The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

 

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After the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other places in the Pacific area, Winston Churchill said that he went to sleep peacefully and joyfully because the United States was now in the war.  I am glad that he did not have The Darkest Year:  The American Home Front 1941-1942 by William K. Klingman to read at that time.  It would have given him nightmares.

Understand up front, this is a very enjoyable and informative book.  But as I was reading it, I kept wondering how America ever managed to get its act together and win World War II.  In my mind, the United States gets into the war and within a year is taking great strides toward winning it.  That, too, is true. But this book is a look behind the scenes, mostly away from the centers of power, and beyond the bullet points of the war’s progress in 1942.  America, being a big nation, had lots to do, lots of thinking to change, lots of fears–some legitimate, some ungrounded–with lots of unknown factors that we can now know.  How likely it was that Germans and Japanese would be bombing or invading the U. S. was a real concern at that time.

Mobilizing an entire nation to war is an incredible task.  No doubt many conservatives and libertarians are right on track in their concerns and even opposition to our wars from the past.  World War II necessitated bigger and bigger government action.  It also necessitated uniting people in their attitudes and commitment.  Metal and rubber drives were part of the efforts to get everyone involved.  Gas and food rationing put everyone into the war effort.

Some steps were regrettable.  Primarily, the internment of Japanese Americans was perhaps understandable at that time, but it was far from just or right.  Not surprising, German and Italian Americans were not treated the same.  But part of understanding history is trying to put yourself into the time and place where decisions are made and attitudes are formed. That does not free us from the judgment of history, but it humbles us because we are looking back after more than fifty years and not undergoing the same problems.

Along with the bigger issues of the book is its sheer volume of stories, news clips, and anecdotes.  After years of studying and teaching history, I am still astounded at how Klingman assembled and organized thousands of details of happenings across the country as people reacted to the war.  Sometimes, the paragraphs jump from topic to topic as the author grouped details under the happenings during the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of the recurring topics in the book was the transition of the American factories from producing mainly peace-time items to creating a war machine.  From cars to tanks, from passenger planes to bombers, the retooling and redirecting of the industrial might is powerful.  But it is surprising to see how much opposition there was to women taking on jobs in the factories.  What were people thinking?  If the men were in the military, who would “man” the machinery.  Even greater was the opposition to African-Americans to working in factories.  There are lots of features of everyday life from the earlier parts of the last century that I admire, but the prevailing racial attitudes were appalling.

One thing that surprised me was the control the government exercised over news from the war front.  I always assumed that the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo was headline news after it occurred, but it was suppressed.  So were other events, both good and bad.  There is the old question of protecting the military’s actions and the public’s right to know.  In some cases, information about even mundane things was silenced to keep it out of our enemy’s hands.  Such is wartime.

For those, like me, who have read a lot about the military campaigns of World War II will like and should read this book.  I like to think of myself as well informed on the 1940s in America, but I was continually realizing how little I knew of life in the States during those years when we were on a crash course to building the most powerful Arsenal of Democracy the world has ever seen.

I recently told my students that I still have a hard time realizing that World War II happened in color.  I have countless documentaries about the war, and most are in black and white.  Images capture our minds and brand certain periods of history.  Getting more and more of those images, terms, and bullet points are essential tools of learning.  But there is the need to read the more in-depth studies to see how much more there is to what was happening.

There are always the details and the big picture.  That’s why Churchill went to sleep peacefully on the night of December 7, 1941.  He could have speculated that there would be many growing pains, false starts, blunders, and insanities in the process from the under-armed, ill equipped, and naïve United States entering into World War II, but 1942, while a dark year for the United States, was the dawning of the Allied victories that would turn the course of the war and the world.

The Darkest Year: The American Home Front  1941-1942 by William K. Klingman was published in February 2019 by St. Martin’s Press.  Dr. Klingman has published numerous histories, including The First Century, The Year Without Summer, and specific histories of 1919, 1929, and 1941.

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“Old Presbyterians”

Old Presbyterians

The rusted creak of Presbyterian hinges,

stepping into a deserted church building, now cobwebbed;

once founded in 1829; wounded in the war–the first fruits blighted;

balcony emptied; widowed, orphaned, graying with age,

holding out against the heresy of time; now congregated no more–

passed on–scattered, forgotten, on a few hillsides.

but the ark, rotting and resting, still at this Ararat.

Here alone, I enter and step back a dozen decades–

feeling the cold November Sabbath chill,

the ache of the hard, lonely benches,

rough walls echoing the intoned doctrines

given and driven in stern commands–catechized, confessed,

amened and amened, then reinforced and sung in agonizing tones,

interspersed with dreary consolations.

Still able to hear that hard cry to heaven–

feeling the elder’s piercing stare, seeing the deacon’s disdaining nod–

the pain of a faith of now dead people.

Stepping back out, squinting at the light of sun,

thawing again in our age of warmth,

returning to our modern climb to Nothing:

A technological, well-analyzed soul–lacking everything.

 

From Dirt Roads and Confederates

 

Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction

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Here is the truth of the matter:  We are all new Christians.  It doesn’t matter if you were converted last Sunday or fifty plus years ago.  We are all arriving at the party (okay, let’s say fellowship meal) long after it began.  This means that we are going to be constantly surrounded by a discussion where we are lost as to the issues.  We miss the inside jokes.  We don’t understand the words and concepts being used.  We don’t know who the others are talking about.

Christianity has been running strong for over 2000 years.  (We could extend that time even longer and include the Old Testament saints.)  The most basic and important means of catching up is reading the Bible. But no one does or can read the Bible without help.  During all the years the Christian faith has been spreading, there have been teachers and preachers whose gifts and ministries from God has been helping people understand, see, and apply the Word of God to all areas of life.  As in any field, there are good and great examples.  Some people have been so dominant in the field of Bible study and theology that their names and influence continue to this day.

I know there are plenty of people who are simple folk and who are busy with jobs and families or maybe hindered from pursuing the Bible and theology in depth.  I am not judging nor condemning them.  But people who can read, people who master computers, video games, sports trivia, and other mind-centered fields of interest can also get grounded in the Bible and theology.  This is not being said in order to just fill in some intellectual niche in the life of educated people.  Instead, this is a great need in the Church.  It is a great need in the local church you are attending.

Most of us are part of churches or church traditions that are small creeks.  In so many ways, a creek can be a really fascinating place.  (I lament no longer owning land that had creeks running at both the front and back of the property.)  But if we never explore and find the river that the creek flows into, we are missing something.  And that river itself then leads to a bigger river and on then to the ocean.

 

Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction by Kenneth Richard Samples is an invitation to explore past the pleasant creek and see the flowing rivers and vast ocean of God’s Kingdom through history.  This book is published by Reasons to Believe, a Christian organization devoted to strengthening believers in doctrines, apologetics, and a world-view of Christian thought. Ken Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, along with being an adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University.  He has authored several books prior to Classic Christian Thinkers, including Without a Doubt and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

Classic Christian Thinkers covers nine Christian scholars:  Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis.  Of course, part of the fun of this book is raising questions like “Why did you leave out (fill in the blank)?” or “Why is (fill in the blank) included?” I admit to be a glutton for books with a group of theologians, pastors, preachers, or writers we should know.

This book keeps the focus narrow enough so that we can actually get some depth on the scholars in the line-up.  Samples has designed the book as a launching pad.  It is well and fine to read the book and be able to say, “Anselm…Yes, I have heard of him.”  But there is a need to dig deeper and read the nine men in this book.  Samples gives short biographical sketches of the men, followed by a description of key doctrinal positions or insights, distinctive ideas, and contributions to the Christian Church as a whole.  Lots of other details are presented, including a few main writings, a defining quote, a timeline, and resources for further study.

This book is the theological equivalent to the Fodor’s travel books.  In other words, this book is to be followed up with an actual journey after reading.

Sometimes, looking over the vast writings of an author is intimidating.  But many authors can become familiar by reading shorter works or short selections from works.  Augustine’s Confessions, which Samples and I both love, is not too long or too hard to read.  Luther’s Small Catechism, recently translated and published by Paul Rydecki, is short and very readable.  Wading into the wide river is not too hard to do, especially if you take advantage of guides like this book.

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One additional advantage of this book is that it forces us to stop thinking so provincially and so denominationally.  God has moved across a wide spectrum of beliefs and theological traditions across time.  We who are Protestants feel quite comfortable with Luther and Calvin, but they were both nurtured by the Church Fathers, which includes such men as Augustine and Anselm.  Thomas Aquinas may be one of the defining theologians in the Roman Catholic tradition, but many men, like R. C. Sproul, have gleaned richly from his writings.  Blaise Pascal is an interesting case study because he was French and, therefore, almost automatically Catholic, but he is connected to the Jansenists who were very thoroughly Augustinian.  As for C. S. Lewis, he is God’s gift to all believers.

I have often thought in recent years about the decision that John Piper made in his early theological studies to pick and master one theologian.  In terms of where I am, I think I must be content to be a dabbler in many theologians, historians, novelists, poets, and philosophers.  But books like this remind me that there is a need to get the basics and then follow the stream to where it leads to the rivers.

 

James V. Schall’s Books

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Below is a list of books that were written by Father James V. Schall.  This is the list that he sent me some time back.  His death last week (April 17, 2019) has saddened me.  Thankfully, his life and legacy have not ended.  I have read and collected quite a few, but not all, of his books.  My goal is to own them all and read them all.

BOOKS:

1) REDEEMING THE TIME. NEW YORK: SHEED & WARD 1968.

2) HUMAN DIGNITY AND HUMAN NUMBERS. STATEN ISLAND, N. Y.: ALBA HOUSE 1971.

3) PLAY ON: FROM GAMES TO CELEBRATIONS. PHILADELPHIA: FORTRESS  PRESS 1971.

4) FAR TOO EASILY PLEASED: A THEOLOGY OF PLAY, CONTEMPLATION, AND FESTIVITY. LOS ANGELES: BENZIGER/MACMILLAN 1976.

5) THE PRAISE OF ‘SONS OF BITCHES’: ON THE WORSHIP OF GOD BY FALLEN

MEN. SLOUGH, ENGLAND: ST. PAUL PUBLICATIONS 1978.

6) THE SIXTH PAUL. CANFIELD, Oh: ALBA BOOKS 1977.

7) WELCOME NUMBER 4,000.000,000. CANFIELD, Oh.: ALBA BOOKS 1977.

8) CHRISTIANITY AND LIFE. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1981.

9) LIBERATION THEOLOGY. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1982.

10) CHURCH, STATE, AND SOCIETY IN THE THOUGHT OF JOHN PAUL II.  CHICAGO: FRANCISCAN HERALD PRESS 1982.

11) THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF CHRISTIANITY. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1983.

12) THE POLITICS OF HEAVEN AND HELL: CHRISTIAN THEMES FROM CLASSICAL, MEDIEVAL, AND MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, LANHAM, MD.: UNIVERSITY PRESS OF AMERICA 1984.

13) UNEXPECTED MEDITATIONS LATE IN THE XXTH CENTURY. CHICAGO: FRANCISCAN HERALD PRESS 1985.

14) REASON, REVELATION, AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, BATON ROUGE: LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS

1987.

15) ANOTHER SORT OF LEARNING, SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1988.

16) RELIGION, WEALTH, AND POVERTY, VANCOUVER, B. C.: FRASER INSTITUTE 1990.

17) WHAT IS GOD LIKE? COLLEGEVILLE, Mn.: MICHAEL

GLAZER/LITURGICAL PRESS 1992.

18) IDYLLS AND RAMBLES: LIGHTER CHRISTIAN ESSAYS. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1994.

19) DOES CATHOLICISM STILL EXIST? STATEN ISLAND, N. Y.: ALBA HOUSE 1994.

20) AT THE LIMITS OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: FROM “BRILLIANT ERRORS”

TO THINGS OF UNCOMMON IMPORTANCE. WASHINGTON: THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS 1996.

21) JACQUES MARITAIN: THE PHILOSOPHER IN SOCIETY. LANHAM, Md.:  ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD 1998.

22) SCHALL ON CHESTERTON: TIMELY ESSAYS ON TIMELESS PARADOXES. WASHINGTON, D. C.: THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS 2000.

23) A STUDENTS’ GUIDE TO LIBERAL LEARNING. WILMINGTON, De.: ISI  BOOKS 2000.

24) REASON, REVELATION, AND HUMAN AFFAIRS: SELECTED WRITINGS OF JAMES V. SCHALL, EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY MARC GUERRA.

LANHAM, Md: LEXINGTON BOOKS 2001.

25) THE UNSERIOUSNESS OF HUMAN AFFAIRS: TEACHING, WRITING, PLAYING, BELIEVING, LECTURING, PHILOSOPHIZING, SINGING, DANCING. WILMINGTON, De.: ISI BOOKS 2002.

26) ROMAN CATHOLIC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY. LANHAM, Md.: LEXINGTON BOOKS 2004. (ITALIAN TRANSLATION: LA FILOSOFIA POLITICA DELLA CHIESA CATTOLICA. SIENA: CANTAGALLI 2011).

27) THE LIFE OF THE MIND. WILMINGTON, De: ISI BOOKS 2006.

28) SUM TOTAL OF HUMAN HAPPINESS. SOUTH BEND, In.: ST. AUGUSTINE’S PRESS 2006.

29) THE REGENSBURG LECTURE. SOUTH BEND, In.: ST. AUGUSTINE’S PRESS 2007.

30) THE ORDER OF THINGS. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2007.

31) MIND THAT IS CATHOLIC. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press 2008.

32) THE MODERN AGE. South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press 2011..

33) RATIONAL PLEASURES, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2013.

34) REMEMBERING BELLOC. South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press 2013.

35) ATHENS, JERUSALEM, AND ROME: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF JAMES V SCHAL, S. J. Edited by Marc Guerra. South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press 2013.

36) POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY & REVELATION: A CATHOLIC VIEW. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press 2013.

37) THE CLASSICAL MOMENT: ESSAYS IN KNOWLEDGE AND ITS PLEASURES, South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press 2014.

38) ON CHRISTIANS AND PROSPERITY, Grand Rapids, Mi., The Acton Institute 2015.

39) DOCILITY: ON TEACHING AND BEING TAUGHT. South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s  Press 2016.

40) A LINE THROUGH THE HUMAN HEART: ON SINNING AND BEING FORGIVEN.  Kettering, Oh.: Angelico Press 2016.

41) CATHOLICISM AND INTELLIGENCE. Steubenville, Oh.: Emmaus Road Publishing  2017.

42) THE SATISFIED CROCODILE: ESSAYS ON G. K. CHESTERTON The American  Chesterton Society (Charlotte, N. C.: ACS Books 2017.

43) THE UNIVESE WE THINK IN. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press  2018.

44) ON ISLAM: A CHRONOLOGICAL RECORD 2002-2018. San Francisco: Ignatius  Press 2018).

EDITED WITH INTRODUCTION:..

THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT MAN: JOHN PAUL II TO UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND FACULTIES. BOSTON: ST. PAUL EDITIONS, 1981.

SACRED IN ALL ITS FORMS: ESSAYS OF JOHN PAUL II, BOSTON: ST. PAUL EDITIONS, 1984.

PASTORALS ON WAR OF THE GERMAN AND FRENCH BISHOPS, OUT OF

JUSTICE, PEACE. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1984.

G. K. CHESTERTON, COLLECTED WORKS, VOL. IV, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD. SAN FRANCISCO: IGNATIUS PRESS 1986.

WITH JEROME J. HANUS, STUDIES IN RELIGION AND POLITICS. LANHAM, Md.: UNIVERSITY PRESS OF AMERICA 1986.

ON THE INTELLIGIBILITY OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: ESSAYS OF CHARLES N. R. MCCOY, EDITED BY JAMES V. SCHALL AND JOHN J. SCHREMS. WASHINGTON: THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS 1989.

WITH GEORGE CAREY, ESSAYS IN CHRISTIANITY AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.

LANHAM, MD.: UNIVERSITY PRESS OF AMERICA 1984.

The Lost Prince: A Search for Pat Conroy by Michael Meshaw

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I confess:  I am a literary romantic.  I really want to believe that great writers live in a paradise of books, good music, poetry, and fine conversations with other literary people, punctuated by long periods of sitting in a perfect setting writing words that will last forever.  Reading about literary greats punches gaping holes in that myth.  All the way back to my high school days, I read biographies of writers.  Some writers led incredibly dull lives that were tied mostly to them pecking away on typewriters or filling pages with ink.  Others lived lives that were more adventurous and harrowing than their books.  Hemingway was not a nice guy, although he might have been fun to go fishing with.  Faulkner would not have been easy to sit around with and talk about literature, but that would not have been impossible.  Robert Frost could be downright mean and devious.  All too many writers were drunkards.

Pat Conroy was a man with real literary gifts.  He could write prose that soared.  Maybe more than most writers, his fiction was autobiographical.  And then much of his autobiographical material was fictitious. He was outgoing, fun, generous, and loveable, but he was also morose, cruel, and mentally messed up.  I tend to view his books overall as being good, but not great literature. He could weave a fine story.  He could make a reader laugh, cry, and feel the stunning weight of beautiful language.

This past several months, I have occasion to read and write several times about Conroy.  I read and loved the book Our Prince of Scribes which was compiled by a number of friends and fellow writers who shared memories of Conroy.  More than any other writer I have read about, Conroy encouraged, promoted, and pushed other writers.  He really loved helping others.  More than most writers, he really loved his fans.  Rather than eschewing crowds, he was empowered by them.  He would sit and autograph books and listen to fans for hours.  That is the Conroy man that I love.

I also read his posthumous book A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life.  Many of the essays were wonderful.  This book is quite similar in approach to his book My Reading Life.  Anyone wanting to enjoy books by a writer about reading and writing will enjoy these.  I ran up and down our school hall shouting the day I realized that I had an autographed copy of My Reading Life.

The Lost Prince, published by Counterpoint, is by Michael Meshaw, who is also a writer and was a close, maybe even the best friend, of Conroy.  This book is a delightful story in many ways about the ups and downs of the writing life.  Both the Meshaws and the Conroys were living in Rome; both Mike and Pat (begging pardon for this informality) were working on novels; both found lots of similarities in their life experiences.  However, Conroy was writing best-selling books that were being turned into movies while Meshaw’s works were less successful.

As always, Conroy was supportive of his friend.  That sometimes meant Conroy would make use of contacts to help Meshaw or would lavish him with gifts.  All this is the positive side of the friendship.  These two guys really did have some heart-to-heart shared thoughts, experiences, and vision.  But Pat Conroy was a combustible figure.  Much of the book is about how Conroy’s marriage to Lenore (his second wife) bounced from battle to battle.  Sometimes, the battles were with Lenore’s ex-husband, while often the conflicts were between Conroy and his wife.

Life in Rome was followed by times when the Conroys would move to Atlanta, Georgia or to California, or to Fripp Island in South Carolina.  The Meshaws lived a similarly nomadic life.  It is, once supposes, the nature of writers to be vagabonds in many cases.  The friendship and comradeship would wax and wane for years, but after Conroy and Lenore divorced, the Meshaws were estranged from Pat.

This book is a sad reflection of a lost and never-ending painful separation.  Granted, this is only Mike’s side of the story, but it seems that Pat was down-right cruel, manipulative, vindictive, and evil toward ex-friends and ex-family members.  Added to that, Pat’s tendency toward alcoholism, toward suicidal thoughts, toward sadistic behavior compounded the problems.

In short, Pat Conroy didn’t mind living in fiction as well as writing it.  It hurts to realize that the wonderful man described by friends in Our Prince of Scribes was also the mean man described by Mike Meshaw.  This is a story of love and friendship, but, boy, it hurts.

Preaching is not always appreciated, but I will venture to preach a bit in closing.  Pat Conroy needed to experience God’s grace.  He had a horrific upbringing with an abusive father and a deceptive mother.  He was a flawed human being.  He could be brave and bold with a willingness to fight for right.  But he never found the peace in his heart to deal with his past or to acknowledge his own sins to others.  Since Michael Meshaw was not close by during Pat’s last days, perhaps there were reconciliations and repentances.  One can only hope.

The lives of writers often fall short of their fiction.  Perhaps the same can be said of those of us who are teachers, preachers, and people in other professions. It is the greatness of man interwoven with the flaws of man that keeps us searching and thinking.  Only Jesus of Nazareth was perfect in every way.  The rest of us, whether we are lost princes or lost serfs, are still lost and in need of something greater than mere human improvement.

The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy Sayers is, in my world, the lady who wrote the essay. I am referring to “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which Miss Sayers wrote in 1947 and delivered at Oxford University.  Like quite a few other people, I read it several decades later, and slowly, it began to change my whole approach to education.  That essay is the founding document in the classical Christian school movement in America.  It doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about education in general or classical education more specifically, but it said enough to spark thought, debate, and, more important, application.

That essay was just a sliver of the corpus of writing that Dorothy Sayers did in her lifetime (1893-1957).  Her main means of support was writing mysteries, and her main characters in her stories were Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  Lest one think that this was just pot-boiling writing to make a buck, take note that she was one of the founding members of the Detection Club.  She also served as president of that organization of mystery writers, being preceded by G. K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown stories, and succeeded by Agatha Christi.

She was also an incredibly gifted theological writer.  Her contemporaries were such fellows as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others among the famed Inklings. I am not sure she was ever able to hang out with the guys, but she could have more than held her own trading wit and wisdom with those writers of Christian thought and imagination.  Her theological books blend deep convictions about doctrine with a worldview that applies the faith to art and all of life.  Not as wittily quotable as Lewis, she was still quite bold, profound, and solid.

In her own personal life, she battled quite a few issues.  She got a degree from Oxford at a time when such a thing was unheard of for a woman.  Her personal life was full of struggles, both from her own bad choices and from other circumstances, but she persevered and made her own niche in English letters.

Plough Publishing House has produced a series of books with titles beginning with the words The Gospel in….  Authors whose works have been chosen for this series include Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George MacDonald, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dorothy L. Sayers. As the subtitle of The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers states, this book is made up of “Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays.”

This book is a marvelous way to either get acquainted with Dorothy Sayers or to renew and enrich that acquaintance.  Reading her books would involve taking quite a few mystery novels, a number of theologically-centered plays, several books of theology, some translations of classics (like The Song of Roland and Dante’s Divine Comedy), and reading her letters.  This is not to say that they are all here in this volume, but it is a great selection of bits and pieces of her mysteries, without any fatal spoilers, and portions of her other writings.

The book consists of twenty chapters, preceded by a biographical sketch and followed by short essay about Sayers by C. S. Lewis. The chapters are mostly named for her mystery novels, and then the selections begin with something from a novel, followed by non-fictional writings on the same topic.  Topics include conscience, sin and grace, covetousness, forgiveness, judgment, and more.

Let me confess something:  I have failed greatly in not reading or appreciating enough of Dorothy Sayers’ writings.  My response to the chapters of this book as I read it in the mornings (usually) is one of lament and regret over having ignored her.  As I said in the beginning, my Sayers’ experience has been centered on that one brilliant essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  This book is a marvelous means of literary repentance for me.

I love this whole series of books by Plough Publishing House.  I hope they do more books of this type.  So many writers have structured their books around Gospel themes.  Even unbelieving authors resort to sin and grace, forgiveness and redemption, fall and restoration in their stories.  Literature is a bulwark of Christian history and apologetics.

Books like this one, The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers, are great tools for students and teachers.  Forget that statement.  It sounds much too serious.  This book is great fun to read and is packed full of plenty that will nurture the soul and create an appetite for reading more of Dorothy Sayers.

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World War II in Books

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Finally, I am able to teach World War II without it being done in the waning days of school in the middle of May.  Of course, I will have to confine my teachings to a few weeks and readings to a few books, but it is great to be able to delve into that world event that has so dominated history and society since the 1930’s. This school year, I have confined my Modern World Humanities History class to the 20th Century.  We did begin with an overview of history, culture, religion, and society by reading a Christopher Dawson essay on Christianity through the centuries and then by reading and watching Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?  After that, we began with looking at the world in 1900, followed by World War I, the Russian Revolution, the world in the 1920’s, and events leading up to World War II.

For my own needs, I read Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson.  I made a major mistake in taking on this book.  I assumed that it was simply a history of Britain during the war.  It is that, but it is much more.  Simply put, this is an incredible account of the various countries that were outwardly conquered by the Third Reich, but that kept on resisting, fighting, and trying to undermine Hitler’s New World Order.

My favorite part of this book (and I liked it all) was the chapters devoted to the Netherlands.  Queen Wilhelmina ranks right up there with Winston Churchill as a leader who used words and actions to oppose the Nazis.  The war transformed this queen from being an isolated member of the Dutch royalty to being a true champion and leader of her people.  The Dutch people themselves paid a very high price during their German occupation.  The story that many of us know through Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one of the most terrifying and yet ennobling accounts of faith and courage through the war years.

Likewise, the story of the Polish people is incredible.  They were the first nation to be conquered when the war actually began.  Polish airmen, in significant numbers, fled to England.  At first the British were skeptical of the abilities of the Polish airmen, but soon the Brits recognized the skill, experience, and dedication of this group.  Polish soldiers and resisters also fought bravely.  The great tragedy was that Poland was “liberated” by the Soviet armies which then clamped down on them with their own tyrannical means.

The stories of the Norwegians, the French, Belgians, and others are also aptly told.  The many efforts of the British, especially during the darkest phases of the war, are not excluded either.  This is a book that revives the spirit in terms of reminding us of why people fought and sacrificed in that war.  Even after years of reading books on World War II, I was introduced to many people and events I was unfamiliar with.

At this point, I will make acquiring Lynne Olson’s books a priority.

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Next on my reading list is The Darkest Year by William K. Klingaman. Quite often we are more interested in the movement of armies and navies than the homefront, but it can be argued that World War II was won on the American homefront.  I would hear about parts of this from my parents and grandparents.  They talked of rationing and other life-changes that the war brought.  For my dad, the war quickly took him away from the homefront, but my mother and oldest sister lived those experiences.

I will be reporting back again on this book soon.

I recently acquired three of Antony Beevor’s books on World War II.  In past years, I read his books Stalingrad and The Battle for Berlin 1945 and thought them to be first rate histories.  I would not object to having all of his books.  He is, according to the official website, “The number one bestselling historian in Britain,” with books in thirty-three languages and with more than eight million copies sold.  His writing is quite compelling.

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I still have a deep fondness for several American historians on the War, including Cornelius Ryan.  His main books were The Longest Day (which was made into a movie), A Bridge Too Far (also made into a movie), and The Last Battle.  It was many years ago when I read his books, and I am still convinced of their worth as good reads.

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In more recent years, I consumed Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6 1944 and Citizen Soldiers.  I also wrote the student lessons that accompany Citizen Soldiers in the Omnibus VI book from the Veritas Press series.  Ambrose’s shorter book The Wild Blue: The Boys and Men who flew B-24s over Germany is also top notch.  That book gave me a whole new perspective and respect for the late Senator George McGovern, whose politics I disagreed with.

The Liberation Trilogy Boxed Set

Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy is also outstanding.  I read the first one–An Army at Dawn–in part because my dad served in North Africa, but sometime after Operation Torch, which was the American and British invasion.  The second volume, which covered the Sicily and Italian campaigns, was beyond belief.  If I had not already known the outcome of the war, I would have been assuming that the Germans defeated the United States and Britain, up until the last parts of that book.  The challenges the Allies faced there still astound me.  I liked the last volume as well, and once again, was made to feel in awe of the common soldiers in that war.

My friend Glenn Moots recently called my attention to the book The Flying Greek: An Immigrant Fighter Ace’s WWII Odyssey with the RAF, USAAF, and French Resistance.  It is an autobiographical account written by Colonel Steve N. Pisanos who died recently.  I am looking forward to this book.  An added bonus was discovering that the used copy I picked up had been signed by the author.

My raid this week on McKay’s Used Books in Chattanooga included picking up Max Hastings’s Overlord, yet another study of the June 6, 1944 landings in northern France.  I am a dedicated collector and reader of Max Hastings’s books.  While he has written on numerous military events, most recently Vietnam, quite a few of his books are on World War II.

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Time would fail me to talk again about Victor Davis Hanson’s outstanding book The Second World Wars, Niall Ferguson’s The World at War, the multi-volume edition of Winston Churchill’s history of the war, or of many others.

For those who are overwhelmed by the choices and lengths of the greater studies and accounts, I would heartily recommend World War II: A Very Short Introduction by Gerard L. Weinberg.  This is part of a series of books, small and compact, with the words “A Very Short Introduction” following the subject titles. They are published by Oxford University Press.  These books, written by scholars in the particular fields, are great for either introducing or reviewing the topics at hand.

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