Reading Charles Dickens–Wall of Shame #4

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Charles Dickens crowds himself into an already full array of British authors whose works dominate the thoughts and language of every culture and clime that the British Literary Empire has reached.  Christmas season itself is incomplete if there is a not a reading or viewing of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  His name has become an adjective, even if it is an awkward one.  Certain stories, images of villages, and types of writing are described as Dickensian.

It is hard to believe that the man himself lived only 58 years.  Just looking at the incomplete works of Dickens published by the Oxford University Press is daunting.  Most aspiring novelists (and disgruntled bloggers) would love to have written just one book as good as the best known of Dickens’ works.  He pumped out lengthy books year after year and worked at an incredibly pace.

So far, I have said nothing new or particularly interesting about Dickens himself.  Yes, there are detractors.  Certainly, his vast array of odd, sundry, weird, lovable, hateful, and surprising characters is astounding, but it is hard to put his literary folks on the level of those of a Faulkner or Dostoevsky.  He was writing to sell and not writing to discover great truths.  He was, perhaps, a crowd pleaser.  And he was wordy.  Again, look at the Oxford collection.  His maxim seems to have been, “Never use 10 words to say something if 45 words will do.”

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I have often read of the well-read people who “read all of Dickens” when they were growing up.  I was not one of them.  I don’t think we had a Dickens book in our house.  (We subscribed to Readers’ Digest and The Texas Horseman magazines, and we had an unread copy of None Dare Call It Treason.)  I was aware of A Christmas Carol, but first read a Dickens’ book in ninth grade.  The book was A Tale of Two Cities, which I did not like until we got to the truly exciting conclusion.  If I had had any sense, I would have reread the book then and there, but instead, I waited for years before I began rereading and teaching that book.

Somewhere along the way, I read Oliver Twist and then moved on to Hard Times.  I also read A Christmas Carol on more than one occasion, along with a few other shorter selections of Dickens.  As is obvious, I am a lightweight in the area of Dickens.  I know enough to nod intelligently when the subject comes up, but I know that under the bright lights, with a good cop/bad cop interrogation, I would break rather quickly on the topic of Dickens.

I have managed to read a few things about him over the years.  I read a short biography which was useful, and I found the book God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author by Gary L. Colledge incredibly convincing.  I also picked up copies of such Dickens’ biographies as the ones by Michael Slater and Peter Ackroyd.  At a Friends of the Library Sales and other bargain hunts, I picked up copies of

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At Friends of the Library sales and other bargain hunts, I picked up copies of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool and The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London by Judith Flanders.


But having books by and about an author does not guarantee familiarity with the author.  A book owner can be just as uninformed as the guy next door with only a copy of the manual for his big screen television.

During the past year, I have been going through the painful process of revealing–step by step–my wall of shame.  This has reference to books that any person in my situation should have long since read and mastered.  The first book, Treasure Island, cost me lots of friendships, opportunities, and social events.  “I can’t believe that he had never read that book until now,” I would overheard people saying in the store as I passed by.  The second, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad,  did not have as bad an effect.  Some who read it confessed to not liking it.  The third, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is still a work in progress and will be continued in 2017, but who knows when or if it will be finished.

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Now, I can reveal that I have read yet another book that should have been read at least 20 years ago and maybe even 40 years ago:

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It is easy to make jokes about this:  “Did you have great expectations about this book?”  The answer is, “Yes.”  I must confess, once again, that for a couple of hundred pages in the middle, I was asking myself, “Why this book is so highly esteemed by such people as Dr. Leland Ryken?”  But the rule for a classic is to stay quiet and keep reading.  I benefited from an on-line source that cleared up a few things along the way that left me confused.

Several key points:

  1.  Dickens is not Hemingway.  Slow down, read aloud, listen to the descriptions, and enjoy the process.
  2. Dickens will weave in a number of characters who may or may not play major roles in the plot.  Sometimes, they don’t go by actual names, but are called such things as “the Aged” or “the Avenger.”
  3.  Dickens enjoys using sublte and dry humor.  Sometimes, it is so subtle and dry that it can be missed.
  4.  Dickens uses odd, unlikely people and scenarios and is not adverse to throwing a ghost in here and there.
  5. Dickens really likes using coincidences.  Some of the connections he creates are not believeable or likely, but he knew that he was writing fiction and that he was writing to entertain.  Brutal, realistic writing comes a century later.
  6. Dickens really does incorporate Christian elements.  He was not overly fond of the church of his day, but he does adhere to Christian thought in his writings.
  7. Dickens is a master of pulling together all the various parts of his book into a grand conclusion.  He surprises and delights.  The pain is worth the pleasure that follows as he brings the story together.  He is a master storyteller.

I hope to erase a few more shameful pages from my life by reading another Dickens novel or two over the next year.  Until then, I will soon begin the next Wall of Shame reading venture.

If there happens to be anyone out there anywhere who has not read Great Expectations–and I doubt any such person exists–you are in for a treat.

What Kids Should Read! Warning!

Recently John Barach, pastor and scholar and home schooling parent in Louisiana, asked this question to his Facebook friends:                           Give me a list of the top ten (or so) books you *wish* you’d read in your school years … or you wish your kids would read before they graduate. Fiction and especially non-fiction, please. And if there are ages or grades you think are best for these books to be read, I’d be glad if you’d add them.

I have tried to assemble all the suggested titles and will give them here with no comment from me, but I have included some of the contributors’ comments.

Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm,  Brave New World, 1984, That Hideous Strength.  This contributor noted that these books kept him from being drawn toward totalitarianism.  And A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (15+).

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs by Joel Salatin.  This contributor says, “This book wasn’t out when I was a kid, but I have a feeling that it will have an impact on my life nonetheless. It is like Schaffer in muck-boots.  What Salatin lacks in strict, reformed orthodoxy he makes up for in hope-filled obedience.”
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Watership Down
Count of Mt Cristo
Canterbury Tales  (At least one contributor regreted reading this, and that led to a side discussion about why we read books.)
Works of Voltaire and Victor Hugo
David Howarth’s histories such as 1066 and Voyage of the Armada
Malcolm Gladwell’s books, such as Outliers and David and Goliath (ages 14-15)
John Paul Sartre-No Exit-high school. The contributor said that Sartre convinced her that God existed.
Augustine’s Confessions and an abridged City of God.
Dorothy Sayers’ Murder must Advertise-fasinating insights into reality.
Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon: great framework for understanding men and women, and issues of sexual sin.
T homas Sowell Basic Economics and Applied Economics, and also his Culture series.
McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy
Will and Ariel Durant’s  histories.
Nourishing Traditions ( highschool).
Taking Charge of Your Fertility – a fabulous look at how and why and when a woman’s body does what it does.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The contributor says that the author comes at it from a fairly liberal perspective, but her experiences and knowledge about how we get our food and the importance of supporting local food sources is fascinating. High school.
Robert Alter Art of Biblical Poetry and Art of Biblical Narrative.  The contributor writes, “These are all books I’d like my daughter to have read by the time she has graduated high school.”
V Philips Long, Art of Biblical History.
John Buchan’s books
Baroness Orczy’s works
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini! (All I would recommend for 12-plus.)
Anything by Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. At least the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.
Confessions by Augustine, Free Will by Rousseau, Penses by Pascal, and by Virginia Woolf 
Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin,
Bounty Trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
Chosen by Chaim Potok
Children of the Promise by Randy Booth
Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard
Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
Praying Life by Paul Miller
Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
I Loved a Girl by Walter Trobisch.
Some odd duck by the name of Ben House said, “Here are the more popular books I assign during the Humanities and related classes: 

Beowulf, Song of Roland, The Fairie Queene, Paradise Lost, A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables, The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Unvanquished, The Great Gatsby, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Hie to the Hunters. I have a few other favorites that are hard sells to the kids, such as The Deerslayer by James F. Cooper. I love Paul Johnson’s History of the American People and Ernle Bradford’s books such as The Great Siege (kids love it), Hannibal, and Thermopylae. He adds, “My guv’mint students usually enjoy Ayn Rand’s short work Anthem. I like using Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? with both the book and film series.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake, which the contributor says is a “way to frame the rest of my scientific education.”

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home by Rupert Sheldrake
Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities
Isaac Watts’ Logic
Lord of the Rings (to be read every year from 6th grade on)
One contributor added these books “because music is such an important part of my child’s education”:
Understanding Music; Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung; Death Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde
The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifgovic
God’s Battalions and How the West Won by Rodney Stark (also perhaps others by him, very engaging).
Bill Bryson’s books. The writer says, “They have me snorting with laughter in airports and other places I’ve been reading them, but on a more serious note, they helped to increase my desire to travel and see other places….
Another wrote of the impact of reading Zane Grey’s books. “And we did travel to many of the places he mentioned in his books, and developed a love of the red rocks, deserts, canyons … and took you kids to many of those locations.
Henry Hazlit: Economics in 1 Lesson. Should be in every Sr. Year Curriculum.
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Should be required reading by Grade 10 at least.
It is good, and reminds me of another book my kids need to read around age 17…a book that recommends S&W: On Writing by Stephen King.
Nancy Pearsey’s Finding Truth, not so much to teach new ideas, but give a strategy to organize thoughts to reach people with the truth.
One contributor wrote, “I think it is important to read Dickens before you turn 18. I’ve found that the people who don’t like him read him in college or later when they have “more sophisticated” ideas of literature. Tale of Two Cities is fine, but Hard Times, Bleak House, and OLiver Twist were formative.

John Barach responded, “I’m a big fan of The Pickwick Papers.  Oliver Twist wasn’t my favorite. Somewhere I remember reading C. S. Lewis saying that he had recently (re?)read Oliver Twist and didn’t think he would do so again.

The same contributor who spoke of Dickens also said, “As for things I wish I read (or could’ve read) earlier: Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Circus Days and Nights by Robert Lax, and for 11th/12th: David Dark’s Everyday Apocalypse. Annie Dillard, and Figures of Speech by Arthur Quinn.

On Food and Cooking (McGee), Home Comforts (Mendelson)

Prodigal God by Tim Keller and Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
Island of the World by O’Brien….very heavy, so likely not til 12th gr,
The Aubrey/Maturin series  by Patrick O’Brian, also not until 11/12th.

Madeleine L’Engle’s series starting with A Wrinkle in Time

Ideas Have Consequences-Richard Weaver

Til We Have Faces-Lewis
Jayber Crow– Wendell Berry
City of God-Augustine
The Quest for Community-Robert Nisbet
Knowing God-J.I. Packer
One contributor said, “I read a bunch of Stephen King in Middle & High School. Though I can’t recommend all of it due to some of its sexual raunchiness, there are few writers I’ve found who match King’s ability to evoke childhood horror. It wasn’t out when I was in High-school but Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes close yet holds hope close to the reader & an powerful but silent appreciation for society, culture, & tradition. I’d recommend this for Junior or Seniors. I think this would be a great read in concert with teaching on Original Sin.
John Locke’s Second Treatise in Government (for high school)
The Federalist Papers
Writings of the Anti-Federalists (should be read along with the Federalists)
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (high school)
Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman.
A Disquisition on Government by John C. Calhoun.
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture by Christopher Dawson.
How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol.
Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Has good chapters on listening and on self-management.

Bruchko – adventurous missionary story.

How To Speed Read (The contributor said, “I’ve forgotten the title, but the book was very influential for me.”)

Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Aeschylus, The Oresteia: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides
Dante, Divine Comedy
Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot
Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest
Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
George Mackay Brown, Magnus
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture
John Donne, Complete Poems
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
John Milton, Paradise Lost
John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
Erwin Panofsky, Meaning In the Visual Arts
Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History
Tacitus, The Annals of imperial Rome
Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis
Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
John P. White, The Birth and Rebirth of Pictorial Space
Larzer Ziff, Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America
A list of genre books for precocious readers between the ages of 10 and 20:
Brian Aldiss, Frankenstein Unbound; Hothouse; Cryptozoic!
J.G. Ballard, The Crystal World
Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination, The Demolished Man; Golem100
James Blish, Cities in Flight; A Case of Conscience; Black Easter; The Day After Judgement
Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun; The Illustrated Man; The Martian Chronicles; A Medicine for Melancholy; Fahrenheit 451; R is for Rocket; Dandelion Wine
Ernest Bramah, Kai Lung’s Golden Hours
John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar; The Squares of the City; The Jagged Orbit; The Shockwave Rider; The Sheep Look Up
Algis Budrys, Who?; Michaelmas; Rogue Moon
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes; A Princess of Mars
James Branch Cabell, Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice
Karel Čapek, War with the Newts
Robert W. Chambers, The King In Yellow
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep; The Lady in the Lake; Farewell, My Lovely; Killer in the Rain; The Long Goodbye
Avram Davidson, The Phoenix and the Mirror
Samuel R. Delany, Nova; Babel 17; The Ballad of Beta-2; The Einstein Intersection
Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion; A Maze of Death; Radio Free Albemuth; Martian Time-slip; VALIS; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch; The Transmigration of Timothy Archer; Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said; We Can Build You; Ubik; Now Wait for Last Year; The Man in the High Castle
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Lord Dunsany, At the Edge of the World
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest; The Thin Man; The Maltese Falcon; The Dain Curse; The Glass Key
Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit-Will Travel; Time For The Stars; The Star Beast; The Door into Summer; Double Star; Red Planet; Starman Jones; Citizen of the Galaxy
Frank Herbert, Dune
William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland
Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood
Robert E. Howard, Solomon Kane
Elmer Kelton, The Good Old Boys; The Time It Never Rained; Massacre at Goliad; Llano River
Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time; A Swiftly Tilting Planet; A Wind in the Door
R.A. Lafferty, 900 Grandmothers; Reefs of Earth; Past Master; Ringing Changes;
Through Elegant Eyes: Stories of Austro and Men Who Know Everything; Golden Gate and Other Stories; Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?; Strange Doings; Iron Tears
John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; The Honourable Schoolboy; Smiley’s People
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea; The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore; The Lathe Of Heaven
Elmore Leonard, Hombre; Valdez Is Coming; The Law at Randado
Ross Macdonald, The Underground Man; The Barbarous Coast; The Galton Case; The Goodbye Look; The Zebra-Striped Hearse; The Ivory Grin; The Way Some People Die; The Far Side of the Dollar; Blue Hammer; Black Money
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man
Walter. M. Miller, A Canticle For Leibowitz
Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melniboné; The Sailor on the Seas of Fate; The Weird of the White Wolf; The Sleeping Sorceress; The Bane of the Black Sword; Stormbringer
Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome
Keith Roberts, The Chalk Giants
Robert Silverberg, Son of Man; Thorns; The Man in the Maze
Clifford D. Simak, City
Isaac Bashevis Singer, A Crown of Feathers; Gimpel the Fool; In My Fathers Court; The Spinoza of Market Street
Clark Ashton Smith, Zothique; Hyperborea; Xiccarph; Poseidonis; The City of the Singing Flame; The Last Incantation; The Monster of the Prophecy
Cordwainer Smith, The Best of Cordwainer Smith; The Instrumentality of Mankind
Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human
Jack Vance, The Gray Prince; The Narrow Land; To Live Forever; Showboat World; The Dying Earth; The Blue World; The Languages of Pao
Kate Wilhelm; Fault Lines; Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang; Juniper Time; Margaret and I
Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus; The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories; The Shadow of the Torturer; The Sword of the Lictor; The Claw of the Conciliator; The Citadel of the Autarch
Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness; Lord of Light; Isle of the Dead; My Name is Legion; Roadmarks
Peace Shall Destroy Many – Rudy Weibe
The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
The Accursed Kings – Maurice Drouin (awesome historical novel series)
Mere Christianity – CS Lewis
Brave New World – Huxley
America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and baking book, as well as The Food Lab, if you want your children to understand the “why” of the way things are best prepared.

Christmas and Books–Mere Suggestianity

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There are a few problems here.  On the one hand, there are not many shopping days left until Christmas.  On the other hand, many of the better books are not easily found in your local book chains.  Add to that the problem that there just are not enough good independent bookstores.  My favorite “indies” are in Dallastown, Pennsylvania and Oxford, Mississippi.

There are some bargain books to be found for sure.  True collectors object to the black remainder marks on the bottom of a book, but in my book buying philosophy, getting is the first objective.

I am certain that Stronger Together by Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine could be picked up for a fraction of its original cost (but still more than its worth).  But no serious reader wants that book.  As comedy, it is unappealing.  As fantasy, it is too comical.

So, I will mention a few good books that I have acquired that might fit the needs of the serious book man or woman in your life.  Since they are not available in most cases in your local book store, you can order them.

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  1.  Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley Birzer.  For those who are really interested in conservative thought, 20th century political movements, and political philosophy, this book is a gem.  I started it a few weeks ago and will be picking it back up very soon.  Kirk was an amazing and prolific writer.  His topics ranged from history to politics to literature and ghost stories.  I have made it my practice to be reading some of his political writings and fiction along with this biography.

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An added note:  Dr. Bradley Birzer is a fine historian and biographer.  His books on J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson are both top shelf.

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2.    Preaching Christ from Psalms by Sidney Greidanus.  If this book consisted only of its lengthy first chapter, it would be a great book.  I am still slowly plodding my way through this work.  It is vast and varied.  It is a great read through book, but not one that you should ever finish.  By that, I mean that the contents can be read and referenced many times.  One of my plans for 2017 is to read several books on Psalms as well as some slow reading of the Book of Psalms.  This book will be the foundation for my studies.  I now want everything that Greidanus has written, but will try to refrain from a buying splurge until this book is finished.

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3.  The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Volumes 1 and 2.  I was thrilled to receive this set of books.  The poetic works of Eliot can be found in many one volume editions, but this definitive work, published by Johns Hopkins Press.  Here is what I wrote previously about these books:

God blessed Britain in the Twentieth Century with a bevy of great literary figures. Christians often celebrate C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton. Less often, we notice Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Christopher Dawson. But one of the best known literary figures–a Nobel Prize winner as well–was the American-born T. S. Eliot.
Johns Hopkins Press has published 2 incredible volumes that contain his poems along with extensive notes and commentaries.
These 2 new books are getting acquainted with some of the other literary works in my library.
These 2 volumes are “must haves” for the poets, literary students, and collectors of fine books on your Christmas list.

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4.  Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles.  I consider a Pulitzer Prize win a good recommendation for a book.  This one is really inviting.  We often think of George Custer in regard to this tragic blunder-filled death at Little Big Horn.  (Maybe not “tragic” from the viewpoint of the Indian tribes.)  But Custer was a much more significant figure than just a historical tragic note.  The history of post-Civil War America is largely a history of the settlement of the frontier, meaning the Rocky Mountain and Pacific states.

Another interesting book related to this is Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce Ventor.


My story on this book can be found on the Porter Briggs Voice of the South website.

5.  Speaking of the Porter Briggs Voice of the South, a few months back, I did a story on William Faulkner’s book The Unvanquished.  Consider it unsaid that recommendations regarding Faulkner’s works are always relevant for any season.  While gathering pictures for that story, I came across the most powerful image of a burned out plantation house.  Keep in mind that such a building fit in well with Faulkner’s book and to the references in my story to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.  

The Civil War resulted in the actual destruction of many Southern plantations as well as the destruction of the economy that enabled the plantations to thrive before the war (Pinhole Photograph by Michael Falco from the book, Echoes of the Civil War: Capturing Battlefields Through A Pinhole Camera)

This picture, which is actually of a plantation house that burned in recent years, captures the defeat of the south powerfully. Notice the sun going down in the distance.

My editor, Bill Izard, contacted the photographer Michael Falco.  The picture is from his new book of pinhole photographs titled Echoes of the Civil War: Capturing Battlefields Through A Pinhole Camera.  

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There are many, maybe too many, Civil War coffee table books.  But this book and the work in it sets it apart.  Better just go ahead and order 2 copies of this book–one for yourself and one for that person on your guest list.  The beauty of these photographs coupled with the horrors of thinking of Civil War battlefields calls to mind that statement from Yeats’ poem “And a terrible beauty was born.”

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6.  The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Christ’s Crucifixion by N. T. Wright.  This book really looks good.  Many readers of theology grab up everything that Wright writes thinking that Wright’s writing is right.  (Sorry.)  I am not the biggest fan of the good Bishop of Durham even though I stood next to him once some years ago.  Still, I have a great appreciation of him.  I look forward to diving into this book soon.

7.  If Daniel Silva had a new book out, I would recommend it.  It is somewhat hard to imagine Gabriel Allon celebrating Christmas on King Saul Boulevard with his Jewish family and friends, but one can always hope.

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8.  Based on 2 ventures into the world of Craig Johnson and his iconic character Sheriff Walt Longmire, I think I can safely recommend the Longmire series.  If you like the books, you might like the television series.  If you like the television series, you might like the books.

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If you are still wondering about a “hard to find the right book for this guy person,” drop me a line and I might have further suggestions.

No Better Time for Political Reading

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What an election year it was.

The Republicans nominated a man whose party affiliation was not clear.  Was he even a Republican?  Did it matter?

Then there was the rift between the Republican Party establishment and the conservative factions in the party.

Add to that, the candidate was older than most.  Plus he had no experience as an elected political leader.

The Democrats were burdened by having been in power too long with too many growing complaints about the economy and too many scandals looming.

Somebody needed to clean up Washington, or to put it another way, someone needed to drain the swamp.

Perhaps even bigger than the national scene was the specter of international threats and terror.  The enemies of what America stood for were ruthless and determined to infiltrate and undermine our way of life.

One candidate thrilled the crowds, while the other, although appearing more cerebral, failed to connect with the common man.

No fear because there was a blue wall that would come through with lots of electoral and popular votes.

The whole race might just hinge on a group of swing states.

Those are the facts of the Presidential election as discussed in a new book.  The book is titled When America Liked Ike: How Moderates Won the 1952 Presidential Election and Reshaped American Politics by Professor Gary A. Donaldson of Xavier University of Louisiana.  There are not a lot of substantial similarities between the 1952 election and the one we have just witnessed (endured?  suffered from?).  Despite my opening statements, 1952 was not a precursor of 2016, but there are patterns that emerge in each election, coalitions that come together, factions that divide, issues the pop up, and methods that are developed that impact elections for years and decades to come.

Much that defines the modern day Republican Party can be discovered in the issues of the 1952 election.  Contrary to what is often said and what many of us might wish, the Republican Party is not THE Conservative Party.  It is, in our time, more conservative on many issues than the Democrat Party.  But conservatism is a wide-ranging collection of viewpoints and ideas that unites a loose coalition in some cases around a candidate or party.  Often conservatism is a measuring rod, so that like the word “tall,” the word “conservative” means something when compared to something else.

In the 1940s-1950s, conservative Republicans tended to be isolationists.  They would have opposed on principle some of the efforts such as the Marshall Plan that were used to combat or limit the spread of Communism.  The isolationist/conservative wing of the Republican Party was largely headed by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and the other wing of the party, the globalist/moderate/establishment wing was headed by Thomas Dewey of New York.

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Before Goldwater or Reagan, the leader of conservative Republicans was Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the son of President William Howard Taft.

By the time the 1952 election came around, the Republicans had lost the last 3 elections when it ran globalist candidates (Wendell Wilkie in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944 and 1948).  One could count the losing Republican candidates in 1936 (Alf Landon) and 1932 (Herbert Hoover) as globalists, but the issues were a bit different in the 1930s.  The conservatives within the party wanted to finally see their man–Senator Taft–win the nomination.  The big issue was, “Could Taft win in November?”  Most political pundits and advisors thought not.

The man who dominated the political scene at the Presidential level in both 1948 and 1952 was General Dwight Eisenhower.  Democrats would have gladly nominated him in either of those election cycles.  So would Republicans.  But Eisenhower was coy, quiet, vague, non-commital, and unwilling to get into the race in 1948.  He played the same game early in the 1952 race, but then willingly entered the fray.  And, he entered the political arena as a Republican.

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A combination of his winsome public personality and his military record helped Dwight D. Eisenhower win the Republican nomination and then the Presidency in 1952.

The Democrats had a dilemma.  Technically, in spite of the passage of the 22nd Amendment, incumbent President Harry Truman was eligible to run for a second full term (which would have given him nearly 3 full terms as President).  Although HST toyed with the idea of running, he faced great obstacles within the Democrat Party and an even greater challenge than he had in 1948.  Had he run against Eisenhower, he would not likely have repeated his surprise victory as he did in 1948.

The Democrats had several candidates who flirted with the nomination, but none seemed to be capable of winning.  Vice President Alben Barkley was too old (age 74 and nearly blind).  Senator Richard Russell was too southern to please the northern wing of the Democrat Party.  Fellow southern Senator Estes Kefavuer was not southern enough on racial issues to keep the south from reverting back to the Dixiecrat movement of 1948.  Averell Hariman of New York was too liberal.

The most attractive candidate (since Eisenhower declared himself a Republican) was Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson.  There were a few problems with Stevenson, however.  First of all, he was divorced, and in 1952 that was awkward–to say the least–for a Presidential candidate. Second, he was indecisive.  He had tested governing skills and leadership abilities, but he was not prone to make the tough decisions in a timely way and stick to them.  Greatest of all, he did not want to run.  In fact, he was drafted by the Democrats at their convention.

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This later picture of 2 time Democrat Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson became famous for the image of the worn out shoe he was wearing.

Both parties went to their nominating conventions in the summer of 1952 without knowing who would be the nominees.  Republicans supporting Taft had an edge going in to their convention, but the Eisenhower forces overcame them to give Ike the nod.  The Democrat Party was in worse array, with the Truman legacy, scandals, and too many years in power.  The reluctant Stevenson finally emerged as the candidate.

In contrast to the angst many of us felt about the 2 major party candidates this year, both parties in 1952 nominated talented and capable men.  Even though Stevenson became the darling of the liberals, he was a fiscal conservative and somewhat partial to states’ rights (and he was proud of his family connections in the south).  Eisenhower, with no elective office experience, proved to be an apt politician with proven leadership skills. The rejected Republican candidate Robert Taft was a man of strong principles and abilities.  Although not many were happy with him in 1952, Harry Truman was a strong and good leader.

Nothing in the preceding paragraph is meant as an all out endorsement of any of the men mentioned.  They had their flaws–personal and political–but all were honorable men who could have led the country well.  But one man won and it was because, as the title indicates, America liked Ike.

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President Harry S Truman flashes his famous smile. Surrounded by microphones, he lacked a lot in his speaking style.