Here I am once again facing an overwhelming stack of books that I need to be reading and reviewing. Thankfully, one is finished and the rest have all been started. Not so good news: In spite of few actual work hours these days, I still have not been able to carve out enough extra reading hours in the day.
So, this post will feature some reviews and previews and commentaries on the books.
Newest Born of Nations: European Movements and the Making of the Confederacy by Ann L. Tucker is published by University of Virginia Press.
Eleven states seceded from the Union in 1861 and waged a futile four year war to achieve complete independence. This story is the centerpiece, with all of its causes and effects, heroes and villains, glory and gore, of American history. But what happened in the then fractured United States was not unique in the world of that time.
Wars for secession, nationalistic uprisings, rebellions against a ruling power, revolutions seeking to overthrow the status quo, and fights for freedom occurred throughout Europe and Latin America. The event that preceded and gave the benchmark for all this was the American War for Independence. The French Revolution was another, and vastly different, attempt to change the the world, at least in one country.
Dr. Tucker’s book deals with how Southerners interpreted, supported, and critiqued the events in Europe during the decades leading up and including their own quest for nationhood. No two countries or stories are alike, and the Southern story is heavily weighted by the existence of slavery which was a tension within the greater fight for freedom and nationhood.
The United States had been dancing on this precipice from the beginning. There were plenty of other contributing causes to the Civil War, but the slavery issue was a disaster for Southern hopes and aspirations. One wonders how a free and independent Confederate States of America would have ultimately ended or fought within its own jurisdictions over the issue.
This book is a tough read. I do wish Dr. Tucker had not felt compelled to used the modifiers “white” or “elite white” before almost every use of the noun “Southerners.” She could have shortened the book by 20 pages by not saying what was obvious. Southerners did include enslaved blacks, free blacks, Native Americans, Jewish people, women, children, and others, but the powers that ruled would have been white, male, more likely Protestant rather than Catholic or Jewish, and wealthy people. I think readers would know that when talking about actions of government and debates that the participants, either Southern or Northern, were white.
That criticism aside, I am pressing on in this interesting study. It calls to mind several other books I have and have read, including Eric Hobshawm’s book Nationalism.
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America is by Timothy Egan.
I stumbled across this book in a used book section of a thrift store. Getting it for less than a buck, I had no idea how good the book would be. One the one hand, it is a horrible tale of a deadly fire that destroyed a huge swath of land in the American west and that killed a large number of people, mostly men fighting the fire, and destroyed several towns.
On the other hand, this book is a reminder of why I read, taught, and love history. As a story, a narrative, an adventure featuring both amazing people and ordinary people forced to do amazing things, this story is top notch. Central to the background of the story are two men–Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. These men were two kindred spirits regarding their vision for the western forests and personal lifestyles. But there were plenty of heroes and heroines who were frontline fighters when the Great Burn of 1910 ravaged the west.
The Devil and Karl Marx is written by Paul Kengor and is published by Tan Books.
Having recently read Blessed Charles of Austria, call me a fan of Tan, Tan Books, that is. I have yet to get into this book, other than reading the enjoyable foreword by Michael Knowles. This quote stuck with me: “Ronald Reagan described a communist as one who reads Karl Marx and an anti-communist as one who understands Karl Marx. “
I think it would have been easy to begin ignoring Karl Marx just a few years ago. Other than being a historical figure, he seemed to have less relevance. But like most heresies, and Marxism needs to be seen as being a theological heresy, Marxism did not cease to exist. All it did was go dormant for a season so that it could show up with a fresh coat of varnish and an appeal to a new generation. Wait for more comments on this study.
Baptists and the Holy Spirit by C. Douglas Weaver is published by Baylor University Press. This book is subtitled The Contested History with Holiness-Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements.
One might question why I have put this book in a post about history studies rather than a discussion of religious and theological books. But, the book easily fits in either category.
First for a bit of my personal reading history: I got this book a good while ago and eagerly read the first part of it. But the towering stacks of books and Covid and school shutdown and other stuff happened, and I stopped reading. Then I recently picked it back up, but instead of going back to where I left off, I jumped way ahead to read about the effects of the Charismatic movement in Baptist churches in the 1970s.
Second, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I am neither Charismatic, nor a Baptist. So, I have few warning lights blinking in my brain as I read. But I did become a Christian in the 1970s, and I did have several exposures to Charismatic Christians.
So, let me make a few observations. This book highlights on of the most difficult tasks in dealing with religion in general and Christians in particular. That is, it is hard to create a series of defining boxes and then place every prominent believer or denomination in one of the boxes. The whole concept of denominations is a slippery one. It is amusing that some Christians take refuge in saying, “We are NON-denominational.” To denominate is to name and identify, so non-denominational becomes as much as denomination as does any other term.
Then there are the terms that are added in addition to the denominational names. So, one is a missionary Baptist, a Five-point Calvinistic Baptist, a landmark Baptist, an evangelical Baptist, and so on. The same kind of thing happens with other denominations. So, I am a Reformed Presbyterian, but I might share much with a Reformed Baptist regarding Calvinistic doctrines, and he might share a belief in church government by elders or presbyters. Add in eschatological, worldview, role of women, and other issues, and one wonders how Christian history could even be written.
Back to the Baptist issue: Baptist churches are just that–churches. There is no such thing as The Baptist Church, and that term cannot be used either if one is talking about the differing groups of Baptist denomination. And each particular Baptist church has a bit of congregational autonomy. While there are guidelines that would clearly exclude some from claiming to be Baptists, the groups as a whole exercise a wide variety of particulars.
For a survey of a stack of books, I have already said too much. Suffice it to say that this is a fascinating study. I reckon some would glance through a few pages and conclude that all Christians are crazy. We believers have thought that same about ourselves. But for the Christian, there is a beauty and power seen even in the ups and downs, fits and starts, unity and chaos of the Christian Church through the ages. This book is a reminder of just that.
Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World is by David Keys.
I don’t remember when or where I picked up a gently used copy of this book. But during my summer office move, I pulled it aside from the book being packed and determined to read a bit in it.
This book and The Big Burn, discussed above, were both started from one of my preconceived and now confirmed biases. (You will have to decide whether my confirmation bias is compatible with your confirmation bias.) We are often being told that current ecological and climate events are being caused by the actions of humans. We are the cause in our day and time of more and worse fires in the western United States and of global climate problems everywhere. This is science, we are told, and to doubt the interpretation is to doubt Science itself. (Use of a capital S is deliberate.)
This book deals with global climate disasters and plagues that wracked the whole world in the 5th and 6th centuries. In short, some empires and civilizations fell and others rose. Natural disasters upended cities and peoples. Plagues swept away thousands of lives. Fascinating history, with some insight, maybe, into current events and woes.
In the kind of superficial explanations and bullet point teaching we all do, we explain that the Cold War got its name because the two side did not engage in actual battle, or a hot war. But that handy description is misleading. Thankfully, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was never fully mobilized and engaged in taking on the NATO forces in all out combat across the plains of northern Europe. Nor did the Korean conflict ever escalate into full-fledged war between the United Nations forces and Communist China.
But this long struggle involved many minor wars, skirmishes, “police actions,” and close calls. Both sides were armed to the hilt, but while both sides were able to refrain from using the nuclear options or Mutually Assured Destruction, they did confront each other via a variety of conflicts and pressure points.
I have only gotten to scan a bit in these two volumes. But Twentieth Century history is, according to my claim, one of my special interests. More later on these two volumes from Dr. House, who is not, I am sad to say, closely enough related to me for me to boast about.