Thursday, April 02, 2009

Multiple Book Reviews

It has been a while since I have done a book review, so let me try to do several at once.

Decision in Philadelphia, by Christopher and James Collier, is a magnificent book. It takes a look into the writing of the Constitution of the United States. It introduces you to the major players with nice biographical sections, gives insight into the debates, the politics, and the outcome. This book has some wonderful things that really challenged and changed my opinion about the Constitution and the Convention. One such change is whether or not Madison was truly the “Father of the Constitution”. The Colliers do a fairly convincing job showing that the real father of the Constitution might ought to be Charles Pickney of South Carolina, and that Madison launched a smear campaign to remove the importance of Pickney even going so far as to never record a single speech given by Pickney during the Convention. This is just a small glimpse of the fun and enjoyable discussions on the heart of the U.S. Constitution that happen in this book. Even if you disagree with where the authors come out, this book is a great read. And it is readable, which is also nice too.

Teaching the Reformation is widely overpriced, but still very good. The book examines the Reformation specifically how it was passed on in the 100 years after it came to Basel. The book only examines Basel. Thus, the author breaks down preaching patterns, teaching methods, ministering practices, and other factors in Basel from 1529 to 1629. The book is hampered slightly in that not much is available from Oecolampadius and his contemporaries who brought the Reformation to Basel. It would have been more enlightening to see that. However, the book still does a good job of showing the impact of cultural trends, educational trends, and the goals of the Reformers in the city. I have a few complaints. She is far too nice to Simon Sulzer and his Lutheranizing. That hurts the book in my opinion. It is also obviously scholarly work, which makes it a fairly hard read. Don’t expect to finish it in a weekend. And be familiar with Ramism before you get into the book. I was surprised to see what an extensive role Ramism played in Basel. Also she references graphs of ages of pastors and education levels and stuff like that, but all the graphs are in the back. I do not like to flip to the back while reading. I found that annoying. The book is good if you are a pastor who cannot get enough Reformation history. If you are a casual reader, wait until the book comes up on e-bay.

1066 was recommended to me in 11 Grade English. My teacher there was a drunk and taught us nothing. However, she raved about this one book. I never read it because that teacher stunted my education. I mean she watched kids cheat on vocabulary tests and did nothing, but threw one kid out of school for crossing a chalk line that put him to close to her “secret” stash of booze. Anyway, the book is about the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, except it comes at the story from a very interesting perspective. You learn about the conquest, but you are actually reading a book about the Beaux Tapestry, which tells the tale of the Conquest. This tapestry, which is in Beaux France and dates from about 10 years after the conquest is traditionally thought of as giving the Norman account of the Conquest and the controversy that led to the war. Yet, this author, hypothesizes that the tapestry was actually a clever way to tell the English (Anglo-Saxon) side of the story while not getting its creator’s head cut off by his new rulers. Very intriguing. I do not know enough about the Tapestry to really pick sides, but I like books that argue a point, and I learned about the Conquest while being entertained in this man’s quest to discover the true meaning of one our ancient works of art and history. It is part history book and part detective novel. Good book. And yes, frame by frame pictures of the tapestry are provided so that you can follow along with her analyzing of the tapestry.

I have also read several short stories, the most notable one being The Problem of Susan by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is a very famous fantasy/science fiction writer. The recent movie Coraline is written by Mr. Gaiman. This short story is clearly a response to both C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as well as Christianity as a whole. It takes a character named Susan who is all grown up and has dreams about Lions and White Witches and battles where winter turns to spring. She mentions a train wreck that killed her whole family including a brother named Ed. It is clearly meaning to follow the life of Susan from the Narnia books who you will recall does not return to Narnia because she likes lipstick and boys too much. One of the draw backs of the short story is that the theme of sex is a bit too graphic. However, Gaiman clearly thinks that is the problem with Christianity. He views Satan and God as together. The two are a heartless pair that have their fun with people and are really only out to please themselves. The short story is very blasphemous, but then what else do you expect from a non-Christian writer. He does actually spend a brief moment or two critiquing children’s books and Narnia as a book as well. Too moralistic and preachy the characters assert in this story. Gaiman clearly thinks that old time literature that was not so Puritanical was better for children overall. In the end, this short story was interesting and a look into the mind of someone who rejects Christ. But it’s not exactly a story for the ages.