Tag Archives: History

Remember Me?

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten ...

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten 20th Century- Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, folks.

Let me first apologize for my absence the past two weeks or so. Life has a way of throwing things at you and you have to deal with them whether you want to or not. The objects thrown this time had to do with the business my wife and I own. It wasn’t fun but we got through it.

Anyway, just because we had to deal with business emergencies didn’t mean I stopped my book-hunting habits! A junkie’s a junkie after all. And thanks to the Prescott DAV Thrift Store, I came up with some finds this past week.

My favorite is “The Harper Collins Book of Prayers: A Treasury of Prayers Through the Ages,” compiled by Robert Van de Weyer (Castle Books, 1997.) At just over 400 pages, it has an abundance of prayers, poetry and meditations. Unlike many other prayer collections, this one is arranged by author rather than topic, which I really appreciate. Such spiritual luminaries as St. Augustine, Karl Barth, Henri Nouwen, Ignatius of Loyola, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Origen are included. There are even sections with Aztec, Sioux and Kalahari Bushmen prayers. Amazingly beautiful words here.

I also found two wonderful books on church history which are aimed at younger audiences. “The Church of Our Fathers” by Roland H. Blainton (The Westminster Press, 1950) and “I Will Build My Church” by Amy Morris Lillie (The Westminster Press, 1950) look to be for the 8 to 12 year old age range and have great illustrations, especially “Church of Our Fathers.” Thumbing through these books, I was reminded that much of the Church’s history is a grand tale of adventure. Today’s Church should be telling these stories to its young members. Talk about exciting and inspiring!

To complete the historical theme, I picked up a copy of Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People,” (HarperPerrenial, 1999.) Johnson is a British historian who writes about America out of admiration rather than contempt, a refreshing change. His dedication explains his view:

This book is dedicated to the people of America – strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.

If only more schools would use this as a textbook instead of the one by, say, Howard Zinn.

That’s all for now, folks. Again, sorry for not being more consistent but life is what it is. I’ll try to be better. In the meantime, keep reading!

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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Book Hunting


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The Postmodern Past and the Fantasy Future

A View of Earth from Saturn

A View of Earth from Saturn (Photo credit: alpoma)

Readers didn’t have affection for the past anymore because they didn’t believe in it. They’d been told for too long that everything they knew about the past was a lie, that the good men with hard codes were actually the bad men and that the outlaws were either victims of injustice or rebels against conformity – which were the real lies.

People didn’t believe in the past, and they didn’t believe in the present or the future because they were told constantly that they were headed toward one cataclysm or another, that before them lay a smorgasbord of dooms. They believed only in the far future where adventures took place on distant planets nothing like Earth and involved characters little or nothing like contemporary human beings, or they wanted parallel worlds with wizards and warlocks, where all problems were solved with wands, spells, and the summoning of demons.


Dean Koontz, from “Frankenstein, Book Four: Lost Souls.” (2011 Bantam Books Mass Market)






Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Quotations


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The Secular Cancer

Writing in the aftermath of World War II, Christopher Dawson took exception to the suggestion that modern European civilization was “pagan.” Paganism was rife with religious sentiment, Dawson recalled; what was going on in mid-twentieth century Europe was something different. True, many men and women had ceased to belong to the Church. But rather than belonging to something else, rather than adhering to another community of transcendent allegiance, they now belonged nowhere. This spiritual no-man’s-land, as Dawson characterized it, was inherently unstable and ultimately self-destructive. Or, as the usually gentle Dawson put it in an especially fierce passage, “a secular society that has no end beyond its own satisfaction is a monstrosity – a cancerous growth which will ultimately destroy itself.” One wonders what Christopher Dawson would say today.


– George Weigel, from his book “The Cube and the Cathedral” (Basic Books, 2006)

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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Quotations


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De Nobis Fabula Narratur

Augustus of Prima Porta, statue of the emperor...

Augustus of Prima Porta, statue of the emperor Augustus in Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican, Rome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There, in the struggle of Roman civilization against barbarism within and without, isĀ our own struggle; through Rome’s problems of biological and moral decadence signposts rise on our road today; the class war of the Gracchi against the Senate, of Marius against Sulla, of Caesar against Pompey, of Antony against Octavian, is the war that consumes our interludes of peace; and the desperate effort of the Mediterranean soul to maintain some freedom against a despotic state is an augury of our coming task. De nobis fabula narratur: of ourselves this Roman story is told.

Will Durant, from the preface to his “Caesar and Christ,” published in 1944

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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Quotations


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Good-Bye, Jacques

Good-Bye, Jacques

This weekend I read of the passing of Jacques Barzun. It made me more than a little sad. Not because I was his biggest fan or have read all of his books (I’ve read one.) What made me sad was that another great mind and insightful thinker has passed from our world at a time when we can ill afford the loss.

Jacques Barzun was a historian but his interests were broad ranging. Music, art, teaching, the intellectual life, even detective fiction were the subjects of his writing. However, his observations and commentary on Western culture was where, to me in my limited exposure, he truly shone. He strongly believed that ideas greatly influence civilization. Take this example from “Darwin, Marx, Wagner,” which I read several years ago:

The Evolution which triumphed with Darwin, Marx, and Wagner . . . was something that existed by itself. It was an absolute. Behind all changes and all actual things it operated as a cause. Darwinism yielded its basic law, and viewed historically, its name was Progress. All events had physical origins; physical origins were discoverable by science; and the method of science alone could, by revealing the nature of things, make the mechanical sequences of the universe beneficent to man. Fatalism and progress were as closely linked as the Heavenly Twins and like them invincible.

Their victory, however, implied the banishment of all anthropomorphic ideas, and since mind was the most anthropomorphic thing in man, it must be driven from the field, first in the form of God or Teleology, then in the form of consciousness or purpose. These were explained away as illusions; those were condemned as superstition or metaphysics.

There, in eight easily understandable sentences, was Barzun’s analysis of the idea of Darwinism. That he wrote so clearly was another of his talents. He was an intellectual who wrote so that everyone could understand. He was a public intellectual in the best sense of the word.

His magnum opus, “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present,” was published when he was 93 years old. Amazing. I hope merely to be breathing by then.

Joseph Epstein shared his memories of Jacques Barzun in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal. I can do no better than to leave you with his closing sentences:

He lived to 104, and his death scarcely comes as a surprise. Chiefly it is a reminder that a great model of the life of the mind has departed the planet. Not many such models left, if any.


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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Authors, History, Ideas, In The News


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Laura Ingalls Wilder, Advice Columnist?

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder used her experienc...

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder used her experiences growing up near De Smet as the basis for four of her novels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the pleasures of book hunting at yard sales, thrift stores and library sales is finding that unknown book or author. Or even, as in this case, an unknown book by a well-known author.

I came across “Writings to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder, Volume One: On Wisdom and Virtues,” at a Salvation Army Thrift Store a few weeks back. Everyone who’s been near a television in the past several decades has heard of the series, “Little House on the Prairie,” based on her books of the same name.She and her family were true pioneers and her accounts of her years on the American frontier are not just great stories for young people but are also considered valuable historical records of that time. So I admit to be being more than a little surprised by this title from her.

It turns out that Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a newspaper columnist for The Missouri Ruralist, a small publication reportedly still in business. She didn’t start her career in journalism until she was in her forties, according to the book’s introduction. She wrote for the Ruralist for about fifteen years before beginning her Little House stories. So take heart, late bloomers: Laura began her career as a book author in her sixties!

Edited by Stephen W. Hines, this book is a compilation of some of her columns from the Ruralist about the use of wisdom in this life. Her writing here is clear, direct and somehow touching. As editor Hines puts it in his introduction, ” . . . nothing of real importance ever changes. Her concerns are not so different from the ones we have today, though they take different form.” Here are a few samples,

The habit of saying disagreeable things or of being careless about how what we say affects others grows on us so easily and so surely if we indulge it.


I am sure we will all agree that these laws of ours should be as wise and as few as possible.


Our hearts are mostly in the right place, but we seem weak in the head.

The book is a delight to read, filled with stories and anecdotes and lessons learned from years of living. It is, indeed, a book of wisdom of which there are way too few in these days. Our children and grandchildren should be exposed to these types of books at every opportunity. We should read them and talk about them together.

One last observation. Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1957. Born in 1867, she lived nearly a century. It gives me a chill and a deep sense of our connected history to think that I was three years old when she passed.

Thank you and God bless you, Laura.

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, History


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“A World Lit Only By Fire”: Part 2

A World Lit Only by Fire

A World Lit Only by Fire (Photo credit: Vankuso (Dominik Starosz))

It’s back to history, folks. Sorry, but someone has to bring it up.

In part one of my review of William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire,” I covered the first of the three essays which make up the book. In The Medieval Mind, Manchester exposes us to the mental world of the medieval human. I won’t spend time reviewing that here. Go check out the first part of the review if you’d like to brush up.

The next essay, The Shattering, is the longest piece in the book, running over 190 pages. As I said in part one, I don’t plan on going into any detail here. I don’t want any glazed eyes out there. Let me draw a broad sketch for you.

As Manchester explains it, the “shattering” is the collapse of the medieval world over a period of about 500 years. From the Dark Ages we see the Renaissance, or renewal, blossom as various scholars begin to recover some of the forgotten knowledge and arts that were lost when the Roman Empire fell. We are introduced to the humanists, particularly Desiderius Erasmus, whose calm genius shines brightly in these pages. Humanism, with the help of certain practices of the Catholic Church, helped to bring about the religious revolution we know today as the Reformation. The religious upheaval of the Reformation effectively ended the Renaissance and set many of the historical patterns we see to this day, especially the conflict between the secular humanists and many fundamentalist believers.

Before I go on, let me just say that I am NOT an historian. The above outline is what I came to understand from reading Manchester. It’s entirely possible I’m mistaken. Indeed, in other reviews of this book, Manchester was sharply criticized regarding his facts. However, it wasn’t “facts” that kept me reading.

The strength of this book is Manchester’s portrayal of the key events and players in the long drama that was the Middle Ages. In clear, workman-like prose, Manchester draws fascinating portraits of such personages as Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, who was known as much for his depravity as for his famous daughter, Lucrezia. Then there is the Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, whose genius was haunted by his father’s pagan superstitions. Luther not only believed in the devil, but saw him and engaged in, shall we say, foul competitions with him. Of course, even a cursory view of the Reformation has to include John Calvin, the brilliant but “humorless and short-tempered” theologian, whose obsession with rules and statutes belied his understanding of St. Paul’s epistles.

There are many more persons Manchester brings to light, but his main point is that whereas before the Reformation there was one Church and one Faith, after it there were many different religious leaders and doctrines which did not strengthen Christianity but made it more susceptible to the attacks of the humanists. While not a fan of the faith, Manchester none-the-less holds a certain regret at what he sees as its weakening. At the end of the book he writes, “The specter of skepticism haunts shrines and altars. Worshipers want to believe, and most of the time they persuade themselves that they do. But suppressing doubt is hard. Secular society makes it harder.”

The final essay, One Man Alone, is an absorbing account of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the earth, included primarily because by doing so, Magellan proved that the earth was round and further shattered the old worldview.

“A World Lit Only By Fire” is an absorbing read and will help you to understand some of the philosophical currents that still run through our world today. Manchester readily admits that the interpretation of history varies from person to person. What’s important to understand is that “History is not a random sequence of unrelated events. Everything affects, and is affected by, everything else. This is never clear in the present. Only time can sort out events. It is then, in perspective, that patterns emerge.”

I highly recommend this book.


Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Book Review


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