is doubtful. Christian culture is cast in an unfavorable light and progressive clichés of enlightenment are interspersed throughout the story.  As it was originally written in Swedish, the language doesn't always flow well. I assume that much was lost in translation. It would be good to read this with The Consequence of Ideas by Sproul, Jr.
Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave (David Breese) – C -We are not huge fans of this book.  Breese’ writing style is heavy with clichés and Christianese depictions. Seven Men lacks the gracious and transcendent air of the other worldview books on the curriculum (Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, etc.) and the author leaves the reader with the impression that he is grasping at straws to convey preconceived notions that he is not willing to lay out for scrutiny.
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (Frederick Lewis Allen) – B, C? While I learned a lot from this very engaging and informative book, I recommend its removal from the curriculum due to the persistent progressive bias of the author. I felt that the whole book was tainted by his anti-Christian attitude and his subtle mockery of traditional values. I also felt the need to verify many of his claims through independent research before I could trust him. While a very discerning older reader could enjoy this book, I would still advise supplementing it with another text from a less antagonistic author.
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway -C -This short story of a Cuban fisherman’s struggle with a giant marlin is obscure at best and subject to different interpretations. The author entertains a few lightly-developed themes, including honor, endurance, and man’s ambiguous relationship to Nature, but ultimately leaves the reader with a pervading sense of the pointlessness of effort.
Eyewitness to Power (David Gergen) – C -An insider’s look at several presidential administrations including those of Nixon, Reagan and Clinton.  We weren’t big fans of this book as it concentrated mainly on the author’s personal experiences and his opinions about the administrations he served under, and didn’t give enough actual information. While adults who lived through the episodes that Gergen writes about may appreciate the book, students who don’t have that context will need to supplement the reading with research of their own. Gergen is also a moderate and he paints the world of politics as centering around public opinion and the “spin” that political figures put on their actions, rather than on ideas and principles. We removed it from the curriculum.
Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh) – C -Bryana says, “My low letter grade for this book does not fail to take into account the sheer poetry and flow of language which makes it an enjoyable read. There’s no doubt that Brideshead is charming. Overall, however, I didn’t feel like it offered a strong enough point to redeem all of its ugliness. This novel seeks to portray the crumbling of the British landowning aristocracy in the 1920s, and succeeds in making fun of both the older and the younger generations. This “fun,” however, is, for the most part, too grim to be laughable. Its many references to sexuality and alcoholism become redundant and are not used to a good purpose but drag the book into one long episode of pointlessness. While the last scene of the story involves the protagonist making a right decision, it isn’t put into enough context to really be meaningful. Year 11 already has several books with a similar story line. We felt this one was just too much and removed it from the curriculum.”
 Pigs in Heaven (Barbara Kingsolver)-Although there were several objectionable aspects of this novel about an abandoned Cherokee child and her adoptive family, I felt like the most destructive of these was the book’s central message: children from non-white cultures usually can’t be integrated into American adoptive families in a healthy way and must retain ties with their own people groups. While it’s true that cultural sensitivity and awareness is a must for families who want to be involved in international adoption, the notion that an orphaned or socially orphaned child’s best option is always that of adoption by his or her own ethnic group is a concept that has crippled international adoptions all over the world and continues to hold many children in conditions of extreme poverty and abuse. This book served in large part to reinforce that notion which I consider to be a very harmful one, and its storyline was mediocre at best.
Realms of Gold (Leland Ryken) – A -If classic literature intimidates you, especially in the high school years, we recommend this excellent book. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Dr Ryken explains why the classics are important to us today and counters common fallacies and misconceptions about them. He also points out the merits and dangers of myth and fantasy genres, then proceeds to walk the reader through some of the more important classic works and reveals their worth and many-layered themes. Some of the works discussed include:
Homer’s Odyssey, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dickens’ Great Expectations
How to Read the Bible as Literature ... and Get More Out of It by Leland Ryken-A- This is an excellent Bible study tool. Biblical misinterpretation can lead to a crisis of faith.  It is extremely important to understand the context and literary devices being used when reading from this great book. Mr Ryken reminds us that the Bible should not be treated as as a theological treatise. It is a mixture of genres, some literary, some expository. Story (narrative) is the primary genre. He believes this is because people like to experience the truth rather than being told it directly. The experience moves us in a deeper way. This is exactly why we are educating our children with living books--truth wrapped beautifully in story.