Book Reviews

Reading List for May, 2021: Imaginary Republic, Banana Republic, Historic Republics, and more…

The Republic by Plato

How does one write a brief review – of the type I am accustomed to offering in this space – of Plato’s “Republic”?

Short answer: one does not.

In light of this, what follows are just a few short blurbs containing impressions that I came away with after reading this classic work of Philosophy. Perhaps it will whet your appetite to pick it up and read it for yourself.

1) I never cease to be impressed with the way in which the Greeks occupied themselves with deep thinking. The purposeful stimulation of the mind is, I am afraid, a dying art, especially in our day of instant entertainment at the click of a mouse and arguments reduced to 280 characters.

2) There is no way of getting around it…Plato et al were brilliant. But their brilliance was absent any illumination by the Holy Spirit, and so reading their works is like watching incredibly bright men grope around in the dark. Recognizing their limitations, the Christian reader has no choice but to tip his hat in admiration.

3) I cannot think of anybody who would want to actually live in the hypothetical state that Plato – in the voice of Socrates – proposes. Of course one has to understand that he is using the Greek city state – or polis – in all it’s varieties (from Athens to Sparta and everything in between) as a model. Context is important. But the repressive, elitist society he imagines sounds more like a dystopia than a utopia. That hasn’t stopped other would-be societal engineers from borrowing from the “Republic” – including Nietzsche.

4) If Plato’s Socrates is anything like the actual historical figure, there are times I catch glimpses of attitudes that help me understand why the Athenians sentenced him to death.

Just sayin’.

Of Cabbages and Kings by O Henry

I have always enjoyed the writings of the early twentieth-century American author William Sidney Porter, better known by his pen name, O Henry. My favorites include such classics as “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief”

I had often heard that O Henry wrote no books, only collections of short stories. This is not exactly true. His first collection, “Of Cabbages and Kings”, though a group of independent short stories, also contains threads that interconnect them all into one overarching narrative.

Set in “Anchuria”, a fictional Central American country, the stories revolve around the lives of foreigners who live there and interact with the life and politics of the people. Each story contains O Henry’s characteristic element of surprise, and the biggest surprises come at the very end.

Fun fact: The term “Banana Republic” was coined by O Henry in this work.

Another fun fact: O Henry wrote these stories while in Honduras fleeing a charge of embezzlement in the US. He would later return to America and spend three years in jail.

Yet another fun fact: The title, “Of Cabbages and Kings”, comes from the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, which appears in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. O Henry makes several references to elements of the poem throughout the work.

This was a delightful read.

Europe: A History by Norman Davies

If it is possible to treat such an enormous subject as the history of Europe in a single volume, historian Norman Davies has done it in his magnificent “Europe, A History”. Ranging from the earliest tribes to inhabit the continent to the end of the Cold War, Davies has woven an amazing tapestry depicting the glories, the disasters, and the struggles of the European peoples.

Of course, such an ambitious undertaking is not going to be a quick read. The Audible version took over 61 hours. But for the history buff, they are 61 extremely enjoyable hours.

Davies is of part Polish extraction, and this may contribute to the fact that he pulls no punches when it comes to the crimes of Soviet Russia before, during, and after World War II. Personally, I found this refreshing in light of all the revisionist history that has taken place over the years.

The Feasts of Repentance by Michael Ovey

If you are looking for a theological deep-dive into the subject of repentance that is at once enlightening and convicting, look no further than “Feasts of Repentance” by Michael Ovey.

Ovey begins with an in-depth study of the topic as found in the writings of Luke. He then looks at it through the eyes of other biblical writers, and interacts with several theologians over the years. Finally, he applies it all in a very practical way to a pastoral context.

The part where he deals with Emergent ideas regarding repentance is a little dated, but I found it interesting to note how those ideas influence current notions on the subject.

I highly recommend this book.


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