Wars from Revolutionary to Vietnam

One of the more unexplainable parts of my personality is my total aversion to conflict of any kind, yet my compulsion to study conflicts.  I wish I had had the personality, guts, and inclination to at least consider being in the military when I was right out of high school or college.  I don’t even like guns.  Don’t worry, for I love the Second Amendment and fully support the U. S. military as well as the folks all around me who love hunting.  But personally, I don’t like guns.

Yet, military history has been a consuming passion.  I do find the terrible more terrible, the losses of lives more grievous, the waste of human resources appalling, but the narrative of the history of warfare is a driving force in my reading, teaching, and studying of history.

In this blog, I am going to highlight the stack of books pictured above that I have on my reading agenda for the summer.

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy by Benjamin Armstrong is published by Oklahoma University Press.

This book is Volume 66 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series that I have been collecting and reading for some years now.  From wars in the ancient world to the modern age, from the perspectives of leaders and soldiers, from primary to secondary studies, this series is an overwhelming collection of military studies.

Concerning this book, consider that the United States began its history by going to war twice with the greatest naval power of the 18th and 19th centuries.  That we even survived those wars is due to the successes or avoidance of disasters wrought by soldiers in the land.  Credit George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and, yes, even Benedict Arnold, along with Daniel Morgan, Nathaniel Greene, and others for these land victories.  But the British Navy was a player in both wars against the Britain, and the American nation could in no way go toe-to-toe in a naval confrontation.  From Tralfalgar to Jutland Sea, the British have trounced many who tried to engage them on the waters.

Therefore, it was raiding and irregular warfare, pluck and daring, small efforts and unorthodox attempts that enabled the United States to land a few punches into the “breadbasket and kisser” (to use the descriptive language of wrestler and wrestling announcer Gino “Gorilla” Monsoon) of the Royal Navy.  This book highlights that story in a series of accounts where the American naval heroes, of whom few other than John Paul Jones are rememberd.

Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918 is by Edward G. Lengel.  It is published by the University of Kansas Press.

Ed Lengel fascinates me as a historian because he has written a number of studies on George Washington, but also several books on World War I.  Usually, historians specialize in one area and when they venture off the beaten path, it is still on familiar ground.  Late last year, I read and reviewed Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion.  This was during a time when I was reading World War I histories, poetry, and fiction to supplement my teaching on the war.

This book, Thunder and Flames, came out in 2015, several years before Never in Finer Company.  It is a more scholarly study of the role of Americans in the First World War.  As I have said previously, World War I is totally overshadowed by World War II.  The Americans entered late and a superficial textbook reading might lead the student to think that we were mainly just mopping up the remains of the already shattered German army.

The fact that we entered and “won” the war overlooks the many failures, challenges, and deficiencies that the Americans faced.  Nothing said here is meant to lessen the courage, learning curve, or achievements of the American soldiers.  World War I was an ugly event even for the United States as a late-comer.  But it is well worth the time spent studying it.

The book I am currently more than halfway through is The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson.  It is the first volume of the Revolution Trilogy by Atkinson.  Prior to this undertaking, Atkinson wrote the Liberation Trilogy on the North African and European Campaigns of the United States (primarily) in World War II.  It was that series that hooked me on his writing.

So far, I am being constantly shamed in this book by realizing how little I know about the American War for Independence.  The narrative is top notch; the cast of historical characters would put Tolstoy to shame; and the flow of the book leaves me wondering if we (the United States) will win.  Among other things, I was astounded reading about how much salt was needed for the army and the colonies.  Supplies were as much a point of contention, struggle, and survival as was getting through battles.  Smallpox was as much of a foe as were the Redcoats.

This book is good enough to read from beginning to end and then start over.  I suspect this series will be just as good as the Liberation series.

Sand and Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France is by Peter Caddick-Adams and is published by Oxford University Press.

This is one of several books that has been published this year just prior to the June 6, 2019 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  My first study of this event in World War II was reading Brave Men by Ernie Pyle, a first hand account by a reporter who accompanied the soldiers.  It was first published in 1944, and I read it in high school in 1970.  Sometime later, I read Cornelius Ryan’s classic book The Longest Day.  Along with reading Ryan’s other books on World War II, I watched the movie version of The Longest Day several times.  Then I read Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6, 1944 sometime after it came out.  I read quite a few other books that covered that event in some form or fashion as well.

I have yet to start this book.  It will have to wait until I finish the Atkinson book discussed above.  But it promises to be thorough.  It is pretty hard for me to find a book on World War II that I don’t like, so watch for updates on this book

Anthony Beevor’s D-Day The Battle for Normandy is one of many books that Beevor has written on World War II.  I have read several of his books and loved them and am trying to get and read all of his books.  I have yet to start this book.  My son Nick picked it up for me at the Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Another historian I really like is Max Hastings.  When Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 came out last year, I bought it.  Once again, it is having to patiently wait for me to delve in.  But if Hastings, Beevor, Atkinson, or Lengel writes a book, I get it as soon as I can and hope that I actually read it.

 

 

 

Summer Morning Readings

Summer mornings are grand.  I love listening to the waves lapping against the shore, watching the sea gulls swoop over the waters, feeling the salty sea breeze against my face, and seeing sun rise as I drink coffee and read.

Okay, none of that describes my mornings except for the last two.  But beaches are overrated, hot, and humid, and sand gets in your coffee and in between the pages of books.  But I do enjoy the extra time that most summer mornings provide for that most delightful of chores:  Reading review books.

I read from a number of different books during the morning.  I will either try to read a whole chapter or I read try to read at least ten pages.  The pattern varies, but that is basically my mode of operation.  I am not recommending it, but it seems to work for me.

I am reading from a new republication of Tozer’s work by Moody Publishers.  This nice hardback volume consists of three of Tozer’s books:  The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man.  Sometimes, I find books that are all combined in one volume are too bulky, but this book has a good feel to it.

I have read A. W. Tozer off and on for years, and I have encountered quotes from him numerous times.  Of late, while reading The Knowledge of the Holy, the first of the three books in this collection, I realized something.  If you are wanting to work through some serious theological issues, like the doctrine of God, don’t read Tozer.  If you are wanting some comforting devotional reading, don’t read Tozer for that either.

Tozer is theologically challenging and sound in his writing, but he requires the mind to connect to the heart.  He may not be the best beginning person to read to get grounded, but he is solid for reinforcement.  His chapters are quite suited for a short reading time, being that they are ten or fewer pages long.  The prayers at the beginning of each chapter are powerful.  I usually read the prayers twice.

A. W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man

Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James Beitler III is published by InterVarsity Press.  This book is shaping up to be one of my best reads for the year. The classical Christian school movement has been instrumental in reviving the study of rhetoric.  While that emphasis has often been grounded in the teachings of the ancients, such as Aristotle, (pseudo) Cicero, and Quintillian, this book focused on some recent and Christian writers and thinkers.

The five people whose rhetorical skills are touted in this book are C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.  Each chapter (lengthy ones at that) explores the dimensions of a particular author’s use of rhetorical conventions.  I am less than halfway through this book and am totally swept away by what I have learned from it.

Seasoned Speech

Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Second Edition) by David Koyzis is also published by IVP.

I have been friends (through various media channels) with David Koyzis for many years.  He is a top scholar, dedicated Christian, and a Dooyeweerdian thinker who is readable.  I have read from and used the earlier edition of this book, but am making myself read through the entire second edition.  This is the high diving board of Christian political thought.

I have been long convinced that most Christians know and understand little about politics.  I think they/we are gullible, narrow, and prone to use a few catch-phrases and political words in ways that far exceed good sense.  I often credit the book Master of the Senate by Robert Caro as a political eye-opener for me.  This book is filling the gaps in my understanding.  We are not talking about caulking up a few holes in my thinking, but rather filling in a vast chasm of unclear thinking.

Are you ready for this book?  If you talk in any public forum about politics, you better read it (twice or three times) before you say much.

Political Visions & Illusions

The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy by Steve B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel is published by B & H Academic.

I learned about this book when I sat in on a philosophy class at John Brown University last fall.  This was the textbook for that class.  I have read through several books that are meant as introductions to philosophy, but most of them focus on the history of philosophy and a discussion of ideas of the main thinkers from Socrates to Derrida.

This book analyzes the different ways that philosophy deals with topics.  Like the book above, this is not the wading pool.  I am trudging slowly through this book and am thankful that I am not being tested over the contents. I would love to sit in on a class where this book is being taught.  This is a solid and challenging work.

Reason and Worldviews:  Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til, and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics by Owen Anderson is published by Rowman and Littlefield.

This rather short book with a rather long subtitle is still awaiting my official kick off in getting it read.  But I have picked it up and time or two to see what it is in store for me.  A few years ago, I gave a series of lectures on “Calvinist Worldview Thinkers in the Wilderness Years.”  I was pretty proud of my accomplishments in studying the Dutch and American thinkers who were Calvinists before Calvinism was cool.  But I was only scratching the surface.

This will be a slow read, and I will be lamenting not being in a classroom listening to Dr. Owen lecture on the issues in this book.  He and I recently became acquainted on social media.  Again and again, I am rejoicing in the caliber of men and women God is raising up in our day to take dominion over the various fields of thought.  Owen Anderson’s website can be found HERE.

Reason and Worldviews

Some Permanent Thingby James Matthew Wilson is a collection of poems and is published by Wiseblood Books.

I read the poems in this book last March and April.  But working through a collection of poetry is not just a matter of starting on page 1 and getting to page 156 in the case of this book.  It is in the slower, more meditative rereading that Wilson’s words are breaking in.

Wilson is a Christian, but don’t expect nice little poems about God and the Bible and going to church.  He is not a sentimentalist, even though he says so much so well about faith, family, and loves.  I suspect that he is a name to keep an eye on.  This book is a revised second edition for he saw fit to keep working on and molding his poetry more in line with the poetic tradition.

I make the mistake of not reading enough poetry collections, and worse, I make the mistake of only reading poems once.  These poems are worth the time spent and the time spent again.

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And summer really hasn’t even begun.

The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy Sayers is, in my world, the lady who wrote the essay. I am referring to “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which Miss Sayers wrote in 1947 and delivered at Oxford University.  Like quite a few other people, I read it several decades later, and slowly, it began to change my whole approach to education.  That essay is the founding document in the classical Christian school movement in America.  It doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about education in general or classical education more specifically, but it said enough to spark thought, debate, and, more important, application.

That essay was just a sliver of the corpus of writing that Dorothy Sayers did in her lifetime (1893-1957).  Her main means of support was writing mysteries, and her main characters in her stories were Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  Lest one think that this was just pot-boiling writing to make a buck, take note that she was one of the founding members of the Detection Club.  She also served as president of that organization of mystery writers, being preceded by G. K. Chesterton, author of the Father Brown stories, and succeeded by Agatha Christi.

She was also an incredibly gifted theological writer.  Her contemporaries were such fellows as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others among the famed Inklings. I am not sure she was ever able to hang out with the guys, but she could have more than held her own trading wit and wisdom with those writers of Christian thought and imagination.  Her theological books blend deep convictions about doctrine with a worldview that applies the faith to art and all of life.  Not as wittily quotable as Lewis, she was still quite bold, profound, and solid.

In her own personal life, she battled quite a few issues.  She got a degree from Oxford at a time when such a thing was unheard of for a woman.  Her personal life was full of struggles, both from her own bad choices and from other circumstances, but she persevered and made her own niche in English letters.

Plough Publishing House has produced a series of books with titles beginning with the words The Gospel in….  Authors whose works have been chosen for this series include Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George MacDonald, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dorothy L. Sayers. As the subtitle of The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers states, this book is made up of “Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays.”

This book is a marvelous way to either get acquainted with Dorothy Sayers or to renew and enrich that acquaintance.  Reading her books would involve taking quite a few mystery novels, a number of theologically-centered plays, several books of theology, some translations of classics (like The Song of Roland and Dante’s Divine Comedy), and reading her letters.  This is not to say that they are all here in this volume, but it is a great selection of bits and pieces of her mysteries, without any fatal spoilers, and portions of her other writings.

The book consists of twenty chapters, preceded by a biographical sketch and followed by short essay about Sayers by C. S. Lewis. The chapters are mostly named for her mystery novels, and then the selections begin with something from a novel, followed by non-fictional writings on the same topic.  Topics include conscience, sin and grace, covetousness, forgiveness, judgment, and more.

Let me confess something:  I have failed greatly in not reading or appreciating enough of Dorothy Sayers’ writings.  My response to the chapters of this book as I read it in the mornings (usually) is one of lament and regret over having ignored her.  As I said in the beginning, my Sayers’ experience has been centered on that one brilliant essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  This book is a marvelous means of literary repentance for me.

I love this whole series of books by Plough Publishing House.  I hope they do more books of this type.  So many writers have structured their books around Gospel themes.  Even unbelieving authors resort to sin and grace, forgiveness and redemption, fall and restoration in their stories.  Literature is a bulwark of Christian history and apologetics.

Books like this one, The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers, are great tools for students and teachers.  Forget that statement.  It sounds much too serious.  This book is great fun to read and is packed full of plenty that will nurture the soul and create an appetite for reading more of Dorothy Sayers.

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World War II in Books

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Finally, I am able to teach World War II without it being done in the waning days of school in the middle of May.  Of course, I will have to confine my teachings to a few weeks and readings to a few books, but it is great to be able to delve into that world event that has so dominated history and society since the 1930’s. This school year, I have confined my Modern World Humanities History class to the 20th Century.  We did begin with an overview of history, culture, religion, and society by reading a Christopher Dawson essay on Christianity through the centuries and then by reading and watching Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?  After that, we began with looking at the world in 1900, followed by World War I, the Russian Revolution, the world in the 1920’s, and events leading up to World War II.

For my own needs, I read Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson.  I made a major mistake in taking on this book.  I assumed that it was simply a history of Britain during the war.  It is that, but it is much more.  Simply put, this is an incredible account of the various countries that were outwardly conquered by the Third Reich, but that kept on resisting, fighting, and trying to undermine Hitler’s New World Order.

My favorite part of this book (and I liked it all) was the chapters devoted to the Netherlands.  Queen Wilhelmina ranks right up there with Winston Churchill as a leader who used words and actions to oppose the Nazis.  The war transformed this queen from being an isolated member of the Dutch royalty to being a true champion and leader of her people.  The Dutch people themselves paid a very high price during their German occupation.  The story that many of us know through Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one of the most terrifying and yet ennobling accounts of faith and courage through the war years.

Likewise, the story of the Polish people is incredible.  They were the first nation to be conquered when the war actually began.  Polish airmen, in significant numbers, fled to England.  At first the British were skeptical of the abilities of the Polish airmen, but soon the Brits recognized the skill, experience, and dedication of this group.  Polish soldiers and resisters also fought bravely.  The great tragedy was that Poland was “liberated” by the Soviet armies which then clamped down on them with their own tyrannical means.

The stories of the Norwegians, the French, Belgians, and others are also aptly told.  The many efforts of the British, especially during the darkest phases of the war, are not excluded either.  This is a book that revives the spirit in terms of reminding us of why people fought and sacrificed in that war.  Even after years of reading books on World War II, I was introduced to many people and events I was unfamiliar with.

At this point, I will make acquiring Lynne Olson’s books a priority.

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Next on my reading list is The Darkest Year by William K. Klingaman. Quite often we are more interested in the movement of armies and navies than the homefront, but it can be argued that World War II was won on the American homefront.  I would hear about parts of this from my parents and grandparents.  They talked of rationing and other life-changes that the war brought.  For my dad, the war quickly took him away from the homefront, but my mother and oldest sister lived those experiences.

I will be reporting back again on this book soon.

I recently acquired three of Antony Beevor’s books on World War II.  In past years, I read his books Stalingrad and The Battle for Berlin 1945 and thought them to be first rate histories.  I would not object to having all of his books.  He is, according to the official website, “The number one bestselling historian in Britain,” with books in thirty-three languages and with more than eight million copies sold.  His writing is quite compelling.

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I still have a deep fondness for several American historians on the War, including Cornelius Ryan.  His main books were The Longest Day (which was made into a movie), A Bridge Too Far (also made into a movie), and The Last Battle.  It was many years ago when I read his books, and I am still convinced of their worth as good reads.

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In more recent years, I consumed Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day June 6 1944 and Citizen Soldiers.  I also wrote the student lessons that accompany Citizen Soldiers in the Omnibus VI book from the Veritas Press series.  Ambrose’s shorter book The Wild Blue: The Boys and Men who flew B-24s over Germany is also top notch.  That book gave me a whole new perspective and respect for the late Senator George McGovern, whose politics I disagreed with.

The Liberation Trilogy Boxed Set

Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy is also outstanding.  I read the first one–An Army at Dawn–in part because my dad served in North Africa, but sometime after Operation Torch, which was the American and British invasion.  The second volume, which covered the Sicily and Italian campaigns, was beyond belief.  If I had not already known the outcome of the war, I would have been assuming that the Germans defeated the United States and Britain, up until the last parts of that book.  The challenges the Allies faced there still astound me.  I liked the last volume as well, and once again, was made to feel in awe of the common soldiers in that war.

My friend Glenn Moots recently called my attention to the book The Flying Greek: An Immigrant Fighter Ace’s WWII Odyssey with the RAF, USAAF, and French Resistance.  It is an autobiographical account written by Colonel Steve N. Pisanos who died recently.  I am looking forward to this book.  An added bonus was discovering that the used copy I picked up had been signed by the author.

My raid this week on McKay’s Used Books in Chattanooga included picking up Max Hastings’s Overlord, yet another study of the June 6, 1944 landings in northern France.  I am a dedicated collector and reader of Max Hastings’s books.  While he has written on numerous military events, most recently Vietnam, quite a few of his books are on World War II.

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Time would fail me to talk again about Victor Davis Hanson’s outstanding book The Second World Wars, Niall Ferguson’s The World at War, the multi-volume edition of Winston Churchill’s history of the war, or of many others.

For those who are overwhelmed by the choices and lengths of the greater studies and accounts, I would heartily recommend World War II: A Very Short Introduction by Gerard L. Weinberg.  This is part of a series of books, small and compact, with the words “A Very Short Introduction” following the subject titles. They are published by Oxford University Press.  These books, written by scholars in the particular fields, are great for either introducing or reviewing the topics at hand.

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Calvin Books from Banner of Truth

 

Sermons on Timothy and Titus (16th-17th Century Facsimile Editions): Calvin, John

It is a rather funny thing that that such words as “Calvinists,” “Calvinism,” and the like exist.  I don’t think Calvin himself would find it either funny or flattering. He would be most troubled that his attempts to mine the truths of the Bible would be something that resulted in attaching his name to a movement, which is really a number of movements.  But the terms related to Calvin’s name are useful as identifiers when used correctly.

What is too easily overlooked is how Calvin the man was so different from those of us who have appropriated the name Calvinists.  Calvin was often more a devotional writer than a scholarly theologian.  He seems to have had one and only one audience:  God’s sheep, the congregation.  His preaching schedule was murderous, and his method was expository teaching through the Bible book by book.

Some years ago, Banner of Truth (which is a favorite publisher) reprinted several facsimile editions of Calvin’s sermons.  These were English translations from the 1500’s and maybe the 1600’s.  These were beautiful books–big, well bound, and printed with quality in mind. But for reading purposes, they were less appealing.  The size of the books, the older versions of English print, and the other features expected in a facsimile edition render these books hard to read.  When I preached through 1 Timothy a few years ago, I don’t think I even looked at the facsimile that I have.

Now here is the good news:  Calvin still speaks to us today.  His message is still relevant.  And, translations are pouring off the printing presses that are much more manageable, readable, and attainable.  While Banner of Truth is not the only publisher to be mining the riches of Calvin’s sermons and books, they books they have made available are outstanding.

Currently, I am reading from Letters of John Calvin.  Banner has a more complete multi-volume edition of Calvin’s letters and other writings that is quite attractive. It is called Tracts and Letters of John Calvin.  Many years ago, I picked up a four volume set of Calvin’s letters that has been valued, but under-used in my library.  It was published by some scholarly publisher, and I suspect Calvin’s correspondence was rare until the recent Banner set.

But most people are not going to casually or devotionally read multiple volumes of Calvin’s mail.  This book is just the right size. It is a relatively small book of some 70 letters and less than 300 pages.  The letters are preceded by a biographical sketch of Calvin’s life.  Despite having read books and articles by the scores on the life of Calvin, I always enjoy revisiting his story once again.

His correspondence provides an autobiographical look into the man’s personality and character.  It is also a testimony to the front line issues of the Reformation and key figures in it.  Because Calvin’s intent and life was God-centered, this book is devotional reading and theological study as well.

Cover image for Sermons on 1 Timothy

Robert White is, as far as I know, the best Calvin translator around today.  Several years ago, I received and read from his translation of Calvin’s Institutes.  It is a beautiful rendering of Calvin’s words.  Most recently, I have acquired Sermons on First Timothy.  It rests on the stack of books I read from in the mornings, and for now, it is part of my Sunday morning reading.  In other words, I am inching my way through this book of sermons.

I would think that the better method would be to read a sermon every day, but time constraints prevent that right now.  But Calvin can be enjoyed in just short and even infrequent doses.  Cotton Mather said that he loved to sweeten his breath with the taste of Calvin before going to bed.  Me, on the other hand–I prefer a dose of Calvin along with strong morning coffee.

Whether read in conjunction with Calvin’s commentary on 1 Timothy or read as a resource, this book would be most useful to the pastor or teacher working through the letter.  Also, as a book just for spiritual edification (as though that were a minor component of life), this volume is first rate.

Take note that Banner now has volumes of sermons on 2 Timothy, Titus, Genesis, Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Daniel, and perhaps others that I have overlooked. Needless to say, there are far too many good books around than I can wrap my mind, time, or pocketbook around.  Nevertheless, we do what we can.  Inch along the way and get Calvin’s books in the new, faithful translations.

Banner Books on Calvin:  HERE.

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Presidents Day Thoughts–About Biographies

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Today is Presidents Day which focuses on the first and the sixteenth Presidents, but I am branching out beyond those two key figures in history to think of various others along the way.  With pride, I confess to having acquired a read many books on the U. S. Presidents, Presidential elections, and even on some of the failed candidates for high office.  With shame, I confess to having not yet gotten to many of the books I own which have become definitive in telling of the lives of our Chief Executives.

I will list a few favorites in this post.

See the source imageI am guessing that I may have around 40 studies of George Washington.  Some are complete biographies, while others focus on one part of his life.  Add to that the many books I have about people who were alongside Washington.  James Thomas Flexner’s four volume set is a favorite simply because I read it back in 1976 as a Bicentennial study.  Along with that set, I love the works on Washington by Ron Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Paul Johnson, Thomas Fleming, and David Hackett Fischer.  I have been furiously acquiring the books by Tony Williams, Edward Lengel, and others.  Of course, I have the Douglas Southall Freeman books, although my set is missing a volume or two.

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Just imagine how many more books would be available if only Martha had not burned George’s letters.

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I reluctantly bought and read John Adams by David McCullough.  I thought that I didn’t like Adams, and I had a number of wrongful preconceptions of the man.  Granted, he could be quite irritating, but overall, he was a truly dedicated and brilliant man.  McCullough’s book is outstanding.  I have a few other biographies Adams as well.

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For Jefferson, I would highly recommend Jon Meacham’s biography.  I also really enjoyed reading Confounding Founding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert McDonald.  There are many biographies of Jefferson, and once again, I have way more than is human to have (and far from all of them).  For libertarians, one might hit the older work on Jefferson by Albert Jay Nock.  For dedicated readers, the six volumes of Dumas Malone would be the choice.  Also, check out Kevin Gutzman’s Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary.

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James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.

How embarrassing, but I have few biographies of these guys.  I know I have a book or two on Madison, but often the focus of books is on his greater work as a contributor to the Constitutional Convention and The Federalist.  I did read a fine short collection this past year called Letters of John Quincy Adams to his Son on the Bible and Its Teachings.  

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Andrew Jackson fills a whole shelf (theoretically) in my library and mind.  Bradley Birzer’s recent biography is a great introduction or review or defense of the man who is so often castigated for his role as a military leader and later as a President.  I thoroughly enjoyed Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  The man who is most often associated with Jacksonian studies is Robert Remini.  One can read his three volume biography of the man’s life as a whole, or you can choose one of his many shorter works on Old Hickory.

Presbyterians, take note:  Jackson, for all of his flaws and sins, was a Presbyterian and a committed believer.  Even in his worst moments–and they were legion–he always acknowledged and reverenced the faith of his mother and wife.  In his later years, he kept the Bible and the Westminster Confession close by.

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Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler all have few biographers and defenders.  I know I have a book on Harrison and will lament it if I don’t have a defense of John Tyler among the stacks.

James K. Polk is often recognized as one of the most successful one-term Presidents ever.  His agenda consisted of about four major goals, and he made good on them.  Then he did what many more ought to do after a good first term–retire and go back home.  Scorn me to the extreme, but I own, but have not read the book A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican-American War, and the Conquest of the American Continent.  I also have a shorter biography of Polk by John Seigenthaler.

 

 

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Zachary Taylor, like William Henry Harrison, merits attention more for his military career than his short and failed Presidency.  Millard Fillmore, to no one’s surprise, has few biographical works on his time in office.  Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan also get either little attention, or much criticism for their failures to avert an impending national crisis.

I would recommend The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858 by David Bigler and Will Bagley as an overlooked event in the Buchanan Presidential term.

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I am going to stop.  Getting into the discussions of the two Presidents during the time from 1861 to 1865 will be an adventure.  By that, I am referring to both Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U. S. President, and Jefferson Davis, the first and only Confederate President.

And looking ahead, I know that I will go overboard in trying to highlight books about Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

I welcome any recommendations, corrections, criticisms, and vicious attacks on who has been included and who has been left off this list.

Support Your Christian Authors

There is much to envy about the life of writers.  On the other hand, it is a life of long periods of working alone, and while being alone and being lonely are not exactly the same, they can overlap.  It is a life of much labor and frustration.  The love that the writer pours out onto the page goes for a long time–and maybe forever–without being requited.  For most who write, the trips to the bank are not frequent or overly exciting.  All this is assuming that the writer or would-be writer actually gets a manuscript completed, manages to get it revised, finds some way of getting it published, and then actually sees it get into the hands of willing readers.

Lots of people would like, so they say, to write a book.  Lots of people think they could write a book.  Most don’t get books written.  How many of those completed manuscripts should not have been written and should not be published is a different story.  Overall, the “successful” writers’ life is a hard life.  Only a very few writers in any field make enough money to live off of writing.  Often even the more successful writers find it necessary to devote lots of time to publicity and book signings and speaking in order to draw attention to their books.

That is the writer’s life.  I know a bit about it, having written a book or two and having written lots of articles and book reviews.  I also know something of how difficult it is to get the word out that a book has been written and is in desperate need for buyers and readers.  So, I am highlighting some books by Christian authors I know.  In most of these cases, I these are men that I only know through correspondence and social media.  However, I have discovered so many common bonds that I feel like we could have been life-long personal friends.

War in the Wasteland

The first of the books is War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond.  Set in World War I, this novel includes some actual people, such as C. S. Lewis.  There are also fictional characters.  I found myself drawn to this book for two reasons.  First, I used Bond’s book Hostage Lands in my junior high class. Set in the days when Romans and Celts were battling over lands north and south of Hadrian’s Wall, this book is rich in history with a compelling story of faith built in.  It passed the most difficult test: The judgment of junior high students.  After we read the book, one of them asked if we could read more books.

Already being pleased with this Bond book, I wanted to read his book on World War I in conjunction with my teaching on the Great War and my readings of some six or more other books on that war.  Bond’s books are perfect for introducing young people to history and reinforcing faith issues.  I confess to being some 20 plus books behind in covering all of Douglas Bond’s many works, but this journey to completion is now underway.

 

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George Grant is no novice when it comes to writing books.  I have a whole shelf full of books he has written or compiled, and my collection is incomplete.  But he is so busy with pastoral duties and teaching that he doesn’t whip out books as frequently these days.  But it was exciting to see this book arrive in the mail.  An Experiment in Liberty: America’s Path to Independence is a great reading resource for studying American history.  I feel myself wanting to use this book next year with my junior high history class.

As expected in a George Grant book, you will discover many gems and witticisms and details about history that are usually obscured.  If someone seeks the more technical, scholarly type of work, look elsewhere.  But if you like the idea of story being an essential component of hi-story, go for this book.  Check and see if free copies are still being sent out.  All you pay is postage.  Here is the website:  https://www.georgegrant.net/?fbclid=IwAR1RCYGADQNyyDrwByQ1Se-tjlTrsrrbaRVXO3YipLSwo-Oinutq1hbQeiw

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I have not known Paul Rydecki for long.  I learned about him through a mutual friend, Ryan Brown.  Ryan teaches Latin at Veritas Academy, and he crossed paths with Paul on a trip to Italy.  (There is a Biblical precedent for meeting someone named Paul in route to Rome.)  A month or so ago, Ryan mentioned that his friend from the Italy trip had just published a new edition of one of Luther’s works.

Titled Luther’s Small Catechism: An Introduction to the Catholic Faith, this beautifully done hardback volume is a great edition to any library.  Granted, I am a Westminster Shorter Catechism man, but I love the Heidelberg Catechism, the New City Catechism, and Luther’s Small Catechism.  This is a handy, compact of Christian truths. Besides the catechism, the book has a really useful list of Bible memory passages. And for those of us still getting our minds wrapped around the best of Christian traditions, it has a lectionary for Bible readings throughout the year.

Along with Christian education, a good church, and a solid family, getting grounded in the historic, Biblical, and Reformation-based creeds, confessions,  and catechisms are the most important components for Christian living and discipleship.  So, I urge everyone at whatever age or stage of life to begin reading and learning creeds, confessions, and catechisms.  Go to the historic documents of your own church tradition, but then branch out and little and glean from the breadth of God’s field.

Luther’s Small Catechism is a fine source for those of us who need to do more than just admiring Luther.

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon

A book on that is on my “Read Next” stack is Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon–Wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes, Jr.  There are quite a few things that commend this book.  First of all, it is related to the life of Charles H. Spurgeon.  If I had my life to live over, I would have invested time and money in obtaining the sermons and writings of Spurgeon much earlier and with much more diligence.  I am where a person ought to be at age 20 in terms of reading and cherishing Spurgeon.  I will not refrain from encouraging others to read the man himself.  Read Lectures to My Students, An All Round Ministry, John Ploughman’s Talks (now reprinted as Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom), Treasury of David, and the many, many collections of his sermons, but especially the series published by Pilgrim Publications.  And read biographies of the man.

That being said, if this woman merely knew Spurgeon, her story would be of interest.  But she was the woman behind the great, but often suffering pastor, preacher, writer, and organizer of many ministries.  Add to that, I have heard so many recommendations of this book.  I will be writing a review just as soon as I finish reading this work.  But don’t wait for me!  Get the book.

The Oklahomans

I reviewed Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer just a few weeks ago.  I am still reeling and swooning over that book.  I can hardly wait until the sequel comes out in May.  This novel is set in Oklahoma in the years of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  War is looming in the near future, in spite of promises to the contrary by President Roosevelt and actions to keep us out of it by Charles Lindberg (both of whom appear in the story).  It was an age where flying was still coming into its own and was filled with thrilling adventure to those willing to learn the skill.  Lance Roark, the hero of the story, is the guy I would want to be.  Don’t parade any super-heroes before me, for they fall short of Lance.

This book has so affected me that I may just haul off and buy John’s books on Oklahoma history, even though it is illegal to own books about Oklahoma in my state of Arkansas.  (In my home state of Texas, people would wonder why anyone would bother to read about any other of the lesser states.)

A last add-on to the list:

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The Resistance by Douglas Bond is his newest work, and my copy just arrived this week. This is a companion volume to War in the Wasteland, and it promises to be another great story set within a historical context.  In this book, the setting is World War II.  Expect more later.  But note this:  Both The Resistance and War in the Wasteland can be purchased together for a mere $25.  If you are homeschooling, use education as the excuse for buying these books.  If you are a Christian, use that as an excuse.  Find some reason and buy these books.

Coming soon:  New books by P. Andrew Sandlin, a reprinted book by David Chilton, more on Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, new and older works on philosophy from a Christian perspective, more books on World War II, and books by historians that I have become acquaintances/friends with.

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