Category Archives: Non-fiction

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.

Proof of life

Today I got my complimentary copies of Viking Legacy, the book I translated.
Translator pic

It’s always a strange and wondrous thing to finally handle a book you’ve only known in the abstract up till now. I’m not the author this time (in fact there are bits I don’t entirely agree with). But I worked long and hard on it, and did a lot of polishing. The translation still looks a little rough to me, especially at the very beginning, the worst place for it. The body of the text looks much better though. I like to think the “flaws” are the fault of the editors, but I’m not entirely sure of that.

Anyway, it’s grown up and left the nest now, and I look at it, not as a father but as a sort of uncle, I suppose. I hope it does well in the wide world.

In point of fact, this is an important, groundbreaking book. If it finds its audience it will be controversial.

Buy it now and see why!

‘Viking Legacy’ is here!

Viking Legacy

I’ve been telling you about this book for — it seems — about half my life. (Actually it’s two or three years. Maybe four). But it’s here at last — Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad. Translated by your humble servant.

The book has two main themes — one, that Viking democratic traditions of governance were influential in European history. And two, that the Icelandic sagas, while not inerrant, do provide useful information which, coordinated with other historical research, can shed light on the political history of Scandinavia.

Hernando’s Once Great Library

Like the hierophants of search-engineering, Hernando wanted readers to have an infinitely searchable database ‘that would allow people to wander in places they did not know, perhaps had not even dreamed existed’. Like him, the webmasters have failed to give us that degree of liberation: cyber ghettoes prevail. ‘We are in danger of hemming ourselves into ever smaller enclaves, increasingly oblivious to the infinite … worlds that we simply no longer see.’

Hernando Colón, son of Christopher Columbus, gave us the story of his father’s great adventures, making much of the man and little of the missteps. He built a library with the intention of housing everything long before Ripley tried his hand at a tawdry version of it. The Biblioteca Colombina (pictures) has been a marvel in the past but only about 4,000 of the original 15,000 items remain.  Felipe Fernández-Armesto paints a picture of it in his review of Edward Wilson-Lee’s Harnando biography. (via Prufrock News)

Recommended Reading, Listening on African American Evangelical History

Some months ago, I listened to two moving lectures from Thabiti Anyabwile which compared and contrasted some of the life and teaching of Jonathan Edwards (part 1) and the next generation preacher from the other side of the tracks Lemuel Haynes (part 2). I recommend these lectures to you as biblical messages on two godly American men and a difficult issue that continues to reverberate.

In this vein, Thomas Kidd recommends five books on African American Evangelical History. Anyabwile’s book on Haynes is one of the recommended titles. Here’s a quick glance at the list.

  1. Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South
  2. Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars
  3. Thabiti Anyabwile, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes 
  4. Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World
  5. Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity

David, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Cake

Today, April 20, is the 300th birthday of David Brainerd, a missionary to Native Americans who left a mark on the people of my town and stirred many souls who have read his diary, which was edited by Jonathan Edwards. In honor of the day, Thomas Kidd shares his review of The Lives of David Brainerd: The Making of an American Evangelical Icon.

In this important book that should be read by scholars of American and British evangelicalism, John Grigg provides a compelling biographical portrait of Brainerd, one of Christian history’s most influential missionaries. It offers new information on episodes such as Brainerd’s famous expulsion from Yale, which may have been precipitated by more persistent, abrasive radicalism than Brainerd simply declaring that tutor Chauncey Whittelsey had no more grace than a chair.