I find that it gets easier to read books than to post blog reviews of books. I am hopelessly behind on reviewing books I have received or purchased. The stacks of books to be read are always high and dangerous to by-standers. Now the stacks of books that have been read and need to be reviewed, discussed, and promoted are also growing. I will be giving some preliminary comments on these recent reads. Hopefully, I will get more in-depth commentary written in time.
Richard Weikart is a brave historian. He is a history professor at California State University in Stanislaus and is the author of several controversial books. I first became acquainted with him when I read From Darwin to Hitler. This book makes a lot of shocking connections between the worldview changes ushered in or promoted by Darwin and others of similar views and the rise of Nazism. Comparing people to Hitler has been so overdone that it ceases to be relevant. But the ideas that corrupted Germany in the 1930s did not just spring up out of nowhere. For certain, many Darwinists before, during, and after the time of Hitler opposed both him and his regime. But there were ideas held by the Nazis that were rooted in Darwinian assumptions. I look forward to Dr. Weikart’s upcoming book Hitler’s Religion.)
The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life is on a much broader scale than Weikart’s previous books. This book can be compared to Francis Schaeffer’s great How Should We Then Live? in that it covers lots of intellectual history and ideas. Weikart is much more detailed, however, than Schaeffer, and rightly so, since Modern European History is his specialty.
Abortion, euthanasia, and any other views that are destructive of life are all the flowering of philosophies and ideas that have been germinating for at least a century or two. We are all too prone to think that “things just happen.” What happens is that ideas make their way into print and discussions, and over time, a culture changes. As the tide of faith receded, and we experienced its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,” to use Matthew Arnold’s image, mankind began adopting a culture and ways of thinking that began reducing the value of life.
History majors in college and history teachers need to read this book. I would also recommend it to all who are students of philosophy, literature, and science. Theologians, pastors, and Christian leaders need to read it also. And, if you feel left out, put in a designation describing you in this sentence: “All _____________ need to read this book.”
I am sure that serious students might find some of Weikart’s treatment of particular thinkers inadequate. In a survey, that is always going to be the case. One who is an expert will find the book’s treatment of certain topics shallow, but I found the book overall to be very thorough and helpful for myself.
Somewhere Over There, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, is a beautiful and sad book. As noted in the subtitle, it contains the Letters, Diary, and Artwork of a World War I Corporal. The corporal was a young man from Iowa named Francis Webster. He exhibited everything pleasing and optimistic about a young American in the early years of the 20th century. The son of a Baptist preacher, he taught school, had a fiance, practiced art, and had a great future ahead of him. When the United States entered World War I, he joined the army and became part of the famed Rainbow Division.
Many books about World War I, whether histories, autobiographies, or novels, are very dark and depressing. Rightly so. That war was most horrible. Yet Webster seemed to have always been cheery. His letters home were filled with lots of details about life in the army, but with many exhortations for his family not to worry about him. Even when he was hospitalized after being gassed, he maintained his upbeat attitude.
In the latter part of the book, the dates on the letters were getting closer and closer to November 11, 1918 when the war ended. I confess that I kept wishing it would not end the way I knew it was going to. Corp. Webster died just one month before the war’s close. He died when he yielded his adequate cover in a trench to another soldier and then got hit with a piece of shrapnel.
Along with the letters, Webster drew depictions of camp life. His works were filled with humor and were used in newspapers of that time. Compared to other countries, the United States did not lose nearly as many men in that war. Yet, accounts like this reminds us of the quality of some of those who we did lose.
Herman Bavinck was a great Dutch theologian, pastor, and thinker. He is on the top shelf of Dutchmen who I admire. Often overshadowed by Abraham Kuyper, Bavinck was a great force in his own right and wasn’t just a Kuyper-clone. In our time, we have more and more access to Bavinck’s theology. Just a few years back, Ron Gleason wrote a useful biography titled Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Theologian, Statesman. In recent years, Bavinck’s massive 4 volume work, Reformed Dogmatics, was translated and published under the guidance of John Bolt. Dr. Bolt is one of the reigning experts on Bavinck, so he is in a prime position for contributing a volume to Theologians of the Christian Life series by Crossway books.
This volume is a good introduction to Bavinck’s thought in both theology proper and in broader worldview thinking and application. It is not a simplified approach to a weighty thinker, for it is a challenging read in and of itself. It does make me want to read more volumes in the Crossway Theologians series and to read more of Bavinck himself.
I am usually suspicious of books on the Middle East that are written for the general Christian public by popular Christian writers. I usually expect such books to be shallow and tilted toward apocalyptic end-times positions different my own. I have no doubts about the Bible, but plenty of doubts about modern accounts that attempt to explain the Bible in terms of news headlines.
Add to that, I tend to be very poorly schooled on events, history, culture, and developments in the Middle East. I confess to having a greater interest in Europe to the north west of the Middle East and to the United States, which is an ocean away.
My concerns aside, this book, The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East, is an outstanding introduction to the countries and conflicts in the Middle East. Some reviewers complained that it was too much like Wikipedia accounts of the countries, but that was exactly what I needed. This book truly made me realize how little I knew about the major and minor players in the ongoing conflicts. The book, which came out in 2009, is out-of-date in places. That would be the case if it came out yesterday, but it is 6 years old. I was surprised, however, at how much of what it contains is still relevant. At the same time, I would like to see Dr. Aikman update this fine study.
Part of what convinced me that the book had merit was reading about David Aikman himself. He does write more popular type histories and biographies that appeal to Christian audiences. He is a well-trained scholar.
After I finished The Mirage of Peace, rather than shelving it, I put it back on my reading stack. There is so much in it that I need to read again. This is a fine study.