Category Archives: Non-fiction

Daniel Krauthammer on Finishing His Father’s Book

Charles Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, has written a touching paragraph on his father’s final project.

When his health crisis struck a year ago, my father was in the advanced stages of work on a new book. And when his health deteriorated and the end of his life was approaching, he entrusted me to bring it to completion on his behalf.

Read the rest here.

The book, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, will be released in December.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

Laughing Shall I Die

And what this means for us is that if you come across headlines – as these days you very often do – which say something like ‘Vikings! Not just raiders and looters any more!’ then the headlines are wrong. If people weren’t raiding and looting (and land-grabbing, and collecting protection money), then they had stopped being Vikings. They were just Scandinavians.

The trouble with reading a book that really excites you is that you end up highlighting passage after passage. Then it’s hard to pick one out to put at the head of a review. I finally chose one from near the beginning, but there were many others.

I’ve posted an excerpt previously, because I did find Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings, by Tom Shippey an intriguing and exciting book in my favorite historical field. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one more intriguing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. In some ways Shippey’s thesis supports “my” work (Viking Legacy, which I translated), in some ways it contradicts it. I have praised Anders Winroth in a previous review (though disagreeing with him at many points). Shippey essentially discards Winroth as one who misses the whole point.

The point being that the word “Viking” is routinely misused in our day. “Viking” means a seaborne warrior – a pirate. If you write about early Medieval Scandinavians in all walks of life and re-label them Vikings, you’re confusing the matter.

To put it bluntly (again), most scholarly books with ‘Viking’ in the title turn out not to be about Vikings, because Vikings aren’t popular among scholars. This book is different: it really is about Vikings.

Continue reading ‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

The Ones We Remember

Mary Turner’s story died when she died. Mary Turner’s protest died when she died. Mary Turner’s pre-born baby died when she died. Mary Turner’s name died when she died.

You don’t recognize her name. You don’t recognize her story. And if you were there on May 19th, 1918, you wouldn’t recognize her body either.

Mary Turner was a mother of three. She was a wife to Hayes Turner. She was a woman of colour—and that’s why she was killed in Lowndes County, Georgia.

Samuel Sey tells the horrific story of Mary’s lynching, which took place 100 years ago last May. “Mary Turner is just one of 4,743 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1968—and you don’t know their names. You don’t know their stories. You don’t know their faces—except one: Emmett Till.”

He offers a simple reason to explain and apply this reality to today.

Shippey on Vikings

My friend Dale Nelson suggested I read Tom Shippey’s Laughing Shall I Die, a book on the Viking Age focusing on its warrior ethos. This isn’t a review, because I’m still reading the book. It’s quite long. But I’m finding it immensely congenial, a book that reinforces my prejudices – and who doesn’t enjoy that? Broadly speaking, it’s a sort of a backlash book against the prevailing consensus in Viking studies, the one that says, “The Vikings were really pretty much like everybody else. They just got bad press because their enemies wrote the history books.” I must admit I’ve said the same sort of thing, especially at reenactment events, but I’ve always held secret reservations.

Shippey (a Tolkien biographer and “the Professor’s” successor at Oxford) says phooey to all that. The Vikings, he says, were masters of violence and of psychological warfare. They won by intimidation, and through belief in something like a death cult. Here’s what he says about the political upheavals that wracked Scandinavia in the time of Beowulf:

Using modern terms, the story is one of centralizing power, professionalization of the military, disappearance of local groups and tribal names, and wars – so Hedeager suggests – to control strategic resources including land and access to bog iron.

The last is a modern view, by a modern scholar who characteristically prefers sensible economic motives for war. Our ancient texts, like Beowulf and Hrolf’s saga, suggest just as plausibly that the wars were undertaken for glory, for revenge, to expand power.

Delete Your Social Accounts

Richard Clark reviews a curious book that argues social media is the shadow that stalks and soon will strangle you. It is Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. 

If the claims of this book sound like cynical fear-mongering, then it’s time to wake up. The downsides of social media are no longer up for debate, and this is coming from someone who has esteemed its virtues for years. The structure upon which social media has been built, in the big picture, brings our meanest, dumbest, most impulsive tendencies to the forefront of public life.

This has bled into other areas of life and media as well. We are being actively encouraged to overshare our personal lives and spit out hot takes on all the major social platforms. Taking time to think, meditate, and rest is becoming weird and maybe the best way to become out of touch. This joke about only doing devotions so others will think well of you is where some people actually live.

I wonder about the shelf life of our current social platforms. Will my children take to any of them or will they consider them a bit stupid? I won’t be surprised if five to ten years from now the major platforms will be gone or greatly changed because the money or the people or something else just isn’t there to sustain it.

Reading report: ‘Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen’

Hans C. Heg
Col. Hans Christian Heg

The Norwegian soldiers had a reputation for never retreating in battle, and their courage resulted in their regiment being among those regiments suffering the greatest losses in the American Civil War. (Translation mine.)

When I’m manning a bookselling table for hours on end at a Sons of Norway convention, my greatest concern is generally to have sufficient reading material. Although I do almost all my reading on my Kindle Fire nowadays, one has to consider battery life. Also, I have a few “dead tree” books I’ve been accumulating. The convention seemed a good opportunity to read one of those. And if it’s in Norwegian, it has the advantage of allowing me to show off, and who knows, maybe somebody will walk past looking for a translator.

So I chose a book called Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen (Rogalanders in the American Civil War. Rogaland is a county in Norway, from which my dad’s father’s family came). It was written by Arne Halvorsen and Mari Anne Næsheim Hall. Mari Anne is a friend of mine – she was the person who first put me in touch with Prof. Titlestad, author of Viking Legacy. She sent me a copy, and I was keen to read it.

The most renowned “Norwegian” regiment during the Civil War was the 15th Wisconsin, commanded by Col. Hans C. Heg, who was killed at Chickamauga. Wisconsin was more or less the center of Norwegian-American settlement at that point in time, but a number of other soldiers came from Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and (in lesser numbers) from other places, serving in various units. The reasons for signing up varied – many simply needed the enlistment bonuses. But many also felt honor-bound to demonstrate their loyalty to their new country – a loyalty sometimes doubted by their neighbors. And Norwegians in general were sincerely appalled by the institution of slavery (though there were some Norwegians on the other side – especially from the Norwegian settlements in Texas). Continue reading Reading report: ‘Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen’

Who Would Read a Twitter Feed in Book Form?

New Hampshire professor Seth Abramson has put in many hours following the news on President Trump, updating his readers with tweets like these:

  1. [Aug 15, 2018, 2:55 PM] (NOTE) As to Bruce Ohr, who is currently employed by the federal government, Trump’s THREAT to revoke his security clearance—which would make him doing his job impossible, and might lead to his termination—is, given the “grounds” Trump has spoken of on Twitter, WITNESS TAMPERING. [93 replies 2,191 retweets 4,133 likes]
  2. (NOTE2) Trump is AWARE that Bruce Ohr is about to testify before House Republicans (see below) and he is seeking to INFLUENCE his testimony, as his statements on Twitter make clear, with this THREAT against him. Mueller will undoubtedly investigate this. [Link to The Hill, “House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier”] [25 replies 777 retweets 1,728 likes]
  3. (NOTE3) A key national security expert for MSNBC just said on-air, “This is quite clearly designed to send a chilling effect to all of those who would criticize Donald Trump or his administration that this will not be tolerated.” Do people realize that, as to Ohr, that’s a CRIME? [28 replies 677 Retweets 1,801 Likes ]
  4. Seth Abramson Retweeted Donald J. Trump
    (NOTE4) This tweet is now evidence of a federal felony: @realDonaldTrump [link to this tweet]
    <<Bruce Ohr of the “Justice” Department (can you believe he is still there) is accused of helping disgraced Christopher Steele “find dirt on Trump.” Ohr’s wife, Nelly, was in on the act big time – worked for Fusion GPS on Fake Dossier. @foxandfriends>>
    [35 replies 1,028 retweets 2,240 likes]
  5. (NOTE5) People do not yet realize—but soon will—that Trump has just made as big a mistake as he made in firing Comey. You *cannot* threaten the job of a witness against you in a federal investigation and SAY ON TWITTER that your reason is that he will offer testimony against you.

Now, Abramson is shopping around a proposal “to ‘bookify’ my feed.”

According to the proposal, the book will be based off of edited and rewritten versions of his Twitter threads—a conceit, Abramson declares, “whose time has come.” The book will create a “comprehensive, chronological review of the Trump-Russia case by transforming my Twitter ‘threads’ into prose.”

“A book of this sort is daring,” he writes. “Few if any have leveraged the advantage that books offer in collating, organizing, and amplifying in narrative form an intensely followed Twitter feed.”

This looks like an incredible waste of every resource devoted to it, but I think I’ve seen similar wasted efforts in printed books. Not that there’s anything daring about it, except that writing any book believing people will buy or read or both feels daring. Of course, there’s the daring of the carefully planned tightrope walk over Niagara and the daring of the spur-of-the-moment motorcycle jump into the Grand Canyon. [via Prufrock News]

The End of Vikings and Mayans

Vikings settled in Greenland and grew up to 6,000 over the centuries, but they came to an unclear end in the 16th century, leaving the island country vacant for 100 years. New research suggests one reason for this decline was the bottoming out of their economy, meaning the world stopped asking for walrus ivory.

Matthew Gabriele writes, “Specifically, the Greenland settlements built their economy around the trade in walrus tusks (ivory) and supplied maybe up to 80% of the ivory items for most of Europe between the 12th-15th centuries.”

Some thought the ivory used in medieval luxury items was from elephants, but this research argues that elephant ivory was rare and expensive. The more affordable ivory came from walruses. But this market dried up when the Black Death killed 60% of Europe.

Gabriele also writes about research into the collapse of the Mayan civilization. A paper published in Science this month says a 200-year drought crushed the Mayan empire, to which Gabriele says it’s more complicated than that and we already that part.

“Most likely, it was a number of factors that caused the decline, with the environment being only 1 of them. And this is what can happen when STEM fields ignore the humanities and social sciences. They too often ‘rediscover’ something that other scholars have known for some time.”

We all have our blind spots, don’t we?

Pod people

If you’re geographically underprivileged in such a way that you can’t listen directly to the Northern Alliance Radio Network on WWTC the Patriot (AM 1280) each weekend, you probably missed my appearance on the show with host Mitch Berg (of Shot in the Dark blog) this past Saturday.

You can listen to it on a podcast here. I’m in the first half-hour of the hour marked “7/28/18 Lars Walker.”

I was, of course, plugging Viking Legacy. I think it’s a pretty good exercise except for the very end, where I kind of went deer in the headlights. Still, all in all a good show and thanks to Mitch.

Why Did Emperor Hadrian Build His Wall?

For reasons that may seem clear only to some, the Roman Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus decided his empire could not subdue or survive in peace with the Scots, so he ordered a wall from Searius and Robuckus and had it assembled over an 84-mile stretch of gorgeous mountain property over thousands of acres of prime real estate.

Nigel Spivey reviews a book on Hadrian’s Wall, describing and explaining what can be known. And part of what is not known is the reason for the wall.

Hadrian proceeded to style himself Restitutor Orbis Terrarum, “restorer” of the lands of the world. But what “restoration” he brought to Britannia remains unclear. He made a single visit to the province in the year 122, following a tour of the Rhineland, where he had ordered the installation of a palisaded frontier-line. We presume that it was during his British visit that Hadrian developed the frontier concept further, and gave instructions for the wall and the Vallum. Arguably, then, Britannia was not restored but fractured. For that is what walls do: break, mark, and divide the earth’s surface. Britannia on the emperor’s coinage may seem the faithful subject. Once broken by a wall, however, she becomes a phantom figure—and perhaps has stayed so ever since.

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Mr. Whicher’s hat

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

In the proud tradition of historical dilettantes everywhere, I shall devote this post to nitpicking a dramatic production.

I’ve watched a couple of English TV movies in a series entitled “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.” The original film, “The Murder at Road Hill House,” is based on a book by Kate Summerscale, describing a sensational murder inquiry in 1860. A young girl named Constance Kent was accused of the murder of her infant half-brother, on evidence presented by Inspector Jack Whicher, a respected Scotland Yard detective. The court found his evidence insufficient, but Miss Kent eventually confessed, years later, at the urging of her clergyman. She served a sentence in prison and then emigrated to Australia, devoting her final years to good works.

The series then parts company from history. In the subsequent movies, Mr Whicher has been discharged from the Force and investigates crimes as a “private inquiry agent.” In real life he continued as a police detective, and retired well-respected. He was an inspiration for Dickens’ Inspector Bucket and Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff, among others. Continue reading Mr. Whicher’s hat

Was Honor the Big Reason for the American Revolution?

The Art of Manliness has an audio interview with a history professor who’s written a book that has me repeatedly wondering if he’s right. Craig Bruce Smith is an Assistant Professor of History and the Director of the History Program at William Woods University. He’s written American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era. He says that while taxation, military aggression, and other oppressive treatment from King George and his empire did lead the colonists into a revolutionary war, the impetus behind our leaders’ call to arms was to defend their honor and that this idea matured over the lives of our founders to the point of pledging their sacred honor to the defend their independence.

In this vein, Yale’s Joanne Freeman wrote on the themes applied in the Burr-Hamilton duel. James Bowman reviews Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor.

Among the Founding Fathers, she tells us, “Honour” was used interchangeably with “reputation” but it meant “reputation with a moral dimension and an élite cast”. It was, moreover, “the core of a man’s identity, his sense of self, his manhood”, which is why even in those relatively enlightened times it not infrequently involved men in single, and lethal, combat over real or imagined slights.

Bowman has written a book on the history of honor and its ties to morality and manners.

How Erling Skjalgsson helped to protect England

Viking Legacy

The publishers of Viking Legacy (which, in case I forgot to mention it, I translated), are pleased with the sales results of my article at The American Spectator Online yesterday (see below). So I thought I’d share a snippet of the book tonight. I chose this excerpt pretty much at random, except that I made a point of finding one concerning Erling Skjalgsson. This one deals with an aspect of Erling’s relationship with King Olaf Trygvesson that never occurred to me when I wrote The Year of the Warrior. It starts by discussing Olaf’s treaty with King Ethelred the Unready of England, entered into before he left for Norway. This treaty is documented (you can read it in the book), and it involves, among other things, a promise by Olaf to restrain Norwegian raiding in England.

When Olav returned to Norway in 995, he lacked the necessary authority to convince the chieftains of western Norway to abandon their traditional plundering economy, based on raids in England. Plunder was an important source of income for the communities of western Norway. Only Erling Skjalgsson, as the foremost chieftain of the Gula Thing, had the power to enforce Olav’s agreement so far as the people of western Norway were concerned. Erling was thus the key to Olav’s hopes of maintaining a positive and enduring relationship with England. But Erling in his turn would have to make sure of the other chieftains’ support. It would have been no easy task for him to keep his followers on a leash in order to guarantee Olav’s English agreement. Breaking off the raids in England would deprive the great men of part of their economic and political base.

For that reason Olav had to have some means of substantially compensating the people of western Norway if he was to persuade them to leave England in peace. He had procured the economic means to do this – among other things tons of silver, including what he had plundered himself. It is nearly impossible to estimate what Olav’s entire fortune would have been worth in today’s money, but we can assume that Olav Tryggvason in 996 was the richest man in Norway. Olav would have used these financial resources to woo the chieftains – while expounding the terms of his agreement with King Ethelred….

It was in Olav’s interest to avoid war with the inhabitants of western Norway. The terrain was difficult to control, with numberless fjords and mountains. Olav was effectively a foreigner in Norway. The people of western Norway would have been capable of setting a number of traps to defend their region, and it goes without saying that Erling’s willing cooperation was crucial to Olav. With Erling at his side as a loyal ally, the nation-building project would be much simpler than if he were a hostile or half-hearted vassal. He could hardly hope for a more influential collaborator.

Prospects for trade with England may also have played a part in the debate. Nor could Olav have been stingy when it came to the question of his sister’s [Erling’s wife’s lw] dowry. Miserliness in this matter would have weakened his reputation as a trustworthy man, and so Astrid must have brought a tidy sum of English silver into the marriage. This would have increased Erling’s fortune, as well as his influence, considerably.