My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
I have recently discovered that the way to get some reading done is to live at the cottage – and make sure that there is no internet available. The lack of access to Netflix and other electronic distractions meant that all my down time was spent reading and I was able to knock off some reading that I had wanted to do for a while, as well as read a few works that were just sitting on the shelf whispering my name…
Another paperback edition at a local country general store’s used book bin for 25 cents! I enjoy nineteenth century novels (especially Jules Verne ones) – even lightweight adventures like this one. Corny, hard to believe, but a fun few hours of fantasy.
Memorable Quote: “When I at last began to resign myself to the fact that no further aid was to be expected from man, and knowing that I was utterly powerless to do anything for my own salvation, I kneeled with earnest fervor and asked assistance from Heaven. The remembrance of my innocent childhood, the memory of my mother, known only in my infancy, came welling forth from my heart. I had recourse to prayer. And little as I had a right to be remembered by Him whom I had forgotten in the hour of prosperity, and whom I so tardily invoked, I prayed earnestly and sincerely. This renewal of my youthful faith brought about a much greater amount of calm, and I was enabled to concentrate all my strength and intelligence on the terrible realities of my unprecedented situation.” (131)
I have read this book a number of times, and it was time for another read. You may not like this book, but it certainly helps one understand the ways in which some operate as rulers (or play board games!). It was controversial in its day for its seemingly amoral approach to politics, and no doubt it remains distasteful to some today. However, for those interested in how the way the world of politics often works (rather than should work) – sometimes coined realpolitik – this is a must read. There are many memorable quotes, and I found it hard to narrow it down to one. But here goes…
Memorable Quote: “So, as a prince is forced to know how to act like a beast, he must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenceless against traps and a fox is defenceless against wolves. Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.” (99)
I read this book about Rommel in my late teens, and loved it. It has been sitting on my shelf ever since – so long that the pages are falling out due to the binding drying out. However, as some may know, the author has been identified as antisemitic (read the excellent book Lying About Hitler by Richard Evans for more info on those claims). I was now interested in a re-reading of the book to see what I thought about it after those troubling revelations.
The narrative was still very compelling (there is no doubt he is a good writer), and Irving both praises and criticizes Rommel in ways that seem fitting. My issue now with the book is the lack of trust I have in the author. For instance, he has very interesting interjections in the narrative regarding discoveries of primary sources (the kind of stuff historians are fascinated with). Yet for me this was an experience of the need for trust in an author’s integrity – something lacking in this case. Sadly, that means every judgement call of Irving is in question.
Memorable Quote: “Victory in battle can boast of many fathers; but defeat is an orphan.” (64)
I am not a Grisham fan, but I could not resist another 25 cent soft cover at the local store. The value of this book was that it was not a work of fiction but of fact. It was the telling of the story of how an innocent man (Ron Williamson) was arrested and imprisoned over a crime he did not commit. It was a troubling account of how the police distorted and even suppressed evidence so that the case could be closed. Sadly, even though he was released after over a decade in prison, the physical and psychological damage was serious, and he died of cirrhosis of the liver shortly thereafter. This is a cautionary tale about never talking to police without a lawyer present.
Memorable Quote: “When you’re on trial for your life, hire either the best lawyer in town of the worst.” (305) [Grisham's point is that the best will get you off, and the worst will at least get you a re-trial.]
If you have read the works of Rudyard Kipling then you have read a similar genre. This is classic nineteenth-century British Empire adventure stuff, with all the traits –good, bad, and offensive – of that era’s literature. This story is interesting and worth reading, but I would not put it into the category of masterpiece.
Memorable Quote: “As those who read this history will probably long ago have gathered, I am, to be honest, a bit of a coward, and certainly in no way given to fighting, though, somehow, it has often been my lot to get into unpleasant positions, and to be obliged to shed man’s blood. But I have always hated it, and kept my own blood as undiminished in quantity as possible, sometimes by judicious use of my heels. At this moment, however, for the first time in my life, I felt my bosom burn with martial ardour. Warlike fragments from the Ingoldsby Legends, together with numbers of sanguinary verses from the Old Testament, sprang up in my brain like mushrooms in the dark; my blood, which hitherto had been half-frozen with horror, went beating through my veins, and there came upon me a savage desire to kill and spare not. I glanced round at the serried ranks of warriors behind us, and somehow, all in an instant, began to wonder if my face looked like theirs. There they stood, their heads craned forward over their shields, the hands twitching, the lips apart, the fierce features instinct with the hungry lust of battle, and in the eyes a look like the glare of a bloodhound when he sights his quarry.” (180-181)
Mahan is the Sun Tzu or Von Clausewitz of naval warfare. His extensive writings on naval strategy, tactics, and weaponry at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were read widely by leaders of all major nations with naval ambitions. His conclusions about the value of sea power for waging a successful conflict and/or projecting power are still relevant 100 years later. An important read for anyone interested in great power politics.
Memorable Quote: “Every war must be aggressive, or, to use the technical term, offensive, in military character; for unless you injure the enemy, if you confine yourself, as some of the grumblers of that day would have it, to simple defense against his efforts, obviously he has no inducement to yield your contention.” (229)
The Battle of the Somme (1916) was a nightmare. The five-month battle led to over a million casualties – Britain alone had over 57,000 casualties the first day (over 19,000 dead). This book reprints the personal accounts of a few soldiers who experienced the battle – a valuable eye-witness telling of the horrors of those horrible months.
While I was quite familiar with the battle through previous reading, I learned that there had been extensive footage taken of the battle to create propaganda films. This live footage was a relatively new phenomenon. For footage, see here.
Memorable Quote: “Away behind, a French farmer was cutting his grass with a long scythe, in steady, sweeping strokes. Only now and then did he stand to look over at the most frightful picture of battle ever seen until then by human eyes. I wondered, and wonder still, what thoughts were passing through that old brain to keep him at his work, quietly, steadily, on the edge of hell. For there, quite close and clear, was hell, of man’s making, produced by chemists and scientists, after centuries in search of knowledge. There were the fires of hate, produced out of the passions of humanity after the thousand years of Christendom and of progress in the arts of beauty. There was the devil-worship of our poor, damned human race, where the most civilized nations of the world wee on each side of the bonfires. It was worth watching by a human ant.” (40)