Books on Guv’mint from the Teacher

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Last fall I taught a small group of students a bit about politics and government. These were in the weeks leading up to the controversial 2020 Presidential election. With decades of reading and teaching about government and politics, I mainly rambled. Hopefully, it was good rambling. But I had an impertinent student who asked for a list of books to read about government. She moved away, but was visiting here earlier this week, so she asked again about that list. So, just to irritate her and the rest of you, I will try to make a list of essential or good books on government

Textbooks: I remember reading a line from Peter Kreeft years ago to the effect that “nobody steals a textbook.” As standardly issued and frequently revised and updated, textbooks are notoriously expensive and yet rarely have much resale value. For that reason, I generally find it worthwhile to use an older edition of a textbook.

There is a certain benefit to a good textbook. One can hope that it will have essential topics, a few vital sources, good charts and graphs, a glossary, index, and table of contents. One does not generally read the textbook for literary enjoyment, but for finding information. Textbooks are usually good for scanning and surveying.

I prefer to use Magruder’s American Government for a basic resource, reference text. The one I have and use now is the 2010 edition. It is close enough to being up to date and old enough to be cheap. Of course, there are benefits to finding the older editions.

The original author, Frank Magruder, was a political science teacher and professor. His original book came out in 1917. When he died in 1949, a student of his, named William A. McClenaghan, took over the revising of the textbook. (Somewhere in a tower of boxes, I have one of the older editions of the book, meaning an edition that may go back to before the 1950s.)

Standard textbooks get revised, updated, corrected, and “politically corrected.” I wonder how much of the book that I use would be recognized by either Magruder or McClenahan. But the book still have outstanding features, meaning great charts and graphs, well done organization, useful teacher materials, some original sources, good quotes, funny cartoons, and a helpful glossary and index.

Key point for anyone buying a government text: Look for used, but not too old. (Studying old government texts is a different pursuit than studying government as of now.) Look for something authored by a person rather than a committee. Look for its usefulness as a resource, and don’t quibble over politically disagreeable points made here and there.

Basic Readings on Government from a Christian Perspective:

  1. Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life by David C. Innes
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This book is quite good, relatively brief, and thoroughly Bible oriented. It is also conservative, Reformed, and American. I plan on reading it again soon with a government student I am teaching privately. It is a book of depth, but is readable and applicable. It is not, as some political books by Christians, seeking to grind axes against our current political foes. It is rooted in a more long-term approach to the topic.

2. Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey And Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis

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This book is challenging. If one is only used to the political banter of conservative talk radio or the contents of news shows, this book will plunge you into the deep water. Want to smack the liberals or conservatives with some zingers? Look elsewhere. This is a book that demands careful reading. Dr. Koyzis, like David Innes, seeks to write from a Christian perspective and from a Reformed tradition. He is not a traditional American conservative, so expand your world a bit in reading this.

3. Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe

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This book has been around for quite a while, and I have enjoyed using parts of it in teaching my classes. The book gives a Christianized version of America’s colonial and founding eras. Then Dr. Eidsmoe discusses quite a few of the key thinkers and books that influenced the Founding Fathers. This portion is a good introduction to the household names among the contributors to our founding documents. Next, the book gives detailed biographical sketches of key authors and shapers with an emphasis on their religious beliefs.

I don’t find this book a fun read or a page turner, but it is quite full of useful information. Dr. Eidsmoe is a well trained lawyer and student of theology and history. He is a Lutheran with a strong affinity toward Calvinist founders of America, and his perspective is very conservative.

4. Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem

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The subtitle states that this is A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. This book is conservative red meat. I reckon it offends not only more secular liberals, but many Christians who think themselves a bit more balanced and erudite than Grudem. Maybe it is a bit over the top. Maybe it does imply that the Christian position is a bit more compatible with the Republican platforms than with those of the Democrat Party.

I include it because I am probably quite in line with much of what it says. And I like Dr. Grudem’s other books. So, read it and like it or read it and refute it.

5. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper

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This book is so vital for so many areas of life and thought. Early on, it has a chapter on Calvinism and political thought. That chapter is vital for coming to a Christian position on government. Of course, I think each chapter in this classic work is vital for arriving at least close to solid and sound positions.

6. Christianity and the State by R. J. Rushdoony

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Not just this book, but almost every book that R. J. Rushdoony wrote is useful for constructing a Christian view of civil government. Probably Law and Liberty is the easiest to start with and The Institutes of Biblical Law, particularly volume 1, is the most comprehensive.

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7. The Patriot’s Handbook, edited and compiled by George Grant

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Any study of American government must reach back into the source materials. This book has a wealth of such shorter materials, and it includes not only the most often cited works, such as the Constitution, but also speeches, poems, and writings not often found in standard textbooks. And it includes Grant’s delightful survey of our first 14 Presidents, and that listing doesn’t begin with George Washington.

8. Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn Moots

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This is a serious and in-depth study and survey of political theology, particularly that which grew out of the Reformation tradition and then was transplanted in the United States. This is one of the best books I have ever studied and one that calls for rereading.

9. Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition by Glenn S. Sunshine

This book is recent, and I have not read my copy yet. But from all I can sense and all I have heard from others, it is a keeper.

10. Civil Government: A Biblical View by Robert Culver

Toward a Biblical view of civil government: Culver, Robert Duncan

I read this book very many years ago. I remember thinking that it was quite good, but I cannot recall many details. It appears to still be in print, but under a slightly different title.

11. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government : Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, National Confessionalism, edited by Gary Scott Smith

I read this book many years ago. It is a good presentation of four different positions all held by responsible, scholarly Christian writers.

12. God and Government by Gary DeMar

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This series gives some basic information about history, government, and Christian influences. It was later reprinted in a nice hardback one volume edition, which I, unfortunately, do not have. Gary DeMar has written and reprinted lots of works that verify the Christian influences on American history and government. American Vision, his organization, has a wealth of resources available.

13. A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer

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This book caused quite a stir when it came out in the 1980s. The work of Francis Schaeffer during his most popular years coincides with the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Much of what Schaeffer says in this book seems to be based on information gleaned from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction. That is another story.

14. Did America Hav a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall

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I have and have read many books related to this topic, and many of those books are referenced in this one. This is THE go-to source for understanding and being able to better interact with a host of political issues that are related to our nation’s Founding Era.

POLITICAL CLASSICS

  1. The Republic by Plato
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This is my favorite translation. The Allan Bloom translation is also highly acclaimed. I do not prefer the Benjamin Jowett translation, which is an older and usually cheaper version.

2. Politics by Aristotle

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3. The Prince by Machiavelli

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I am no expert, but I would recommend the translation by Harvey Mansfield, based on what I have heard from others.

4. Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos by Junius Brutus

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This book is a seldom read Calvinist and Huguenot classic. Thankfully, Canon Press has published a useable new edition of it that should broaden the reach of this book. R. J. Rushdoony often made a comment (actually based on a quote from someone he had read) that it was this book, rather than Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that was most influential in the American Revolution.

5. Lex, Rex by Samuel Rutherford

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Lex, Rex, also now available from Canon Press, is another Calvinist political classic. Rutherford was a Covenanter. Donald Macleod, in his book Therefore the Truth I Speak, raises some serious questions as to how influential this book was to American colonists who revolted against the Crown. It was Francis Schaeffer who first alerted many American Christians to the importance of this book.

6. Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

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Some conservatives and some Christians have strong objections to John Locke’s philosophical views. Nevertheless, he was and remains a big name in political thought and in the history of this nation.

7. The Federalist by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay

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This collection of essays is THE American classic of political thought. It needs to be read from cover to cover, but there are a few essays in it, such as #10 or #51, that are quoted continually.

8. The Anti-Federalist Papers

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In one sense, there is no such thing as The Anti-Federalist Papers. Whereas, three authors wrote essays that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers, there was no set of authors who compiled rebuttals per se. But there were plenty of articles and speeches by prominent Americans who objected to the proposed Constitution. Their insights are valuable, and some believe almost prophetic in seeing problems that followed with the ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, by the way, was a result of Anti-Federalist influence.

9. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

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Thankfully, this work is a short read. But it must be read because of the great influence it has had on so many countries, so many people, and so much of history. The books and authors who have refuted and rebutted Communism would be a separate and very long list.

10. The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

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This book has become a popular read for many conservatives. First published in 1944, this book remains in print and is more widely known in our times than in previous years. Hayek is one of several prominent Austrian thinkers whose ideas have kept the spirit of freedom alive in our times.

Okay, enough is enough! There is no end in sight for the books that could be listed here.

If you notice any terrible mistakes I have made or unforgivable omissions, please let me know in your comments, or on Facebook, or by emailing me at Veritas@cableone.net.

Previews for Book Reviews

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We have an unusual winter storm today. My mind keeps replaying the words and music to the poem written by Christina Rossetti, “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long Ago….” (from the song “In the Bleak Midwinter”). My wife is playing the Christmas music that never seems to fit our lives here in the American South where snow, sleigh rides, snowmen, and cozy firesides with outward beauty predominate.

So, my mind turns to the dangerous stack of review books I have threatening me with a mental overload or a avalanche of falling tomes. I want to jump out in front of this mighty host and do some previews and promotions of these worthy volumes.

American Conservatism, 1900-1930, edited and compiled by Joseph Postell and Jonathan O’Neill, is published by Lexington Books.

We are in an age where we need to recover the roots of our conservative heritage. The word “conservative” is bandied about in both positive and negative ways. We sometimes think conservatism emerged back in the days or Reagan or maybe Goldwater. But conservatism is a broad, deep, and very old tradition. Not everyone that is pegged as a conservative gee-haws with all of the other so called conservatives.

In this case, this book highlights some bright lights among conservative thinkers (who were largely office holders) during the era when Progressivism was the dominant political ideology. Hence, this book has lots of essays and speeches by such men as Henry Cabot Lodge, Calvin Coolidge, Warren G. Harding, and Elihu Root.

I would love to be in a college class where we were “required” to read this book and perhaps Murray Rothbard’s book The Progressive Era and a few other worthwhile reads. Thanks to my young friend (whose youth is limited only to age and not wisdom) Koty Arnold for recommending American Conservatism.

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1-2 Timothy and Titus by Andreas J. Kostenberger is published by Lexham Academic Press.

First of all, I love Lexham Press, and I confess that I used to refer to them as a small publisher. They ain’t small in terms of the wide and depth and range of books they publish. Their works include such older authors as Abraham Kuyper and Geerhardus Vos and such more recent writers as Travis James Campbell and Michael Heiser.

I have yet to look into this book, but I became a fan of Andreas Kostenberger a while back after reading one of his books. And, I read John Calvin’s Sermons on Titus this past year and loved it. I look forward to reading this commentary, but will probably begin with Titus and then look at the two Timothy letters.

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My friend Ray Rhodes has written two fine books on Charles and Susie Spurgeon. Yours Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon is published by Moody Press and is a promising sequel to his biography of Mrs. Spurgeon, titled Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon.

I read the biography of Susannah last year and also read Tethered to the Cross: The Life and Preaching of C. H. Spurgeon by Thomas Breimaier (published by IVP). One should read lots of stuff about Spurgeon, and as the saying goes, “Sell your shoes, but buy Spurgeon.”

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But why Mrs. Spurgeon? She was quite a woman. A writer herself, she promoted, distributed, and loved books. She was, as the title reflects in a biography of Jonathan Edwards’s wife, “married to a difficult man.” Spurgeon was not difficult in the sense of preaching one thing and living another. He and they together were the real deal. Their lives were blessed, but not easy. Begin with either one of Ray’s books, but get both. And get Tethered to the Cross and get some of Spurgeon’s writings.

C. S. Lewis: Pre-Evangelism For a Post-Christian World: Why Narnia Might Be More Real Than We Think by Brian M. Williams. This book is published by Christian Publishing House.

Brian and I only recently became acquainted, but he quickly figured out that the way to get on my good side was to send me a book. So now, he’s a superhero.

Lewis, like Spurgeon, is an author whose works are vast and widely applicable and even more widely enjoyable. And, both men have inspired books about their books. How many books do I have about Lewis? 20? Maybe more? However many it is not enough.

I look forward to diving into this book and seeing how this newfound friend has applied and expanded our understanding of Lewis and Narnia.

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I was happy the day that The First Code Talkers: Native American Communications in World War I by William C. Meadows arrived. This book is published by one of the best sources for Native American studies–the University of Oklahoma Press.

I read a book about the Navajo Code Talkers several years ago. (And I misspelled Navajo consistently in the review I wrote.) On the one hand, it is amazing that Native Americans were willing defenders of the same United States that so often mistreated, abused, killed, and deceived them. And, their heritage was often suppressed. But they possessed a number of languages that defied the rest of the world from knowing. They were unsung heroes of World War II in the Pacific. And it was only in the last few decades that the contributions they made have been made public. Now, I find that they played a similar role in World War I. Can’t wait to get into this one.

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If Louis Markos wrote a book on the Dewey Decimal System, I would want it. But he has written a book on a topic I have grown to love–Greek and Roman mythology. Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes is published by Classical Academic Press.

While I am proud of my college training, my education zoomed and quadrupled when I began teaching (at about age 40 plus) in a classical Christian school. I was forced to begin learning and reading mythology directly through the Greeks and Romans and indirectly through reading Milton and others. I started beginning my classes with a Tolkien quote or two about mythology containing slivers of truth.

Add to this: I grabbed a cup of hot coffee one afternoon at the ACCS conference in Dallas. The seats were incredibly comfortable and I sat back to enjoy the writer Louis Markos speak. Have you ever heard the really good writer who speaks but is mediocre or even painful as a orator? Not Dr. Markos! Skinny as a rail, hopping around like a bird on the stage, the man gave a performance. It was on Lewis and Tolkien and it was pure joy. The caffeine paled in the light of the surge of energy Markos gave. His writings reflect the same joy.

Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle Earth Beyond the Middle Ages by Holly Ordway is published by Word On Fire Academic.

Here was another case of love at first sight. I actually began my quest for understanding Middle Earth by reading a biography of J. R. R. Tolkien before I seriously read his works. My heart tug and preferences always drift toward 20th Century Southern fiction, rather than Brits, fantasy, and mythical lands. So, I felt at home in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County but disoriented in either Middle Earth or Narnia. I’m still geared toward the American South or the world of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, but I have learned (also a result of classical Christian teaching) to embrace the Tolkien-Lewis vision.

Click on the link above or look on the internet to learn more about this book, if needed. It is high on my “can’t wait to get started on this book” stack.

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I have started reading The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams by David S. Brown. To understand this biography, one needs to have read Adams’s autobiography The Education of Henry Adams, which I did read a few years back. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of the two Presidents. His life spanned from before the War Between the States until 1918, and it was not just the times in which he lived, but his connections and reflections.

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Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, edited by David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson, is published by the University of Notre Dame Press. That press is producing outstanding translations of Solzhenitsyn’s works along with studies about the man himself.

“I cannot think of any more worthwhile study for any student on any campus today than to go carefully through all the writings and discourses of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. ” Malcolm Muggeridge.

This book, and I have barely gotten started into it, is pure gold.

Revolutionary Prophecies: The Founders and America’s Future, edited by Robert McDonald and Peter Onuf, is published by the University of Virginia Press.

Thankfully, I have some time before this reading assignment is due. I am in a study group that will be discussing the book in a few months. I look forward to this because Robert McDonald is one of the finest scholars on Thomas Jefferson around today.

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought by Alister McGrath is published by InterVarsity Press.

If McGrath writes it, I want to read it. If it has anything to do with the great Christian writer J. I. Packer, I want to read it. Can’t lose with this one. Amazing how many of the books in my stack are about writers.

The Doctrine of Creation

The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig Bartholomew is published by InterVarsity Press.

A Baptist and an Anglican got together to write this magnum opus, building upon the brilliant foundations of Abraham Kuyper.

Who Is My Neighbor: An Anthology in Natural Relations is edited and compiled by my friend and fellow teacher of classics Thomas Achord and Darrell Dow. This is a hefty collections of quotes and excerpts from across the literary, philosophical, theological, and historical spectrum. It is, as noted in the subtitle, an anthology, a collection, an assembly. I suspect that this book will be used often to quote from, to skip around through, and to reference.

I have not done these books justice!

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My 2020 Election Analysis

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The first Presidential election that I remember was 1960. My sister explained that we were for Kennedy because he was better looking than Nixon. She was old enough to know the way the world works, for I was about 5 and she was in high school. I never gave elections another thought until 1964 came along and I was told that Barry Goldwater would cause a depression and we would all have to go to the poorhouse. I became a dedicated supporter of Lyndon Johnson at that point.

It was during this time, circa 1964, that I acquired a small booklet on the Presidents. It was published and distributed by Enco, which was a gas and oil company, and was given out as a token gift. I don’t remember who gave it to me, but I pored over it off and on for years. (I just recently rediscovered it in my file cabinet.)

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As the years went by, I always paid a fair amount of attention to Presidential elections. By 1972, I became deeply interested. By the time I went through college, I had formed a pretty deep interest as a history major in politics, elections, and government at the Presidential level. Typical of me, I have never been really involved in any political campaigns, have only visited Washington, D. C. once, and have never seriously imagined running for office.

Have I read 100 plus books on different political leaders, elections, political issues, etc.? Certainly, and I have also watched news reports, documentaries, movie accounts, and other politically related media presentations. I like to think that I am something of an authority, although I have no official credentials to back up that assertion.

The 2020 Presidential election, which happened over 2 months ago now, will go down in history as one of the most volatile and disputed elections of all time. I reject the contention that it was the most important election of our lifetimes, but would claim that for now, it is the most controversial. Weighing in on this election, therefore, is a serious matter for several reasons.

  1. The post election drama and controversy exceeds even the drama and controversy leading up to the election.
  2. The results are never going to be accepted by the vast majority of those who participated in it.
  3. The two candidates were the two most improbable of candidates. I am sympathetic with the notion that they were the two worst candidates in our history. Without debate, they were the oldest two.
  4. The 2020 election is not going to fold up its tent and go away. The controversies surrounding and resulting from this year will be with us throughout 2021, all through the 2022 mid-term elections, and then revving up again in 2024.

In the course of this post, I want to say a few things about the election as a student of history. I am going to try, try, try to avoid partisan answers and repeating the now wearisome political commentaries that have been hashed and rehashed for three months.

First, as stated above, for the mere student of history, studying the 2016 and 2020 elections will be quite enjoyable, shocking, and unusual. Many U.S. Presidential elections are rather predictable, explainable, and uneventful. One side wins, and the other loses. Often, the results can be predicted for months in advance. Especially if an incumbent President is running for re-election, he is going to win, barring economic troubles. In the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, incumbents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt (3 times), Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama won. Incumbents Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Trump lost. A party split cost Taft re-election, and economic issues cost the other five.

Normally, elections have pitted governors, senators, and Vice Presidents against each other. The only exceptions have been 1916 when Republican Charles Evan Hughes was a Supreme Court Justice (the only time such a person ran), 1940, when Wendell Wilkie was a businessman, and in 1952 and 1956, Eisenhower was a military leader.

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Normally, elections can be remembered for one tag or defining sentence. 1940 was the third term victory run for Roosevelt. 1960 was the first time a Catholic was elected President. 1964 was a landslide a year after Kennedy’s assassination. 1968 was a year of a strong third party movement (as were 1912, 1924, 1948, 1992, and 1996) and much civil unrest. 1976 was the first unelected Vice President who became the first unelected President following the resignation of a President. 1980 was the election of a former actor. 2000 was a disputed election due to the Florida returns and the first election of a son of a President since 1824. 2008 was the first election of an African-American.

But 2016 and 2020 were elections that will merit several tags. Note that I am tying these two elections together. They were, in some respects, the same election held two years apart. The Democrats went against their own tradition and nominated candidates who had already been in Presidential politics previously. Usually the party would opt for a new, fresh face, such as it did in 1912, 1932, 1960, 1972, 1976, 1988, 1992, and 2008, while the Republicans nominated the man who had paid his dues, as in 1944, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996, 2008, and 2012.

And in both ’16 and ’20, the Democrats opted for an older (meaning old!) candidate. Hillary Clinton was almost 70 when she ran, and President Biden is 78.

The wildest part of the ride was the Republican Party’s nomination of Donald Trump in 2016. It had the most ethnically diverse and talented group of men and women running for the nomination that year. And the party of conservatism, the home of the religious right, and the party of the old-line Republican establishment went out of bounds and nominated a man of little or no past political experience or affiliation, a multi-billionaire with wealth stemming from running gambling casinos, a man aged 70 with a third trophy wife nearly 30 years his junior, and a complete novice on politics as usual.

To understand the ’16 and ’20 elections, just realize that the Democrats simply reversed their ticket. Four years ago, they had a sharp, but unwinsome woman at the head of the ticket with a more moderate, passive man as Vice President. This gave them the tag of having a woman at the head of the ticket. It failed. So, they put the more moderate and passive man at the head of the ticket with the more controversial and edgy woman in the VP slot.

The Biden-Harris ticket worked as the mirror image of the Clinton-Kaine ticket. It was somewhat like the German Manstein Plan in 1940 that reversed the direction of the Schlieffen Plan from 1914. And in both cases, failure was changed to success. The Democrats were able to say, in effect, “We have a woman on the ticket and we have a safe, predictable man on the ticket.” Keep in mind that candidates like Bernie Sanders (an unapologetic socialist), or Pete Buttigieg, or Michael Bloomberg all carried too much baggage or too little experience.

President Trump, to follow up on my ’16 and ’20 connection, ran a campaign exactly like the one he had four years earlier. But no two campaigns have all the same dynamics for a candidate. Ronald Reagan backed off of his compelling “Keep the Panama Canal” issue from 1976 when he successfully got the nomination and Presidency in 1980. Trump rallied his base, perhaps as well as any other candidate ever has, but he failed to expand his base in areas where he needed to.

To win in 2020, President Trump needed to win over a block of voters who would be willing to hold their noses and vote for him. They would never wear MAGA hats, never attend rallies, or put up yard signs, but they would have cast their middle -to-upper middle-class votes in their suburban voting precincts for the Republicans. There should have been pictures of Trump and Bush 43 together on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney should have been supporting the President (for he certainly didn’t reject Trump’s endorsement in 2012), and the McCain-Flake base in Arizona should have voted, however reluctantly, for the President.

President Trump won 46.5 percent of the vote in 2016. That means that one of the central focuses of the Trump White House should have been expanding that base to 50.1 percent or more. That would have meant fewer or NO tweets, especially those that posited unverified claims, cruel insults, bad grammar and spelling, and needless controversies. President Trump needed a fulltime advisor whose main task would have been to explain how Ronald Reagan would react.

Draining the swamp rhetoric didn’t expand the electorate, especially when everyone was wanting the swamp stimulus checks. “You have been here for 47 years and didn’t do these things” didn’t convince anyone who never noticed that Biden had been to Washington. “Lock him up,” referring to Hunter Biden didn’t resonate and wasn’t reported. The bull in the China shop debate tactics didn’t expand the base by any votes during the first debate.

For all of the talk that Donald Trump was not a politician, he was, but he failed. When you enter a political race, give speeches, shake hands, hold rallies, make promises, and win a political office, you are a politician. Although that word has many negative connotations, a politician has to possess a set of skills that differ from other professions. Like Reagan, a man with an acting background can use those skills to enhance political skills. Like Eisenhower, a man used to military matters can use those skills to transition to politics.

Anyone, meaning EVERYONE, remotely interested in politics either as a subject of study or as a profession must, as in MUST, read and master Robert Caro’s third volume of his multi-volume study of Lyndon Johnson. Master of the Senate completely revamped my whole way of thinking about politics. It doesn’t matter what you think of Johnson the man, he was able to figure out how the Senate worked. Successful politicians follow similar trajectories, those who failed, like Hoover, Carter, and Trump, didn’t.

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There is one other result of the 2020 election that I want to mention. I have not come across anyone else dealing with this issue. There has been lots of talk about how President Trump did better among Hispanic and African-American voters than any other Republican candidate since 1960. While Democrats were celebrating winning the Presidency, there have to be some Democrat political operatives who are sweating bullets about what the possibilities are if the Republicans increase, even marginally, these minority gains.

But there is also this feature to the 2020 election: The electoral map has changed. Even though most of those changes either helped the Democrats or reverted back to the Democrats, this underlying groundswell is significant. Some formerly Red (Republican) states are now no longer safe. Georgia and Arizona flipped. Texas was under assault, but it remained Republican. Ohio, Florida, and Iowa, where previous winners there were winners overall, went solidly for Trump in a close election year. (Many traditional election patterns changed in 2020.) But Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada are now all purple states. Yes, they ended up in the Blue column (and do you own work on the voting fraud issues), but they were close, and three of the larger states went for Trump in 2016. There is no longer the Big Blue Wall of the Midwest. The Midwest is up for grabs.

I am surprised that neither Minnesota nor New Hampshire were close. I am surprised that Republicans were so massively outspent. Why President Trump didn’t toss $500 million of his own supposed wealth into the campaign is a mystery. I have not exhausted all of my thoughts on the election, but I have likely exhausted my ever shrinking fan base.

Time to think again about literary classics and theology rather than politics.

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January 2021 Readings

May be an image of book, indoor and text that says 'α Who Shall Ascend the Mountain the Lord? L. Michael Morales � Making and Evangelicalisn 1750-1858 American RICHARD LYNTTON NORTH KOREA DEcEPTION REVIVAL & REVIVALISM The Battles OF Connecticut Farms AND Springfield 1780 LENGEL ANDREW ROBERTS LEADERSH WAR ខភ10 FAULKNER 1 ROLLYSON'

What a relief it was on January 1st to rip the 2020 calendar off the wall and start a new year. 31 days later, we are experiencing what we suspected: Some of the troubles are here to stay a while longer. For me, we had the school shut down in March, followed by the quick retraining to doing classes on line. That was part of the nationwide shutdown that brought my kids home from college and kept us home on Sundays. In June, our classical Christian school closed after 22 years. We survived many battles and difficulties, but in June, our re-enrollment plummeted, and my wife and I joined the unemployment lines. For a month or two, I thought I would land another teaching job, but have only ended up with a few part time jobs. Health problems have hit our family, my wife mostly, but I did have one day where I visited the emergency room. A bizarre election season came, but didn’t go away. A long time friend and former church member died unexpectedly. Also, the losses of 2020 included singers Charlie Daniels and Charley Pride, pro-wrestler Danny Hodge, and others.

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The main recurring thought in 2020 was that God is sovereign and still rules over the affairs of men. Still. Always. Without exception. With wisdom, love, and power. So, when 2021 began with Georgia making poor choices in electing two Senators, with controversies ongoing regarding the slightly odd Presidential election, with sound and fury signifying much going on in the Capitol, with on-going pandemic problems, and with further personal economic difficulties, I resorted to my constant sources of stability: God, family, church, coffee, the dog, and BOOKS.

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The new year began with me finishing The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper. For years, I have have taught through The Deerslayer to my younger students and The Last of the Mohicans to my high school class. I have won a few readers over to the riches of Cooper, but have not made as many converts as I wished. Even I had failed to read beyond those two books. Last November, I began reading The Pathfinder. I had watched and used a mediocre movie version of that story and may have read the book many years ago. Reading it through was quite enjoyable. Then I hastened on to begin The Pioneers. I began that book around Christmas, which was delightful since the book begins with a Christmas celebration. I struggled to maintain an understanding for the first 5 or 10 chapters, and then the book took off on its own.

The Pioneers is an outstanding fictional examination of several key issues that still affect us today. First, how do we balance the needs of civilization with the preservation of nature? Second, how do we balance the rights of the individual man, primarily the Leatherstocking as Natty Bumpo was called in this book, with the laws of society that encroach upon his rights? Third, how do we maintain our most basic loyalties when they put us in legal jeopardy? Fourth and always within the world of Cooper, how do we deal with the Indians, or Native American tribes, in regard to their original landholdings and culture?

Keep in mind that this is a story and not a philosophical treatise, but it does raise these questions. I am now moving on to the fifth book in the Leatherstocking series–The Prairie.

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I was thrilled last year when I first saw that there was a new projected two volume biography of William Faulkner coming out. I hastened to acquire the first volume and then kept it at my bedside stack for months before the right occasion came along to read it. (It was a crazy year.) I thought I would have a long time to wait for the completion of the set, but then I discovered that the second volume was published in the fall, so I got busy and read the book.

Faulkner was a complex writer and man. He was illusive, deceitful, odd, and brilliant. How he emerged out of his background, which was not barren, is a mystery. This biography will not solve the mysteries, but it does connect Faulkner’s writings with his life. (I have previously written a review of this book on this blog.)

I recently received and read North Korea Deception, which is the first novel of Richard Lyntton. His website can be found HERE. His purpose is to write thriller spy novels in the order of John Le Carre and Daniel Silva. He’s British with a impressive military background and work experience as an actor.

This book is the first of three in a series called “The Deception Series.” If you start reading it, hold on to your hat because there is non-stop action from beginning to end. Has he reached the level of Le Carre, Silva, Brad Thor, or the late Vince Flynn? Not yet, but he has completed a book and is completing the next two. None of those guys arrived at their destinations on their first tries. So watch this guy and his books if you like the political thrillers genre of books.

May be an image of book and text that says 'EDWARD G. LENGEL THE10 THE1 KEY CAMPAIGNS ofthe AMERICAN REVOLETION The Battles OF Connecticut Farms AND Springfield 1780 X SMALL BATTLES EDWARD G.LENGEL Editor'

Dr. Ed Lengel really irritates me! I first got to know of him and his writings when I read Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion. Then I discovered that he had written other books on World War I, but also had written several on George Washington. Then this past year, he comes out with a book on two of the smaller, less known battles of the Revolutionary War, and is the editor of a book covering the major battles of that war. See why I am irritated? His works are too many and subjects are wide. (Some attribute my irritation to jealousy.)

I read The Ten Key Campaigns of the American Revolution last fall. This book is published by Regnery Publishing. which is a solid source for history and conservative thought. Due to loss of job, loss of my school office, having to move out of our house for a few months because of a water damage problem, etc., I lost track of The Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, 1780 for a few months. This book is published by Westholme Publishing and is part of a series called Small Battles.

The Ten Campaigns book covered the most familiar events of the war. With different contributors, most of whom have written complete books on aspects of the war, this chronological account shows the struggles, some of which were disasters while others were successful, that led to American independence. But Lengel’s book on two small battles deals with events that I have overlooked or forgotten along the way.

Both Connecticut Farms and Springfield took place in New Jersey. Neither battle was decisive, nor largely remembered. But it is a fact of history that sometimes the smaller events can have ramifications that are far in excess of their notice. These battles were proving grounds for Washington’s leadership and army as it had reached a peak of relative efficiency. On the other hand, flaws in the British leadership structure and an increasing loss of vision was obvious.

What I would truly love and enjoy would be a course where both of these books were read and discussed. Following the bloody footprints of the American Patriot Army is inspiring to me both as a history student and as a citizen-heir of these soldiers. Seeing how even the smaller skirmishes and battles impacted the whole war is likewise enjoyable. For many of us, Rick Atkinson’s projected trilogy on the War for Independence will be defining. I can’t wait for the second volume to appear. But those three books are just a drop in the ever increasing larger body of studies of the military aspects of the Revolutionary War.

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Revival and Revivalism: The Making of American Evangelicalism, 1750–1858 by Iain Murray is published by Banner of Truth.

I feel utterly ashamed for not having read this book many years ago. I am a huge fan of both Mr. Murray’s writings and of Banner of Truth. I have had the book for years, but moving books from the office to my home caused me to pick up and read a few volumes that I had unexplainably neglected.

Maybe I hesitated because I already basically knew the story here. That being the case, there was much that I learned for the first time or was reminded of or was able to better understand upon reading this book. This is an important part of American history. For those who want the more academic titles to study this aspect of social and religious history, Murray provides the references. (John B. Boles’s books come to mind here.) For those who want a devotional and thoughtful Christian study, this is the book as well. Murray writes Christian history for Christian readers. He exhorts and encourages and rebukes by historical examples. He cites the personal accounts in large selections.

In short, the early day revivals from the time of the Great Awakening and decades following were Calvinistic, evangelistic, and sporadic. For the men of those times believed that revival only comes when God is pleased to send it. The contrasting revivalism, led largely by Charles G. Finney, made such works the efforts of men.

Great study. Read this alongside the more than a dozen other Murray books.

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus by L. Michael Morales is published by Intervarsity Press.

Some months ago, I was reading through the book of Leviticus. I got to thinking about the challenges of a pastor trying to do expository preaching through the book and almost had a panic attack. How does this book, so full of sacrifices and laws and regulations, apply to believers in the pews?

Then I picked up this book and began reading. This is not a chapter by chapter commentary, but it does reference some good ones. Instead, this is a thematic study. I would be sure to read this book at least three times before tackling Leviticus in a sermon series or group study. This book is a straight up climb along the sheer cliffs of Biblical theology, but it is rewarding. I look forward to reading Morales’s book on Exodus soon.

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Ending the month with reading Leadership in War by Andrew Roberts was quite a joy. This relatively short book consists of discussions about nine leaders–both of nations and armies–who guided their countries through times of war. In several cases, Roberts had already written books on the figures he covered.

They included Napoleon, Wellington, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, De Gaulle, Marshall, Eisenhower, and Margaret Thatcher. Each chapter is filled with a good description of the leadership styles of this odd array. Some, like Hitler, were disasters (Thanks be to God), while others are worthy of honor and emulation.

One of the main benefits I received from reading this book of mostly familiar material was getting acquainted with Andrew Roberts. I have far too many of his books to have not been a long time reader and fan. Thanks to Tony Williams for inadvertently assigning this book to me.

Now, on to February and another large stack of books!

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Top Reads from the Bottom Year 2020

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The best of the book reviewers and bloggers get their lists of favorite reads out in December or very shortly after New Year’s Day at the latest. But the defining characteristic of my life is that I am behind, late, slow, and struggling to catch up.

The books I have chosen are not given in any order either in regard to what part of the year I read them or ranking from good to best. I even thought about listing them alphabetically by author. These are a small number of books from the year that I read, and I could easily list ten more and then another ten and so on. There are a few that I could post as the worst books I read or the least helpful, but I see no need in capping off such a delightful year as 2020 with negativity.

Without further ado, here goes:

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I stumbled across the name of Towles in some book list several years back. Soon, I found a copy of his novel Rules of Civility, which I read with delight and found quite good. Later, I bought a used copy of A Gentleman in Moscow at the Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport (a favorite used bookstore).

This was one of the most beautifully written, paced, crafted, and enjoyable novels I have ever read. I hate the term “an instant classic,” but this book might very well fit that designation. What an incredible read! Of course, I love Russian literature and hate Communism, so it was satisfying those senses as well.

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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Changed America by Timothy Egan

I picked up a nice, like new copy of this unknown book in the Potter’s House in Siloam Springs. I was not familiar with the book, author, or event. I read it sometime after the wave of fires swept the American west during the summer.

It is hard to imagine how a story as horrible as this one could be written as such engaging history. This book reminded me of why I majored in history in college and taught history in school. While I respect and learn from the weighty academic tomes, this book kindled the fire that has always driven me to adore history (sorry for the puns). The great fire in Montana, Idaho, and Washington in 1910 was tied into the history of the National Forest Service and the friendship and political cooperation between Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt.

After reading this book, I promptly ordered several other books by Timothy Egan as well as an extra copy of The Great Burn.

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

Several friends recommended this book, so I hesitated about buying it. But they were right. Even Cody Howard was right (and actually he usually is).

If you want a serious theological reason to read this book, I could mention that it makes great use of Puritan and Reformed authors in presenting how they taught about Christ. Granted, sometimes Reformed pastors are thought of (hopefully without accuracy) as being harsh. Admittedly, we are often hesitant about appearing soft or gushy in our theology. But those warrior Puritan fathers had no such qualms.

More than a Puritan compendium of good quotes, this is also a Biblical study of a key component of the Christian life. If you are not a suffering sinner right now (and truthfully, you are), then you will be. And so will your congregation, family, and friends be.

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Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy by Charles Coulombe is published by Tan Books

I don’t reckon that this book will have been read by too many who are interested in the great rulers of history and certainly not by very many Reformed Protestant Christians.

Who is this young looking man on the cover? We know him as Prince Charles or Karl of Austria-Hungary. He was the last monarch of the Habsburg family which was dethroned at the end of World War I. The role of Austria-Hungary is often ignored or minimized in studies of World War I. At the same time, the A-H Empire was less than stellar in its battlefield exploits.

A year or so into the war, Emperor Franz Joseph died. Originally, Prince Charles was fourth in line of succession. But the deaths of the three others, including Franz Ferdinand, put him in the place as the heir. While we tried to brand the First World War as the “war to make the world safe for democracy,” it was a war that destroyed the stability and future of central Europe.

Prince Charles was a dedicated Christian man, husband, and leader. His particular theology and piety was different from mine, but he was a model of the ideal emperor. His time of rule was short, and he tried in the years that followed to regain his rightful heritage. Along with the book Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo, which I read in 2019, and The Habsburgs: To Rule the World by Martyn Rady, which I plan to read soon, I have an insatiable desire to know about this once great ruling family.

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Sermons on Titus by John Calvin is published by Banner of Truth

This book enabled me to become more of what I am often accused of being: A person who follows John Calvin. But, like everything else I have read by Calvin, I end up not being drawn to Calvin the man, but the God who he adores.

These sermons were quite good, edifying, quotable, and applicable. Robert White is the premier translator of Calvin’s works today. I also have the sermons on I and II Timothy from this same Banner of Truth series. These are finely done books that are good for study, devotional reading, and soul care.

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The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Hudson Parsons

Great study of two of the most diverse, talented, and determined men to ever seek the Presidency. Jackson got a bad deal in 1824 when he and Adams first clashed. The return bout was no-holds barred. Even this last year’s Presidential election may not have exceeded 1828 in intensity. I confess to simply loving these kinds of studies.

How America’s Political Parties Change and How They Don’t by Michael Barone

Barone is a favorite political commentator. I have several of his books and read his articles when I come across them. He is conservative, but capable of writing some hard hitting objective political commentary. From Barone, one learns of the patterns, the demographics, and the dynamics of political campaigns.

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America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts, edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles, is published by Notre Dame Press.

This book is a great study of American history through examinations of the nation’s wars. The lengthy opening essay deals with the idea of the Just War Tradition. Strangely enough, I don’t remember hearing about that in either undergraduate or graduate school studies. Perhaps historians wish to ship the topic over to the philosophy or political science departments.

The essays, all from different contributors, were exceptional readable and thought provoking. Some defended what I thought was indefensible and some found fault in areas that I thought were solid. This is not a “read it to agree with it” kind of book; rather, it is one that provides lots of challenges. It was a mental workout that was outstanding.

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Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862–The Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

I started this book with merely a curiosity as to why this conflict was labeled as the most violent in American history. After all, the events in this book took place during the Civil War. But the key term in this is that it was an ethnic conflict, particularly between the Dakota Indian tribes in Minnesota and the white settlers.

I was often lost in the reading of this book. That is because I was not familiar with the geography of Minnesota, nor with many of the key figures in the events. But what astounded me about this book was that it was a story of injustice and evil multiplied. The Dakota tribes were continually deceived and cheated by the government agents. When factions within the tribe retaliated with a wave of attacks, the results were brutal. Since most of the men and war materials were diverted to the bigger cause of the Civil War, the remnants that were available to defend the white citizens were few.

As was always the case, in time the white people prevailed. That led to the most upsetting part of the book. The “justice” that was meted out to the Dakota Indians who surrendered was terrible. Their trials were farces of justice. Many were sentenced to death and hanged. This is not the way that prisoners of war were to be treated. The trials were in English and the defendants were totally unaware of what was happening.

I was reading this book during the summer when Minnesota again became the center of terrible actions due to the death of George Floyd and the riots and protests that followed. History doesn’t give quick answers to current events, but it does provide a sad commentary that injustices, retributions, and dire resolutions are not new. This is a sad, but very important book.

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Beyond Tenebrae: Christian Humanism in the Twilight of the West by Bradley Birzer is published by Angelico Press.

This book is such a rich collection of essays on literary, historical, and philosophical topics. It is a venture into the mind, reflections, and loves of the author. I learned some years ago that anything that Brad Birzer writes is a “must have.” His books on Tolkien, Christopher Dawson, Russell Kirk, and Andrew Jackson are all prized possessions.

The “worst thing” about this book is that it caused me to order almost every book he referenced and discussed. This was a very calming, mind-enriching read.

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America’s Revolutionary Mind by C. Bradley Thompson

This is an in-depth, lengthy account of the ideas, philosophers, and American political leaders who embraced the Declaration of Independence. That document, especially the opening paragraphs, have impacted the world and changed minds and countries again and again. Even in our own country, it has an ongoing role in the discussions of how we view ourselves and our history.

I was greatly blessed by Dr. Michael Douma who invited me to participate in a group discussion of this book. Surrounded on Zoom by a host of readers who were far advanced from me, I went from liking to loving the book. This one is one I need to re-read and one that I really needed years ago (long before it was written) to guide my own thinking.

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Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

This book got lots of attention last year when it first appeared. Maybe the craziness of 2020 caused some to grow less interested in it, but it is a blockbuster of a book. Many of us have and read Church histories, but this book goes beyond those accounts and gives a broader vision of how Western Civilization and then the whole world has been impacted, mostly for good, by the Christian faith.

Holland was raised in the faith and gives the nod to his heritage, but does not appear to have personally embraced faith in Christ. But he does what far too many secular historians fail to do, and that is, he sees and shares the impact of how God is bringing the world into submission to His Kingdom.

The Life of William Faulkner

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“You have seen a country wagon come into town, with a hound dog under the wagon. It stops on the Square and the folks get out, but that hound never gets very far from that wagon. He might be cajoled or scared out for a short distance, but first thing you know he has scuttled back under the wagon; maybe he growls at you a little. Well, that’s me. ” William Faulkner

The Life of William Faulkner: The Past is Never Past by Carl Rollyson is published by the University of Virginia Press.

While many readers have struggled, agonized, and even given up when trying to read or understand some of William Faulkner’s fiction, perhaps his life itself is the most difficult challenge. On the one hand, the factual account of when and where he was born, lived, and died, who his family members were, and what books he wrote are all pretty easy to figure out. Any encyclopedia for us older readers or Internet search for the rest can yield those details.

This is why biographies are so important, revealing, and enjoyable. Faulkner presents a real challenge both to the reader of his fiction and to his biographer. Authorship of great literature is a process that contains a certain degree of magic or mystery. “How did any person write such things?” we think as we read the great works.

Some have assumed that Homer was not really the blind poet of legend, but was a different poet, perhaps also blind, with perhaps the same name. (I know that sounds crazy.) Maybe The Iliad was actually composed by several authors, some have suggested. Shakespeare presents one of the greatest literary mysteries of all time. How did any one man write the plays? Moreover, how did any one man born in Stratford-on-Avon, who had a good but not spectacular education, and limited travel experiences write such far flung, diverse, and powerful lines with such a vast array of characters?

Greeks spoke of the Muses and Milton called upon the Holy Spirit for illumination, and we all speak of being inspired to write. The bottom line is that great words, worlds, and imaginations flow from the minds and pens of some few very special and gifted people.

William Faulkner was born in Mississippi in 1897. His family had some honored historical people, particularly his great grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner. Young Faulkner ( who added the “u” to his last name) was decently well educated and was a sharp kid. The only social advantage he seemed to have was that his family lived in town where his father labored in work that would have been more secure than subsistence farming.

Colonel William Clark Falkner, whose life story will appear in part in great grandson William’s fiction.

In the early years, the boy Faulkner traveled the country a bit, supposedly in search of education and life experiences. He attended the University of Mississippi where he contributed a few pieces to the college paper, but did not either complete a degree or distinguish himself as a student. He went “off to war” during World War I, but his record was and remains quite sketchy. In that time, airplanes were a real fascination for many, including Faulkner. He went to Canada where he joined the Royal Air Force. He came back home with a uniform that was real and a limp that was an affectation.

He was a goof off at his job as a post master. He gave all appearances of being a ne’er-do-well. He was interested in a few girls, particularly Estelle Oldham, whose family connections were a barrier to Faulkner. From Oxford, Mississippi, he left and spent some time in New Orleans where he developed his writing skills, hobnobbing with Sherwood Anderson–a successful author of the time, and dividing his time between charming people and being drunk.

Truth is, I find the younger Faulkner almost totally unlikeable. I find few redeeming traits in his habits, ambitions, and actions. Had I known him in those years, I would have written him off as a loser. He wasn’t winning too many accolades as a promising fellow from his townsmen nor his colleagues. But he kept scribbling away.

During these years, he published several novels that tend to be overlooked and unread in these times. One was titled Soldier’s Pay and the other Mosquitos. This was basically the same era in which Faulkner’s two contemporaries, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were emerging as the brilliant literary lights of their times.

Reviews for Faulkner’s early works were decently commendatory. But he had to return to his native ground of Oxford, Mississippi (both literally and imaginatively) before his literary abilities began blossoming. His third novel was titled Flags in the Dust. It was a story that combined elements of his connection to his locally famous great grandfather and heritage with the experiences and despair of post-World War I America. The book got chopped down by his publisher-editors and was titled Sartoris. I was a freshman in college in 1974 when my English teacher, who was then in love with Faulkner’s works, said that the original full novel had finally gotten published.

In the next decade, the 1930s, Faulkner wrote a half dozen of his most enduring novels. These included The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom. He rose to his heights as an artist, but he was only able to survive by writing short stories that were quick sellers and writing movie scripts for Hollywood.

All of this is covered in great detail in Rollyson’s first volume biography. Prior to this biography, a massive two volume work was written on Faulkner by Joseph Blotner. (I learned of this work from my college teacher in 1974 as well. ) A slew of shorter biographies and studies of Faulkner also came out over the years. My favorite one volume study if Jay Parini’s book One Matchless Life, and I also love Cleanth Brooks’ several volumes of literary studies on Faulkner’s works.

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What Rollyson does in great detail is something of a combination of biography and literary examination. In fact, from Faulkner’s short pieces and poems in his earliest attempts to his great novels, Rollyson connects the story of Faulkner with the story that Faulkner was writing. This unveils lots of insight into Faulkner’s writings. While he was not doing autobiography, his fiction was imitating his life.

Faulkner married his lifelong sweetheart Estelle. One could wish that this small town romance story was a pretty one, but it isn’t . Estelle initially married a different man, left Oxford, had two children, and then got divorced. Faulkner, once the not approved beau, took advantage of her return and married her. He truly seemed to be a good step-father to the children, for he was, in spite of all his faults, a gentle and caring man. Faulkner and Estelle were in need of some serious intervention and counseling through the years. Both were severe addicts: William to alcohol and Estelle to alcohol and drugs. Finances were rough as Faulkner was often waiting for story payments or advances in royalties.

Despite having written what are considered several great novels, Faulkner was not writing page turners or thrillers or best sellers. His successes eked out enough money for the Faulkners to slowly renovate a run down piece of property just outside of downtown Oxford. They named the place Rowan Oak.

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Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi: One of my favorite places to visit.

Rollyson’s account of Faulkner is often dark and troubling. His revelations into Faulkner’s life, often correcting previous accounts or adding to the known sources of information, are helpful in trying to see what the man was really like, what made him tick (to use an overly ancient cliche}.

The sections that deal with some of Faulkner’s movie script writing are really hard to follow because many of us who read Faulkner have not read these accounts. Still, this account does add quite a bit to the possibilities of figuring out the often deceptive, secretive, private, but brilliant life of the future Nobel Prize Winner.

Nope, this is not the book for those who have not read Faulkner’s works, nor for those who just want to learn the basics about his life. But for any wanting to travel further into the depths of the wilderness of the man who created Yoknapatawpha County, get this book.

Post Script: Often we have to wait for a long time for the second volume of a work to appear. But in this case, volume two of Rollyson’s study of Faulkner is already out. The Life of William Faulkner: The Alarming Paradox, 1935 to 1962 is published by the University of Virginia Press.

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Scottish Theology and History

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It is worthwhile during these times to remind ourselves that the cultural and domestic upheavals of our time are primarily theological in nature. This does not simplify the matter to good guys fighting against bad guys, nor does it mean that we can safely assume that we are the Lord’s army and those who disagree with us are Satan’s minions. Remember that in World War II, Hitler’s Third Reich waged war against Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union. Both were evil. We and our political opponents may not be on that order of evil, but we should always be asking not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.

Christians have a long history of bloody street fighting as well as armed clashes of armies in the field. Christians have long said and done ugly, ungodly things. And some of those terrible actions, like the conniving of Joseph’s brothers, have brought about good through the providence of God.

Reading the history of the Church and/or particular groups and individuals in the history of the Faith will not yield easy and perfect role models. History does not work like that. The phrase “History repeats itself” is extremely inexact. History provides models, patterns, and examples, but which model, pattern, or example will unveil the future is not the realm of history or the task of historians. Clio did not work on weekends at the Oracle of Delphi.

Nevertheless, history runs a close race with theology as being essential for a Christian’s ability to understand the world, the Bible, and the current state of events. This discussion prefaces my review and recommendation of the following book:

Therefore the Truth I Speak: Scottish Theology 1500-1700 by Donald Macleod, published by Mentor, an imprint of Christian Focus Publications.

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This book appealed to me (and delivered!) on several grounds. First of all, the topic is one that is of interest, or I should say, two that are of interest. I am a history teacher by profession and a student of theology by interest. This book belongs in both sections of the library. Also, it is tied to the Post-Reformation period where the implications of the Reformation were being felt and applied throughout Europe.

Second, the author himself is commendable. Earlier this year, I read his short book Compel Them to Come In, which is a powerful case for the Free Offer of the Gospel in Calvinistic theology. I was already in the choir when I read this book, but I loudly gave an “AMEN!” to the content.

Compel Them to Come InCalvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel

Add to those reasons, Christian Focus Publications is one of the publishing outlets whose every volume I covet. They are solid, practical, and well produced.

Now, on to the book: The Scots battled for “the Crown Rights of Jesus” fiercely for several decades. Scotland was already a political pawn on the European chessboard with ongoing collusion with France and the ever-threatening dominance by the English. The first major figure who emerges onto this battlefield is John Knox, but that does not mean that he was not preceded by others.

Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart preceded him. Both became martyrs to the cause, and both influenced Knox. The life and times of John Knox are adventurous. He lived through more tumultuous events in one lifetime than most people live through in several lifetimes. His life was not one devoted to writing out treatises in the quietness of his study. Compared to the better known of his contemporaries, meaning Luther and Calvin, we have a much shorter body of works. But Knox was a theologian, and this book, while giving some account of his life, delves into that aspect of his legacy.

In the decades following Knox, other great leaders arose in Scotland. Chapters in the book are devoted to Andrew Melville, Robert Bruce, Alexander Henderson, and Samuel Rutherford. These men were all top notch preachers and leaders who continued to fight the battles which were always a combination of church and state issues. What was most central to the task was the culture, as always.

One of the more interesting chapters for us Americans has reference to the impact of Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex. That work was largely ignored by American theologians and pastors until Francis Schaeffer began calling attention to it back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In some ways, the fact that Americans were rebelling against the British and that many of the Americans were of Scot descent led people to think that Lex Rex was a direct influence on the events.

Three of the latter chapters dealt with David Dickson and Scottish Federal Theology. I confess to being totally lost on the issues. I suspect people of deeper theological learning would be able to engage in this discussion. That aside, it doesn’t detract from what is a fine study.

Final note, I found myself wondering when Thomas Chalmers was going to show up. Then I glanced back at the subtitle and remembered that this book only goes to 1700. That makes me hope that Doctor MacLeod follows up this work with another one that takes the story up through another century or so.

As can be seen, I have a hefty stack of books on the Scottish and English Reformation experiences. I have completed four of the books and hope I can successfully tackle a few more in the coming months. The study is profitable and relevant.

For now, I can highly recommend Therefore the Truth I Speak.

The Household and the War for the Cosmos by C. R. Wiley

The Household and the War for the Cosmos Audiobook

The Household and the War for the Cosmos by C. R. Wiley is published by Canon Press.

Just about skipped over reading this book. Books about home and family and marriage tend to not interest me. What I find is that I can read them, but my wife doesn’t apply what the books are teaching, and why should I be the one to make changes in our home, marriage, and family? And there is the guilt load from realizing how far I fall short of being the husband, father, family leader, and shepherd I should be.

So, I was highly inclined to give this book a pass by. And yet, I finally felt guilted into reading it by Brian Kohl who works for Canon Press. So, just to be nice, I read it.

On the one hand, I am always in need of another set of exhortations, rebukes, occasional encouragements, and out right slaps in the face over family matters. Spiritual, moral, economic, and practical lessons for life together as a family, in a shared space, and amongst wife and children are needed. I agreed to read the book just to subject myself to such.

But that is not what Wiley’s book is about. I was not prepared for the greater issue of his book. The Household and the War for the Cosmos is not a manual for home life. It is a call for the greater entity than just husband and wife or parents and children. This book is about the household. And what does that mean?

The future of civilization is not merely dependent upon males and females getting married and then having babies, although that is essential. The household is a structure, a hierarchy, an order that is part of the greater order that God has created. It is rooted and focused on the past and is aiming toward the future.

Part of what is fascinating about Wiley’s book is his discussion and comparison between what Abraham did and what Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome, did in The Aeneid. There was a piety, an out of date and out of use, but vitally essential word, that characterized both men and their missions.

So often we miss the big picture because we are lost in the focus on the smaller angles of the smaller pictures. We need to save babies, stop the encroachments upon family freedoms, keep couples together, maintain proper and biblical gender roles, and more. The brush fires against family are many. But to expand that analogy, if we have many brushfires, the greater danger is a huge wind that will spread and increase the flames all across the landscape.

Wiley uses and likes the term “Guerrilla Piety.” He also likes the Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which he views as a handbook for such piety. This is a militant book. But again, this is not the Benedict Option or the call for an Amish retreat. The household is the center and fulcrum of the debates across the land.

Part of what I keep thinking from my 2 enjoyable readings of this book is that the ideal family is not the primary goal. We can have the idealized family notions with just the right amount of fatherly leadership, wifely/motherly submission and co-reigning, children nurturing and catechizing, societal withdrawal, courtship driven marriage planning, family worship, and perfection. Only, I never achieved any of that when my children were small, and now my youngest is 18.

And if I fell short of the marks, I must admit that my own parents and my wife’s parents fell even more short of the mark. But we (my wife and I) and my children were and are blessed because the imperfect, stumbling, struggling, often chaotic homes we had and have were, nevertheless, stable and Christian. In military terms, we were not elite special fighting units, but we did wage war and never considered surrendering to the enemy.

America is a mess right now. We are living through the worst time in all of our history, except for all those other times which were also the worst times in our history. Voter fraud doesn’t happen, but systemic racism does. The printing presses that “make money” are rivaling those of the Weimar Republic of old. Political satire and political reality are indistinguishable. Several people have said, in my hearing, that they really feel sorry for the young who will have to live with the consequences of these times.

I, on the other hand, envy the young. God’s plan for the household. God’s order for confronting the flimsy idols of our time. God’s raucous laughter (see Psalm 2) at the pantywaist plastic sword wielding powers of our age. God’s promises of victory over all of His and our enemies. As many as the blazes are. As mighty as the wind that threatens to fan the flames. God’s flooding will extinguish the fire and drench the enemies totally.

The most basic patterns set forth in Scripture do not begin with a political program or a top-down Washington set of guidelines for changing the culture. Look to the household. This is not said to minimize the role of the church, which is, ideally, made largely up of and training, households. Parents, children, grandparents, relatives, and others brought into the circle of the family bonds are the means to confront the culture.

Oh sure, we need to sharpen the edges of our husband and wife relationships and communication. And for certain, we need some more instruction on training our children. And yes, yes, yes, to Christian education. And yes as well to training Christians to be good citizens. And yes to evangelism and a thousand other issues. But let’s center on the household.

I strongly suggest that this book not be ordered singly, but in multiples of ten. Groups and Sunday school classes need to read and discuss this work. Like I said, I read it twice. Another two readings wouldn’t “do me no hurt” (to quote Mother York from the movie Sgt. York).

Canon Press Books

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“Canon Press books to the right of them.

Canon Press books to the left of them.

Canon Press books to the front of them

Volleyed and thundered

Boldly they publish and sell

Into the eyes of their readers

Into the minds of their flock

Canon Press’s hundreds.”

I have acquired and read quite a few books from Canon Press over the years. In fact, I even wrote introductions to the four reprints of Jacob Abbott biographies that Canon published several years ago. (Alas, the reprinting venture was supposed to encompass some twenty or more of Abbott’s works, but it stalled out at four.) Many aspects of my life–church work, classical Christian education, teaching literature, teaching history, teaching theology, home life, and more–have been impacted by the wide, fun, and amazing array of books that Canon has provided the Christian community for years. In this age of many small publishing ventures, Canon Press has had a greater than expected impact from a lesser known small publisher located far from the historic centers of book publishing. By that, I mean that Moscow, Idaho isn’t found to be as prominent as New York, New York or Boston, Massachusetts in the history of book productions.

This past summer, I think, I received a parcel of new and interesting books from Canon and the assignment of reading and reviewing them. Might I suggest that everything that has happened or was supposed to happen in 2020 has been a bit, at least a bit, off the mark. So, I read, but did not post reviews. With upheavals in our home (due to water damage from a heavy rain in the summer), the disruption of my school office (due to the closing of our school), and the breakdown of law and order amongst my heavy laden bookshelves, I am not even sure where some of the books are.

But let me reconstruct the scene of the crimes. Crimes in this case meaning my failed postings of reviews.

The Temple: Introduction by John Piper

This book was a case of love at first sight. George Herbert has long been a favorite poet. It is hard to find a Herbert poem that is not first rate. While I was familiar with the fact that Herbert was a pastor and a poet and had written a poem called “The Temple,” I was not aware of how brief his life was and that this collection was his only collection of poems.

Now if a book of poetry is not appealing to you, I suggest that you seek help immediately. Go to the woods and without letting anyone hear you, voice every objection you have to reading poetry, reading it regularly, and reading it devotedly. After that, get this book and start reading slowly. If a poem’s meaning or richness eludes you, don’t fret; rather, just keep reading. Poetry is often the calculus of literature. By that I mean that it is not always easy. And don’t think that a poem is just a riddle or a problem to be solves. Poetry entails thought, re-readings, interpretation, revision of thoughts and interpretation, nuances, depth, and enlightenment.

Notice that this book has a World War I image on the cover. One might think that the cover would be better fitted to a collection of World War I poetry (and I have quite a few of those). The cover is intentionally calling attention to Herbert’s poem “Artillery.” This is one of his best known poems. And this complete collection contains both the “top hits” as well as the “B side” poems of Herbert.

Notice also that this book is part of the Christian Heritage Series. Canon is producing a series of books especially designed for Christian school students and home schooling students. The great classics of Western Culture brain robbery means that many of us who are parents and teachers are unfamiliar or very slightly familiar with many of these works. Christian education is educating a whole generation of Christian parents who are embarrassed at what their kids are learning in contrast to what they/we did not learn.

This series includes the following works:

Calvin’s Institutes, books 1-4.

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Lectures to My Students by Charles H. Spurgeon

Lex, Rex: The Law and the King by Samuel Rutherford

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

The Bondage of the Will by Jonathan Edwards

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle

Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants by Junius Brutus

And of course, The Temple by George Herbert

While most of these books have been published by others along the way, this series provides some uniformly and creatively covered, relatively inexpensive, and easily acquired editions of these works.

These kinds of lists and publishing ventures make me ashamed. Here I stand, covered with college credit hours and decades of teaching experience, but bereft of the knowledge and content of many of the books above. Edge that shallow literature textbook aside and delve into these books.

A review of these titles would be a good course of study for pastors and teachers. Inquiries into the content would be good for job interviews with such. Start where you are and be patient. (Don’t be quite so patient with your own kids however. They can read and master these books.) If you were only to get a couple of them read, that is progress. Start with Herbert’s The Temple.

More books and discussions regarding Canon Press will come later.

The Making and Unmaking of Presidents

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Shortly after the 1960 election (in which John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon), Theodore White wrote the first of what would become a defining series on American Presidential elections. He was a journalist and something of an old time liberal from that era. Normally, the books that are whipped out quickly following a political event are of interest only for a season or two.

White’s series of books remain great and valuable reading. He was there on the scenes; his writing displays flair and color; he was able to capture the drama and tensions of the times. In some cases, he was proven to be magnificently wrong in his judgments, but often he is a great window into both the times and the issues of those days. He was writing journalism, but his series have proven to be fine historical readings.

The Making of the President 1960 was followed by books with same pattern of title and content in 1964, 1968, and 1972. Sometime later, he wrote a book that sought to give a bigger picture, titled America in Search of Herself: The Making of 1956 to 1980.

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Since his time, book show up following each election that seek to explain and define what the previous election was all about. I have read a few of them, but have not found anyone quite as good as White. Craig Shirley’s books, Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign that Started It All and Rendezvous With Destiny: The Campaign That Changed America, are two favorite reads on political campaigns, but these books were more focused on Ronald Reagan and not the broader scope of the campaigns.

Hardcover Reagan's Revolution : The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All Book
Paperback Rendezvous with Destiny : Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America Book

Without a doubt, the 2016 Presidential election was one of the most amazing and interesting (although irritating) ones in all of American history. I have bypassed scores of books that are either slams on the Trump campaign or hagiography on Donald Trump because I am not interested in TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), Never-Trumpers’s hand wringing, nor Trump idol worshippers.

I did read John Fea’s book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and found it to be one of the most stupid books I have ever come across. It is embarrassing to me that it was written by a able historian and Christian thinker.

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Far better, far more entertaining, and far more insightful was P. J. O’Rourke’s How the Hell Did This Happen?

All of this brings me to the recently completed 2020 Presidential election. I suspect that for historians, political scientists, political journalists, and any of those kinds who write enjoyable books, this year (although miserable to have lived through) will make for the best political campaign stories since the days of Andrew Jackson’s 3 Presidential campaigns.

I look forward to the book or books that will come out in two to ten years that give some analysis of this year’s politics without losing the sound and the fury of it all. Joe Biden’s “success story” is one for the record books. I counted him out time and time again. No one has lost the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary and then received his party’s nomination. No one since William McKinley in 1896 spent most of the election in his home. And McKinley came out on his front porch to campaign and didn’t hide away in a basement. No one has had more verbal gaffes and goofs, lies and backtrackings and survived the press. No one has had as many serious concerns for his mental state and yet was able to win.

The only political biography of our time that parallels Biden’s is that of Donald Trump. His capture of the Republican nomination in 2016 was an incredible story. (I was sick over his wins from start to finish of the nomination process.) His election, against all odds, against all polling, and against all political wisdom, was either the stroke of a political genius or the perfect storm of political calamities. I think it was both.

The four years of the Trump Presidency have been both surprising and terrifying. Even a reluctant Republican loyalist like me often cringed, winced, and agonized over President Trump’s words and deeds. But then he made some amazing appointments and nominations both for his administrative agenda and the judicial branch. He could seem totally out of touch with reality, but then turn around and make some monumental ahievements.

“We love him for the enemies he has made” was one of the slogan used of President Grover Cleveland. If trut of Cleveland, it was many times more true of Trump. He wasn’t just a bit stand-offish toward the media, but was confrontational. Okay, go ahead and say “rude, vicious, and unbending.” He didn’t just “go along to get along,” an old political mantra, but he marched to a different drummer. He often seemed to have no convictions, no moral political compass, no metrics to guide his agenda, but then he would doggedly work, connive, and command that his campaign promises be implemented.

Seemingly devoid of understanding of the ways and means of Washington life, negligent or ignorant of American history, and painfully un-Presidential in conduct and character, he actually accomplished quite a bit during his term. And he drove his opposition batty. The Democrat Party had its best opportunity ever to present itself as a reasonable, history-grounded, careful, and deliberate alternative to the world of Trump, and it responded with the most leftist insanities and bizarre reaction imaginable.

Concerning the 2020 Presidential election, I will say this: Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump. Right now, there is hand wringing on both sides. The Democrat Blue Wave landslide didn’t happen. While Joe Biden broke all records for the sheer number of popular votes, the second place trophy goes to President Trump. Some eleven million more voters turned out for Trump in 2020.

The question is “Why wasn’t it 12 million?” Trump could have won with a few more hundred thousand votes in a few key states. Here is why he did not succeed:

  1. The Corona Virus changed everything. One can argue both favorably and unfavorably about how the Trump administration and the President himself responded, but it was a game changer.
  2. President Trump’s first debate was a disaster. The old saying in the 1980s was “Let Reagan Be Reagan.” When Reagan, who was always carefully prompted and advised by wife and staff, was free to be himself, he was magnificent. But Trump has too often proven to be unwilling to listen and learn and unable to hear and see himself correctly. He whipped up a frenzy in that first debate that likely pleased segments of his base. But what was needed was for those on the sidelines to see that the President was Presidential, wise, caring, and a leader.
  3. President Trump failed to win friends and influence people in all too man circumstances. His feud with the late Senator John McCain was stupid from the start when Trump criticized McCain for having been captured in war. Lots of political people don’t like each other, but the wise ones know when to bury the hatchet. Did Trump’s never-ending diatribes against McCain cost him Arizona? Maybe. It sure didn’t help.
  4. Perhaps this was too deliberate and too carefully orchestrated to counter, but the Trump campaign found itself being hammered week after week by narratives that made the President look bad. His niece wrote a book about her bad uncle. Unnamed sources said that he had bad mouthed military veterans. Trump people who left spoke critically of him. He and his family got the Corona virus. An aging and increasingly senile Bob Woodward came out with a book where Trump had shown reservations about revealing the dangers of the then impending virus. Trump got off track again and again in his rallies and tweets where he badmouthed his medical experts and others.
  5. President Trump failed to reach out to people who could have helped him. He should have been wooing and speaking with people like former President George W. Bush, Senator Mitt Romney, former VP Richard Cheney, and others all along. He could have been willing to listen, willing to praise, willing to learn, and yet not have to sacrifice his own style. A President has to be a leader and that involves a big dose of humility to be done right.

I will await the book or books that confirm what I am saying or that proves that I am yet once again wrong on politics.

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