Readings from Recent Weeks, October 2020

Another good month of reading is now basically over. No, I am not a speed reader by any stretch of the imagination, nor would I want to be tested over the exact details of many of the books I read.

I am a persistent reader. I read for an hour or more in the mornings from two or three different books. During the afternoon, I usually read 10 to 20 pages from one of the easier, faster books. Then at night I read for maybe an hour from biographies and histories. I almost never get a book read in a day or two. I cannot remember reading a whole book in one sitting. Most often I read a few pages at a time until the page takes ahold of me, and then I triple or double the amount of reading. And, I usually have between 5 and 10 books I am reading or attempting to get into at a time.

Let’s look at the stack, working from bottom to top, and make a few comments:

The General versus the President: MacArthur, Truman, at the Brink of Nuclear War by H. W. Brands

I have now read several books by Professor Brands. This is not a new interpretation, or a scholarly monograph, or an examination of the powers of the Commander in Chief in contrast to the military.

Instead, it is a historical narrative, a step by step retelling of the outbreak of the Korean War and the ensuing clash between two very strong-willed leaders, MacArthur and Truman. I confess that I always have an inner tug toward MacArthur in this clash, but that I finally and begrudgingly side with the President both in terms of his authority to fire DM and in his concern to limit the Korean Conflict. Both men were great leaders in their own right. Both were flawed men, of course. And this story is a great one and the book does a great job of telling it.

Without Excuse: Scripture, Reason, and Presuppositional Apologetics , edited by David Haines. This book is published by the Davenant Institute.

This is a series of very challenging, intellectually engaging, and critical (in both senses of the word) examinations of presuppositional apologetics as developed by Cornelius Van Til and further worked out by Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, and Scott Oliphint.

From beginning to end, I remain more aligned with Van Til and his followers than with his critics. Admittedly, the essays and discussions in this book are anywhere from slightly to greatly above my mental powers. I did appreciate the tone and depth of this book.

One of my many positive take-aways is this: Christianity in America is still producing first class minds among men trained in both theology and philosophy. While I might disagree with some or many points along the way, I recognize that these men are seeking to advance God’s Kingdom through the life of the mind.

The Covenanters , Volume 1 by J. K. Hewison. This book is published by Banner of Truth.

I have recently reviewed this book (most favorably) and am just getting started into the second volume. Scotland’s battle for the soul and nation is worthy of study and applicable to our own times and ideas.

Blessed Charles of Austria by Charles Coulombe.

I really loved this book. A year of so ago, I read Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Royal Family by James Longo. That book covered the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his family. Ferdinand’s assassination sparked World War I. His role in history is typically limited to the fateful day of his murder in Sarajevo.

This book deals with his nephew, Charles (also Karl). Charles was originally fourth in line to become emperor, so there would have been little likelihood of his actually becoming the ruler of the Austrian Empire. But, untimely deaths by the three others in front of him made him the heir to the throne. Franz Joseph was, at the time that World War I began, very old. Charles then became emperor in 1916.

That fact had often showed up in the books I read on World War I, but Emperor Charles, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, and all things not related to the Western Front in France were side notes to the Great War.

History in the larger chunks and in the more broad sweeps has to be taught in selective bullet points. The subject is simply too detailed otherwise. But the history student, reader, scholar, or fan must and can read the more detailed accounts.

Charles and his wife Zita were both dedicated to their marriage, family, the Christian faith, and the many peoples who were part of the Empire. Charles’s abdication was a tragedy for Europe and Christendom. Although he dedicated the rest of his short life to regaining his thrones (plural), he never did. Although he fell to the wayside in the history of the times, he is still much loved, venerated, and honored by people across the world today. This is a great story of a truly good and gifted, although unsuccessful, ruler.

The Trial by Franz Kafka.

This past summer, I reread Kafka short novel The Metamorphosis. So, I put this novel on my bed stand and struggled to wade through the translator’s commentary on Kafka and the original text. (The problem was that I was reading it too late at night and at the time when my mind was already going to sleep.) Finally, I started in on the book itself.

Kafkaesque is a term that is used to describe unreal, bizarre situations. Quite fitting for 2020. The trial in this book is just as unreal and bizarre, and is truly Kafkaesque. There is much that seems like a parable about this story. It is not a happy story, although at points, it is very funny. It truly describes much, too much, about events and thoughts and worldviews in our time.

It would seem to me that apart from the Christian faith, a world such as that in The Trial would be our most viable alternative. I look forward to reading this book again and would love to read it alongside others who would then discuss it.

The Importance of the Electoral College by George Grant.

You may notice that I have two copies (one is the original edition and the other is the updated version) of this book. I moved much of my library from my school office to my home. Books are in disorder. But I have discovered and rediscovered several books.

This book is a valuable read for this season. The Electoral College is a brilliant device that better insures that a wider range of the American people and states are represented by whoever wins the Presidential election. Know for certain that there are those who are anxious to remove this part of our heritage. Read this book!

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

I reread this book because I assigned it to my class (meaning the one student that I am giving private homeschooling to). Great love story! The unexplainable love of young Manolin for the failed and struggling old fisherman Santiago is beautiful. The struggle for the great fish and the ensuing battle with sharks is magnificent

What blew me away, however, was near the end when the boy told Santiago that the people in the village had sent out boats and planes looking for him. Hemingway, you see, was focused on the individual fighting against the forces arrayed against him. But, being a good writer, he inadvertently borrows a key theme from Scripture. The community, or we might say the parish, sought the struggling brother. Love, community, perseverance: Ernest, you could not help but reflect God in your writings.

Flight from Humanity by R. J. Rushdoony

This is the little thin book with no title on the back. This is a short essay or two by Rushdoony dealing with neo-Platonism, particularly as it shows up in Christian history. Obscure topic, unusual treatment, and arcane references to be sure. But Rushdoony was the master of taking the unknown, overlooked, and misinterpreted and revealing how relevant they were and are to Christian thinking.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund.

Get this book. I read it slowly even though it is not a very long book. I will reread it slowly. I sent out a bunch of quotes from it to friends, church members, and family. This is a rich venture into an aspect of Jesus Christ that we often fail to see.

Side benefit of this book: It will enrich your understanding of and appreciation for the Puritans and for other Reformed theologians.

Choosing Community: Actions, Faith, and Joy in the Works of Dorothy L. Sayers by Christine Colon and others.

Dr. Colon and Dr. Criner (one of the contributors in this collection) were both teachers of my oldest son Nick while he studied at Wheaton College.

My interest in this book was related to Dorothy L. Sayers. Ms. Sayers is the Founding Mother of Classical Christian education. As such, I have read her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” many times. But she was also a gifted and successful writer of detective novels, plays, and theological works. Alas, I have now read three books about her life and writings, but have yet to enjoy the pleasures of reading her Peter Wimsey novels. Okay, coming soon to my reading stacks: Dorothy Sayers’s novels.

The English Reformation by Alec Ryrie

I previously posted a picture of a large stack of books related to the Reformation in England and Scotland and the Puritans and Covenanters. I am slowly chipping away at that stack of books.

There are two tendencies of small books dealing with large events. In some cases, the small book gives a simple retelling of the story. I like such books because the pithy, concise review is right down my (former) alley as a history teacher. The other tendency is to be a specialized analysis that assumes a knowledge of the overall events and then provides some depth of interpretation or that unveils a different approach. Those books can be enjoyable, but sometimes a struggle to read through.

This book does neither. It was a most enjoyable reading that examined the English Reformation from several angles. England did not copy events in either the Lutheran lands or Calvinist areas of the continent. The English Reformation was religious, political, radical, incomplete, up and down, economically driven, lust driven, and deeply spiritual. What an array of powerful, often brilliant, usually conflicting, mostly controversial actors on the stage. Great story. Great treatment in this book.

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