America in World War I–Two Great Reads

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I was recently attacked, beaten near senseless, and left bruised, bleeding, and humiliated.  I can identify the perpetrators.  One is Edward Lengel and the other is Geoffrey Wawro.  Both are historians.  Both have books on World War I that were published in the past year.  And I read both books and the results are described in my opening sentence.

When I think back on my stronger areas of history, I like to list such areas as American history, 20th Century history, and the World Wars.  There are a few other areas where I feel competent and many where I am better served by keeping my mouth shut.  But World War I?

Since the first of October I have been teaching on World War I in my Humanities classes.  I have taught from Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, which sunk my students, and I tried to bail them out, but was not overly successful.  We also read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  We finished with World War One British Poets, a fine and short anthology of some of the vivid and powerful poems from the time.

I walked the students through the rival alliances, the strengths of the major powers, and the tensions that were threatening Europe.  I showed them the Schlieffen Plan as thought out and then poorly executed by the Germans.  I walked them through the succession of events from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the invasion of Belgium.  I went over a short list of why the United States entered the War.  I coached them through my “What Every Man or Woman Needs to Know About World War I” review sheets.

I felt pretty good about old Ben House as a history teacher.  Then along came Edward Lengel.  Many of his earlier books are on George Washington, but he has also written several on World War I.  His most recent book, even more recently reviewed in this blog, is Never in Finer Company.

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Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Lost Battalion and the Transformation of America by Edward G. Lengel is published by De Capo Press.

This book deals with an event within the greater actions of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.  A battalion pushing against the German lines advanced beyond their flank supports and got cut off from the rest of the army.  The logical thing to do would have been to have retreated back to the security of the rest of the army.  But the orders and commands had been to advance and not retreat.

Another alternative would have been to surrendered.   The men under siege endured more than enough hardships.  Not only were they surrounded and under constant attack, but they were low on food and water and the wounded were not being attended.  They had fought the good fight and were in a hopeless situation.

Yet, they fought on.  How they held out is beyond me.  On one occasion, they even got shelled by American artillery.  The story is one of exceptional gallantry and worthy leaders on the battalion level.  Even the carrier pigeons in the unit served with distinction.

One side story on this story was the actions of Tennessee rifleman Alvin York.  York was not part of the Lost Battalion, but was part of the advancing columns that helped liberate the battalion and continued the advance against the Germans.

Great book.  Left me dazed with awe for the men of the unit, saddened at the effects of this on even the survivors, and the sacrifices men at war make.

Feeling the need to read even more on World War I and America’s role, I picked up the book Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro.

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Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro is published by Basic Books.  Dr. Wawro is a professor of history at the University of North Texas and the author of six books (four of which I now own).

As the subtitle explains, this book is about “The Forgotten American Soldiers Who Defeated Germany in World War I.”  I noticed a review that called this book “the definitive history” regarding America’s role in the war.  I agree.

This book is a lengthy and powerful account of how America’s entry on the actual battlefields enabled the Allies to win the war.  By 1918, both sides in the war were exhausted, bled white, and worn down by the grueling multiple fronts.  Russia was finished by then.  Revolution ended what the war itself had started on the Eastern Front.  Italy was basically caput as well. How Austria-Hungary was hanging on is still beyond me.  But there was Germany, now reinforcing the Western Front (the border areas in northern France and Belgium where the war had been raging since August of 1914).  Freed from the Eastern Front, Germany was racing more and more divisions to the west.

Under the command of the talented, but sometimes unbalanced, Erich von Ludendorff, the German army began a series of offenses against the British and French lines.  Any one of the offensive actions could easily have translated into the needed breakthrough that would have divided the Allied forces, pushed the British back into a Dunkirk situation (years before Dunkirk), or captured Paris.

The spent forces of the British and French armies sustained the front lines, but barely.  The German forces erred most greatly in shifting from one offense to the next instead of maintaining pressure in just one area.  But also, and most important, the American forces began hitting the fields of battle.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  But it took a year before the United States was able to start massing still under-trained and unequipped soldiers on French soil.  Still, they were fresh troops, and so they began the process of filling in the gaps on the battlefields.  The American commander was General John J. Pershing.  Pershing’s greatest legacy in the war was his continual insistence on American troops being able to operate independently as American armies and not as replacements and gap fillers for the Allies.

In some cases, Americans got some useful baptism of fire by being used alongside of the British and French troops.  But the goal was always an independent field of action by the U. S. Army.  Pershing fought hard against his fellow Allied commanders to achieve this.  On the negative side, he was greatly underequipped as a commander to lead an army in this type of war.  He was somehow stuck in a time warp, not always realizing how the war had been fought for the past several years.

Americans focused on the offensive.  (So had every other major army for the previous years.)  In 1918, America had one resource that no other country had–a huge supply of troops.  The American muscle was just beginning to be flexed as the troops began pouring into France.  Sad to say, much of the story and much of the book is about the tremendous bloodbath Americans were thrown into in taking this war to the Germans.

Germany was a spent force, but far from a finished force by 1918.  They still had plenty of crack troops, plenty of machine gun and artillery emplacements, and an abundance of fighting experience.  Americans were the deciding factor in Germany’s defeat, but this was no cake-walk.

Even though Sons of Freedom is a lengthy and heavily detailed book, I found it engrossing.  Granted, there were flank attacks, repulses, commander changes (many, in fact), and other details that slipped right my mind.  Yet, the larger picture of this book was of the Americans pushing and hitting the German lines and, even with mounting casualties and increasing numbers of deserters, and winning the war.

For anyone else interested in World War I, these are two great reads.  Having read Lengel’s book first, I better understood some of what was happening in Wawro’s book.  But either book could be read first.  You might end these readings being a pacifist (which is what I would be if everyone else would sign on as well), or you might end with a greater appreciation for our soldiers from the past.

Both books call attention to men who were forgotten.  World War II so overshadows the Great War that we tend to see it as amateurish and poorly done by contrast.  Arguments can be made that the two wars were simple one long conflict with a twenty year gap in the fighting.  However the First War is viewed, Americans need to remember that–whether it was the best thing to do or not–our country won that war.

I love both books and highly revere the authors, even after they so brutally beat me up.

Great Love for Pat Conroy

 

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I don’t want to oversell Pat Conroy as a man and as a writer, and this is my third blog of recent months calling attention to him. The interest is the result of the book Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy.  That book is wealth of stories based on many personal experiences both close friends and fellow writers had with Conroy, who died in 2016.  The book is published by the University of Georgia Press.

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Conroy, unlike all too many writers, was incredibly personable, generous, and outgoing.  He loved friends and fans with an unbounding zeal.  He ended his letters, phone calls, and conversations with the words “Great Love.”  I have decided to imitate him in that respect.  It did not appear to be just a phrase, but rather was a heart felt conviction.

The book about Conroy prompted me to buy and read the last book that he did.  Titled A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections of a Writing Life, this book contains blog articles that Conroy wrote along with several talks he gave.  This book is full of the wit and wisdom of the man.  Beware:  There are many aspects of his personality, viewpoints, and life that I don’t agree with or approve of.  I don’t endorse the man wholeheartedly, but I do appreciate him.

This book is a good follow-up to the tribute that his writer friends compiled.  It is a good follow-up for anyone who has read and enjoyed any of Conroy’s books.  Among other things, Conroy discusses the shadowy line between writing fiction and memoirs.  Interested especially because several of his books are memoirs and fiction was his main claim to fame, but his fiction is heavily influenced by his personal experiences.

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Pat Conroy and I had some very different experiences growing up.  I can blame my own dad for me not being a writer of Conroy’s stature.  Here is why:  My dad was a very kind, patient, and non-violent man.  Conroy wrote often of the man who became known as The Great Santini.  That happens to be the title of one of his best known books, which was made into a movie.  The elder Conroy was a Marine pilot who waged war on America’s enemies and was not just strict, but brutal to his wife and children.  He was, in short, a monster, but appears to have mellowed as the years went by.  Pat loved his father, even as he detailed the cruelties inflicted on him and his siblings and mother.  Those very experiences have endeared Conroy to many people (again, unlike myself) who had similar family experiences.

Another good read in the Conroy works is My Life in Books where he describes favorite books, authors, and other influences in his life. Both A Lowcountry Heart and My Life in Books are rather small compact works that are matching in appearance.  From there, one can go on to enjoy many other works he did. I have most of his books and would not mind completing my collection.  I wouldn’t mind even finding a copy of his favorite recipes that he put into a cook book. Quite an amazing man.

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War in the Wasteland and Other Reads on World War I

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I recently read Douglas Bond’s War in the Wasteland after having read and taught through his book Hostage Lands.  As it turned out, War in the Wastelands, which is about World War I, was just the right book to tackle while simultaneously reading from some other World War I works, such as The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, World War I by Michael Howard, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. And currently I am reading Never in Finer Company by Edward Lengel, which is about an American battalion that was caught in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.  (I will be posting a review of this book soon, D.V.)

With more books at hand, I could easily get caught up in a year or more of reading on World War I.   But the pressures of school will lead me on to other events in the 20th century.  This is the time where I will discuss Bond’s novel.

No automatic alt text available.Douglas Bond has carved out a much needed niche in writing books chocked full of history, but told in fictional form and suitable for younger Christian readers.  I hesitated about that last phrase “younger Christian readers” because it might tend to ward off adults from reading his books.  Let me repeat this saying (without knowing who to give credit to for saying it):  A good children’s (or teenage or young adult) book is one that grown ups can read and enjoy as well.  Some books are not good for us at certain ages.  Of course, some books are not good at any age.  Elie Weisel’s Night is a powerful and painful book, but not one that should be read to the wee little bairns as they are cuddled up in blankets about to go to sleep.

I think that the statement found on the cover of All Quiet on the Western Front is quite true:  “The greatest war novel of all time.”  I loved teaching this book to my high school students, loved reading it for the fourth or fifth time, loved writing the student exercises for Omnibus VI: The Modern World on the Remarque novel. That being said, it is not the book I would want to teach to junior high students about World War I.

Douglas Bond, as I previously implied, has written a whole shelf full of books on history.  History textbooks should have a warning from the Surgeon General on the front cover:  “Warning:  This book might contribute to a dislike of history by the student.  Contains many dry facts, maps, dates, etc. that will possibly hinder an unrestrained love of the past.”  Granted, I love history books, but it was a teacher, World War II documentaries, and stories, stories, stories that wooed my heart away from childhood fantasies to envisioning a future teaching history.

Bond is a story teller.  He does the historical research, carefully looks over the time and settings, and even calls forth a few actual historical figures for some cameo appearances.  He then crafts a story that will be entertaining in and of itself.  But the story is lodged within the greater story of the actual history.  G. A. Henty did this same thing in his 82,000 (I may have exaggerated) formulaic history novels.  Michael Shaara did it in Killer Angels and his son Jeff has produced a number of volumes on various wars.  Bernard Cornwell has written dozens of novels on historical events, including the Saxon series which I have been reading and collecting for several years.  And some Russian guy named Leo Tolstoy is reputed to have written something about some war and the peace that followed relating to Napoleon and Russia.

Bond’s appeal (aside from the fact that his books are 1 one thousandth the length of Tolstoy’s) is that he is writing specifically Christian books.  He is not dropping a Christian message from the sky into an otherwise pagan setting.  Nor are his books crafted so that all the participants come forward in an altar call in the last chapter.  He writes about Romans and Celts, Scotsmen in Scotland and the American colonies, Protestant Reformers, and others who would have been influenced by, aware of, and often converted to Christianity.

War in the Wastelands is about a young recruit in the British army named Nigel Hopkins who is sent over to France along with thousands of other Brits to join with the French in fighting the Boche (Germans).  World War I, after a month or so of maneuvers and movement (see Guns of August) settled in to being four years of trench warfare, a war of attrition, a war of little movement, much death and destruction, and lots of futility, waste, and angst.  Battle lines moved back and forth by a small number of miles and large numbers of casualties.  In fact, having read several accounts lately, the numbers have reached a point of not even registering in my mind due to the incomprehensibleness of so many deaths.

Young Nigel and his dog (part of the story) happen to be in a unit where there is a soldier named Perret, a sergeant named Ayres, and a lieutenant named Johnson.  These were (unlike Nigel) based on real people who served in the war.  You may have heard of them.  I had, but did not realize it.  They appear (briefly) in such books as Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, and other works by another real historical figure in this book.  That was C. S. Lewis.  Like his friend Tolkien, Lewis was a soldier in the war.  He was an officer; he was wounded; and he was an atheist at the time.  (Yes, there are atheists in fox holes, which were actually called funk holes in that war.)

Lewis, while talking about literature, citing lines from his poetry, and bantering with others, is questing for more than survival in the war.  The seeds that came to fruition are told of this book.  Did any of it actually happen in this way?  Read Surprised by Joy and see.  Until then, the answer is “No, not exactly like this, but what the book includes is part of the real Lewis story.”

This book makes for a helpful read for those wanting to learn about World War I.  It is good supplementary fiction, free from the textbook dangers mentioned above.  It is also a good look at the life of Lewis and the thinking that formed his mind in his pre-conversion years.  It is also a testimony to faith.  As much as I love All Quiet on the Western Front, I ache for the souls of the characters in that story.  Not so in this book, although not everyone dies trusting God.  Above all, War in the Wasteland is an enjoyable story which is the key purpose of a book.

News Update:  Douglas Bond’s newest book The Resistance, which is about World War II, is coming out and is available right now alongside of War in the Wasteland for $25.  Great for a Christmas gift to your kids, your history reading friends, and for that special someone who really likes books–yourself.

See the special offer HERE.

2-Book bundle-THE RESISTANCE & companion volume WAR IN THE WASTELAND

Saving Truth by Abdu Murray

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I received and read a review copy of Saving Truth by Abdu Murray back in the summer (2018).  Saving Truth is published by Zondervan.  The website for Mr. Murray and this book can be found here.  Murray is the North American Director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  A lawyer by profession, he also teaches and lectures on apologetics and Christian thought.

After reading the book in the summer, I neglected to get a review written of it.  I will blame it on the adventures of the past summer, including vacation trips to…well, actually, we had no vacation trips and I spent most of the summer at home or at work.  So, not getting a review done was no one’s fault but my own. But, in recent weeks the issue of truth came up with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the need to revisit this book came up.  So I read it a second time.

Truth is a simple concept.  In an unfallen world, it would be the guiding, the only, the unfailing mechanism that got things done.  But in a fallen world, not only do what know what the truth is in many cases, but we have great battles of what “Truth” is.  For that reason, Francis Schaeffer used the catchy term “true truth” in his day.  Fake news, skepticism about truth, redefining truth, distorting truth, and denying truth are all ongoing battles in this world.  Granted, on many issues and many situations, one can despair of knowing what the truth really is.  (Do you know why the Crimean War was really fought?)

Murray is a cultural apologete for Christianity. Apparently, he lectures, debates, and discusses the Christian faith and Christian-centered issues on college campuses and in various forums, often including many varieties of non-Christian presenters.  His first concern in this book is to awaken Christians to the dangerous concept of “post-truth.”  We have experienced cases where agendas and beliefs have trumped any quest for truth.  This becomes front and center in political debates.  In fact, one Senator suggested that Judge Kavanaugh be dropped as a candidate for the SCOTUS simply because of allegations.  Another senator whose career was advanced by a false narrative of military service vehemently attacked the judge for not being truthful.

What has happened in our day is that the whole world has become a political campaign.  Or better, the whole world seems to be under the guidance of the WWE–World Wrestling Entertainment.  No need to think that college campuses are places where concerned teachers and students are in a search for the truth either.  Truth has and is being pushed the way of the old rotary telephones.  Truth then becomes a nice exhibit in a museum, a reminder of a more simplistic and maybe naïve past.

Needless to say, Christianity has lots of stock invested in the concept of truth.  If truth cannot be known, can not be certain, can not be attained, or does not really exist, the whole fabric of the Faith is ripped to shreds.  After all, Jesus declared Himself to be the Truth.  From beginning to end, the Bible claims what men like Gordon Clark, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, R, J. Rushdoony, and others have affirmed:  In it, God has spoken and the Bible is true.

The need of our age and the bulk of this book is toward “clarity in a post-truth world,” as the subtitle indicates. The areas that Murray seeks to bring clarity to are freedom, human dignity, sexuality (and gender and identity), science and faith, and religious pluralism.  In many of these areas, Christians can often be harsh in giving answers and/or not know what answers to give.  This book is instructive in reminding them of basic Gospel truths and Christian civility.  But the contents would also address the unbeliever who might be willing to listen to or, more obviously, read this book.

Christianity has answers. A Biblical worldview provides a way of searching out and dealing with life questions, whether they be in the philosophical realm or in deeply personal areas.  One part of this book I particularly appreciated was Murray’s discussion of sexuality and gender.  I confess that my more instinctive approach to the LGBT people and gender confused people is one of crying, “Repent.”  Granted, the Christian message is one of repentance, but it also involves lots of listening and understanding.  Jesus addressed all manner of people and did so perfectly.  But I need the wisdom and insights of people who have themselves experienced Christ’s changing power over sins and life patterns alien to my own.

In his own life experiences, Murray was raised Muslim and embraced that religion.  Conversion to Christ was not a quick or overnight matter, but involved a period of nine years.  Along with people who are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other religions, many people hold to varying forms of spirituality or materialism or hodge-podge religious beliefs.  Again, Murray provides calm and clear counsel (both for the believing and non-believing reader) that points the way to Christ.

We live in difficult times.  I could have written those same words at any point in any century.  Christians can sometimes be as much of the problem as the solution.  Murray cites a case where Christian folk helped make a fear go viral that concerned the Bible being outlawed after the Obergefell court ruling.  The basis in fact was a case brought to a Michigan court some years before Obergefell that was thrown out.  But Christians were quick to “like and share” the news of this looming threat.  Christians can lack understanding of the struggles people go through whose religions are different, whose sexual struggles are different, and whose science-related presuppositions are different.  Battering rams are not the preferred Gospel method, however.

Along with reading this book, it is profitable to read Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key.  I will soon be reviewing Louis Markos’ Atheism on Trial.  Many other books addressing science, gender issues, religious plurality, and other battleground topics could be added to the list.  We are blessed with having so many who are gifted and apt at engaging the culture with Christian answers.  Saving Truth is well worthy of a spot on the reading list and bookshelf to be read and consulted for help and encouragement in these matters.

 

In Defense of Bradley Birzer’s In Defense of Andrew Jackson–A Preview

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I am not sure that I can be trusted on reviewing the new biography of Andrew Jackson by Dr. Bradley Birzer.  This would be like asking the screaming girls at a rock concert about whatever heart-throb was performing on the stage.  Meaning, I have read 3 of the previous 4 biographies that Birzer has written and have loved them all with increasing zeal akin to fanaticism.  Those biographies are of J. R. R. Tolkien (which I read before I had read much of Tolkien), Christopher Dawson (a super-hero), and Russell Kirk (a brilliant conservative writer).  I have not yet read Birzer’s biography of Charles Carroll, titled American Cicero.

Ever since Dr. Birzer began sharing the news of his writing a biography of Andrew Jackson, I have been interested in the book.  I even sent him a Facebook comment saying, “At last, you are writing about a Presbyterian.”  It was in that same vein that he later referred to me as a “dang Calvinist.”  (All his other biographies were of Catholics.)  I started to begin this sentence with the words “All kidding aside,” but I am prone to throw in another fun jab or two.

In Defense of Andrew Jackson officially came out yesterday (September 11) and is published by Regnery Publishing. While it lists for $26.99, it can be purchased for less than the paper bill with Jackson’s picture on it from Amazon.  Even at full price, this nice hardback book is a bargain and a good source in our day and time.

In Defense of Andrew Jackson  is a short and delightful biography and defense of a man who is the object of way too much scorn in our day and time. All those who malign Jackson can be glad that it is the gentle, wise, and witty pen of Bradley Birzer who is defending Old Hickory and not Old Hickory himself. (Translation: If Jackson were still alive, there would be a few ‘killins’.)

Jackson is associate with all kinds of things that are not subjects we are officially allowed to discuss.  These topics can be used as sources of blame, but they cannot be seriously thought through.  Keep in mind, Jackson was no mealy-mouthed politician.  He spoke his mind; he shot from the hip; he offended people; he didn’t mince words.  Nor actions either.  More than most Presidents, he was an activist leader.  His approach was to barrel his views through.

After six educated, genteel, formal and dignified leaders, Jackson hit Washington like a tidal wave.  He had been raised in the wilds on the frontier, his soul honed by the Calvinistic fervor of Scots-Irish blood and culture, and his views shaped by war, duels, political squabbles, and a common sense approach to the Constitution.  He had no intention of business as usual when he got to the White House.

Jackson was a man of his times.  His sins were scarlet and not at all concealed from those days or ours.  His impulsiveness enabled him to triumph over adversities, but also left collateral damage.  He pressed his stamp on American history strongly.

Much of what I am saying is gleaned from many years of reading about and studying Jackson.  Birzer’s book is a review that is reinforcing what I know from past studies, but it is also reinterpreting the man overall for me.

Being a short book, I should have read and finished this volume in quick order, but I am enjoying it too much. I pretty much know Jackson’s life story, but this walk back through the events and the interpretive grid of this book call for a slow and delightful read, not a fast paced romp.

A side note:  I recently read the book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea.  That book has lots of good material on the faulty views of Christians throughout our history in regard to politics.  2016 and the election of Donald Trump was not a banner year for evangelicals.  But Dr. Fea had a long discourse on the Andrew Jackson/Donald Trump connection.  (Birzer discusses the same topic.)  Fea, mistakenly in my opinion, states that had Jackson been in the White House during the Civil War, he would have sided with the Confederacy due to his slave-owning.  Reading that in Fea’s book made me wonder if he had even considered the Nullification Crisis.  The man who said, “The Union–it must be preserved” and who threatened to lead an army into South Carolina would not have been favorable to secession.

That’s the fun of history, isn’t it?  And it is lots of fun to find those people from the past whose names and reputations have been trashed, besmirched, and deplored, and then to discover they are well worth defending.

 

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Romanovs, Russian, and Revolution–An Era of Darkness Begins

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In late December of 1977, I landed in Leningrad, Russia and begin looking at everything around me in that dark, cold, foreboding land.  The mornings began not with sunrise but with darkness that pervaded the northern climate until late–after 10 am–and then the daylight hours ended early in the afternoon.  And then there was the bitter cold, the sterile feel of the Communist state, the indifference of store workers to their customers, and the feeling of regimentation, oppression, and chains.  Still, there was plenty in Russia–both old and new–that was beautiful, charming, and alluring.  It was my one visit outside of the U. S. and is still a country I would love to see yet again and see more of.

Maybe with a nudge or two in those days, I might have pursued graduate studies of Russian history and literature.  But I was tired of college and ready to teach school.  Besides, I had other interests in the field of history as well.  So, I never quite developed as an expert in Russian history and culture.  But over the years, I have continued to read books here and there, both novels and histories, that unveil images of that vast and mysterious land.

Currently, I am working through two books on Russia in the time of the 1917 Revolutions.  At last, I have a worthy excuse for reading what I am consumed in at the moment.  This is the year for Modern World Humanities with a focus on the 20th century.  Truth be known, I am probably better versed on the 20th century than any other part of history.  But I often reach that time period late in the school year and the chance to explore those times and events is zapped by the oncoming summer break.  Meaning, kids stop listening.

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The first book on this venture is The Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport.  Mrs. Rappaport has written quite a few works in recent years on the Romanov family and the Revolution.  I have picked up a volume or two in some bargain venues, but jumped at the chance to read and review this book.  It is published by St. Martin’s Press.

The Romanov family story is filled with everything one might imagine in a fairy tale and/or a horror story.  Nicholas Romanov and his wife Alexandra were two remarkable figures, placed in history by forces beyond their control and put in the middle of a storm that no mere humans could have survived.  They were a beautiful and loving couple.  Their letters to one another reveal a man and a woman who were deeply devoted to each other.  Yet, Nicholas had no ordinary job to go to.  He was the Tsar of Russia, a powerful, but struggling world power connected to Europe by land and blood, and entangled by alliances to events that brought about World War I.

As Tsar, Nicholas was a man of limited vision and personality.  He did not relish being the leader, but he was a Romanov and could no more think in modern terms than he could have used modern (as in 21st century) technology.  Behind him, his wife was pushy, sometimes dominant, narrow minded to the hilt, and terribly offensive to others.  Adding to her problems, she was German by heritage, which meant that she was constantly attacked by Russian presses and gossip during World War I.  (For those who may have forgotten, Russia was at war with Germany.)  No one ever became more fiercely Russian than Alexandra Romanov, but both Allied leaders and many in Russia thought her disloyal.  As if that wasn’t enough, the Tsarevitch, or son of the Tsar and heir of the throne, Alexey, suffered from hemophilia.

I thought this story had been almost completely told in Robert Massie’s incredible book Nicholas and Alexandra.  I have read that book a couple of times, along with his sequel The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.

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Helen Rappaport’s book goes beyond what Massie’s books did.  The focus is on the efforts to rescue the Tsar and his family.  The most likely candidates for rescuing this family were the British.  The King, George V, and Nicholas were cousins.  Alexandra was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.  But the British dithered, delayed, hesitated, ignored, pawned off, and managed to do little other than mourn the deaths when rescue was too late.

Efforts were made by many others to rescue the family.  Germany had some opportunities to do so, and the Romanovs were kin to the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II.  Talk was of sending the Romanovs to Denmark, southern France, an obscure place in England, Norway, Sweden, the Crimea, and Spain.  Within Russia, there were loyal monarchists who desperately wanted to both rescue and restore the family.

Part of the pain of reading this book is knowing how it will end.  As Rappaport points out, the Tsar and his family were not simply killed or executed, they were murdered–brutally, cruelly, and with malice and aforethought.  To make matters worse, the Bolsheviks concealed the crime and even used the family as a political pawn even after they were all dead.

Of course, World War I and the reign of Communists in Russia both piled up dead bodies by the millions.  Still, this account is one that is known and will not be forgotten.  As former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin said, “The Yekaterinburg massacre was one of the most shameful episodes in Russian history.”  (Yekaterinburg, also known as Ekaterinburg, is where the Romanovs were being held and were then murdered.)

The Red Wheel: March 1917, Node III Book 1 is by the Nobel Prize for Literature winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  It is part of a massive, epic in every sense of the word, history he spent much of his life writing.  It has yet to all be put into print or to be translated into English.  This portion was published by the University of Notre Dame Press and is translated by Marian Schwartz.

The available volumes so far are August 1914, which originally came out in the 1970s and then was published in an expanded version in 1984.  Next was November 1916, which appeared in 1985.  (My source said it appeared in two volumes, which vexes me since I have only one of them.)  This one, March 1917, is supposed to be in four volumes! And April 1917 has not been translated into English yet.

My biggest concern in beginning this book was wondering if the previous volumes were necessary to have been read before this one.  The publisher’s note promised me that it was okay to begin this one.  Mountain number one was then avoided.  Reading this one volume as a stand alone is challenge enough.

Confession time:  I am still working to get into this book.  But I am determined to read it through.  Solzhenitsyn is not always easy, nor are many other Russian writers.  The reward is in the perseverance.  I have long been reading his books and books about his life.  I was a senior in high school when he was expelled from his beloved Russia.  I read the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago on my own when I was a college student.  My old paperback copy of that book fell apart when my son Nicholas read it.

Earlier this past year, I read 1917: Lenin, Wilson and the Birth of the New World Disorder by Arthur Herman.  Great book and one that whetted my appetite for more Russian history and literature.  At some point in the upcoming school year, my class and I will be reading some of Tolstoy’s shorter works and Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.  A study of things Russian would in itself be enough to make for a rich life.

See the source image

See the source image

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his younger years.

September Days and Morning Reads

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September begins with the promises of adding riches untold,
and the pocketbook may not change in the slightest.                    
Jose de la Casa
The grass is too high, getting tough, growing slowly, and a bit brown from the heat and lack of rain.  School has started.  Nights a bit longer now, and there is a promise of cooler weather not so long from now.  Personally, I wish time were moved six to eight weeks back and I were stuck, isolated, abandoned with only my family and lots of books at some beach house overlooking the incoming waves or some cabin in the mountains with a valley to see from the back porch.  But that didn’t happen in June or July or August, so I accept the inevitable–September.  But as De la Casa noted in the quote above, there can be riches found in the month of September.
Of the making of study Bible in our times, there is no end.  That is not given as a complaint, but as a thanksgiving. I have often read the concern about study Bibles which says that people will be prone to read the notes in the Bible and accept them as being on a par with Scripture.  My problem is not anywhere near that.  I am prone not to read the notes at all.  In fact, my preferred daily reading Bible has no notes or added materials, except maybe a paragraph introduction before each book.
But there is a place and use for a study Bible that contains lots of cross references, explanatory notes, extensive introductions, and other helps.  (All of the extras can be used for reading during bad sermons.  Just joking.)
The Worldview Study Bible is published by B & H Publishing, an outstanding source for Christian books and Bibles.  For high school or college students, this would be a great resource.  The translation is the CSB, which is produced by B & H (or Holman as the Bible arm of that company is called).  Others more qualified can weigh the merits or problems with the CSB translation.  I can lament that we have the NKJV, ESV, NIV, and now the CSB, along with many others, that are making a common Bible among Christian folk nearly impossible.  I can give a somewhat approving nod to those who prefer the King James Version (while separating myself from those who contend that the devil is the source of all other translations).  Hey, we live in a time of many sound, conservative, evangelical Bible translations.  That is not exactly the stuff of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs caliber problems.
The key feature of this book is the inclusion of large number of essays dealing with Christian worldview issues.  I know there is some debate back and forth over the concept or limitations of teaching about having a Christian worldview.  I know that sometimes we have used the term as a way of importing a somewhat Americanized and politically conservative way of thinking into our Bible studies.  I know that the term Christian worldview can be trivialized and separated from other aspects of the full orbed Christian life. But I still like the term.  I still buy, read, and borrow from books promoting a Christian worldview for interpreting every area of life and thought.  I am a Kuyperian, a devoted fan of David Naugle’s book Worldview: The History of a Concept, and a promoter of Christian education that teaches worldview thinking.
The topics in this study Bible range from theological issues like inspiration and inerrancy to social issues like recreation, careers, LGBT concerns, and more.  Science issues relating to creation/evolution debates and gender debates are included.  Essays on philosophy, politics, economics, music, and other such ideas are also here.  The essays are authored by some leading Christian teachers, pastors, and writers, and they are placed throughout the Bible in places that tie in with the themes of each book.
I have just begun to harvest the fruit of this fine study Bible.  Those looking to understand what is meant by having a Christian worldview or those who are teaching others would enjoy this work.
(I will confine my comments on the other books in the picture to a sentence or two.  More detailed reviews will come later.)
Every Moment Holy is published by that delightful and creative group known as The Rabbit Room.
This is a beautiful book both in outward appearance and in content.  Buy it for someone for Christmas, but get at least 2 copies because you will want to keep one.  It consists of prayers for every moment, time, and circumstance.
My morning history study is Justifying Revolution: Law, Virtue, and Violence in the American War for Independence. Edited by Glenn A. Moots (author of Politics Reformed) and Philip Hamilton.  While this is a slow and studious read, it is a great look behind the battles and leaders of the American War for Independence that considers the books, ideas, philosophies, and ethical concerns relating to that war.
Martin Luther's Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle To the Galatians (1535)
Martin Luther’s Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (1535) is published by another new publishing group, 1517 Publishing.
Translated by Harloldo Camacho and with a foreword by Michael Horton, this big book is even bigger than it is. (Yes, I know that is awkward phrasing.)  At 557 pages, this book is the Protestant Reformation, the 5 Solas, the confession of what we believe.  A historical document–yes–but also a great study into a pivotal teaching of the Bible.  Praise God for this new translation.
Two days now into reading Eternity is Now in Session by John Ortberg, published by Tyndale Press.
We are not just waiting to get to heaven so all will be experiencing eternal life.  It is here and now and eternal matters are not just some heavenly idealistic realm but are for here and now.  Powerful and instructive.
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After a few unexplained delays, I am now reading Atheism on Trial by Dr. Louis Markos.  If he writes it, I want to read it.  He is both a gifted writer and an engaging (irrepressible) speaker.  This book is no fluff work on current atheist evangelists, but is a serious look at atheism and its related philosophical and scientific ideas as found in the ancients, in philosophers of past centuries, and in the current discussions.  Published by Harvest House Publishers.
Lectures on Calvinism
I am always glad to see another edition or promotion or quote from Abraham Kuyper’s lectures at Princeton in 1898 that have sometimes been called the Stone Lectures or more commonly Lectures on Calvinism.  Going back to the topic of Christian worldview thinking–this book is the foundation of all the modern applications.  Brilliant.
Thanks to American Vision for publishing this new edition of a Christian classic.  An added feature or benefit is that this edition contains some slight alterations in punctuation so as to make the text flow.  Kuyper is not an easy read, and so having a few modernizations to style issues is a help. In my opinion, Lectures on Calvinism is one of the most important books ever.