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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Monday
Jan112016

An excellent book on the Theology of Migration, Travel and Justice by Joerg Rieger

I received a copy of my friend Joerg Rieger's book 'Faith on the road: A short theology of justice and travel' (2015, IVP Academic) in the mail today.

I had the joy of reading it last year just a few weeks before the recent crises of migration in Africa, Asia and Europe hit the headlines. Rieger's understanding of what it means to be a just society - even a just planet, deeply shaped how I feel about migration, travel and pilgrimage.

I was so honoured to be asked to write one of the commendations for the back of the book. Here is what I wrote:

'Faith on the road' explores the complexity of faith, identity, economics and social justice through the lens of travel. This is a superbly written volume that approaches these complex issues in a thorough and helpful manner. It has changed how I think about travel, migration and faith. I highly recommend this book!

Brian D. McLaren said the following:

From his reflections on travel in the Scriptures to his experiences as a motorcyclist, Joerg Rieger invites us to see how travel changes more than our location: it can change our hearts and transform us from tourists to advocates for justice and peace.

Indeed, I do think this is one of the most helpful books on issues of migration and travel at present. If you are trying to work out what a just, ethical, stance to migration (and migrants) should be I am sure that reading this book will help you. If like me, you have the privilege (and the responsibility) to travel in your nation, continent, or across the world, then this book is important to read! There are important ethical issues around travel, the environment, borders and globalization to consider. Or, if you are interested in notions of pilgrimage as part of your faith or culture, then this book will also help you.

Hey, if you ride a motorcycle and have faith - then this book is for you! Joerg and I have had many great conversations about our shared joy of motorcycling (we both ride BMW GS bikes).

Here is the publisher's description for more information:

Millions of people travel every day, for what seem like millions of reasons. Some travel for pleasure, others travel for work and education, and many more travel to find a new job and a better life. In the United States, even those who don’t travel far still frequently find themselves on the move. What can we learn from these different forms of travel? And what can people of faith learn from the Christian and Jewish traditions that took shape on the road? From the exile from Eden to the wanderings of Jesus and his disciples, the story of Scripture is a dynamic narrative of ceaseless movement. Those who let themselves be inspired by this movement, and are willing to learn from others and from mistakes made in the process, are well positioned to make a difference in the world, not only at home but also around the globe. In this revised edition of the author's book Traveling, Joerg Rieger reflects on how Christian faith reorients the way we think about and make journeys in our lives.

You can get your copy of 'Faith on the road' from IVP here, and from Amazon (either in print or kindle edition) from the link below.

Once you have read it I would love to hear your thoughts or questions! Drop me a comment below or contact me via Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday
Dec222015

Recreational reading for 2015 – some of my favourite (fun) books

I am an avid reader – naturally I have to read for my work. When I say that I ‘have’ to read, I mean that I love to read. I read as much as I can, as often as I can. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge!

That being said, not everything that I read is of an academic nature. I particularly enjoy reading outside of my field of study in popular philosophy, science (especially neuroscience), economics, biography and fiction.

I own too many books. Megan is constantly trying to get me to take my books to my office at the University. Indeed, I do have three walls full of books in my office (my most used academic books are there). At home we have a few more book shelves with a far wider variety of subjects outside of theology. In recent years, however, since I received an iPad for work in April 2012 I have mostly bought my books in Kindle format. Amazingly I still have that same iPad and I have read hundreds of books on it. It took a little time to get used to the Kindle format (I still like paper, the feel and smell of it, its texture, and the ability to use a pencil to mark a page, underline a sentence or write a comment in the margin of a book). However, when I was traveling like crazy in 2012 and 2013 it was wonderful to have my library with me on a single device!

These days if I buy a very important book (like Charles Taylor’s A secular age or David Ford’s The modern theologians) I will get a copy on Kindle, and if my research funds allow it I will purchase a paper copy for my office to share with colleagues and students.

For books that are really just being read for fun, I may even get a copy on Audible. I don’t often drive my car to work (most days I commute on my Vespa), but when I am driving, or flying, somewhere it is great to have a book to listen to. I also listen when I cycle on my own. It is a great way to get two things done at once. The first every audiobook that I listened to was Umberto Ecko’s The name of the rose – after that I was hooked and have listened to many more.

So, here are a few books that I read or listened to in 2016 (this does not include the academic books that I have read this year – perhaps I will do a separate list on that at some point).

These books are not listed in any order other than my purchasing history on Amazon! My favorites for 2015 are Ben Lovejoy's 11/9 and Simon Winchester's three great books.

Dan Brown Inferno

Inferno

I love the way Dan Brown writes. In particular I love reading how he describes the places his characters visit since I have been to many of these places. This was a great thriller - not as entertaining as entertaining as The Davinci Code or Angels and Demons, but a great suspense novel for anyone who likes to solve puzzles and riddles with a bit of history thrown in for good measure.

Max Barry Lexicon

 

This was a wonderful piece of science fiction. It is well written, has lots of twists and turns, and is very well researched (particularly if one has an interest in language, language theory, philosophy of language and the neuroscience of communication).

Kevin Mitnick and Steve Wozniak Ghost in the wires: My adventures as the world's most wanted hacker

I don't think this book will appeal to everyone's tastes. I have read one or two of Wozniak's books in the past and sadly he doesn't write well. Mitnick is a very interesting 'proto-hacker'. I read a lot about him when he was first arrested in alt.2600 and elsewhere. I also read his The art of deception many years ago. He is an interesting fellow and the pursuits of his hacking career are interesting and filled with adventure.

Mark Owen No Hero and No Easy day

I am certain that these two books will not appeal to a wide audience. Mark Owen is a former Navy Seal who was part of the team that apprehended (and killed) Osama Bin Laden. Since I had some specialist training during my national service I am always interested to read about the training of others, and also find it fascinating to see to what extremes people will push their bodies and minds. Most interesting for me is gaining some insight into the ethical decision making processes that go into war and warfare. I find it fascinating to see the conflict of values, and how ethical dilemma's are engaged and resolved in such settings. These books are full of bravado and are certainly not literary masterpieces. However, they were insightful.

Neal Stephenson Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon

This is another exceptionally well researched and beautifully written action adventure. It spanned a few historical periods and geographical locations. I learnt quite a bit about cryptography (both contemporary and historically) and found the combination of espionage, mathematics and action so entertaining.

Clive Cussler The assassin

I am not a fan of westerns. I can't even remember how I came to read this book. I think it may have been recommended on Mac Break Weekly. It was interesting, but I don't think I will read any more in this series. If you like Westerns and period Americana this may appeal to you.

Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman and The man who loved China and The men who united the states.

The Professor and the madman

Simon Winchester is my favorite author at the moment. I suppose he can be related in some way to Bill Bryson's genre of historical biography. He writes beautifully. Every detail in his books is carefully researched and he uses impeccable English grammar to construct his narratives. Every time I read one of his books I feel emotionally and intellectually enriched. They are wonderful! The Professor and the Madman is about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. That was my favorite 'fun book' in 2015.

Neal Stephenson Seveneaves

Seveneves

This was my second favorite book for 2015. It is science fiction at its best. Stephenson has a wonderful knack for telling stories. He clearly spends a great deal of time researching his subject and write beautifully. This book taught me all about the engineering of space flight. What it would take to survive in space if the earth were doomed, and the concept of genetic zygosity. Fascinating!

Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451

This book is a classic of science fiction. It sketches a picture of a world that attempts to reshape history through the destruction of knowledge and books. I read this during the time of the #Rhodesmustfall movement where statues were being removed in South Africa. It made me think a great deal about the totalitarian tendency to want to revise and sanitize history (not allowing memory a just and ethical allotment of the truth upon which to be judged). This is a must read!

Ben Lovejoy 11/9

This is an excellent cyber thriller. I was riveted from the first page to the last! It is another one of those books that is so well researched that one learns as you are entertained. I discovered so many things about the aviation industry, flight security and anti-terrorist initiatives through this wonderful thriller. This book is particularly special since Ben Lovejoy is a friend of mine who lives in the UK! I highly recommend this book!

Dave Eggers The Circle

Amazon voted this one of the best books of 2015. I agree. It is a very contemporary story about the power and influence of global surveillance and social networking (capitalist) enterprises like facebook and google. It reminded me a lot of Fahrenheit 451 (except for our time). It is a warning about privacy and greed and egotism. This is well worth reading!

Nicholas Nassim Taleb Antifragile

Taleb is one of my favorite authors. He is super smart. His books are always deeply challenging and creative. It is little wonder that The black swan is already a classic. Antifragile is sure to achieve the same hallowed status. It is philosophically sound and deeply challenging, even inspiring. It asks and answer the basic question 'what is the opposite of being fragile?' It is not being robust (i.e., mere surviving) it is being antifragile - that is learning to thrive in chaos and uncertainty, not just to weather the storm. This has been such a helpful book for me this year as so many things are changing rapidly in South Africa. It helps to offer a bit of perspective in uncertain times.

So, these are some of the fun books that I read this year. What have you been reading? I'd love your feedback on your favorite books of 2015, or comments on any of the books above! Please leave me a comment in the comments section below.

Monday
Oct252010

Hipster Christianity and poking fun at ourselves - Church planting explained...

I am trawling through reams of emails that I couldn't read during the build up to the Lausanne Congress.  I still have such a lingering sense of gratitude and feel so blessed to have been part of this amazing event!  I'll post a reflection as soon as I have a few minutes to spare. It was straight into the office at 7am this morning for various meetings...

The Congress has left another lingering memory - I have a Indo-Chinese-African-American-European type flu... Don't feel too good today!  Hence this post.  I'm siting in a meeting with my iPad writing this quick post... If anybody asks you please tell them I'm taking notes ;-)

A friend sent me a link to this great YouTube video that pokes fun at how we plant Churches!  This 'friend' happens to have planted many wonderful Churches in his ministry, and has succesfully helped many others to do the same.  I thought it was wonderful that he could laugh about something that he is so passionate about!  So, please take this with a pinch of salt.  We need to plant Churches, they need to be effective, culturally relevant and attract people!  This is just a bit of fun.

How to plant a Church (a complete primer in just 3 minutes).

 

It kind of reminded me of this new book (that I am still intending to read) - Hipster Christianity (when Church and Cool collide) by Brett Mccracken.

I have read the hilarious book - 'Stuff Christians like' by Jon Acuff which seemed to have a little more of a critical edge to it.  I laughed, but I did so in secret (if you know what I mean).  So much of what I read in that book reflected a belief I hold, had held, or wished I had not held.  Indeed, it was a pretty entertaining book for a Christian like me who is moving beyond denying some of my naivete towards a more honest and open expression of my faith.

What is certain is that I love Jesus, I know that he loves the cosmos and every person in it, and I want to find ways of authentically bringing his love to bear on the world.

So, anyone want to join me in a Church plant?  Bring the cash, I'll lead worship!

 

Friday
Oct012010

The predictable irrationality of ethics - why we find it more difficult to steal money

I read Dan Ariely's fascinating book 'Predictably Irrational' last month.  It gave me a great deal of insight into how we make irrational decisions, but more importantly how we can understand (and perhaps even predict) such blunders.

In chapters 11 and 12 of the book Ariely deals with the matter of ethics and morals.  He shows through a series of experiments how we make unethical decisions because of the way in which our brains value different things of the same value...  Perhaps you should read that sentence again?

Simply stated, let's say a Coke costs US$1, what is more valuable to us, the Coke or a US$1 bill?  Well, he conducted an experiment where he placed 6 Cokes in some University dormitory fridges, and a plate of 6 US$1 bills in other fridges.  After 72 hours he returned to see which of the items (the money or the cokes) were stolen more easily.

It is not surprising that he discovered that in almost all the cases the Cokes were gone, but the plate of money was untouched in almost every case.  

In short this experiment (and a few others that he uses to verify his assumption) shows that people are less likely to 'steal money' than 'steal coke' - why?  Well, there seems to be a far greater social stigma attached to taking cash than there is to taking objects.

Here's another example.  Let's say you're at work and your wife phones you and tells you that your child needs a pencil for school.  Would you feel OK -> Not too bad -> Too guilty to take a pencil home for her? Most people answered that they would feel OK to take a pencil home.

Now, let's say that there are no pencils at work, but there is a shop downstairs that sells pencils for 60cents.  The company's pettycash box is in your possession and no one is checking.  How would you feel about taking 60cents from the pettycash box to buy a pencil for your daughter (the value of the pencil you would have taken from your company is 60cents)?  

Most people indicated that it would be much more difficult to steal the money than it would be to steal the pencil from their employer... 

Why?  Well, we have been socialized to think that money is 'worth more' than goods or time!  People go to jail for stealing money, but we seldom hear about people going to jail for 'stealing a pencil', or 'stealing time', or 'stealing private phone calls' from work...

I was fascinated by this (predictably) irrational element to my own ethical decision making.  What do you think?  Is Ariely's interpretation of his findings correct?  Is the value of goods and time the same as the value of money?  

Sunday
Sep192010

The matchbox that ate a forty ton truck - a.k.a Erwin Schrodinger will kill you like a cat in a box.

I love reading books that make the mysteries of 'the new science' accessible to a simpleton like me!  This book has just been added to my wishlist! Thanks BoingBoing for the heads up!  

Now, if only they had this book available for Kindle - by the way, you don't need to own a Kindle to buy and read Kindly books... Simply download the Kindle Application for your PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone. This is how I read most of my books these days.

 

Physics can seem a lot like a dirty trick. You spend most of junior high and high school being told that there are rules to this thing, that the Universe functions in predictable and rational ways. Apples always fall down from the tree onto Newton's head. Cars traveling at different speeds crash into each other with a force that you can sit down and calculate on a TI-86.

And then they pull the rug out from under you.

Suddenly, it's all photons, antimatter, and cats that are simultaneously alive and dead. Even the Universe itself might be just one of many, with every outcome that has ever been possible playing itself out somewhere. It's confusing. And into that gap in popular knowledge tumbles everybody who bought into What the Bleep Do We Know?

If you're lost, Marcus Chown can help. His book, The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck, explains how science got from the macro, everyday world of Newtonian Laws to the far-out, quantum reality we know today. More importantly, he makes the latter relevant, piecing together science history, sub-atomic particles, physical cosmology and everyday life. If you read one physics book after graduating from high school—hell, if you read one physics book while in high school—this should be it.  Read the rest.

If you're interested to have a look at a few my posts on quantum physics and related topics please see some of the posts here.

Tuesday
Jun012010

A new way of 'being community' - Ron Martoia's ttTribe Manifesto

I have been a fan of Ron Martoia's work for some time now.  I devoured his recent book 'The Bible as Improv' (on my iPad no less!) and found it to be one of the most accessible, and clearly reasoned books on forming a Biblical faith in a world of competing truths.  Ron's style is not to skirt around thorny issues, but to approach them head on, thoughtfully and meticulously deconstructing the facts from the fiction.  His work is well researched, extremely well written, but what sets it apart from other such excellent texts are his ideas!

Ron has a passion for authentic faith and an authentic expression and experience of being in community with Jesus Christ.  I find a great personal resonance in his passionate approach to knowing Christ and making him known.  When I read Ron's books, and the posts on his blog, I get an image of someone who is not willing to live with a lie, or a half truth, or a denial of the difficulty of being in relationship with God in Christ in real world situations!  There are far too many Christian authors and theologians who skim over the tough questions and real challenges for the sake of comfort; placing a higher value on appeasing the masses than on discovering and sharing expressions of truth.

Today Ron released his 'Transformational Trek Tribe Manifesto' - it is a challenging series of invitations for authentic Christian living.  As I read it my perceptions of the Christian faith and Christian living were challenged and reshaped.  It is only 12 pages long, but perhaps these are among the best 12 pages I've read this year.  There are some points that I am still digesting, considering, and praying through.  I guess that is the way it should be with challenging thoughts!  You may not agree with everything that Ron writes in the ttTribe Manifesto, but it will certainly challenge you to seek a deeper, more sincere, and more authentic faith life in Christ and the world.  I invite you to read it!

I will be making this required reading for my students!  Once you've read it I would love to hear your feedback and comments!

Wednesday
Feb102010

Ancient laws, contemporary controversies

My friend Prof Cheryl Anderson, who I first met at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in beautiful Evanston Illinois - right on the Northwestern University Campus, in 2005, has just published a fantastic book entitled 'Ancient laws, contemporary controversies:  The need for inclusive Biblical interpretation.' (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Cheryl is a Professor of Old Testament who has done some wonderful work on contextual hermeneutics.  Her approach to reading the Bible responsibly is well worth studying!

Cheryl, thanks for sending me a copy of the book!  It looks fantastic!  I can't wait to read it!  It will help me to gain a better understanding on how we treat the text with integrity when there are so many elements of it that we no longer accept as morally or theologically binding (e.g., slavery, incest, polygamy etc., are no longer deemed acceptable because of shifts in culture.  We can't simply dismiss them without having some clear reasoning for passing over these elements while holding on to others)!  Anyone who is serious about the Bible, as I am, should read this book!

Here's the link to the book if anyone reading this blog would like to buy a copy.

Here's a description of Cheryl's project:

The Ten Commandments condone slavery, and Deuteronomy 22 deems the rape of an unmarried woman to injure her father rather than the woman herself. While many Christians ignore most Old Testament laws as obsolete or irrelevant-with others picking and choosing among them in support of specific political and social agendas-it remains a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that the faith is contained in both the Old and the New Testament. If the law is ignored, an important aspect of the faith tradition is denied.

In Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies, Cheryl B. Anderson tackles this problem head on, attempting to answer the question whether the laws of the Old Testament are authoritative for Christians today. The issue is crucial: some Christians actually believe that the New Testament abolishes the law, or that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Wesley rejected the law. Acknowledging the deeply problematic nature of some Old Testament law (especially as it applies to women, the poor, and homosexuals), Anderson finds that contemporary controversies are the result of such groups now expressing their own realities and faith perspectives.

Anderson suggests that we approach biblical law in much the same way that we approach the U.S. Constitution. While the nation's founding fathers-all privileged white men-did not have the poor, women, or people of color in mind when they referred in its preamble to "We the people." Subsequently, the Constitution has evolved through amendment and interpretation to include those who were initially excluded. Although it is impossible to amend the biblical texts themselves, the way in which they are interpreted can-and should-change. With previous scholarship grounded in the Old Testament as well as critical, legal, and feminist theory, Anderson is uniquely qualified to apply insights from contemporary law to the interpretive history of biblical law, and to draw out their implications for issues of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. In so doing, she lays the groundwork for an inclusive mode of biblical interpretation.

Saturday
Oct202007

Theology and fun, what's worth reading at the moment?

I get asked every now and then to recommend one or two things that are worth reading... Here's what I'm busy with at the moment:

Serious theology:

1. Milbank, J. 1995. Theology and social theory: Beyond secular reason. Oxford. Blackwell Publishers. I am enjoying reading this - whilst it is quite dense, I have found Milbank's return to 'radical orthodoxy' and the 'post liberal' approach quite and eye opener. Oh, and my friend Sifiso is having to read this for his Masters coursework at Duke Divinity school, so I am reading with him

2. Rieger, J. 2001. God and the excluded: Visions and blindspots in contemporary theology. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. I love Joerg's approach to justice and mercy! His theology is well reasoned, very clearly argued, and it speaks to my conscience!

Reading to keep me 'grounded' in my context:

1. Denis, P. (ed) 2005. Never too small to remember: Memory work and resilience in times of AIDS. Pietermaritzburg. Cluster Publications. This truly is one of the most remark I have ever read. It gives an account of a project in KwaZulu Natal that helps children whose parents have died of AIDS to remember their parents, and create a positive history that will give them resilience as they grow up (some of them being HIV+ themselves). It is well written, challenging, and a truly Christian response of compassion.
For devotion:

1. Reuben, PJ & Shawchuck, N. 1983. A guide to prayer for all God's people. Nashville. Upper Room Publications. This is my standard devotional book - I also have the 'blue one' which is called A guide to prayer for all God's servants. It follows the common lectionary, has superbly written prayers, reflections, and of course gives sizeable chunks of Scripture to read.

2. AND OF COURSE, the shameless plug... Forster, D. 2007. A guide to prayer for use during examinations. Kempton Park. AcadSA Publishers. Yup, my little book... It's selling quite well on Amazon. But, just a reminder, if you're in South Africa, please order from me directly (it is both quicker and cheaper that way!).

Reading for Fun!

1. Pullman, P. His dark materials trilogy. This is like Harry Potter, but for grown ups... It is quite intriguing and scary stuff. I am reading it mainly because, well truth be told it is a good read, BUT, the first book has just been made into a movie called The Golden Compass. It is going to be huge! And, as usual, I know that there are going to be all sorts of questions and rants about it from more conservative quarters. I would just like to be informed before that happens.

2. van de Ruit, J. 2007. Spud the madness continues. Johannesburg. Penguin SA. This series has to be the funniest set of books that I have every read! They are SO uniquely South African!!! For anyone who has ever been in boarding school, in the army, or on 'veldschool', so much of this book will ring true and bring back wonderful memories!

So, that's about it. I am always reading two or three books at a time. I love reading - it often gets me through the late night or early morning when I can't sleep. Once again, one of the gifts of being an insomniac.... The days are longer so you can do, and learn, more!

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Thursday
Jun282007

Meetings, musings, and much less important things...

Today we ended the June General Committee meeting of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit. These are always incredibly stressful meetings since we have the responsibility of making some very tough and conflicted decisions about the lives of our student ministers.

Thank God the meetings are done, the Theological Society is finished (week before), now I look forward to hosting some visitors from Cambridge in the UK, Garret in Chicago (US), and a Colleague from Detroit! Visitors are always a wonderful blessing. They bring new insights, energy, and a great sense of connectedness with this great wide world, and God's great church all over the world.

Just to mention three books that I am currently reading that are SO worthwhile (each for different reasons).

Firstly, I would strongly encourage all of you who are seeking a fresh and novel approach to orthodox Christian Theology to read Brian Mclaren's 2004 book "A generous orthodoxy". This has truly been the most encouraging, and gently presented, approach to Christian truth and the cause of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that I have read in a long while. It is set to be my book of the year!

Secondly, I have been reading (for a book review in the Journal 'Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae') a centenary festschrift on Cardinal Yves Congar edited by Gabriel Flynn, entitled "Yves Congar: Theologian of the Church" (2005). It has reminded me again of the discipline of working for the reform and renewal of the Church from within its fellowship. Congar was a leading light in Vatican II, a contemporary of Bernard Longeran, Karl Rahner, and Courtney Murray. His ecclesiology has lead in large part to the Catholic church's renewed ecclesiology and role for an 'educated laity' in the formulation and renewal of the evangelisation of the world.

Lastly, I have been reading a book by my favourite author, Bill Bryson, entitled "The life and times of the thunderbolt kid" (2006). This has to be one of the funniest, and most poignant, books I have read in a very long time. I have laughed so hard that I have almost bust a stitch!

Oh, and for the gadget freaks, take a look at this GREAT video review of the iPhone that gets released tomorrow evening in the US!

It was put together by David Pogue, a Mac fanatic with a great sense of humour.