Book Reviews

Reading List for August, 2021: Statesmen, Tyrants, and Conquerors

The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce

I’ve been working through F.F. Bruce’s “The Canon of Scripture” for the last couple of months, and it has been time well spent. Bruce here does a deep dive into how the canon of our Bible came to be the 66 books we know today. While my commitment to the biblical canon was never in doubt, the overall arch of this book is faith-affirming and very informative.

Some examples of the helpful information found between the covers of this book:

– Saying “the Catholics added the apocrypha at Trent” is simplistic in the extreme. The books of the OT apocrypha were included in most Bibles up until the reformation as helpful “biblical-adjacent” literature. Trent elevated them to scripture. Protestants (probably correctly, in my opinion) excluded them from their editions of the Bible in reaction to this.

– During the first half-millennium after Christ the Roman Church was convinced to accept Hebrews as canonical because the rest of the Church (Eastern, Alexandrian, etc) had already accepted it. This has interesting implications.

– The biblical canon is the result of centuries of confirmation and scholarship, not ecclesiastic pronouncements, as is commonly supposed. This combined historic, geographic, scholastic, experiential stamp of approval carries much more weight than a simple ruling by fiat.

For those who want a succinct summary of the principles behind biblical canonization, the chapter entitled “Conclusion” will be a great resource. Be warned, however…that chapter is little more than halfway through the book.

John Adams by David McCullough

You would think that, as they were deciding what monuments to put in our nation’s capital, the city planners might have reserved a spot for a man who was a tireless advocate for liberty, who worked hard to bring much-needed foreign aid to the revolutionary cause, who single-handedly (and at the cost of his reelection to the presidency) kept the fledgling country out of a disastrous war with France, who consistently fought against slavery, and who was one of the last living signers of the Declaration of Independence. But alas, there is no John Adams memorial. His likeness does not even appear on any currency, the Treasury Dept apparently preferring to honor an ambitious egomaniac who was likely trying to become a second Napoleon (Alexander Hamilton) and a serial philanderer and spendthrift (not to mention abolition hypocrite) who paid journalists to slander Adams (Thomas Jefferson).

Priorities, I guess.

At least we have David McCullough’s masterful biography to help set the record straight. Friends have been encouraging me to read this for a while now. I’m glad I did. I find it interesting (though not surprising) that popular culture has decided to highlight the likes of Hamilton, when what we desperately need are more politicians like Adams.

Hitler and Stalin by Laurence Rees

Everybody knows Hitler was bad. In today’s relativistic society, the German dictator remains the one absolute definition of evil permitted to society. Godwin’s Law to the contrary notwithstanding, when one wants to paint one’s opponent in the worst possible light, a comparison to Hitler can’t go wrong.

Curiously, the Josef Stalin – the Soviet dictator who went head to head with Hitler during WWII – has largely escaped such universal opprobrium. Indeed, I have seen posts from some of my leftist (even Christian!) friends, mostly from the Brazilian side of my social media contacts, singing the praises of “Uncle Joe”.
This is where “Hitler and Stalin” by Lawrence Reese becomes a valuable resource. Rees has undertaken a comparison of the two leaders, focusing mainly on their actions during the Second World War – a task at which he is singularly successful. He manages to avoid the pitfall of diminishing the atrocities of either in order to make one look worse. The conclusion is that, while their motivations and methods differed, both were unbelievably brutal men capable of the most inhumane acts possible.
Some quick takeaways:

Roosevelt and Churchill were completely unprepared to negotiate with Stalin, and the result was the Cold War.

Besides being a terrible human being, Stalin was a terrible military strategist.

Given Stalin’s actions while Hitler was attacking Western Europe, the argument that he held the line against Nazi aggression has absolutely no teeth.

In making an alliance with Stalin against the Nazis, the Western Powers were not choosing the lesser of two evils. They were dealing with the most immediate of two evils.

Philip and Alexander by Adrian Goldworthy

Biographies of Alexander the Great abound. I’ve read more than my share. But I have never seen a treatment of Alexander together with this father, Philip of Macedon. Adrian Goldsworthy has done an admirable job of filling in this gap, and in the process has demonstrated how the conquests of Alexander depended upon the conquests of Philip.

A fascinating book, well worth the read.


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