Current Readings as the Summer Continues

Catching the big waves of big books.

The summer days press on.  The work schedule is irratic.  My reading habits are evidences of literary A.D.D.  I go from one book to the other.  And I am not complaining.

Here are some of the current summer reads:

This is August 2014, which of course, means that it is essential to be reading something about World War I.  That horrible conflict began in August of 1914, so you will be seeing references to it in many places.

My main read on World War I is Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by British historian Max Hastings.  This book is not easy reading due to the number of names and events that all crowded together in the summer of 1914 that resulted in all the European powers locking into a hopeless war.  It was an age that was woefully lacking in restraint and wisdom.  None of the belligerents had true justifications for mobilizing.  Few  people seemed to grasp how the war would be ultimately destructive of so much of European civilization.

I must admit that I am finding this book challenging.  Part of the problem is that I am reading from it late at night.  This is not an end-of-the-day read.  It is first rate history, just as we have come to expect from British historians.  But this book is a mountain.  Anyone interested in the same topic, the beginnings of World War I, would be better advised to read Babara Tuchman’s enduring Guns of August, which is also titled August 1914.

Here is what Hastings said of that book:  “My generation of students eagerly devoured Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 best-seller  August 1914.  It came as a shock, a few years later, to hear an academic historian dismiss her book as ‘hopelessly unscholarly.’  It remains nonethless a dazzling essay in narrative history, which retains the unbarassed affection of many admirers, including myself, in whom it contributed significantly to stimulating a passion for the past.”

Amen to all that.  So, Tuchman first and then Hastings.

Another book I am reading on World War I is the novel One Man’s Initiation: 1917 by the American author John Dos Passos.  Dos Passos was a companion to Ernest Hemingway and a part of the literary circles of the post-World War I period.  He is not nearly as well known or as well read as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.  This is, I am sad to admit, my first foray into reading Dos Passos.  This book, like Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, is a sad indictment and testimony to the horrors of the First World War.

I am also plugging away at reading Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn Moots.  If you have ever lain awake at night wondering what the differences were between John Calvin’s and Henry Bullinger’s ideas of covenant, this is the book for you.  It really is a good and serious study to the Reformation and Puritan backgrounds to the English and American political orders.  It is a good example of Christian scholarship.  Dr. Moots is an associate professor of political science and philosophy at Northwood University at Midland, Michigan.  I am reading this book for collateral insights into classes I will be teaching this next school year.  Those classes are Humanities: the Modern World, which focuses heavily on the Reformation, and government.

I have and treasure the Oxford University Press 21 volume edition of Charles Dickens’ works.  I have read all too few of Dickens’ books.  The book I will be teaching this fall is A Tale of Two Cities.  In many ways, according the Dickens scholars, that book is atypical of Dickens.  He normally did not stray outside of England and did not deal with historical events.   I am trying to slowly increase my knowledge of the man and his corpus of literary works.  You cannot seriously claim to understand an author until you have read a great portion of their writings.  In Dickens’ case, I think a person needs to have read 6 to 10 of his novels carefully before they can even listen in on a serious conversation about the man and his work.  I have a ways to go.

Right now, I am reading Hard Times.  I got motivated to read it after reading from an essay titled ” ‘Sitting Thoughtful in His Own Room’: Mr. Gradgrind as Belated Teacher” by Diana Senechal, which is found in the great book What is a Teacher?  Hard Times is vital reading for a teacher.  It poses, and in Dickens’ fashion overstates, the contrast between a world of facts and a world of imagination and soul.  Dickens is a hilarious writer at points.  His characters, just from the descriptions, are funny and sad, real and impossible.

There are more books to mention, but for now, these will have to do.

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