Book Reviews

Reading List for May, 2020: Lewis, Louis, more…

I thought quarantine would mean that I got to read more books. Silly me. Still, I did manage to get some reading in. Here’s the list for May.

And, if you’re interested, here’s my running tally for 2020.

Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkein, complied and edited by Christopher Tolkein

I’m doing some reading into Middle Earth lore, both as preparation for reading the Hobbit to my guys at the dinner table as well as an extension of my readings on myth for one of my philosophy classes.

In Beren and Lúthien, Christiopher Tolkein presents to us the various iterations of a tale of love and adventure set long before the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was interesting to see how the tale developed in J.R.R. Tolkein’s mind, and the various ways he expressed it. It is also interesting to meet some characters (Sauron and Elrond, for example) who will figure in the better-known tales.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

And so we come to the end of another Comings reading of the Chronicles of Narnia, continuing a tradition begun by my father around our dinner table when I was a youngster.

Back then The Last Battle was my least favorite of the series, although I remember enjoying parts of it. However, this time through I found much more profundity in several sections. And, surprisingly enough, based on their reactions I would say my boys enjoyed this one more than all the others.

O Silêncio dos Intelectuais compiled by Adauto Novaes

This book, assigned to me by one of my philosophy profs, is actually a collection of essays by (mostly) Brazilian philosophers and thinkers. The title in English is “The Silence of the Intellectuals”.

Every single one of the authors has a worldview that is radically different from mine (some more radically than others – more on that in a moment), and thus I very much enjoyed the reading of it. I discovered, for example, that on the left (at least among the Brazilian intelligentsia) there is a surprising (to me) and very real preoccupation with relativism. More than one author expressed a concern that the skepticism which was born out of the failure of the Enlightenment to bring the world into a rational utopia (my paraphrase) has made the post-modern intellectual throw up his hands and abandon the very concept of reason. I can’t say as I disagree.

The list of authors itself is instructive. There was one by a certain Marilena Chaui, who is famous for stating, rather emphatically, that she “hates the middle class”. Another was written by one Fernando Haddad, who Brazilians will recognize as the former presidential candidate who got shellacked in the last election by Jair Bolsonaro. I didn’t find his thoughts very compelling – and apparently neither did most Brazilian voters.

By far the most entertaining essay of the lot is by a scholar named Antônio Cícero, and entitled “The Relative Seduction”. It is nothing more than a screed against American Christian Fundamentalists. I won’t bother to repeat his description of that hated tribe – you can find similar opinions by thumbing through the editorial section of the New York Times. What is interesting about this essay is the author’s conclusion. He bemoans the rise of relativism in the universities – and has the self perception to concede that this gives him at least one thing in common with the despised fundamentalists. But his reason for suggesting a “rethinking” of said relativism is that it is woefully insufficient in combating said Fundamentalism. In other words, relativism is to be rejected (or “rethought”), not because it is wrong, but because it is not politically effective. And that, my friends, is relativism.

The Great and Holy War by Philip Jenkins

World War One is gradually slipping out of the historical consciousness of the public, overshadowed by its horrific sequel and the events that followed. This is a shame, because it can be argued that the the greatest worldwide changes came as a result of the first conflict rather than the second.

And if our collective memory of the First World War is fading, how much more its religious aspects? I must confess that, until I read “The Great and Holy War”, I was ignorant as to there being any religious overtones to World War One. Philip Jenkins has disabused me of that ignorance. In this outstanding book he examines not only the religious concepts that influenced – and in some instances even instigated – the war, but he then goes to explain how those terrible four years forever altered religious perceptions and practices.

His analysis is not limited to European Christianity. Rather, he expends a good deal of ink analyzing the war’s effect on Judaism, Islam, and even Hinduism. There is also a very informative chapter on how the war changed the religious and political scene in Africa.

I have been fascinated by World War One since I was in elementary school. This book has deepened my understanding of it like no other.

Down the Long Hills by Louis L’Amour

Possibly one of the best choices I’ve made for ’round-the-table reading. “Down the Long Hills” had my guys’ attention from beginning to end, and often had them asking to read “just one more chapter”.

Unveiling the Kings of Israel by David Down

A book I picked up to supplement my studies on King David and his successors. I was pleased with it overall, except for a few typos (in the Kindle version, at least). The author makes an interesting case that the Queen of Sheba should be regarded as Hatshepsut, queen of Egypt, who would also have been her sister-in-law. To do this, he advocates a revised Egyptian timeline, that appears to match the Old Testament narrative much better than the commonly accepted one. My own knowledge in this area is severely lacking, so I’ll have to withhold my own judgment until I know more.

I appreciated the archaeological anecdotes and background that accompanied the text, and the book is chock full of outstanding photographs and diagrams.

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