The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson

Image result for hanson the second world wars

Two factors made this book an instant “Must Have” and “Must Read” work.  The first factor was that Victor Davis Hanson wrote it.  Hanson is both a classicist and a military historian.  He is equally at home teaching, speaking, or writing about the ancient Greeks and Romans.  His skills include being adept at discussing the literature of the Greeks and Romans.  Want to know about Homer, Herodotus, or Livy?  Read Hanson.  Particularly, see Who Killed Homer?, Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece, Bonfire of the Humanities, or A War Like No Other.

But he is also one of the premier military historians of our time.  Rank him right up there with John Keegan.  See Carnage and Culture, Ripples of Battle, The Soul of Battle, or The Savior Generals.  (We can add this point also:  Hanson is a first rate political commentator as well.  See his contributions as found on his web-site or on the National Review web-site.)

The second reason was the title:  The Second World Wars.  As I have stated before, my love of history began with studying World War II and other events in 20th Century history.  That love has never diminished.  (My love for other parts of history has increased, however).  Oddly enough, I never took a college class that covered WWII nor have I taught it much in recent years.  But I continue to read about it.

If one wants to know the story of the Second World War, don’t read this book.  If one wants to know the causes, don’t read this book.  If one wants to read extensively about the incredible cast of leaders (political and military), don’t read this book. If one enjoys the narratives of the battles, the clash of arms, the suffering and the glory of what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen faced…need I repeat myself?

Who then should read this book?  Those who already have read extensively on the war.  This is a BIG PICTURE ANALYSIS of the war.  It is an accounting of multitudes of numbers, details, weapon capabilities, geographical factors, industrial outputs, and casualties.  As such, I loved it.

Who besides Victor Davis Hanson could fill a book with a million statistics, facts, and figures, and then make ample use of references to ancient wars, and still produce an incredibly mind-numbing and brilliant work?  I found myself constantly asking, “How could a war of this magnitude have actually taken place?” and “How could Hanson have assembled and made sense of all these details?”

Most nights (for I read this book at night), I was only able to absorb and cover 10 to 20 pages of this book.  That is a testimony in its favor. (I always had the “page-turner” close by to read after the Hanson book.)  But each night, I looked forward to reading this book.

The Axis powers simply took on more than it was possible for them to achieve.  Of course, one can examine ways they could have won the war or achieved some degree of survival.  Some of the decisions of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese defy reason.

On the part of Hitler: Why attack Russia when Britain was still a formidable force that was hurling bombs on Berlin itself?  Why declare war on the United States after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?  Why waste so much manpower holding places like Norway?  Why leave Malta and Gibraltar in Allied hands?  Why waste money and resources on some major weapons that were never produced in ample numbers?  And, of course, why brutalize people you needed on your side?

To Mussolini:  Why declare war on France?  That little venture, along with the attack on Greece, helped doom Italy.  Why enter into a war when Italy did not have an adequate army or industry to wage war?  Why join in with the efforts to conquer Russia?

To Japan:  Why leave the American forces in Pearl Harbor wounded, but not destroyed?  Why provoke America and Britain into a war when war with China was already consuming so much manpower?

Along with those issues, the Allied powers made plenty of mistakes on their own.  The fall of France in 1940 continues to defy imagination.  Britain made enough blunders to lose the war a dozen times over.  The United States would have committed blunders of almost irreparable harm had it not been for the British restraints.  Russia’s conduct–meaning Stalin’s–was horrendous and stupid at times.

Yet Britain, America, and Russia produced weapons, planes, tanks, artillery guns, trucks, and bombs in such numbers that the sheer weight of it all should have crushed the Axis powers.  Add to that, the manpower (which was not made up solely of males).

Hanson’s account calls on the reader to reconsider the impact of the Allied bombing campaign over Germany and Japan. The types and amount of planes that Britain and America produced and employed was staggering.  The air war was the second front that Stalin often complained about the lack of.  The British really made a substantial contribution to winning the war both through being at war with Germany longer than any other allied country and in terms of quality production of weaponry.  And no one can successfully dismiss Churchill’s roles and rhetoric.

If your love of history spurs you to want to make the comparisons between opposing forces, this is the book for you.  If you have read and enjoyed Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, but feel like you are ready for some behind the scenes details, this book will amaze you.  If you enjoy comparisons of the recent past (World War II) to the distant past (the Peloponnesian War), you will find those comparisons here.

In short, this book is a great contribution by one of our finest historians.  And this book is absolutely vital to add to your library and reading list for understanding the Second World War.


Utmost Ongoing–Oswald Chambers’ Book Lives

Image result for oswald chambers

One of the things I learned quickly when I begin reading serious books about the Bible, theology, and Christian living was that the most popular authors and works were not to be trusted.  The Bible commentaries of William Barclay were found everywhere.  Barclay was a great story teller who filled his volumes with anecdotes, but he either waffled on or outright denied basic Christian truths.  What Would Jesus Do? remained a popular book, but it was sappy.  The Late Great Planet Earth and other bestsellers from Hal Lindsey were to be shunned at all costs.  There were other books filled with fluff, saccharine, and, let us say it, heresy, that were floating all around the Christian community.

But I was marching to a different drummer.  I had entered a world where names like Warfield, Boettner, Clark, Rushdoony,  Machen, and others were providing the gold standard for which authors to pursue, which books to read, and which theological topics to focus on.

Many times and in many places, I would see a book titled My Utmost for His Highest.  I did not know the book itself, the author, or the theological perspective it contained.  But it was popular.  I probably confused it with another book titled Hind’s Feet on High Places a few times, but avoided both books.

The theologians I read, the pastors I listened to, the cassette tape lectures I consumed (from Mount Olive Tape Library), and fellow believers of like-theological persuasions all provided me more than enough theological fodder for me to consume.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to spiritual perfection (and I wasn’t even close to arriving).  George Grant came to Texarkana to speak at our school and to the community.  In the Q&A sessions, he got the inevitable question asking how someone could possibly achieve any semblance of reading all they needed to read.  After all, in our circles (Reformed, classical education, Kuyperian, etc.), we love books and a wide range of books on theology, history, literature, and more.

Grant’s answer was that sometimes he was so busy and tired at night that he only had time for a snippet here and there from a book or two, a bit of Bible reading, and the daily selection from My Utmost for His Highest by Chambers.  I was taken aback.  Maybe Dr. Grant meant to say that he read a bit from Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or Jonathan Edwards’ sermons.  But no, I had heard correctly.  George Grant reads and rereads Oswald Chambers’ long-time best-selling devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest.

Of course, I then made it my mission to buy a copy of the book.  Over the years, I have picked up several copies of it, along with a few other works by Chambers.  But, I confess this to my shame, I did not become a daily Utmost reader.

Image result for utmost ongoing

Recently, I learned that a new book was out about Chambers’ book.  This book consists of 27 contributions by people in all walks of life who lives and Christian walk have been impacted by Chambers’ Utmost.  For many, the book was given to them early in their Christian walk.  Some found direction and help early on. But for others, it took time and many experiences for the devotional’s content to come back into their minds and bring change.

Former President George W. Bush is perhaps the best known example of someone who has used the book. (I wish he had contributed a chapter to this work.)  But Chambers’ book, largely put together by his wife Biddy after his death, has directed people in all sorts of work and many types of Christian ministries.

Most of the contributors were unknown to me.  There were two exceptions–Grant himself and Joni Eareckson Tada.  When I first got the book, I turned immediately to Grant’s article and read it.  As expected, he and Joni both had wonderful contributions.  But it was the others who made up 25/27ths of the book and whose articles impressed me as much or more.  I was made aware of so many Christian ministries, web-sites, and servants of Christ that I did not know existed.

In the past few months, we have lost at least three great and powerful Christian leaders:  R. C. Sproul, James Sire, and Billy Graham.  The number of people whose lives have been changed by these three men (any one of them or all three) is incalculable.  My Utmost for His Highest first came out in 1935.  It has been reprinted in a multitude of editions, including an updated “translation” into more modern language.  Each day, thousands of Christians begin their day with this book or work it into a break or some free minutes.  And it only takes a minute or two to read the snippet of a Bible verse and the three to five paragraphs that follow.

For faithful readers of Chambers, this collection of testimonies would be a great joy.  For those of us who fall short, this collection is a convincing exhortation to get the book and keep it close by and actually read from it–daily.

Image result for my utmost for his highest

Footnote:  A few years back, I was part of an email discussion group. One contributor once raised what he saw as a concern.  It was that people in Reformed congregations were, in all too many cases, reading Oswald Chambers.  I think I was the only responder who did not share the concern.  At the time, I was pastoring a Reformed congregation.  Too much Chambers would have been welcomed on my behalf.  Yes, I would want to see the Reformed folk reading Kuyper, Warfield, Calvin, Sproul, and a lot of guys with Dutch names.  Yes, Chambers’ books focus on a narrow part of the whole Christian life.  But that central core–the heart–needs a daily dose of, if not Chambers, those who share his love and devotion to Christ.


I’ll Be a History Teacher Someday

Image result for history teacher

Learning history once seemed so easy.  I would go to college for four years.  I would teach history for a few years.  Then I would go to college some more.  Then I would teach some more.  Somewhere around age 30, I would know history.

Nothing like that happened.  Well, I did go to college for four years, and I did go back to college at nights and in the summers and add on graduate hours.  But I have never reached the point where I know history.   I am still laboring to learn, re-learn, and un-learn history.  I feel like I am almost ready to begin–if I could begin over.  But beginning might mean beginning my teaching career over.  Or it might mean beginning college over. Or it might mean beginning elementary school over (but that only if I could be socially and physically less awkward).

Here I am facing yet another stack of history books.  I will share with you some readings that I am finishing or anxious to start.

Image result for hanson second world war

When I heard about this book last fall, it was an immediate “I must have it or I will perish.”  That was no exaggeration.  It was critical for me to get the book.  I should finish it today.  I has been a long, hard slog to get through it, but it has been worth it.  This is not a beginners’ story of the war or a narrative highlighting the drama and personalities of World War II.  It is a detailed analysis of the Allied and Axis powers in terms of weapons, manpower, effectiveness of tactics, and leadership.  Great book.  Watch for my upcoming review.

Image result for theater of a separate war

Two events conspired to cause me to want the book Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River 1961-1865.  First, it is a history book and not just any history book, but a book about The War and not just any book about The War, but a book about a part of The War that gets overlooked–the Trans-Mississippi theater.  Second, I met the author.  Now, I would like to say that I met him in some scholarly setting where we were exchanging ideas about history, but that is not the case.  I met him in a store where I was buying a light for our bathroom (that has not yet been installed).

Last month, I read the introduction to this book and was hyped to get it started.  I should be diving in this next week.  Watch for a review soon.

Related image

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History is by the duo history authors Brian Kilmead and Don Yeager.  Their books are best sellers and are popular histories.  I have yet to read them to be able to give my take.  I should have read this book before last week when I talked about the Tripolitan War in class.  This book looks good and is a short read.  I will be reading it this next week.

Image result for john witherspoon's american revolution

John Witherspoon’s American Revolution is by Gideon Mailer.  I suspect this book is going to be a challenge, meaning this is not an easy read for the midnight hour.  That is fine, for I have plenty of midnight reads and usually fall asleep before that time.  But John Witherspoon is, after all, John Witherspoon.  Sometimes called “the Forgotten Founding Father,” he is the man most dear to the heart of Calvinists who love history.  I desire anything and everything I can find and read about him.

Related image

Another book I should have read prior to my recent classroom lectures is Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman.  This book was published some time back, but just came out in paperback.  Jefferson is a pivotal and key figure in understanding American history.  He is one of the few U. S. Presidents who would still be a major figure even if he had never served as the Chief Executive.  Last year I read Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald.  That was a surprising and delightful book. It seems like there is no end to fascinating studies on Jefferson.

Image result for confounding founding father

Another book that is not quite so urgent is Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Proteges, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald.  This book consists of essays about some of the key figures in Washington’s life and career, including the military men, like Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, and the political men, like Jefferson and Hamilton (who was also a military man)  Being a collection of essays, this book lends itself to being read in part based on which figure one wishes to study.

Image result for robert m. s. mcdonald books

Like Washington and Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was a man who dominated his times and extended his influence into our times.  Loved and hated by the left and the right wings of political folks, he had a personality and style that transcends mere political likes and dislike.  The book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer explores the political differences between two titans–Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  Having the proverbial meal with famous people would not go well if your choice guests were TR and Mark Twain.  They would likely pick back up with an argument that set them at odds back in their times.  Can’t wait to start this one.

Image result for theodore roosevelt and mark twain book

Reading history is not all fun and games.  I am duty bound to labor over a weighty collection of essays titled What Is Classical Liberal History, edited by my friend Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness.  I read Dr. Douma’s opening essay which warns me of the depth of water I will be swimming in.  I am not in the camp of classical liberal historians, but I think I am very sympathetic to them and their approach.  By the way, don’t confuse the term “classical liberal” with our current political discussions concerning folks we call liberals.

No automatic alt text available.

Calllie the dog is a therapy dog who is trained to help me understand parts of books that are above and beyond me.


Intentional Christian by Daniel Ryan Day

Image result for daniel ryan day intentional christian

One should not complain about being a book reviewer.  Often books show up that both sound really good and turn out to be great reads.  But some books, like stray animals, show up that we never asked for and are not sure what to do with.  Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will be overwhelmed at the number of titles.  Many I skip right on past after assuming that the book is likely merely okay at best.  After all, on a given Sunday morning, there are thousands of Sunday school lessons and sermons being given across the land.  But how many are really worth going to extra trouble to hear? They are likely helpful for the congregation at hand, but not “keepers.”  (That is true of many of my sermons and lessons over the years.)

Discovery House (no relation to me) sent me a copy of Intentional Christian:  What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Daniel Ryan Day.  Here is a book to help a believer discover the will of God for their life.  At this point in time, perhaps due to age and other circumstances, I don’t think much about the will of God for my life. It is a more frequent concern for younger Christians.  And it is a topic full of dangerous, although well intentioned, advice.

Day discusses in this book his own concerns in his younger years (and he is still a young man).  An interest in Christian music and serving God left him often wondering what the will of God was calling him to do.  In this book, he weaves in lots of autobiographical and anecdotal stories to make his point.  Knowing lots of Christians who are young and facing life decisions and others who are confused about where they are, I was sympathetic but skeptical.

Then came the good part, the sudden shift in the book and topic, and the blinding-light moment of truth.  Neither the Bible nor signs or angelic appearances are going to tell you where to work and live, where and in what areas to educated, whom to marry, or any of those matters.  The will of God is “your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3a).  That passage makes the point even more pointed by adding this politically incorrect exhortation “That you abstain from sexual immorality.”

Then there is 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18:

 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In other words, the Bible reveals lots of “secrets” about the will of God for our lives.  We are to be growing in grace, living in faithful community with fellow believers, forgiving, doing good, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.  Basic good old Christian living 101.  That, and not whether you get to record your Christian rock song, is what God’s will is for your life.

Day uses the term Common Calling to elaborate on this topic.  A chapter is devoted to worship, another to loving others, another to living intentionally, and yet another to overcoming fear and loving our enemies.  We have a calling, but that calling is common to all of us and revealed in the commands and exhortations of Scripture.

This book is short, easy to read, anecdotal, and useful for a morning devotional study or a group or family study.  I am thankful that I got past my initial apprehension and read the book.

Image result for Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will

Sometime last year, I read a book on a similar topic titled Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung.  My interest in that book was simply because I have enjoyed and profited from everything I have read by DeYoung.  Notice the bit of sarcasm and wit in the sub-title:  How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.  

DeYoung’s book, which was published in 2009, gives a tighter Biblical case for using the Bible correctly and not mystically. It is a warning about many shaky and outright wrong ways Christian people go about deciding what to do.  This book is a great companion volume for the Daniel Ryan Day’s book.  The same topic generally with different approaches.  I believe the two authors would find each other in much accord.

Image result for daniel ryan day intentional christian

Young, restless, and Anglican, Daniel Ryan Day–author of a helpful book on finding the will of God.

Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

Image result for Truth Considered and Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith

There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.



Morning Reads of Late

Image result for coffee books mornings

Years ago, I was a night owl.  A combination of age, jobs, children, and other factors changed me.  I love getting up in the morning and sitting down with some time for Bible reading, coffee, and a stack of books.  Some days, my mind is still too inert to grasp much on the page, but on other days, it is a sponge.  The key is perseverance.  Good days or bad days, busy days or leisurely days, in sickness and health, I get up and read.

Here are some of the recent reading experiences that I have either finished or am still working on.

Image result for 1, 2, 3, john constantine campbell

I cannot say that First John is my favorite book of the Bible, but it is the book that challenges me the most. The structure–the repeating patterns, the beauty, the brevity, and the depth of it always leave me wanting more to understand it.  This commentary–1, 2, & 3 John by Constantine R. Campbell–makes a fine daily study in the three short letters John wrote. It is part of a series called The Story of God Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan.

These commentaries have three portions in each chapter:  Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, and Live the Story.  The method is useful for morning studies, but would also be beneficial for sermon preparation, family devotions, or any other format.  Listening to the passage of Scripture is self explanatory, but it is also important not to forget.  I confess to having jumped into a passage when working to prepare a lesson or sermon without having spent enough time just looking and listening to the words of the Bible.

In the portion on explaining the story, Campbell weaves in the textual issues regarding Greek words, interpretive challenges, and different views held by other commentators.  I especially enjoyed some of the quotes Campbell included from Augustine.

Living the story is the application.  Here Campbell includes stories and anecdotes along with specific suggestions on how to practice what is being learned.  As a fan of Charles Spurgeon’s methods of using anecdotes and quips to enhance his sermons, I found this book full of plenty of encouraging and usable material.

Although the largest portion of this book was devoted to 1 John, I really found the chapters on 2 and 3 John quite enjoyable.  All too often, those books are raced through without being given much thought.

This book was enjoyable to read and would be enjoyable to read again either for morning devotions or for lesson preparation.

Praying the Bible

Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney is published by Crossway.  The Crossway website also has a video and additional helps for using this book.  Some of you are probably familiar with Mr. Whitney fine book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  If so, then you know that his writings are clear, practical, convicting, and Biblical.

This book is a short read of ten chapters and is less than 100 pages.  It is easy to read one or two chapters in the morning.  There are lots of good books on prayer that I have read.  What stands out about this book is that it is not written to convince or convict us to pray, but tells us how to pray.  Basically, Whitney focuses on using the Bible–as in the exact text we are reading–to formulate our daily prayers, weave in the various needs, expand upon the topics mentioned, and use the language of the Bible to pray.

Read it for yourself or share it with the family.

Image result for laberge speak the truth

After several occasions where I glanced at and scanned a few pages, I have finally begun seriously reading Speak the Truth: How to bring God back into every conversation by Carmen LaBerge.  Her website and more information about the topic (including a free read of the first chapter) can be found HERE.

After I received this book, I had a few doubts about reading it.  First of all, I was not familiar with the author.  Second, I found myself suspecting it might be a shallow read.  Several chapters in, I am better acquainted with the author, and this is a solid and in-depth, but very readable book.  It is not shallow or sappy.  Every time I suspect the author might give a weak or watered-down answer, she hits a home run (to mix metaphors).

I will share a few quotes I have particularly enjoyed.

“To conceal from others the truth and grace of God’s reality, His love and the hope He offers in life and in death may well be the greatest sin we ever commit.”  pages 10-11

“We treat life like Monopoly.  When we land on a square God ‘owns,’ we owe Him rent money.  He can have those certain properties, but as far as the rest of the board goes–we pursue it for all we’re worth.  Truth is, it all belongs to God….” page 15  (Reminds me of the Kuyper “every square inch” quote.)

“The Gospel is the solution to jihad in the Middle East and the Gospel is the answer to famine in Africa. The Gospel confronts human sex trafficking in Asia and resolves the lonelines of your single neighbor.” pages 17-18

“If we are not taking God’s viewpoint into the conversation at the bar or in the bleachers, then it is not the culture’s fault that God’s perspective goes unheard.  People can’t hear what no one is saying.”  pages 39-40

Thomas Fleming’s Final Words on Washington


Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

Writing this book review and commenting on The Strategy of Victory by Thomas Fleming fills me with lots of mixed feelings, but it is sadness that predominates.  This was Fleming’s last book, finished just months before he died back in July of 2017. The sadness is compounded because I had several occasions where Mr. Fleming and I corresponded over the past six or more years.  He was gracious to have review copies of some of his later books sent to me.  Even more so, he was always complimentary toward the reviews and articles where I referenced his books.  My unfulfilled hope was to meet him.

The Strategy of Victory is published by De Capo Press.

The Strategy of Victory

As the subtitle states, this is the story of how General George Washington succeeded on the battlefield and won the American Revolution.  George Washington’s battles have been a recurring topic in Mr. Fleming’s writings.  There were almost always two different battles going.  The clearly discernible enemy was the British army (whether that of British soldiers themselves or their Hessian mercenary counterparts).  That enemy was powerful and laden with advantages in terms of numbers, supplies, and leadership.  But the more subtle, devious, and dangerous enemy Washington faced was within the American patriot organization.

Let’s call them Washington’s enemy-friends.  By that, I mean that these were men on the Patriot side, but who were scheming and plotting to remove or discredit Washington.  Since Washington spent lots of time losing battles, retreating from place to place, and trying to hold the army together, he was vulnerable to lots of criticism.  There were military men who were angling for Washington’s job.  Horatio Gates was the prime candidate who thought he deserved Washington’s position.  Having the victory of Saratoga on his resume certainly indicated that Gates was first rate.  (Gates’s successes as a general were more the result of other generals around him, such as Benedict Arnold–before he turned–and Daniel Morgan.)

Some members of the Continental Congress were also anxious to replace Washington.  Victories on the battlefield would certainly have stopped the mouths of the critics, but such wins were few.  Moreover, it is hard to win battles without an army.  And it is hard to have an army without proper training.  A strong current among the Patriots was the favoring of militia over trained troops.  The militiamen truly put up some powerful fights, but they operated on short term enlistments causing Washington’s army to sometimes nearly vanish.

From early on, part of the challenge was what Fleming calls Bunker Hillism.  The battle of Bunker Hill (of which Fleming wrote his first book–Now We Are Enemies) was a victory or success story of sorts for the Continental Army.  There at that battle, it was the tough defense that made spiked the butcher’s bill for the British. That convinced many on the Patriot side that fighting similar defensive battles could win the war.

Image result for fleming now we are enemies

Washington disagreed.  He recognized that he needed a trained army that could operate under discipline and function like their red-coated opponents on the field.  With time and circumstances, he was able to build up at least some strong professional-level troops.  The successes were generally small, but the troops proved their worth on many an occasion.

As the war progressed, it was the commanders that Washington had mentored or recognized who succeeded along with him.  Nathaniel Greene was the best example of a Washington-man who proved his battlefield savvy.  Greene was one of the primary commanders in the southern campaigns that culminated at Yorktown.

Washington now had a new set of enemy-friends in the French allies.  Working with the French or just succeeding in getting help from the French was challenging.  Once again, with patience (and sometimes the loss of it) and fortitude, Washington succeeded.  The war was won, Mr. Fleming contends, due to Washington’s style of fighting, training, and maintaining the army.  Early in his own writing career, he was not so convinced of that.  After speaking at West Point, he had several military men there who credited Washington’s strategy as being the key to the American victory.  His years of study and writing on the War for Independence confirmed what the West Pointers had told him.

Thomas Fleming was a historian and an author.  My preferred title for him is “story teller.”  The successful historian, in many respects, is the person who takes the events and tells them in such a way as to spark love, interest, and even debate.  Some historians are more precise or scholarly than Fleming, but few match him for conveying the drama and excitement of the events.

He is gone now.  The Strategy of Victory was his last labor of love in the field of historical writing.  I did feel that some parts evidenced the rush to finish as time was closing in.  Mr. Fleming barely touched on the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  When he discussed the southern battles, he mentioned King’s Mountain only in passing.  Maybe a younger Thomas Fleming would have been encouraged by his editor to expand the book another 50 to 100 pages.  But that was not to be.  We could all wish that we could write something even half this enjoyable and good if and when we get near the ninety year mark.

I miss Thomas Fleming, along with many others I have lost in the past few years.  But I treasure the books he wrote.  His writing conveys the enthusiasm he had for history.  You can even see the twinkle in his eyes, the grin, and the excitement of telling the story just by reading his words.  Like Homer, like the great narrative historians through the years, Thomas Fleming knew how to tell a story.  He left us a great inheritance.

Thomas Fleming obituary–from The New York Times