Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS AND NEWS

Book Reviews

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Picador Modern Classics. 256 pages. Rep Mti edition 2017
***

The new film Silence, from director Martin Scorsese is based on this 1966 novel of historical fiction written by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Scorsese, who writes the Foreword, had wanted to make a film of this book for many years. In the Foreword he writes about the problem of Judas, a theme that will come up throughout this book.
The novel is primarily written in the form of a journal and also in the third person by its central character, Father Sabastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese missionary. Father Rodrigues and his companion Father Francisco Garrpe arrive in Japan in 1639; the Christian church is underground to avoid persecution. Rodrigues has travelled to Japan to investigate reports that his former teacher and mentor, Christovao Ferreira, has committed apostasy.  The priest had not been heard from since 1633 when he was last seen in Nagasaki.
Their contact in Japan is a drunken man named Kichijiro. He denies when asked if he is a Christian. He is the Judas character in this book. He will show up again and again in the story.  Just when you think you can trust him, he will disappoint you, and then he shows up again. Can he be trusted? Or, will he betray the priests and turn them into the Japanese authorities? The Judas theme is key to this book. Father Rodrigues will often refer to Jesus’ words to Judas, “What thou must, do quickly” (John 13:27).
Father Rodrigues will also compare his situation with that of Jesus. The magistrate, Inoue, who is responsible for the interrogation and torture of all captured Christians, is the Pilate character in the book.
The book includes themes of faith, doubt, silence (of God, the sea, land, night and people), solitude, pain, betrayal, strength, weakness and martyrdom. Does God even exist? He has been silent in the midst of the persecution of the Japanese Christians.
The subject of apostasy is another key to this story. The Japanese not only want the peasant Japanese Christians to deny their faith by trampling on an image of Jesus (referred to as a fumi-e), no, they want priests themselves to commit apostasy. If they don’t, the peasant Christians will be tortured to death.
The book is well-written and very descriptive. You can feel the heat, rain, and the insects that Father Rodrigues encounters in “the swamp”, as Japan is referred to in the book. Tension builds as Father Rodrigues encounters his former teacher Father Ferreira.
SPOILER ALERT!  *** Ferreira has indeed apostatized, taken on a Japanese name, taken on another’s wife and children, and is writing a book to refute the teachings of Christ. He tells Rodrigues that he was to get him to apostatize. He goes on to tell Rodrigues why he had apostatized. ***
We go on to read about what happens to Rodrigues. Will he apostatize? Will he ever hear the voice of God, or will he remain silent?
As I read this book I wondered if I would be able to keep from denying Christ if my wife was being tortured. I pray that I would.

Gospel Hope for Anxious Hearts: Trading Fear and Worry for the Peace of God by Charles Spurgeon. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 170 pages. 2016. 
****

This is the second book I’ve read from the new Rich Theology Made Accessible series, the first one being on prayer by John Calvin.  The book includes ten wonderful sermons by the great Reformed Baptist Charles Spurgeon, preached from the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London where he served for 38 years. Among the topics covered in these sermons that will encourage believers are care, anxiety, peace, fear and rest. My only suggestion for improvement would be an Introduction to the book, giving the reader some context to these wonderful sermons – when they were preached, why these particular sermons were chosen, etc. I highly recommend this wonderful collection of sermons by Spurgeon, which are great for devotional reading. Continue reading


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10 BOOKS LEADERS SHOULD READ

I enjoy reading leadership and personal development books to continue to grow as a leader. I have a number of favorite leadership and/or business authors. They include John Maxwell, Malcom Gladwell, Patrick Lencioni, Ken Blanchard, Marcus Buckingham, Jim Collins, Andy Stanley, Mark Miller and Dave Kraft.
It was hard to come up with just a few, but here are 10 books that I would recommend that leaders consider reading.  Just click on the links to read my reviews or highlighted passages:

  1. Five Dysfunctions-001The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

This is one of the most helpful books that I’ve read and I continually go back to it time and again, often recommending it to others. It is helpful in any setting in which you work with a team – business, church, non-profit, sports, etc. In this book Lencioni follows his usual practice of using a fictional account (fable) to make his points in an interesting manner, and then summarizing those points in the last section of the book.
Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings. This is an excellent book on team dynamics and teamwork. Being written as a fable allows the reader to get a vivid picture of how a team interacts and what it feels like to be part of a successful team. This is a quick read, the author’s model is simple and the book is full of practical advice which leaders can use in building good teams.

  1. The Advantage by Patrick LencioniThe Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

This book by Lencioni gathers his most important insights from his previous books into a single volume. His contention is that the most important, and untapped competitive advantage, is organizational health. He writes that a healthy organization (and that organization may be a business, government, non-profit or a church), is one that has eliminated politics and confusion from its environment. Without politics and confusion, the healthy organization will inevitably become smarter and tap into every bit of intelligence and talent that it has.
Lencioni states that there are four simple, but difficult steps or disciplines to organizational health. In addition to the four disciplines, Lencioni states that it is essential that a healthy organization get better at meetings. This book will help leaders of an organization that either needs to “get in shape” or “get in better shape” to gain or increase its competitive advantage. Lencioni provides not just concepts, but real life examples which are particularly helpful.

  1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwellmaxwell - 21 irrefutable

This “modern day classic” is a book that I often use in mentoring relationships. Broken into 21 relatively short chapters that are practical and full of illustrations, the book is excellent for mentoring discussions with those who want to grow their leadership skills in any area of life (business, church, etc.). Christians will particularly enjoy the many illustrations that Maxwell uses from his 25 years as a lead pastor.

  1. The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell5 levels

I saw Maxwell speak on the topic of the five levels of leadership at a learning industry conference several few years ago. He writes that it is the most popular topic he is asked to speak on, but until this book was published in 2011, the material was never been put into book form.
Maxwell goes into great detail as he discusses each Level. There are assessments included to help you determine which Level you are at and also assessments that your team can take so you can see what Level you are perceived to be at by team members. As he does with all of his books, Maxwell includes throughout the book quotes and stories from some of the most successful leaders of all time.

  1. Lead Like Jesus RevisitedLead Like Jesus Revisited by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges and Phyllis Hendry

In this revised and updated 10th anniversary edition of Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, Phyllis Hodges, President and CEO of the Lead Like Jesus ministry joins the original book’s authors.  They write that “Leading like Jesus is essentially a matter of the heart. It is also the highest thought of the head, it is the principal work of the hands, and it is both expressed through and replenished by the habits.” The authors teach to lead like Jesus whether you are leading at home, at church, or in an organization.
The authors tells us that Leading like Jesus is a transformational journey. They discuss the role of the Heart, Head and Hands in this alternative way of leading. They also discuss Habits, both Being and Doing. They state that the greatest barrier to leading like Jesus is Edging God Out of our lives (EGO).
This new edition features helpful “Pause and Reflect” sections throughout the book, a “Next Steps to Leading Like Jesus Checklist”, resource list and a Discussion Guide, which is useful for individual study, but it is designed primarily for use in a group setting after everyone in the group has read the book.

  1. Good to Great by Jim Collinsgood to great-001

This modern day business classic by the author of the best-seller Built to Last, was based on a comprehensive research study of 1,435 companies, whose performance was reviewed over the period of 1965-1995. Eleven companies met the criteria of being an average company that successfully moved to being a great company based on specific criteria.
In this book, Collins describes from the research study how companies transition from being average to great companies, and also how companies can fail to make the transition. Collins defines greatness according to a number of metrics, including specifically financial performance that exceeded the market average by several times better than the market average over a sustained period of time. He found the main factor for achieving the transition to be a narrow focusing of the company’s resources in their field of competence.
Collins links the findings of Good to Great to the conclusions he reached in his prior book Built to Last which focused on the factors that define companies that survive in the long-term. He considers Good to Great as the prequel to Built to Last, as Good to Great is what has to happen before a company becomes Built to Last.

  1. The Conviction to Lead by Albert MohlerThe Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler

This excellent book by Albert Mohler blends two of my passions – faith and leadership. Mohler begins the book by stating: My goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one more voice to the conversation. I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.
Mohler’s burden is: …to redefine Christian leadership so that it is inseparable from passionately held beliefs, and to motivate those who are deeply committed to truth to be ready for leadership. He wants to see a generation arise that is simultaneously leading with conviction and driven by the conviction to lead. The generation that accomplishes this will set the world on fire.
Mohler uses many examples from history (such as Winston Churchill), as well as his own leadership journey at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where he has been President for 23 years, to illustrate his points over the course of 25 short chapters. This is not a leadership book with a few scripture references thrown in, but has Mohler applying scripture to leadership. This is a book that I will refer to often and probably re-read on a regular basis. Highly recommended for all in leadership positions, inside and outside of the church.

  1. Start with Why by Simon SinekStart with Why

Sinek writes “There are leaders and there are those who lead. This book is about a naturally occurring pattern, a way of thinking, acting and communicating that gives some leaders the ability to inspire those around them. They are the ones that start with why.” The message of the book is clear, stated early and then reinforced throughout the book. Sinek believes that people don’t buy into what we or organizations do, but they buy into why we or organizations do it. He encourages us to focus on the why and put our focus on that. As in his other book, Leaders Eat Last, Sinek effectively discusses examples of those who do this well (Apple, Southwest Airlines, Martin Luther King, Harley Davidson, the Wright Brothers and others), and those who don’t (Wal-Mart, the railroads, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Barings Bank, TiVo and others).

  1. The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungymentor leader

Dungy writes that in his life and career he has seen all kinds of leaders, but the ones that had the greatest impact on his life are the select few that have been not only leaders, but also mentors. He indicates that much of what he has learned has been due to two men in particular – his father Wilbur and Chuck Noll, his head coach when he was a player and assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He indicates that mentor leaders have a direct, intentional, and positive impact on those they lead. At its core, mentoring is about building character into the lives of others, modeling and teaching attitudes and behaviors, and creating a constructive legacy to be passed along to future generations of leaders. He doesn’t think it is possible to be an accidental mentor.
Throughout the book, Dungy offers interesting illustrations from his time as a player and coach in the NFL, and he teaches the reader what it means to be a mentor leader. He ends each chapter with “Action Steps”, taking the most important learning points from the just completed chapter and putting them into action form for the reader.

  1. Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanleymaking vision stick

Stanley is pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, the largest church in the United States. Although I wouldn’t agree with him much on how he runs a church (as described in his book Deep and Wide), I have enjoyed his Leadership Podcast for several years. He has written several helpful leadership books that I’ve enjoyed (Visioneering, The Principle of the Path, Next Generation Leader and When Work and Family Collide).
He writes that this is not a book for those whose organizations have not developed their vision yet, but rather for those leaders who want to make their vision stick. He has described vision as a mental picture of what could be, fueled by a passion that it should be. He writes that one of the greatest challenges of leadership is making vision stick.
Stanley writes that it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that those within their organization understand and embrace the vision of the organization. However, when a leader blames their followers for not following, the leader has ceased to lead. The leader has to communicate things in a consistent and coherent manner.
He gives five steps to make your vision stick. This short book contains much helpful information about how to make vision stick.

These are 10 books that I suggest all leaders, particularly those who are Christians, read. What books would you add to the list?


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
alexander-hamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The Penguin Press. 818 pages. 2004
****

This detailed and well-written biography of an important figure in the founding of our country inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly successful (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) musical Hamilton.  I read the book to find out more about Alexander Hamilton and to better understand the musical, which I will be seeing soon.
Hamilton was born in the West Indies, the exact date not known, with the author using the year 1755. Hamilton was around slavery growing up, and the theme of slavery comes up throughout the book. As his parents were not married, he would forever be referred to as a bastard by his enemies, such as second President John Adams. Hamilton’s experienced difficulties early on with his father abandoning the family, his Mom dying of a sudden illness and the first cousin he and his half-brother would go to live with committing suicide.
Hamilton was self-taught, and his Christian faith was strong early in his life, waning in the middle years, and becoming strong again late in his life. He wrote poems, the first of which was published in a newspaper in 1771. This would lead to being given the opportunity to go to America for an education, eventually landing at Kings College (now Columbia University).
Hamilton excelled in his speeches and writing. One of the things that impressed me about Hamilton was his voluminous writing.  He would also excel in military service, becoming a Captain the Battle of New York. George Washington would ask him to join his staff as his secretary, with a rank of Lt. Colonel, serving more as what we would know as a Chief of Staff.  The author states that it is difficult to conceive of their careers apart from each other. They would have a mutual respect which grew even stronger late in Washington’s life.    The author takes us through the events leading to the development of our nation, beginning with the Boston Tea Party.
Hamilton would leave Washington’s staff, frustrated that since he was so valuable to Washington, the president had blocked several possible other opportunities for him.  He would become an attorney, as did Aaron Burr, whose grandfather was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. Several times the author will show how Hamilton’s and Burr’s lives intersect.
Hamilton would be instrumental in founding the Bank of New York, the oldest stock still being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and later a new Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the oldest continuously active paper.
Hamilton would marry Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, a Dutch Reformed Christian, and they would have eight children. By this time, Hamilton had drifted from the faith of his youth, and he would never have a church affiliation.
Women were attracted to Hamilton, and this would later lead to one of his major failures, a long-time affair with Mariah Reynolds, a married woman. This would lead to blackmail payments to her husband. Hamilton was suspected of financial collusion with Mariah Reynolds’ husband. James Monroe would later be involved in making the documents of Hamilton’s affair public, something Hamilton would never forgive him for, and would later lead to both threatening a duel.
The author shows Hamilton “warts and all”. He was against slavery, but may have owned a few household slaves. He made an ill-advised 6 ½ hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote a long pamphlet about his affair and another long one against Adam’s presidency. He also had a long time association with William Dewars, a man of questionable character.
I enjoyed reading about how our government was put together (Congress, Supreme Court, Electoral College, Bill of Rights, Coast Guard, our financial system, etc.), so long ago and yet relatively unchanged in 2017. The controversial Alien and Sedition Act brings the current day issue of immigration into the story. Hamilton wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, with help from Madison and a little from John Jay.
Hamilton would become Treasury Secretary and have conflict with Madison over the debt issue. He would also have ideological differences with Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State under President George Washington.
The French Revolution plays prominently in this story. We read of the Jay Treaty protest in New York City, where Hamilton’s temper got the best of him and he threated to resort to violence.
Washington chose not to serve a third term as president, leading to the first contested presidential election. Adams was elected, but felt that Hamilton was disloyal to him. Adams would take many low blows at Hamilton, and would become another of his political enemies.
Hamilton would speak out against Vice President Burr’s quest to become the Governor of New York in 1804, leading to murderous rage in Burr, which eventually led to their duel and Hamilton’s death. Ironically, the author states that without their political rivalry, the two lawyers could have been good friends.
This fascinating book contains a number of recurring themes such as slavery, Aaron Burr’s role in Hamilton’s life, Hamilton’s political relationships – positive (Washington) and negative (Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Clinton and Burr), his affair with Mariah Reynolds, his poor judgment regarding William Dewars and the faith of Hamilton and wife Eliza.
Reading this book really helped me to be able to follow and understand the excellent Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical Hamilton. Recently, the Hamilton Mixtape was released, executive produced by Hamilton creator/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and featuring performances of some of the songs from the musical by popular artists such as Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, John Legend, and the Roots. Both releases contain adult language, though a “clean” version of the Hamilton Mixtape is available. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

My Devotional Books for 2017

voices-from-the-pastVoices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. Edited by Richard Rushing. Banner of Truth. 428 pages. 2009
****

The author writes that over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the Puritans.  I was personally introduced to the Puritans about twenty years ago by my pastor through the wonderful Puritan reprints of Dr. Don Kistler and also via The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Richard Rushing has developed this book of daily readings extracted from some of his favorite Puritan authors (a second volume was recently published). His prayer is that these readings will stimulate the reader to explore further the writings of these spiritual giants.

Each of the short readings (approximately 350 words), begins with a Scripture verse. The author selected the verse according to the theme of the reading. While some of the devotions appear almost as written, others have been condensed by the author so that several pages form a single devotional reading. At the end of each reading is the Puritan author and a citation from where Richard Rushing pulled the reading.  I plan to use this wonderful resource as a part of my devotional reading for 2017.

60-days-of-happiness60 Days of Happiness: Discover God’s Promise of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 304 pages. 2017
****

Respected author Randy Alcorn states that our problem isn’t that we want to be happy. Rather, our problem is that we keep looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. He writes that this new book, drawn from selected portions of his acclaimed 2016 book Happiness, will take you to God, the primary source of happiness in the universe. The book then connects the secondary sources of happiness back to the God who created them and graciously gives them to us.

The author has reworked the material from Happiness to present it here in a fresh and different way. I have not yet read Happiness, which is nearly 500 pages in length, though have read his small God’s Promise of Happiness, which encouraged me to read this medium sized book. For this book, the author and editor have selected subjects that most lend themselves to personal growth and worshipful meditation on God and his Word, which will be an excellent way to start 2017. Each of the 60 daily readings begin with a scripture verse and an inspirational quote (Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), and end with a prayer. I am using the book for daily devotional reading, though it can certainly be read straight through as you would a regular book. Whether you have read the larger Happiness and would like to return to the subject in a devotional format, or whether you haven’t read Happiness but want to learn what God and his people have said about the subject of happiness throughout the centuries, I think you will enjoy and be blessed by this new book. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

A Peculiar Glory by John PiperA Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper. Crossway. 304 pages. 2016
****

This is Piper’s first major work since 2011’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. His objective is to answer the questions of how are we to know that the Scriptures are the word of God, how can we trust the Bible, and what do the Scriptures claim for themselves. Piper’s main passion has been toward the non-scholarly. He asks how the common (non-seminary trained, non-scholar) Christian has a well-grounded trust in Scripture. How can they know for certain that the Bible is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God?

He begins with his own biographical story about the Bible. He asks the reader ‘on what do you stand?’ He writes that God was holding onto him by making the view compelling. Piper didn’t just hold a view of Scripture, he was held by His glory through His Word. He tells us that he went from being a teacher of the Bible in Bible College to a preacher of the Bible for 33 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

He then looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves, and how we can know such claims are true. His concern is the Bible’s self-attestation, or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. He then looks at what books make up the Scriptures. From there he looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves through the Old Testament, Jesus and the Apostles. Piper writes that he believes in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts, though we do not have the original manuscripts at our disposal.

He then addresses the main questions that are listed above. He concludes the book with six chapters on how the Scriptures are confirmed by the peculiar glory of God.

Piper contends that God’s Glory and His Word are inseparable. He draws heavily from Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, the Apostle Paul (specifically 2 Corinthians 4:3-6) and Westminster Larger Catechism question 4 to address the questions the book poses. He argues that the Bible exposes us to the glory of God and in that way gives us complete confidence that it is, indeed, God’s own word.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
hillbilly-elegyHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Harper. 272 pages. 2016
****

The author admits at the start that it is a bit strange for a 31-year old who hasn’t really accomplished anything to be writing his memoir. But I respectfully beg to differ with him. He has accomplished something – a lot; J.D. Vance is a survivor.

He writes that he almost squandered all of the talents he had, until he was rescued, primarily by a few key members of his family. Admitting that he has a complicated relationship with his parents (his father gave him up for adoption, and his addict mother subjected him to living with man after man, many of them she would marry), he tells his and his people’s story of growing up in the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky and then later in the Rust Belt town of Middletown, Ohio.  Because of the instability of his mother, he was primarily raised by his beloved (and foul-mouthed) grandmother (Mamaw), who claimed to be a Christian, but despised organized religion and didn’t go to church, and her husband Papaw, the most important man in his life. He would teach J.D. that the measure of a man is how he treats the women in his life. Papaw voted for Reagan, but after that, only for Democrats. His sister Lindsay, who once looked after both of them when she was just out of high school, is very dear to him as well, along with his Aunt Wee.

Vance, a political conservative, and professing Christian, writes of his people – Scotch-Irish (Hillbillies, Rednecks or Hill People), and their migration from Kentucky to Middleton along the “Hillbilly Highway”.  Poverty would follow them from Kentucky to Ohio.

As he grew up Vance would see Middleton and the neighborhood he grew up in deteriorate. As industry left town, shops closed. Armco, which he states pretty much built the town, was purchased by Kawasaki Steel Corporation in 1987.

Vance’s story reads like someone who has been in the foster care system. He had no overall stability, bounced from living with his mother (and various men), to his grandparents, and even his biological father, who was by then a devout Christian. But he never did go into the foster care system, writing that he once lied to a judge to save his mom from imprisonment, which allowed him to continue to live with her and his grandparents.

J.D. grew up amongst much irrational behavior (drinking, drug use, violence, etc.). His Mom tried to commit suicide and once threatened to kill J.D. At one time, she demanded that he provide a urine sample for her so that she wouldn’t lose her job.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews
a-life-well-playedA Life Well Played: My Stories by Arnold Palmer. St. Martin’s Press. 272 pages. 2016
****

This was Arnold Palmer’s 13th book, and the sequel to his 1999 autobiography A Golfer’s Life. The book, which was published shortly after his death on September 25 at age 87, features 75 short stories on a wide range of topics under the headings of Golf, Life and Business.  As a bonus on the audiobook version of the book Arnie reads the beginning section of the book, be it in a very weak voice.

Arnie writes that the biggest influence in golf and life was his father, “Paps”. He taught him to be a sportsman along with good sportsmanship. He rode him hard and rarely complimented him.  His parents taught him manners and respect. Other major influences on him were his first wife Winnie, agent Mark McCormack, and the game of golf.

Of the 75 stories Palmer includes here, I had many favorites. Among them were:

  • His love of Latrobe Country Club (he considered Latrobe, PA to be home), Bay Hill, and Pebble Beach
  • His thoughts about Jack Nicklaus
  • Playing boldly, charging and going for broke
  • Arnie’s Army
  • His thoughts on civility, trust (sealing some of his most important business deals with just a handshake), and listening well
  • Signing autographs (and doing a good job of it too)
  • His love and devotion to first wife Winnie
  • His love of flying. He wrote that had he not made a career of playing golf, he would have most likely been an airline pilot
  • His heroes (his father, Bryon Nelson, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones)
  • His charity efforts, especially those related to children
  • His relationship to Ike (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
  • Golf course design. He still had plans to design the “ultimate course”
  • The Golf Channel, which he co-founded
  • The Arnold Palmer drink (iced tea and lemonade)

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